Essex-on-Sea: The Essex coast in historical picture postcards

Just in time for the summer holidays, we have installed a new display in our Searchroom of a selection of the wonderful picture postcards we have of Essex coastal resorts.

Our new Searchroom display highlights historical postcards from Southend-on-Sea, Clacton-on-Sea, Frinton-on-Sea, and Walton-on-the-Naze

Open the drawers of our display case to see original postcards sent by people holidaying in Essex in the early years of the 20th century

In their heyday, the coastal resorts of Essex attracted thousands of holidaymakers every summer. Postcards can bring us something of the atmosphere of these holiday destinations – not only through the photographs on the front of the cards, but through the messages on the back as well.

Postcards have existed in various forms since the 1840s, but picture postcards only became widespread in the UK from the 1890s. The boom in postcards coincided with a huge increase in tourism among ordinary people, driven by the invention of paid time off and the ability to travel further from home thanks largely to the building of railways. A belief in the health benefits of sea air and salt water bathing also drove the development of coastal resorts.

The ERO’s postcard collection is one of the very few things we have which is not listed on our online catalogue. If you would like to see postcards from our collection for a particular place, please ask staff who will be able to advise you on how to order them.

See the Flickr albums below for a flavour of the collection, and do stop for a look at the display next time you are visiting.

 

Southend-on-Sea

Southend’s origins are as the ‘south end’ of the ancient parish of Prittlewell, occupied by isolated farms. In the late eighteenth century a fashion took off for visiting the seaside for the supposed health benefits of bathing in and drinking sea water. Southend, being relatively easy to reach from the capital, became a popular place for London’s fashionable gentry to visit. Southend’s reputation as a resort for fashionable, wealthy visitors would all change with the arrival of the railway, which reached the town in 1856. This drastically reduced journey times and costs, and meant that a trip to the town was, for the first time, within the reach of ordinary people. New entertainments and accommodation were built to cater for the masses of tourists who now flooded Southend every summer. In 1889 a new iron pier replaced the original wooden one. It included an electric railway, the first of its kind on a pleasure pier. Visitors might still come for their health or to enjoy a quiet retreat, but people after noisier entertainments could avail themselves of donkey rides or boat trips, or take in a performance by a brass band or pierrot troop, perhaps while enjoying an ice cream.

Southend-on-Sea historical postcards

Clacton-on-Sea

The resort of Clacton-on-Sea was founded in 1871 with the opening of a pier, built by civil engineer and businessman Peter Bruff, who had also played an important part in the development of Walton. The Royal Hotel opened in 1872, also built by Bruff, initially standing alone at the base of the pier. By the 1890s the pier had been extended, and housed hot and cold sea baths, and the Pavilion theatre at the pier head. The railway reached Clacton in 1882, opening it up to even more visitors. In 1938 Billy Butlin opened his second holiday camp at Clacton, which was visited by thousands during its lifetime until its closure in 1983.

Clacton-on-Sea in old postcards

Walton-on-the-Naze

The development of Walton-on-the-Naze began with the opening of the Marine Hotel in 1829 and the town’s first pier in 1830, both built by Mr Penrice of Colchester. The pier was the main way in which visitors would arrive and depart, travelling on steamships coming from London and Ipswich, at least until the railway arrived in 1867. By the 1890s Walton had a second, much longer pier, with an electric tramway running its 790 metre length. Other attractions for the Victorian and Edwardian visitor included pleasure craft, bathing machines, theatrical entertainments, and later cinemas.

Walton-on-the-Naze in old postcards

Frinton-on-Sea

The development of Frinton-on-Sea began a little later. In 1886 the Marine and General Land Company published plans for creating ‘a high class watering place’ at Frinton, including hotels, a marine parade, a cricket ground, and tennis lawns. One undated postcard sent from Frinton reads: ‘Yesterday we went to Frinton and enjoyed it very much, it is so pretty. You would like Frinton there are such lovely large private residences each standing in own grounds along the front – a very select place. Only 4 large hotels and no boarding houses.’

Frinton-on-Sea in old postcards

Document of the month, January: A dark and stormy night in the Mediterranean, January 1815

D/DLu 16/1

Among the anniversaries of 2015, the end of the Napoleonic Wars stands out.  The Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 ended almost a quarter of a century of warfare. On a smaller scale, it opened the delights of the Continent to a new generation of British travellers.

Clarissa Trant in 1829, by David Maclise Frontispiece to C.G. Luard (ed.), The journal of Clarissa Trant 1800-1832 (London 1924), which is available in the ERO Library.

Clarissa Trant in 1829, by David Maclise. Frontispiece to C.G. Luard (ed.), The journal of Clarissa Trant 1800-1832 (London 1924), which is available in the ERO Library.

Clarissa Trant, then aged 14, began this travel diary in January 1815, when Napoleon was still in temporary exile on the island of Elba. Her party embarked at Lisbon in a Danish galliot bound for Marseilles. By the 22nd the ship lay off Cape Palos, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, but that night a ‘dreadful gale’ blew up:

‘… It hailed, snowed, thundered & lightened – the sea washed at every moment into the cabin and a sudden motion of the vessel knocked the lamp with violence against the ceiling and left us in total darkness … We heard a very loud clap of thunder , and immediately after a scream from the sailors … the Captain … threw open the door of the cabin and exclaimed Oh Sir come on deck, the lightning has fallen on my vessel … – everyone on board thought the ship was on fire as the deck was full of smoke …’

Extract from Clarissa Trant's journal, January 1815 (D/DLu 16/1)

Extract from Clarissa Trant’s journal, January 1815 (D/DLu 16/1)

The cover of Clarissa Trant's travel journal (D/DLu 16/1)

The cover of Clarissa Trant’s travel journal (D/DLu 16/1)

In fact, the lightning had merely burned a hole in the mainsail and knocked some of the crew off their feet. The Trants sailed on – only to be approached on the 27th by what seemed to be a pirate ship from Algiers. Clarissa and her governess were hastily squeezed into a secret compartment meant for smuggling contraband. The ‘pirates’ turned out to be ‘a few dirty harmless fishermen’, and on the 29th the Trants safely reached Marseilles. As they entered the harbour, Clarissa ‘felt almost as if I was coming into a new world’. It was at Marseilles that she heard the news of Napoleon’s escape.

After further adventures, Clarissa eventually married the Revd John Bramston, vicar of Great Baddow, but she was not to reach old age, dying at Witham in 1844. Her diary descended through her daughter Clara to the Luard family before being deposited in the ERO in 1970.

Clarissa’s diary will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout January 2015.

The 1953 Floods in Essex

On the night of Saturday 31 January 1953 a severe storm coincided with a high spring tide in the North Sea, and the resulting tidal surge caused great devastation all along the east coast. In eastern England 307 people were killed, 120 of them from Essex.  The worst hit communities in the county were Canvey Island, where 58 died, and Jaywick, where 37 people were killed (5% of the population).  A major operation was mounted to rescue as many people from the flooded areas as possible. Along the east coast of the UK, 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Damage was caused to over 1,600 km of coastline, as well as to thousands of homes.  It is estimated that the damage in monetary terms today would be over £5 billion.

It was of course not just England that was affected by the floods; 19 people died in Scotland, 28 in Belgium, and a staggering 1,836 in theNetherlands. Over 230 people also died on ferries, fishing boats and other vessels which were in the North Sea that night.

We have been going through some of the many documents in the ERO which tell some of the stories of the floods in Essex, a small sample of which will be on display in our ‘Document of the Month’ case in the Searchroom throughout February.

To the sea (D/Z 35/15)

To the sea – rescuers at work in Jaywick (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Reuters)

Jaywick completely flooded

Fire Brigade log book reporting phone calls to say that Jaywick was completely flooded (D/Z 35/3/1)

Canvey Island underwater (ref??)

Canvey Island underwater (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Southend Standard).

Albermarle St & Alexander Road, Harich (T/Z 241/1)

Photograph of the junction of Albermarle Street and Alexandra Road in Harwich. The flood in Harwich was described as a two metre high wall of rolling water. Eight people drowned trapped in their basements in Main Street (T/Z 241/1) (Photo: Harwich and Dovercourt Standard).

Harwich Junior School (T/Z 241/1)

The ground floor and playground of Harwich Junior School were flooded to a depth of 1½ metres (T/Z 241/1).

Harwich police station telephone log (D/Z 35/6/1)

This note in the Harwich police station telephone log tells us that at the army base on Bramble Island, near Harwich, the magazines had been breached by the flood waters. High explosives had floated away and the police and public were advised to be on the look out for them, and not to touch them (D/Z 35/6/1).

Peter Pan's Playground (D/Z 35/15)

Photograph of Peter Pan’s Playground, Southend (D/Z 35/15) (Photo: Southend Standard). At Southend the effects were not as severe as at Canvey. The Kursaal flooded, along with the Gasworks and Southchurch Park.

Letter from Mr E. Staunton (C/DC 11/Fd43)

Letter written month after the floods by Mr E. Staunton of Benham Road, Canvey to Essex County Council to pass on the ‘thanks and gratitude’ of himself and ‘friends in this area’ to the fireman who sounded the air raid siren ‘thus giving us a chance to dress and find out over the telephone what was the meaning of the warning’ (C/DC 11/Fd43).

 

A selection of these documents will be on display in the Searchroom throughout February. Others can be ordered to view in the Searchroom. Find out how to visit us.

To find out more about the floods, why not go to hear Patricia Rennoldson Smith talk about her new book The 1953 Essex Flood Disaster: The People’s Story as part of the Essex Book Festival.