Posts Tagged ‘Southend’

Shortly before writing this, I began reading the book ‘Southend at War’ by the excellent local author Dee Gordon. Beyond the Point’s affiliation with the Imperial War Museum Centenary Partnership meant that it would be both appropriate and useful to create a short documentary on Southend in the First World War inspired by the first section of the book. As no real physical evidence exists of the damage done by the numerous bombings that Southend suffered, the 5-minute documentary focuses on familiar locations where destruction, and aid, occurred. 

Did any kind of destruction occur on the home-front in the Great War to the degree of World War Two?

Indeed it did, but unlike during the Second World War and the Blitz, only some places were hit. Southend was one such place. The most notable affair concerning the Great War and Southend-on-Sea was that it saw 100 bombs dropped on it during air-raids from German Zeppelins on the 10th of May 1915. The first of these to find a target landed here in York Road, damaging a house that a soldier was billeted in at the time. Numerous houses along the London Road were hit also.

The Gotha bomber was a German bi-plane capable of longer-distance missions and greater accuracy than previous technology had allowed. Twenty of these hulks were spotted cruising to London on Sunday the 12th of August, 1917, when they unexpectedly made a bee line for Southend. In fifteen minutes, 40 bombs were dropped near the Southend Victoria railway station. Over forty innocent people were injured, and the fire brigade were called in not only to tackle the blaze, but to drag the blasted corpses from the scene as horrified civilians looked on.

 What part did Southend play in the war effort?

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.

In the renown Victorian ‘Kursaal’ amusement centre, Lord Kitcheners’ famous ‘Your Country Needs You’ recruitment campaign enlisted over 1,000 men to be sent off to France. However, between August and November of 1914, 22 Southenders had been killed. Down Victoria Road, captured German officers were held in a prisoner of war camp set up in the building which would later become Westcliff Highschool for Boys in 1920. The school moved to its current site at Kenilworth Gardens in 1926.


The two BTP boys, and occasional accomplice Jack Swestun, set off at McDonalds in Southend Airport, to investigate pillboxes once defending Rochford airfield, established in August 1914. Although it became an airport in 1935, it wasn’t designated for civilian use until late 1946, after the war. Using sources such as the Defence of Britain Project, coupled with Google Earth, we were able to mark out the locations of 8 pillboxes on a map we printed out of the area.


The first pillbox we saw was bare concrete and of Type 24 design (guide to pillbox variants here: It was hidden behind the McDonalds car park, facing out onto Rochford Road. It was accessible but featured a fair degree of graffiti inside.

After this we crossed the railway line via the bridge that the road continued onto. There was some old signage to be seen. We passed the current airfield control tower, the Avro Vulcan bomber (an impressive model of plane used by the RAF from 1956 up to 1984) that the airport holds there, and another Type 24 pillbox similar to the one we saw first.

Still heading along the Rochford Road-side, we made an impressive discovery. Jack spotted what appeared to be an Anderson shelter from the Second World War. it looked old enough, and has been confirmed to likely have been one, although possibly lifted (originally sunk into the ground for extra strength against bombing). It appeared to have been used as a general shed, as various tools and a couple of chairs were hidden in it, although even these appeared to be rather old. Being in such a hard to reach, overgrown location, it is probable it had been left to ruin.


After a few directions from the locals, and a walk through a public park, we ended up at another type of pillbox – this time, of ‘Cantilever’ design, which we would see two more of later on. Cantilever pillboxes were designed and built by F C Construction for airfield defence, and ’53 examples are still extant’. The roof was disconnected from the sides of the pillbox, supported only by a large central pillar, meaning a 360 degree firing slit was possible. They featured a rail around the sides of the slit for the mounting of weapons. The slit was only slightly higher than ground level, as the main pillbox body was sunken, enabling what appeared to be an effective defense. This one was against the railway fence, although a way from the actual track. Its door and firing slit was bricked up.


We next passed a hut which looked as if it was likely to have been from the days of the Rochford airfield, underground some kind of conversion or restoration work which seemed to be fairly vacant. The three of us then joined up with Rochford Hundred Golf Course, finding a pillbox on the outskirts with a fresh puddle inside. We looked out at the golfers, all over 50, wondering which bad-boy could’ve been responsible. It was rendered in brick from the casting process, although much of this had crumbled away to reveal the concrete underneath.

Next we passed a few derelict planes within the airport site, and a small stream. This lead us out onto a field where we would see the last four pillboxes together. One of the bunkers was infact a possible ammo store (‘magazine’) and not used for firing upon enemies. It was basically a covered brick pit sunken far into the ground, with steps going down into it. Although beyond the airport fence, these fields would originally have been part of the site of the airfield. Finally, we checked out two more cantilever pillboxes in that field, along with another Type 24. One of the cantilevers had an aircraft tyre in, which looked rather old too!



June the 6th 1944, shortly after midnight, 24,000 British, US, and Canadian, airborne troops landed in the region of France that the amphibious assault would capture around 6:30 in the morning that day. Allied troops began landed on the 50-mile stretch of perilous beaches of Nazi-occupied Normandy in order to push back the short-lived Nazi German empire Hitler was rapidly loosing. This happened today exactly 70 years ago. Whilst times and technology have since far surpassed that of wartime Britain, the Second World War is still well within living memory of the members of our community and immediate environment today. It is far too easy to dismiss it as history.

What local connections do we have to D-Day then?

There are two remains locally which hark back to the Allied assault on Normandy. Off the Southend/Shoebury shores lies a wrecked Mulberry Harbour – a floating concrete platform used in great numbers by the allies as supply points in the English channel. One of the floats off of the Mulberry Harbours, ‘ferro-concrete barges’, was moored up near Canvey point for many decades, and became a legendary playground for kids, until it was sneakily demolished in the 2003.

The D-Day Beaches Today

Many of the D-Day beaches are littered with remnants from Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ (his coastal defense line against invasion via France) which defended German territory from the Allies in D-Day. Only part of this came to use, as Hitler did not know what part of his European coastline would be invaded.

In August 2012 I visited Le Touquet, on holiday in Northern France, a coastal town, which happened to still hold bunkers remaining from the Atlantic Wall on the beach, much to my delight. Below ares some images of such bunkers whose designs would probably have been common across the sections of coastline invaded in D-Day. It’s good to cover some historic remains abroad for a change!

I also visited, in 2011, Sword Beach, a more heavily defended British beach (with the American Omaha beach being far heavier). This was an actual D-day beach, although many remains of the Atlantic Wall here had been since removed. It was on the town of Ouistreham, the name ‘Sword’ merely being a code-name given by the Allies. There was however a very large bunker – ‘The Grand Bunker’, open as a restored museum, which was in fact very good. I will try and find some of the other structural photographs I got of the building at a later date, but for now here is a few:

Southend Airport

Posted: March 6, 2014 by BTP Joe in Case Study
Tags: , , , , , ,

Copyright Southend Airport

Today, the airport is an expanding hub however the airport has quite a history. In the 1960’s it was the third busiest airport in the UK and remained so until the 1970’s when Stansted Airport took over the title. Located between Rochford and Southend, it has a six thousand foot runway (1.2 miles) and can take the weight of a Boeing 757.

In 1914 the airfield was established by the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and was the largest flying ground in Essex, also with the greatest number of units. It was taken over by the Royal Naval Air Service in May 1915 and remained so until 1916 when it became RFC Rochford. It was designed as a night fighter station and many sorties were flown against Zeppelin airship raiders. It was closed in 1920 and was reverted to farmland for a while however it was officially opened on September 18th 1935 by Philip Sassoon the Under-Secretary of State for Air. On the west boundary there used to be an aviation museum.

The Cantilever Pillbox by the Airport (Not BTP)

In 1939 the Air Ministry requisitioned the airfoil and was formally known at RAF Rochford in the World War II. (However it was known as RAF Southend between October 1940 and August 1944.) It because a satellite base and a base for fighter aircraft including Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes as well as Bristol Blenheim (bomber). There were 50 pillboxes built to protect the airport from paratroop landings (military parachutists) with just under half remaining today. The underground defence control room near to the current Southend Flying Club still remains today. Roughly 20 or so pillboxes remain in the surrounding area. In Canewdon, 2 miles north-east of the airport, a World War II Chain Home radar station was built. Chain Home, or CH for short, was the codename for the ring of costal early warning radar stations which were built before and during the Second World War by the British. A 110m tower at Canewdon was relocated to the Marconi works at Great Baddlow during the 1950’s.

Southend Airport 1961 (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

In 1946, after the Second World War, the airfield was decommissioned from military use and returned to public use in 1947. The name ‘Southend Municipal Airport’ name also returned. The airport is often remembered for the car ferry flights. A Carvair ATL-98 was a product of Aviation Traders and subsequently there was one at the airport. Annual passenger numbers peaked in 1967 at 692,000. The airport continued to handle more traffic than Stansted until well into the 1970’s. It took 45 years to beat the previous annual passenger traffic recording, ending in February 2013 with 721,661 passengers. In May 1972 an aircraft museum was officially opened however, it closed in May the following year and the majority of their entire exhibits was sold in 1983. The Museum had been open quite a long time earlier than its official opening on 26th May 1972; many of the exhibited aircraft were placed there as early as May 1967.

As well as this new record, the airport also holds a UK record for having the first airliner flight flown by an all female crew on October 31st 1979. Since 1986, the airport has been home to the Avro Vulcan XL426, one of just 3 in working condition. It is owned by the Vulcan Restoration Trust, a registered charity, which keeps the systems and engines of it serviceable, allowing it to be occasionally taxied although it is not airworthy.

The Big Vulcan! (Not Courtesy of BTP)

Southend is also known for the annual airshow, which is currently at threat. The very first show was on May 26th 1986 and was the first of 27 successive annual shows with the last being in 2012. Many of the aircraft featured were held temporary at the airport whilst they were not flying.

1990 to Present

In 1993, the airport had been making losses for a number of years and the decision was made by the council to sell the airport. It was purchased and re-branded to the current ‘London Southend Airport’, dropping the term ‘Municipal’. The largest ever aircraft to land was a Lockheed L-1011 Tristar which landed at the airport in 1998 to be scrapped. A debate was started in 2001 over the possible relocation of the Grade 1 listed church next to the runway with the council rejecting the plans in 2003. The airport was put up for sale again in January 2008 and was bought by the current owners Stobart Group for £21 million. EasyJet signed a ten-year contract with Stobart Group in June 2011 and the following year, around 70 flights a week were taking place. The destinations also increased including places such as Alicante and Malaga. A new terminal was built and opened in February 2012, being opened officially by the Secretary of State for Transport. That year also saw more flights, destinations and an increase in the runway length.

Here is a video filmed and edited by some college friends on the airport currently. Liam and myself will filming a documentary over the summer.

The following exclusive photos show the airport currently, taken from some great angles. Courtesy & copyright of Southend Airport.

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Information from Wikipedia and Peter Brown. With thanks to Peter Brown and London Southend Airport.

Born John Wilkinson, he changed his name to distinguish himself from the two other Johns in Dr. Feelgood. Recently, Joe and  I were privileged enough to be able to speak to Wilko Johnson; legendary guitarist and song-write. Starting of playing for Dr. Feelgood in its early, and most successful, days, he left in 1978 and soon joined Ian Dury and the Blockheads. In time, he also set up his own band, ‘The Wilko Johnson Band’. To this day, he performs with Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe from the Blockheads. He has certainly made up a huge part of Canvey Island and South-East Essex’s history and culture. Sadly, at the turn of 2013, Wilko was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Despite having roughly until August or September until he feels any ill effects, Wilko has shown complete well-being and uncompromising energy, even at present. He recently played at the Village Green festival in Southend as a surprise appearance.

Thanks to Chris Fenwick and Robert Hoy, we were able to meet Wilko and discuss several aspects of his life which had not previously been enlightened during by his recent publicity. We asked him about his upbringing on Canvey Island, and he told us how the remains of the wartime gun battery at Thorney Bay Holiday Camp served as a child’s playground. He recalled one occasion in which he and some friends made a pipe bomb and set it in an old observation tower. He remembers scrambling down its rickety steps as the explosion went off, which was incredibly loud. When an approaching pair of adults arrived at the scene, he told them ‘What explosion?’ with the scene of a smoking, smoldering, tower clearly visible behind him.

The Dr. Feelgood logo, drawn by Wilko.

The Dr. Feelgood logo, drawn by Wilko.

Wilko attended Westcliff High School for Boys in 1958, and despite describing his time at school as ‘drab’ and becoming a void in his memory, he does remember seeing an electric guitar there for the first time in the flesh. He told us of how its intricacy was enough to inspire him to take an interest in getting one for himself. He also greatly enjoyed art during the Sixth Form, which inspired him to take up painting as a hobby through his life. One of the many things he did was designing the iconic Dr. Feelgood logo, depicting a dodgy doctor with an eagerness to over-prescribe drugs.

Wilko displays the painting of his former secondary school he was presented with.

Wilko displays the painting of his former secondary school he was presented with.

   We were also fortunate to receive an insight into the more advanced aspects of his guitar playing. The essence of his technique comes from Mick Green of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates. Whilst chopping up and down repetitively, with his right hand, he is able to mute the strings by gently touching them. He then inserts quick ‘stabs’ to a rhythm by quickly squeezing the guitar with a grip-like hold. This forms the rhythm guitar section of his songs. He then plays the lead guitar section at the same time by playing rapid riffs with his individual fingers, between the stabs, still chopping up and down with his right hand. This gives him his signature choppy sound, as if playing two guitar parts at once. He usually demonstrates this to those taking an interest in his guitar style. However, we asked him to show us how then played the more complex parts of songs, displaying some of the other cords he uses, and the riffs for his less-commonly demonstrated songs, such as ‘I Don’t Mind’ and ‘All Through the City’.

Another feature which characterizes his playing style is striking the string with his bare hand rather than a plectrum or ‘pick’. When asked about this, he told us how one his son (who plays for band ‘8 Rounds Rapid’) had played two gigs consecutively, and was terrified by the fact he’d reduced his fingertips to ‘mincemeat’ with the second concert still to be played.

Wilko thankfully allowed us to film the interview and guitar demonstration, which you can watch at the top of this article. Many thanks go to him for giving up his time for us.

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At the outbreak of World War II, the Port of London was the busiest port in the world. As such, a large proportion of supplies to the UK entered by ships navigating the Thames. The German Navy quickly sought to put a stranglehold on this route, and to this end, utilised a new secret weapon – the magnetic influence mine. Whilst there were different variants of this mine, in simplistic terms, the mine was detonated by the presence of a large magnetic object – such as a steel hulled ship – passing in close proximity, without having to make physical contact. So successful was this that in the first few months of the war, over one hundred ships were sunk in the Thames Estuary alone. It was clear that urgent action was needed to stem these losses, and as most mines were laid by aircraft, ships were requisitioned and used as mobile anti aircraft units. However, this was not altogether successful, and a more satisfactory solution was needed.In the early years of the war, Guy Maunsell, a civil engineer, had produced plans for offshore defences.

At the time his ideas were considered somewhat eccentric, but he was asked to submit plans for an offshore fort as an effective means of dealing with the laying of the mines. Plans were drawn up, and after some modification, approval was given for the manufacture and installation of four offshore forts. These were of mainly reinforced concrete construction, built on land on a lozenge shaped reinforced base, and towed out to sea where they were sunk onto the seabed.

The source for this blog post

Each fort accommodated approximately 120 men, housed mainly within seven floors of the 24’ diameter twin reinforced concrete legs and were under the control of the Navy. They were all placed in position between six and twelve miles offshore between February and June, 1942 and became operational immediately. Each fort accommodated up to 265 men.


After the war the forts were placed on ‘care and maintenance’. However as the need for their continued use diminished, they were abandoned, and the guns removed from the Army forts, in 1956.The Nore fort was dismantled in 1959 being considered a hazard to shipping (two towers were lost following a collision in 1953 whilst another in 1963). In 1964, Radio Caroline began broadcasting from a ship moored outside UK Territorial Waters.

Four of the forts survive, abandoned since they were decommissioned in the 1950s. Each played host to pirate radio stations in the 1960s. Since this time, Roughs has been occupied by the founder of Radio Essex, Roy Bates, who in 1967 declared the fort an independent state: The Principality of Sealand. Its independence is not recognised and as with all the Maunsell forts, it is still considered UK territory (though this is often disputed). In 2007, there was talk of The Pirate Bay relocating to Roughs, in a bid to take advantage of its disputed territory claim and get around toughened copyright law in Sweden. This fell through. The plans can be seen below. (Right click image then select open in new tab to enlarge the picture)

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Today, Redsand Fort as the only complete structure as built in wartime is the focus of attention by Project Redsand, a group of enthusiasts with the aim of reinstating the Fort to its original built condition. Having had an underwater survey carried out by the Port of London Authority at a cost of around £5,000, work has progressed to installing a new access system to the G1 tower thanks to the generosity of Mowlem Marine (now Carillion) of Northfleet. Built at a cost of approximately £40,000, the access system enables project members to board the tower to commence restoration. The BTP Boys hope to venture out one day!

Useful Websites:

Project Redsand –

Maunsell Forts –

1943 Pictures –