MOST OF SOUTHEND in Essex was built after the Victorian era. The town on the estuary of the River Thames was and still is the nearest seaside resort to London. According to “Encyclopaedia Britannica”, Southend:
“…became fashionable as a seaside resort when visited by Princess Charlotte of Wales in 1801 and by her mother, Princess Caroline (wife of George IV), in 1803.”
Originally, Prittlewell, once a village north of Southend but now one of its suburbs, was the only settlement in the area now occupied by the modern town of Southend. South east of it on the coast was a tiny village called Leigh, which is now the much larger Leigh-on-Sea. The resort now known as Southend-on-Sea was developed at the end of the 18th century in Prittlewell’s southern district of South End. Today, more than seven miles of buildings extend from Leigh-on-Sea through Southend to Shoeburyness.
The High Street, part of a road heading south from Prittlewell, runs from near Southend Victoria Station towards the sea, ending at the edge of a steep slope that falls to the seashore below. Various roads and a lift can be used to descend this incline. At the top of the slope, the High Street meets the eastern end of Royal Terrace. At the corner where these two streets meet, stands the Royal Hotel. Next to the hotel and lining Royal terrace, numbers 1 to 15 were built in the 1790s at the same time as the hotel. These were backed by the Royal Mews, a road still in existence. These constructions were part of a then new phase of development of the town, which was known as ‘New Town’.
The hotel, a fine Georgian edifice, opened with a grand ball in 1793. Princess Caroline House that adjoins the hotel. number 1 the High Street, is a listed building, which looks as if it is contemporary with the hotel. The gardens on the slope in front of the hotel and the Terrace are known as The Shrubbery and were originally for the exclusive use of residents in the Terrace, but now they are open to the public. According to www.southend.gov.uk/historic-southend/history-southend/2:
“The Terrace was named “Royal” following visits by Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince Regent, in 1803 and for a short time attracted fashionable society. But difficult access from London by road and river discouraged further development until the construction of the railway in 1856. Royal Terrace is the only surviving Georgian terrace in Southend.”
Just east of the High Street and dominating the shoreline is the massive Park Inn Palace hotel, formerly the The Metropole. Built in 1901, this hotel that looks like an oversized liner had 200 rooms, a billiard room, and a splendid ballroom. During WW1, it was temporarily used as a Royal Naval Hospital. An online article (http://beyondthepoint.co.uk/first-world-war-southend-the-palace-hotel/) related:
“The Palace Hotel was built in 1901 and served great use in the war effort. Messrs Tolhurst; the owners of the hotel, were generous enough to offer the building up for free as a naval hospital for the rest of the war. Its glorious five star interior would’ve been quite bizarre with hospital beds placed amongst its lounges and ballrooms. It held possibly the world’s first purpose-made x-ray department. It recently underwent refurbishment by Park Inn to bring it back to its former glory.”
Both hotels overlook both the sea and Southend Pier. The older, Royal Hotel, is less of a blot on the landscape than the Palace hotel.