Reports of Meetings at Southend-on-Sea

Southend-on-Sea Pier today
(picture by Mrs Heather Feather)

The pier as your ancestors would have known it

27 March 2021
The Bishopsgate Institute     by Stefan Dickers
Saturday 27th March saw the welcome return to Essex of Stefan Dickers, from the Bishopsgate Institute. This time it was a virtual Stefan, speaking from his London stronghold on the South-East Branch afternoon “Zoom” meeting.
The hat was familiar, the sunshine behind him making it seem his usual golden aura. Perhaps, unless my memory serves me wrongly, it was his “halo” this time. He warned that the jokes would be familiar and he stuck to his word. Many of us knew what was to come, and were not disappointed. A wonderful selection of images of London and the wondrous building in which it can be found.

There were some new photos, the collection ever expands: a view of the awesome library with stories of the Co-op movement; some revolutionaries and the many other tales that Stefan brings to life. Oh, and he collects diaries from ordinary people to enhance the London ethos. Those new to him will have been entranced by his talk which has been recorded for the Society.

Those who want to know more about the Institute can look at it on Google. With this speaker it is the way that he presents the collections. Thank heavens we shall see him again as our speaker finders will know that they are onto a winner here.
Thank you Stefan.
Fred Feather
Vice President and Fan.
23rd January 2021
Chelmsford Cathedral     by Tony Tuckwell
Tony began his talk by explaining that the manner in which Essex was formed into a diocese was unique. There were many factors which lead to this, but the major one was the huge rise and change of distribution of the population that occurred as a result of the Industrial Revolution.

England had 23 dioceses after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, 6 abbey cathedrals were saved from destruction and the surrounding areas were divided up around these, but in such a way that some were huge, some small, and others were geographically unmanageable.

Due to the industrial growth caused by expansion of the British Empire, London's population grew rapidly, and the City of London ensured that this growth took place outside of the City. The docks needed to be expanded and this was done out towards the east, in 'London over the border' as South Essex became known. Dickens is reported to have described West Ham and Canning Town, as being 'places of squalor, with sewage on the tide'.

The operation of the Church had changed very little since medieval times, with Bishops still living in their palaces. The Church began to realise that its role should become more pastoral in support of their growing numbers of needy parishioners, so during the 1870's it was mooted that boundary changes, in particular, needed to be made.

Clearly the City of London was happy not to be included with areas like West Ham etc. and eventually in 1905 An East Anglian Plan was adopted, suggesting that Essex had its own diocese, and should include these industrial areas.

This plan would provide for an endowment fund to pay for the bishop and deacons etc, but not for the provision of a Cathedral. In view of this, only areas that could provide much of their own funding could be considered suitable to house a Cathedral in their town. To be considered, each town had to show funds raised in collection, the potential for expansion, and whether pews were rented or not, etc.

Barking, Chelmsford, Colchester, Thaxted, Waltham Abbey, West Ham and Woodford all applied, and a vote was taken. West Ham had the most votes by far, but somehow in 1907 Chelmsford was chosen, perhaps, because it was central, and had better transport links? Nowadays the Cathedral of St Mary, St Peter and St Cedd, is a parish church and the Mother church for the whole Chelmsford Diocese of Essex and five Eastern London Boroughs.

John Watson Ditchfield became the first Bishop of Chelmsford in 1914

Tony closed his enlightening talk by telling us that that during the re-building of the 15th century St Mary’s Church, remains of a Norman church had been found, and that records of a church on that site date from 1100-1200 years.
Andrea Hewitt (ESFH 6398)
28th November 2020
S.E.Branch Annual General Meeting
The S.E.Branch held a "late" A.G.M. on Zoom at the end of November 2020. The meeting was conducted by Vice President Fred Feather. Following the chairman’s and financial reports the elections were held. The members of the current committee were re-elected "en bloc" and a new committee member, Mandie Adams, was also elected and welcomed.

"Necro Tourism" - the Magnificent Seven     by Fred Feather
This brief meeting was followed by an illustrated talk by Fred Feather entitled "Necro Tourism". After several summer trips to the "Magnificent Seven" London garden cemeteries plus one or two others,Fred showed us some of the more interesting or unusual memorials that can be found. One particularly imposing chest tomb in Bunhill Fields commemorates Dame Mary Page who died in 1728 aged 55. Apparently she requested the wording in her will and one side says: "In 67 months she was tap'd 66 times. Had taken away 240 gallons of water without ever repining at her case or ever fearing the operation". What a brave lady! It has been suggested that she suffered from Meigs’ Syndrome.

There are several books and websites available which tell where well known people are buried, either in London or around the country. Who knows who you might find when looking for the grave or a relative?
Heather Feather ESFH 366
March 2020
From its core influence within industry (transporting coal from places like Sunderland, Cardiff and Swansea), to tourism with the ferrying of people to exotic places, to the likes of the day-trippers to the seaside, the railways are so very much a part of our history.

We need to look back to those earlier times (the 1840s) when the distribution of goods was expensive and difficult. The coming of the railways changed all that. These were improvements that were ground-breaking at the time.

With the introduction of passenger services another ‘industry’ was soon to follow - tourism. ‘Set in all the right places, paradise could be gained in less than 2 hours’, so the poster might have told us as we boarded the train to our favourite destination. This was all about luxury with scenery to match. We’re talking hotels capable of accommodating 100 guests or more, replete with croquet, squash, tennis and perhaps a swimming pool by the 1890s. The seaside holiday was born, the leisure brought pleasure-seekers determined to enjoy every part that was theirs by rights.

The day-tripper had not yet been invented. For most it was not until the ‘Holidays with Pay Act’ of 1938 came into force (and this only applied to those employed in industry) which allowed workers time off for trips to the seaside, the nearest for many Londoners being Southend-on-Sea. It was only then that they, too, were able to enjoy the freedoms that were previously denied them.

Thank you Adrian for the journey back in time, a journey of which many of us had only a very limited knowledge.
Martin Haydn Roberts (ESFH 3860)
February 2020
HOME GROWN: THE STORY OF EKCO                              by Bob Delgano
“The Southend based company whose continuing breakthrough in electronics saw a future others could benefit from and this was at a time when Britain was lagging behind other countries in its approach to selling what it had. EKCO secured a foothold and kept it” - Bob Delgano.

Whether it be manufacturing their own products or supplying components for other companies, several of which were government-run organisations, the range and diversity of output was extraordinary, and it kept them there thanks to the team of experts who were mindful of the way certain products could be improved. The company’s founder, Eric Kirkham Cole, (1901-1966) recognised those qualities for without them, he felt, EKCO was just another company desperate to survive in an extremely competitive market where price was often the mainspring for future contracts.

So what sort of products did the company produce that would see them dominate the field of electronics for so long? These ranged from radios and radiograms, televisions (many had Bakelite cabinets, that smelly stuff which some will remember as rather unpleasant), plastics (their toilet seats were a definite winner), clocks (those somewhat iconic affairs from the 1940s and 1950s everyone seem to have on their desk or sideboard), electric blankets, a whole range of equipment for the aero industry (radar, telecommunications apparatus), heating products, washing machines. The firm were also heavily involved in nuclear development. They also manufactured Geiger counters.

There is now evidence that the monitoring of the German Enigma Code transmissions first began at Southend, Eric heading a team using shortwave radio to plot the number of times messages were being sent by German naval intelligence, Bletchley Park’s Commander Ellingworth recognising what could be achieved if they used EKCO – the list of credits is endless.

By the1930s radios were selling like hot cakes, and this was happening at a time when the USA Wall Street Crash of 1929 markedly affected businesses in the UK, to the extent that 100s of companies were forced to close.

The film Bob had with him drew on many of the elements that represented the EKCO approach to business. Technology was about exploring avenues. This suited the character of a man who demanded as much of himself as he did those who worked for him. Production line assembly techniques marked the crest of the company’s success with the Priory Crescent factory in Southend-on-Sea employing around 7,000 by the 1950s.

As with any successful business, the potential for failure is high and this finally happened when EKCO merged with Pye in the 1960s. What had been a monopoly was now a part-share in an ever-shifting market, more cut-throat and competitive than it was when EKCO first went into business producing battery eliminators back in the 1920s.

A further threatening presence came with the importation of the Japanese 625-line colour televisions offering quality at extremely competitive prices. By the mid-1960s, practically every other television manufacturer found itself facing the same loss of trade. For EKCO this meant the stockpiling of 100s of black and white 405-line televisions for a market that was virtually non-existent. You could say the demise of EKCO as a company happened around this time.

Southend had never had a company which employed so many people under one roof. We should be proud to say it was a local lad who had done this. And yet other than the EKCO Social and Sports Club, what is there that reminds us that Eric Kirkham Cole ever existed? No statue, no plaque. Shame on you, Southend Borough Council, for failing to acknowledge what he did for the town!

Chris Poole and Peter C Brown wrote in 2014 a book entitled EKCO Sounds which is about the company. Chris shares his experiences with others who also worked there; a collective knowledge which for me works so well. Seeing things from the inside gives one a sense of being there at a time when the company was undergoing change - technological breakthrough being the central issue. Contributions also include those from Eric’s son, Derek. OK, it does get a tad technical at times. That aside, EKCO Sounds is a thoroughly good read and is certainly worth the money. Available from Estuary Publishing at £9.99
Martin Haydn Roberts (ESFH 3860)
January 2020
St John Ambulance in Southend during the Great War 1914-1918                              by Mick Morning
Our speaker, Mick Morning, explained the inner workings of the service and how crucial it was during the four years of conflict.

Many were drawn to the St John service from the ranks of the armed forces, those who had since retired, to young men described as ‘unfit for service’, mostly owing to injury during combat. That did not mean they were not able play an important role as part of a team of volunteers working for organisations like the St John Ambulance Brigade (SJAB). But men were not the only ones who made up the numbers. Women were also recruited. The Edith Cavell/Florence Nightingale approach to nursing was eagerly championed by St John Ambulance and the Red Cross as part of their training programme.

The First World War loomed large in everyone’s life, not just abroad, but in towns throughout Britain. Southend-on-Sea was one of them. During one unsuccessful raid on London a team of Gotha bombers were forced back, unable to offload their lethal cargo. Carrying that much hardware back to Germany was dangerous, and so they dropped everything they had on Southend. Thirty people died and a lot of property was damaged, much of it beyond repair. During two earlier bombing raids a team of Zeppelins took the lives of three people. Once again there was damage to property.

Other than Rochford Hospital, 5 miles away, the one in Warrior Square had only eight beds to cope with a growing population; until 1936 there was no Southend General, hence the need for organisations like St John and the Red Cross. Improvisation was the name of the game in the early years of the Great War; tents, vans, property that had been vacated. Working in tandem, they ran a number of auxiliary hospitals in Southend; often using the Kursaal (the amusement park on the seafront) because of its size’, the Overcliff Hotel (again on the seafront), the Hotel Metropole (later renamed the Palace Hotel, placed at the top of Pier Hill), to name but a few. Dependant on the type of injuries involved, duties also included visiting people in their own homes. This was usually the responsibility of the team of nurses, those same volunteers who, like their male counterparts, had put themselves forward at the outset of war offering to help in any way they could.

The SJAB works in some of the world’s most dangerous places, whether through providing first aid, administering drugs or other medical care, the same policy holds true. This charity has a museum in Clerkenwell, London which is free to visit and holds a valuable collection of artefacts including books, paintings, ceramics, glass and illuminated manuscripts. (
Martin Haydn Roberts (ESFH 3860)
December 2019
Seeing It Through Their Songs    by Michael Gandy - Fellow Society of Genealogists
For some, the December 2019 talk could be a “once in a lifetime experience,” but I have been lucky and seen it twice. At Alexandra Palace last April I invited Michael to our branch meeting and asked him to repeat his barnstorming performance I had seen at Barking decades ago. “I probably can’t sing now” he said. “I am not sure that you could then” I graciously offered “but who cared!”

So, a packed audience heard how life was different in Victorian times, and how songs from London were 99% cheerful, even if the subject would now cause the “snowflakes” to be howling for counselling. “Always marry a widow. They come with a house and furniture” was word for word my memory. Michael explained that cheerful songs did not go down well in Glasgow, Cardiff or Dublin, where audiences wanted to weep over “Mother McCree,” “My ain folk,” or “Myfanwy”. While Marie Lloyd’s (1870-1922) suggestive movements and innuendo did not meet an expected response in Yorkshire and the North, and her act “died” on stage!

Michael then sang (?) a few dozen songs. To some of them the audience joined in, to the others, everyone was busy laughing too much to sing. I was longing for his big finish, our refreshment ‘supervisor’ forgave him for the stewed tea, then, joy - he sang it! The song of the Boer War baby, who was christened with the name of every South African General (inc. Smuts and Roberts), battles (inc. Spion Kop and Majuba Hill,) irrelevancies (inc. Armoured Train) and much more. He invited the audience to join in. They defied him. So he sang it the third time at twice the speed. I could not get all the names down.

This 90 minute master-class left everyone happy and knowing more about their forebears than they did before he came in. Oh, I do hope that other members read this and request he is booked for their branch as I want to hear it again. Please!
Fred Feather (ESFH 27/366) Standing in for Martin Roberts – he missed it!

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