ATF Exploring our cultural history!

In partnership with the Heritage lottery Fund,  ATF have embarked on an exciting new project that looks at Southends’ heroes and villains. The project will last for a year and will explore the history of the town.

The young people have proposed our Young Roots Project would focus on helping young people connect with their local heritage and to celebrate the achievements of their local community. The project will build on the success of our small grant project. We found this initial project has really engaged our young people. We want to explore Southend’s history and the young people taking part in the project will try to discover key people whom they consider to be Southend’s heroes and villains. We will celebrate the richness of our culture with a series of events throughout one year including a project of research as part of a history club for 20 young people in the local secondary school, a heritage trail designed by 25 young members of our Culture Club, an art club for 20 young people and a drama club for a further 30. We want to bring a ‘Horrible Histories’ element to the project to help make it fun and engaging. We will therefore reflect on some of the towns villains and foul deeds as part of the brief. Our project is also aimed at instilling a greater sense of pride in our young people in the achievements of their community and to bring together young people from some of the migrant communities in Southend with young people from the local white community where there is a history of tense relations.
The Heritage that will be covered within this project in which we will direct young people towards will include;
The Anglo Saxon period, researching the Saxon King of Southend or Prittlewell Prince – Discovered in 2003, The find was described as “a once in a lifetime discovery” the chamber provided a unique insight into life and death in the Dark Ages.The status of the finds at the grave site rank in importance similar to that of the Sutton Hoo site in Suffolk.

World War 1 – Over 2,000 young men from the Southend area died in World War 1 and we would like our young people to discover some of their personal stories or perhaps share their own family history from that time. One such story was that of Percy Garon. who was decorated with the Military Cross in World War 1 but went on to win the George Cross in World War 2 for his courage as a fire fighter. Percy Garon was a member of one of the most famous families in the town’s history that dominated the High Street with food emporiums, cafes and cinemas. Today the town still remembers the family referring to the land north of Eastern Avenue as Garon’s. Percy Garon however, is a war hero who’s life needs to be explored further, he died at the age of 87. His affilliation with the Lifeboat Service lasted some 40 years and ensured one of the services main boats at this time was named after him. A true Southend man born in the heart of the town in Tyler’s Avenue.

We would use heroes such as Garons to look back on the some of the notable people who helped create the community of Southend. Another example would be R A Jones’ who’s shop was situated at 76–78 High Street, Southend.

An archive of papers, receipts and photographs relating to the business of R A Jones is cared for at the Central Museum, Southend and is easily available.
After R A Jones died in 1925, the High Street business was continued by his son, Edward Cecil. It suffered severe damage during World War Two when, in October 1942, the area was hit by a Messerschmitt attack.
The store finally closed in 1979, when it was replaced by a Lavells newsagents, which in turn was replaced by Dixons(another firm started in Southend). The building is still prominent in Southend High Street, with its large clock and the name R.A.Jones moulded into the facia.
In 1913, R A Jones presented the Jones Memorial Ground to the school children of the town of Southend in memory of his wife. It had cost him £9000.
Priory Park in Prittlewell was donated to the town by R A Jones: in 1917 he purchased Prittlewell Priory from the Scratton family, along with 22 acres of land. Having negotiated the purchase of a further six acres, R A Jones then presented the site stating, “I think it is a sin for a man to die rich, it is a great privilege to me to be able to do this, for I believe strongly in facilities for recreation. There will now be no need for such an out of the way and costly park as Belfairs. Prittlewell, with its historic and old-world associations, its beautiful trees and lakes, and its nearness to the centre of town, is an ideal place. Part of the building would be suitable for a museum, and there would also be refreshment room accommodation, while the grounds would provide facilities for cricket, football, tennis, hockey and other sports. I propose that the name of the park should be Priory Park”.

Victory Sports Ground was given to Southend by R A Jones in 1921, and it particularly commemorates those sportsmen who died in World War One. This public park was given for the benefit of the people of Southend, and is managed in Trust by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.
A public drinking fountain, commemorating the fallen of World War One and given by R A Jones, is sited in Priory Park.
The clock at the entrance to Prittlewell Square was donated by R A Jones.
He endowed the R A Jones in Memoriam Fund which exists to promote the education of children attending primary schools in Southend-on-Sea.

The story of the Jones family provides us with an opportunity to explore more
wartime bombings within Southend but also helps young people to understand the heritage and legacy of family names still in use today.

As stated stories such as these bring our town to life. They can be interwoven into the relevant history and our third specific area of interest would be World War 2 – When Leigh cockle fishermen played a valiant and key role in the evacuation of British Soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk during the Second World War.

Ordinary local seamen decided that they would take part in a covert rescue mission, called Operation Dynamo, and in the process managed to save many troops, ferrying them between outlying ships and the beaches of Northern France.

The original team of boats, the Letitia, The Endeavour, the Resolute, the Reliant, the Defender and the Renown, set off on May 31, 1940, at 00.30 hours, travelling across the Channel with a convoy commanded by the Navy.

It was believed that their appearance as cockleboats would provide a good disguise, as they appeared for the entire world like ordinary French sailing vessels, and would not be detected by the enemy.

Not only did they demonstrate immense courage under fire, they showed courage as fishermen – most had never left the estuary to enter the unpredictable waters of the channel for the 30 mile journey to Dunkirk.

Amongst them they saved thousand of troops, and having achieved their mission, they set sail for Leigh. It was on their return that tragedy struck, as fisherman Arthur Dench explained: “We saw another boat coming behind us, it was the Renown. Frankie yelled that they had engine trouble. They made fast to our stern and we towed them, about three and a half fathoms of rope being the distance between us.

He continues that they sailed in into the night, when, “at about 1.50 am, a terrible explosion took place as the Renown went over a mine.”

Arthur Dench continued: “a hail of splinters came down on our deck. In the dark, we could do nothing except pull in the towrope.”

Tragically, her crew of four perished in the explosion. Arthur said: “They knew nothing of war, they went to save, not fight. They had done their work and now suddenly on their way home there came annihilation.”
Our fourth area of heritage interest would be Tourism and the forming and expansion of Southend from the south end of Prittlewell commencing in 17**
We would like to help our young people connect with their heritage as a seaside town and as the home of Britain’s longest leisure pier. From the expansion and growth in popularity of Southend and the considerable part it played in youth culture during the mid to late 20th Century there are many aspects to be considered alongside many colorful characters.

In 1953 Southend was badly affected by the floods produced by the highest tides in living memory. We would like our young people to look at the events of the ‘great flood’ and perhaps discover some of the unrecognised heroes of those days.

In terms of local villains there are a number of fantastical stories that link perfectly to specific heritage. Our fifth area of exploration would be – Victorian times and local fisherman. The Sea Witch Sarah Moore was said to curse unborn children so that they were born with a hare lip, cause storms at sea and caused local children who tried to break into her property to spontaneously combust! The old legend of the Sea Witch says that she cursed a local skipper when he refused to give her any of his hard earned cash. She would beg the fishermen whilst she was down at the wharf in return for a fair wind.

The sixth area of heritage would be The Tudors and Sir Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich of Leez, Essex who is stated as being the most manipulative man in 16th century British history. Any historians would be hard pressed to find any British man who walked the earth with less redeeming qualities. With no moral centre, not even the zealous religious fanaticism common for the era, the Baron Rich of Leez lived his life switching to the whims of the monarchs he served, resourcefully allying with and then stepping on anyone in his way to advancement and wealth. Synonymous with torture (with his own bare hands), murder and deeds most foul. We are fortunate for this project to have had this villain living in our area! Unfortunately for many in the realm, Rich was long-lived, spreading his venom throughout the reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and Queen Mary I, amazingly remaining unscathed. With the varying political and religious agendas of these monarchs, ranging from staunch Roman Catholicism to near Calvinist Protestantism and everything in between.

The seventh and final area of heritage would be Georgian Southend Highwaymen and a link to the infamous Dick Turpin.

Richard ‘Dick’ Turpin, from the rural Essex village of Hempstead, turned to crime with ease. As a butcher in the 1730s, he began stealing sheep and cattle, bringing him to the attention of the notorious deer-poaching Essex (or Gregory) Gang. As his association with them increased, Turpin got involved with their signature crime of raiding homes. When the law caught up with the Essex Gang, many of them were executed but Turpin got away and turned to a new line of work – highway robbery. From a cave in Epping Forest, near London, he and another man, Thomas Rowden, held up people as they walked by. The takes weren’t huge, just a few guineas on occasion, but a bounty of £100 was put on their heads. Turpin had a taste for the life of a highwayman – he went on to team up with well-known criminal Tom King and committed a string of robberies. Much has been made of this partnership but, in truth, the two weren’t partners for long as, in early 1737, King was mortally wounded in an altercation over a stolen horse. Some accounts claim it was Turpin who fired the fatal shot, by accident.

Whilst these stories indicate the rich heritage and cover a vast period of history initially we have at hand to explore initially, we want the young people to have the opportunity to research these areas further and to lead the selection of areas that are focused on. At the core of the heritage on which we wish our project to focus is a goal of helping young people make a connection with their community roots and to celebrate their shared heritage.