Memories: A History of Southend's Amusement Park
Southend was the nearest seaside resort to London.
Following Sir John Lubbock’s Bank Holiday Act of 1871, the first Monday in
August became a national holiday, and the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway
Company posted bills on hoardings all over London advertising Southend as the
capital’s nearest resort.
1883 the East London Observer commented:
seemed to recognise that the August Holiday was, of all others, the one
for suburban outings or seaside trips rather than the peculiar enjoyments
derivable from parading the streets.
Wanstead Heath the East Ender could enjoy the toy stalls, photographic
studios, coconut shies, kiss-in-the-ring, pony and donkey riding, steam
roundabouts and swings. Some resorts, Eastbourne and Bournemouth, for
example, excluded such amusements, but at Southend such entertainment had
been provided, seasonally, for many years on the seafront greens. Southend
became known as Whitechapel-on-Sea. When the Marine Park, and then the
Kursaal opened, they provided the same sort of entertainments, but this
time, bigger and better.
The Kursaal remained a major destination,
especially for day-trippers and works outings from the East End of London, until
the 1960s.There were several annual events for which the Kursaal was justly
famous. These included the New Year’s Eve Ball, the charity dinner for deprived
children, sponsored by the Alexandra Yacht Club, and the Old People’s Dinner.
The Kursaal was used as the setting for scenes in a number of films and episodes
of television shows, among them The Avengers, The Prisoner, Nearest and Dearest
(when it was supposed to be Blackpool!) and the films Over the Moon and
Twenty-One Days. The Kursaal was largely self-supporting, with its own ice-cream
and rock factories, greenhouses and laundry.
A combination of factors resulted in declining visitor numbers
especially from the mid-1960s onwards. Cheap package holidays to the sun, and
the growth of sight-seeing tours took a large number of visitors to the
Mediterranean or to the West Country, especially following the advent of paid
holidays and increased motor car ownership. Southend, like many other large
towns, looked towards changing its image in the 1960s, modernising the town
centre and seeking a new economic base. Added to that, in the 1960s and 1970s
many new entertainment centres were opening in Southend, including the Cliffs
Pavilion. Times were changing, but the Kursaal was not changing with them. The
closing song There’s No Business Like Show Business was played over the tannoy
for the last time in the early 1970s.
Above: One of the Kursaal's famous
attractions: the Cyclone roller coaster
the reader will discover, as with many fairs and fairgrounds, the Kursaal was
very much a family institution. Generations of the same family worked at the
park, as concessionaires (tenants) or employees, and in some cases for as long
as the Kursaal existed.
The purpose of this book is to trace in some detail the
history of Southend’s Kursaal, and hopefully - for those many millions who visited
- rekindle some memories of the south's greatest amusement park.
"An eagerly-awaited book...This 106 page
soft back has a wealth of information both for local residents and amusement
park historians wherever they may live...Highly recommended"
"Wonderful book on one of Britain's
most famous amusement parks...There are precious few books on British parks and
this new release is a welcome addition. Contains a well researched history and
loads of photos very rarely seen."
"Kursaal Memories is a fascinating account
of the history of what was once billed as 'the People's Palace - the best
Amusement Resort in or out of London'. Like other books from this publisher it
is extremely well designed, with a multitude of illustrations."
The Fairground Mercury