FOR centuries, Shoebury Garrison was private property, out of bounds from public gaze.

The gates off Shoebury High Street, near the Shoebury Hotel, were the only chance most of us got to sneak a glance at the historic buildings inside the old barracks.

Echo: Garrison - the old officers’ messGarrison - the old officers’ mess (Image: Newsquest)

For years, it was hidden from public view despite its landmark clock tower, beautiful chapel, hospital and the opulent officers’ mess.

It all started to become more visible in the late 1990s when the garrison was decommissioned.

Echo: Before the fire - the old Shoebury Garrison officers’ messBefore the fire - the old Shoebury Garrison officers’ mess (Image: Newsquest)

The officers’ mess was opened for public functions including all-night dances and the annual Southend mayor’s civic dinner.

The last was in 1996 when Lib Dem councillor Howard Gibeon marked the start of his mayoral year at the officers’ mess, described at the time as a “wonderful venue, full of history and a splendid place to celebrate”.

Echo: Banquets - the opulent officers’ messBanquets - the opulent officers’ mess (Image: Newsquest)

The Ministry of Defence later sold the garrison to housing developer Gladedale Homes which started the vast project to build new homes alongside the beautiful buildings on the site.

The grand officers’ mess, however, was not to stand for long.

In June, 2008, the building was hit by a blaze and then, in August 2009, arsonists struck, delivering a devastating blow.

Echo: Gutted - after the military moved outGutted - after the military moved out (Image: Newsquest)

The old building, which for years entertained generations of officers, was practically destroyed by fire which swept through the building.

Flames and smoke could be seen towering into the air as the fire took hold.

Echo: Shell - how the old officers’ mess lookedShell - how the old officers’ mess looked (Image: Newsquest)

Many living on the “new” garrison were sad at the loss of the officers’ mess, with one saying: “It was just so sad. There is so much history here and the officers’ mess was at the centre of it.

“If walls could talk, I’m sure the could impart so many stories over the decades.”

Echo: Charred remains - firefighters on sceneCharred remains - firefighters on scene (Image: Newsquest)

It was a sad end to a building at the centre of the historic Shoebury Garrison which is now a stunning mini village just yards away from East Beach.

In 2010, London-based architects John Thompson and Partners outlined plans to restore the mess to its original condition before it was destroyed by the two devastating fires.

Echo: Burned out - in 2010 as campaigners called for actionBurned out - in 2010 as campaigners called for action (Image: Newsquest)

The officers’ mess conversion was later approved by Southend Council for renovation to 11 luxury Grade II listed private homes “that provide a unique seafront retreat”.

Echo: Blaze - the fire could be seen from the beachBlaze - the fire could be seen from the beach (Image: Newsquest)