PLANNING documents are not usually known for being a thing of beauty. But council paperwork from 1935 detailing proposals for Southend’s first autumn illuminations are a different matter altogether.

These blueprints, drawn up more than 80 years ago, have been revealed by the chief executive of Southend’s Adventure Island, Philip Miller.

The eight-page plan, on fading paper, was given to him by friend Arthur Wright CBE – son of Southend’s first borough engineer.

Arthur, who went on to be a captain of industry helping Lord Weinstock build the GEC into a powerhouse of British business, was also, for a time, a Southend Council engineer. He had kept the plans for decades, before passing them on to Philip.

“They are so clearly of another time – an age of innocence,” says Philip.

“The drawings are pieces of art in themselves and the plans have such charm to them.”

The illuminations – thousands of individual lights – which the council proposed to spend £20,000 on – about £1million in today’s money – did get the go-ahead and for years brightened the gloom on autumn evenings.

Indeed they stayed in place, spluttering on and off as late as the Seventies.

“I, like many now, am too young to remember them in their hey-day. But they would have been a sight to behold,” explains Philip.

“There would have been a team of about 50 people all year round keeping the illuminations going, and maintaining them and servicing them.

“They went right along the front – though not as far as Thorpe Bay.

“They became tacky in the end – before they were taken down half of them weren’t working. They were more often off than on.

“Obviously they were installed before regulations – there were mercury switches and thousands of individual bayonet cap lights, so they were forever tripping out.”

But before budget cuts and technology moved on, leaving the illuminations to be consigned to history, the enthusiasm of planners shines through in the plans’ foreword.

Today’s often dry jargon is nowhere to been seen in these decades-old documents, with exclamations of “breathsnatching loveliness” and mentions of Never Never Land’s “fairyland”.

The foreward states: “Southend has endeavoured to improve on the stereotyped form of fairyland strip and neon lighting generally used for decorative purposes throughout the country.

“Where possible the illuminations are designed to enhance the natural beauties of the surroundings and £20,000 has been expended on a large variety of features, many of which are unique and original.

“Up to now ‘Never Never Land’ only existed in the artist’s mind and the fantastic and ludicrous tableaux depicted therein cannot but appeal to old and young alike; floodlighting of trees and flowers turns the Cliff Gardens into a fairyland; numerous other features complete a veritable seaside dreamland. A touch of the switch and darkness is changed into what has been described as vision of breathsnatching loveliness.

“The corporation is confident that the artistic and novel nature of the illuminations will give pleasure to both residents and visitors and will add to the many attractions of the borough.”

Echo: “An age of innocence” – Adventure Island’s chief executive Philip Miller with the plans for the illuminations

And Philip, who is at the forefront of efforts to see Southend remain a top seaside resort today, still remembers the fading magic left in the wake of these past plans.

“I was brought down to Never Never Land when I was four or five. It was a big night. I absolutely loved it as a child,” he recollects.

“You only have to look at these plans to see howmagical the illuminations were and whatever wonderful attractions and lights there are in Southend in the future, we will never see illuminations with their innocent charm again.”