Today the Kursaal is fast becoming a white elephant and many Southenders are battling to ensure such an important part of the city’s heritage isn’t lost forever and doesn’t become a permanent blot on the landscape.

The future for the building is hanging in the balance so it’s more important than ever to remember and celebrate its fascinating history.

Today we look back at the day the attraction opened. It was in July of 1901 and just like many a British summer, it was a dreary, rainy day.

Dancing - Many a party was held in the Kursaal ballroom over the decadesDancing - Many a party was held in the Kursaal ballroom over the decades (Image: Newsquest)

Despite the elements a grand celebration to officially open the palatial attraction had been organised.

VIP guest Lord Claud Hamilton was chosen to do the honours in what reporters would describe as a ‘pleasing ceremony’.

The opening event occurred on a Wednesday. It absolutely bucketed it down, yet despite the drenching, huge crowds gathered inside and out of the Kursaal to experience the deluxe entertainment which included a band situated in one of the lower galleries of the dome and a large party gathering in the great assembly hall.

As well as Lord Hamilton – a famous politician and noted railway magnate – many important faces could be seen in the crowds- including the mayor of Southend, council leaders, the borough engineer and local businessman and philanthropist Robert Arthur Jones.

When it was time to declare the Kursaal open, Lord Hamilton came forward to the front of the stage and said: “It is a great undertaking which we have assembled here to open today. I trust it may prove a boon to the inhabitants of the Metropolis and remunerative to those who have projected it.

“Now Southend occupies a very favourable position in being most accessible to the people of the Metropolis and it can be reached easier and in less time than any other seaside resort.

“But in the past. when considering Southend, as is the case with many other of our seaside places. you have found it wanting in those facilities which are nearly always to be found on the continent and are so few and far between in England.

“I allude to large. commodious, well-built and well ventilated structures, under the roofs of which refreshments of of all kinds – good in quality, but low in price can be obtained by all comers and also in which recreation of all kinds including first-rate music, can be had at a cost within the reach of all.”

VIP - Lord Claud Hamilton opened the KursaalVIP - Lord Claud Hamilton opened the Kursaal (Image: Archives)

He continued: “Now all these facilities have for long existed on the continent, but in this England of ours, with its ever increasing population and our uncertain climate, it is very rare to find such an establishment as I have mentioned.

“For the future such an establishment will. I am glad to say. be found at Southend – and I trust it will largely add to the enjoyment of the people and still further add to the reputation of Southend as a seaside resort.

“I now have much pleasure in declaring this Kursaal open and for myself, speaking also on your behalf, I wish it every success.”

Newspaper reports of the opening offer us a rare glimpse into what the Kursaal was really like when it opened. Something we can only imagine today.

One article described: “The exterior of the Kursaal, as seen from the front line, does not in any way whatever convey the vastness of the place and the, interior is a pleasing revelation.

“Entering by a spacious gateway, one passes turn-stiles and thence into the grand entrance hall. Around about are columns of chaste and beautiful design. On the first floor, so to speak is a gallery, whilst high above is the spacious dome, through which the light of heaven filters with delightful effect. Away in one of the corners will be a ladies orchestra and pleasing music will strike the ear immediately on entering.

“From this handsome entrance hall, all the buildings of the Kursaal radiate.

A huge part of our heritage - The future of the Kursaal building in uncertainA huge part of our heritage - The future of the Kursaal building in uncertain (Image: Newsquest)

“ In one direction is the dancing hall and theatre, which is considered to be something unusual ; that is to say, it, is a perfect room by day as well as by night. It is a spacious hall, wide, long and lofty. and in this place, too, the light is admitted through glass of iridescent tints with remarkable effect.

“By day it is light bright, and cheerful, whilst by night, with the combined radiance of hundreds of electric glow lamps, not to mention various coloured lime-lights, the result may be well imagined.

“All around the hall is a gallery, in which upholstered seats will be provided, but the majority of the space has been reserved as a promenade.

“At the end is the stage,- which is larger than any in London. From wall to wall, 86 feet, depth 70 feet. opening, 34 feet. The scenery is said to be grand.

“The floor claims special mention in that it is only the second of its kind in England. It is laid on no less than 8,040 carriage springs. so that when a large company are dancing the vibration is considerable. The cost of the floor alone is £3,000 and is y Goodall, of Manchester.

“As a theatre, 8,000 can be accommodated, whilst in the ballroom there is space for 2,000 dancers. Starting from the entrance hall again, one passes down the pleasant arcade which is 100 yards long. This will be lit by arches of electric light. The shops on either side have already been let, as also have other shops in the various buildings—and there are a great number of them.

“Right down the centre of the arcade are to be placed ferns and palms, and it will form a delightful promenade. This walk leads to the circus or hippodrome, which is, in itself, a remarkable structure. There are shops all around and the seating accommodation will be comfortable.”

At the start of the Kursaal’s life there were grand plans to build an eye-catching 330ft tower on the site- a smaller version of the Blackpool Tower, however this never came to fruition.

Instead of a tower, ‘by the Dome it would be known’ and the landscape of Southend would be changed forever.