All the qualities that make Southend unique are caught on a new DVD, the latest in the hugely-popular the Way We Were series.

Southend – the Way We Were stitches togetheramass of newsreel, promotional documentaries and amateur film, stretching over more than 100 years, to create a moving picture scrapbook.

The DVD offers nostalgia with added turbo thrust.

Other film-portraits of towns in the Way We Were series have tended to be whimsical, lingering trips down memory lane. But from its birth in the early 1800s, Southend has always been too busy and boisterous to be associated with the notion of lingering anywhere. This is an action movie.

Everywhere there is the impression of a town that is on the make and on the move.

Crowds swarm onto the streets of Southend for the 1914 celebrations of county borough status. Exuberant holidaymakers scuttle up and down Southend Pier. Boats, whether Thames barges or outboard-motor launches, race each other feverishly up and down the Estuary.

Thousands cram the trains from London as they head for the beaches, women perched on their menfolk’s knees.

Southend’s entire police constabulary gives a display of precision drill as the PCs head down Victoria Avenue for the Mayor’s Parade.

Exuberance is in the air of Southend, and it seems to have infected every one of the thousands of people from the past who are the stars of this film compilation.

To an extent, Southend and film cameras grew up together. Southend was born from scratch just 200 years ago, from a small row of fishermen’s cottages. It was still a young, raw, fastgrowing town when the first cine cameras appeared on its streets.

One revealing sequence, from around 1905, shows Edwardian crowds at the entrance to Southend Pire thronging past a static camera. Not knowing quite what to make of the new-fangled device, some of the men doff their hats and caps to it.

In capturing the development of the town, the film also, quite inadvertently, recordsamass of fascinating social detail. Times, they are a changing, constantly. In some ways, our grandads and grans were more formal and sedate.

Sea anglers on Southend Pier and dads heading down the helter-skelter, all wear suits and ties.

In other respects, they were more sassy. One scene shoes a lovely legs competition. A line of girls, along with a spattering of mums, roll up their skirts and cheerfully flash the crowds. The sight will make any modern politically correct person’s hair stand on end.

At the diametrically opposite end of the scale, the film shows the dignity and, on occasions, splendour of corporation Southend on display. Civic grandeur is a notion that has disappeared from modern local government. But as late as the Thirties, the mayor and alderman still saw fit to parade in silk top hats and fur robes. Their faces are invariably stern, and they look as if they have billiard balls in their mouths.

In fast-expanding Southend, the Mayor and council were forever opening things or celebrating some new status conferred on the town – incorporation as a borough, incorporation as a county borough, anniversary of incorporation, extension of the pier. Each of these events is accompanied by a civic parade, with the mayor and mayoress and aldermen in full regalia. The film cameras also dutifully joined the parade.

Watch a clip of the DVD here: 

The climax of civic self importance for Southend was reached in October 1967, when the Queen Mother opened the new Civic Centre. The occasion is fully caught on film, by now in colour.

Southend had waited almost a century for its own town hall, and the occasion was not going to be wasted.

Thousands of cheering Southenders line the streets. Rows of children (given the day off from school for the occasion) wave flags. It was the last time Southend turned out in such numbers, and with such a sense of close-knit local identity, to celebrate the town and its achievements.

The people who shot these scenes, mostly on fairly modest 16mm camera, probably never imagined their film sequences would have any lasting value.

Nowwe owe them a debt of gratitude. What seemed humdrum 50 years ago, looks extraordinary now. In the way it captures the constant heartbeat of Southend down the passing years, this old film stock is brushed with magic.

  • The Echo is offering copies of the DVD Southend – the WayWeWere at a special price of £15.50 (which includes postage and packaging). Send cheques, payable to Newsquest Essex Ltd, to: TheWay We Were – Southend, Newspaper House, Chester Hall lane, Basildon, SS14 3BL. Make sure you include your name, address, postcode and telephone number as well as howmany copies you wish to buy.