UNDERCLIFF GARDENS IN 1914
The following information has been researched and written by the Society for the Protection of Undercliff Gardens and I am grateful to them for letting me reproduce it on the leighlives website. The Society has done an incredible amount of research into the origins of the Gardens and the period at the start of the Great War, but they would love to receive people's stories and memories of the Gardens to enhance their archive. So if you have any information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPUG - THE SOCIETY FOR THE PROTECTION OF UNDERCLIFF GARDENS.
This Society is one of the oldest amenity organisations in Leigh-on-Sea and was founded in 1946 to fight Southend Borough Council, who proposed to compulsorily purchase our gardens fronting Grand Parade, so that Cliff Gardens could be extended to Chalkwell Station.
In 2014, we carried out some research to try and get a “snapshot” of Undercliff Gardens in 1914.
These illustrations and notes summarise our findings covering the period 1895 – 1914, which will be archived by us with copies being retained by the Leigh Society. We wish to acknowledge assistance provided by many residents and authors, alive and dead.
Before 1900 Undercliff Gardens was really just a footpath across a very steep wooded and scrubby area perched below Grand Parade. In fact we might assume that it was not the ideal area for a new housing estate. There was at least one pond, perhaps more, some of which may have been dug by the Leigh Pottery for raw materials [clay].
Arthur Joscelyne, who has a beach named after him, left a note in 1971 that he knew this area well when he was a boy [he was 11 in 1914] when he played at the eastern end. He tells us that the strip of land between the fronts of houses in Grand Parade and the railway line was mainly scrub with large mounds of earth from excavations where houses were built. There was no entrance at the eastern end, but a farm gate existed at the western end, on Grand Parade.
The railway had already come to Southend many years before, in 1856, and the line formed a physical barrier between Grand Parade and the sea. In one short period the railway therefore created the isolation of this area. Also The Grand Parade [as it then was] stopped at Woodfield Road at which point there was just a footpath across open land and down to the beach. It appears that the bridge over the railway did not exist in 1911 but there must have been an unmanned railway crossing to provide access to the beach. Cliff Parade did not exist until after 1923.
1880? The earliest known photo of Undercliff looking east towards Southend.
Thames barges, in the distance, are unloading at the Crowstone.
An entrepreneurial London solicitor, Fredrick Ramuz [Mayor of Southend on Sea between 1898 and 1900] was mainly responsible for suggesting Undercliff Gardens, which he initially named “The Leighcliffs Estate” in the late 19th Century. In 1893 his Land company purchased 334 acres of the parish, [probably from the Salvation Army] At this time most residential development had previously taken place around communication routes between settlements, but in the period up to WW1 he was busy selling plots of land in the area to the east and north of Leigh Old Town. In those days land was often sold by a single entrepreneur who laid out large estates to maximise profit rather than anything else.
It would appear from records retained by Essex Record Office that an application was made to Southend Council for permission to develop the Undercliff in 1902, and presumably this was approved. We know, from the sale particulars, that an auction was held by George Ramuz on July 26 in 1911 when 13 plots on the Leighcliff Estate were offered for sale. Interestingly the plans that accompanied that auction show 2 properties already in existence before 1911 – the original Seabrink and No 102 which was called The Orchard and appears to have been built for Ramuz himself. A habitation certificate was issued for this property in 1910, 1 year before the auction.
The east end of Grand Parade was therefore the ideal spot for a new Land Company to open an Estates Office with the sole purpose of selling plots of land. A single storey building was erected in the first few years of the 20th Century, at the top of the slope on the Grand Parade frontage, which was subsequently called No 1 The Bungalow. It appears in the census of 1911 and we have a photograph of the building taken after 1914 - it may have been sold in 1906 [called Hales Bungalow – Refreshment Rooms] and renamed sometime later as The Bungalow Tea Rooms. The address was No.1 Undercliff Gardens and it stood on the flat piece of land opposite the end of Woodfield Road.
Prior to 1911 most of the land was cleared of shrubs and trees, and an imaginary line drawn midway between the Undercliff footpath and Grand Parade. The area below the line was then divided up into plots, each 30’-0” wide, and marketed as “The Leighcliff Estate”. The area above the line, with frontage onto Grand Parade was left blank with the obvious intention of dividing this into plots and selling them off at some future date. However the Estates Company obviously had second thoughts about this and in 1912, two plots on the new Leighcliff Estate were sold with the option of annexing the land up to Grand Parade. Incidentally it was this land on the Grand Parade frontage that Southend Council tried to seize after WW2 which led to the formation of SPUG.
Between 1903 and 1914 a few hardy or mad souls bought plots, and made applications to Southend Council for permission to build houses. Most of them were fairly grand, but the war intervened. We cannot be absolutely sure how many of these were actually built prior to 1914 but from the 1911 census and Kelly’s records it would seem that there were five dwellings completed and occupied by 1914 - 44/46 Seabrink, 54 Beau-site, 102 The Orchard, 84 The Cot, and 120 Undercliffe. No 1 has been excluded because it was partly commercial premises. 84 may have been under construction prior to 1914, and 96, 98, & 104 soon after.
It must also be born in mind that the prospect of war became prevalent in 1913 – 1914 and the desire to build and create new homes must have been waning by 1914. There is little evidence of house building during the war years, but there were 7 properties recorded on the O.S. map of 1922 [an increase of 3 since 1914 probably 96, 98, and 104]. There were no planning applications recorded for 11 years between 1911 and 1922. Thereafter there appears to have been a mini-boom after the end of the war, in the 1922 – 1939 period. And an O.S map dated 1939 shows about 33 dwellings – an increase of 26 since 1922. Today there are about 90 dwellings including flats.
The Autumn of 1914 was a pivotal point, Britain was at war with Germany, and the outlook from Undercliff changed forever. A snapshot in 1914 -
A SUMMARY TIMELINE
1889 Kent, Sussex & General Land Society [Dir.G.Ramuz, a lawyer from London] purchased or agreed to purchase land probably from the Salvation Army.
1902 First public auction after G.Ramuz obtained permission from Southend Council to divide "Leighcliff Estate” into individual plots for sale.
1903? Estate office build to promote the Leighcliff Estate. This later became the Bungalow Tearooms.
1906 Permission grasnted for first house to be built [Seabrink].
1907 Another auction held by G.Ramuz, for various plots on “Undercliff Gardens”.
1911 Further auction held by G.Ramuz, for various plots on “Undercliff Gardens”.
1914 Total of five houses erected to date, plus tearoom.
NOT ONLY BUT ALSO!
3 Properties may have also been under construction in 1914. We do know that they were completed during the War.
No 96 - Habitation Certificate issued 25 January 1916
No 98 - Habitation Certificate issued 25 January 1916
Chalkwell Beach was a popular destination in 1904 below. At this time Undercliff Gardens (on the right of the photo) was just scrubland on the other side of the LT&S railway line. The second picture shows Lower walk (now Cinder Path) in 1914. Probably taken from Gypsy Bridge, a solitary house can be seen in Undercliff - believed to be No 102, which still exists. The third photograph is of the Cinder Path in June 2014. Undercliff Gardens is clearly visible on the left.
The original tearooms, located opposite the end of Woodfield Road, originally designed as an estate office to promote and sell plots in undercliff gardens, but converted to tearooms in early 1900’s
No 102 the second house,
built in 1910 and still
standing after 114 years.
Seabrink 1906 – the first house built, but demolished in the 1970’s, after 60 years.
No 102 the second house,
built in 1910 and still
standing after 114 years.
No 54, the third house built 1913 and still standing
Plans of No 120 "Undercliffe" could not be found although it was known to exist in 1914
Today there are about 90 dwellings including flats in Undercliff Gardens. In 1914 there were probably 5 dwellings [excluding The Bungalow Tearooms], built off a footpath, or unmade road, which ran parallel to the railway line. At the east end, this footpath eventually turned north towards to what is now Grand Parade and joined another footpath, which ran down towards the sea from the junction of Woodfield Road and Grand Parade to Chalkwell Beach. Chalkwell station and the bridge over the railway didn’t exist in 1914 and therefore the footpath had to cross the railway line, presumably through an unmanned gate, to the west of the current Chalkwell Station. In addition to the dwellings it is interesting to reflect on the history of our footpath, which may be older than any of the houses and probably has many tales to tell!
A POSTSCRIPT 2016.
This black and white photograph below was recently uncovered by the Leigh Society from their archives.
Interestingly it shows Cliff Gardens before 1914, in 1907, and the Tea Rooms referred to above can be seen in the centre of the picture. In fact the sign on the roof says “TEAS” and the building was accessible from a track, having initially served as a sales office for the Undercliff Estate in the 1890’s. On the left it is clear that this track existed from the bottom of Woodfield Road down the hill towards Chalkwell Station. The modern road is believed to have been built in the 1920’s.
The sign behind the workmen reads “Undercliff Gardens”, and points to a footpath that ran from opposite 6, Cliff Gardens down to the end of Undercliff Gardens. The land between this footpath and what is now Chalkwell Station was in private ownership, and this same path is shown on our 1914 snapshot plan above.
The coloured photo shows the same view in 2016, and it seems just possible that one of the trees is in the same spot and existed in 1907. The footpath to Undercliff Gardens in the black and white picture no longer exists at the same place of course – being a few yards east of the trees. From a site inspection it is intriguing to consider the route of this path. There is an area that has been levelled just below the trees and this might originally have been part of the footpath. We can only guess!
Acknowledgements to The Leigh Society, Southend Museums and Southend Standard. The original glass negative is believed to have been lost.