Clacton History

Clacton between the Wars
Clacton came to a stand still during the First World War, but soon reinvented itself with entertainers like John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Cedric Hardwick during the 1920’s.

The Council set about forming the New Gardens along Marine Parade West.

The Clacton Land Company formed by Peter Bruff was on its last legs; a Mr Kingsman from Gt Yarmouth came to town and bought the Company for £350.000 from the liquidators. For his money he acquired 5 Belle Steam Ships 4 Piers (Clacton.Walton.Southwold & Felixstowe) 2 Hotels a Waterworks and some properties. (Clacton had two piers at that time).

Mr Ernest Kingsman sold off every thing bar the Clacton Pier, he invested £200.000 over the next 15 years making the pier a major tourist attraction. It started with the Ocean Theatre, the Children’s Theatre a Concert Party Theatre, the Blue Lagoon Dance Hall which could hold 1500 people and the Crystal Casino. He also built the first Open Air Swimming Pool on the Pier the famous steel Stella Roller Coaster, Amusement Arcades, Homemade Doughnut Stands he knew what the people wanted and bought them through the turnstiles at a rate of up to 40.000 people a day. Bertram the Clown had his own Children’s Theatre with 500 seats, but he proved so popular he took over The Pavilion which sat 1000 and promptly renamed it The Jollity Theatre.

Moving away from the Pier, the new West Cliff Theatre was opened in 1928 with the Princes Theatre shortly afterwards as part of the new Town Hall in 1931, both still in full swing to-day providing top quality entertainment. However the six cinema’s from the 1930’s have dwindled down to one with Two Screens and a very popular Bingo Hall. W H Smiths and Marks & Spencer all set up shop during this period, and are still here today.

Billy Butlin came to town in 1937 with his brand new idea of Holiday Camps catering for 10.000 people a week. So what with the Pier the Camp the 3 miles of Golden Sand and a Enviable Sunshine Record Clacton-on-Sea was the place to be with its Champagne Air

The Paddle Steamers drifted away while the Railway made tracks and started to bring holiday makers from the Midlands as well as the Families from the East End here for there Summer Holidays and Weekend Breaks.

As well as building the new Town Hall, a County High School and a new Railway Station were all built during the roaring 30.s. New housing developments were popping up like the Burrsville Park Estate.

The 30’s ended with the out break of War being declared on 3rd September 1939, then on the 30th April 1940 through the crash of a German mine laying bomber Britain saw its first mainland casualties in Victoria Road Clacton.

My notes within these pages on bygone days of Clacton-on-Sea are taken from excellent books written by Norman Jacobs who came to Butlins in Clacton as a holiday maker in his youth, liking it so much he choose to retire here many years later. Norman is a Founder member of the Clacton and District Local History Society and Chairman amongst other charitable tasks. They have a permanent exhibition on Clacton and its surrounding villages on display in the town library open Sat & Tue Morning. My thanks to Mr Jacobs and all his fellow researchers for there many hours of research. I know full well how long this kind of research takes, as I to was the Chairman and founder member of a History Group in Goldhanger a little village on the north shore of the River Blackwater just a few miles away as the crow flies.

Clacton Beach. 400.000. BC.
Believe it or not Clacton Beach is one of the oldest known sites of Human Habitation in Gt Britain yet to the modern world a reasonable new Seaside resort.

A 400.000 year old spearhead was found in the cliffs along Marine Parade West in 1911. Also found in these cliffs were flints named by the archaeological world as Clactonian Industry. A stoneage settlement is also recorded along the Clacton Beaches towards Lion Point. The wooden spearhead dates to the Hoxnian interglacial period when ice sheets reached as far south as the River Stour. Britain was joined to Europe at this time, which meant that fresh water passed by from the River Thames. Bones found locally show that Lions, Elephants, Bison, Woolly Mammoths, Giant Oxen to name but a few all drank by our riverside. Clactonian Man was well feed and watered.

Pottery found in the area known as Rinyo-Clacton dates to the Neolithic Period.

Moving on to more recent times 100 BC the Celts moved in to establish Colchester. They were good farmers and worked the land. Celtic Gold coins have been found on Clacton Beaches.

The Romans were next to take over Colchester using it as there administrative centre. Roman urns were found during 1897 while building the Grand Hotel in Clacton. St Johns Church in Gt Clacton has Roman Tiles built into its walls. The Romans left after 400 years to make way for the Saxons who like the Celts were good farmers.

It is during this period it is thought that a leader of Saxon man called Clacc lived in this area. Clacc-inga-ton, Clacc’s people. The first records of Claccingtune are about 1000 years ago when the village was required to provide two men towards a ships crew. The next mention is in the Doomsday Book in 1086 with a population of 550. (Great Clacton)

The Viking came and went as it pleased them, and they still do, popping over from the Hook of Holland to Harwich just 30 minutes away.

St Osyth with its Priory was built in the 12c is worth a visit, as is the Cream Tea Room down by the boat yard, wonderful homemade cakes the size of which you have never seen before.

The next 700 years focus’s much on Gt Clacton, The Queens Head dates to the 15c, good food and beer. The Ship Inn at Gt Holland is also 15c and serves a good pint. Smuggling was rife along the east coast, as was a good profit from the odd ship wreck.

Clacton’s Martello Towers built to defend us from Napoleon still survive to-day, the British first came across these Martello Towers in there attacks on Corsica. The Navigational Tower in Walton down on the Naze is 280 years old, standing some 86 feet tall. Well worth a visit on a sunny day, when you can see as far as Kent to the south and Suffolk to the north

We now enter the mid 1800’s, the aristocracy are discovering the benefits of Sea Bathing, It is recorded that 11 families lived in Rosemary Lane Clacton Beach where a Lady was selling refreshments from her cottage during the summer months.

Basically this area has always been popular, south facing Clacton-on-Sea is one of the driest towns in England (Rain not Pubs). It also records more sunshine hours than any South Coast resort and has some of the best award winning sandy beaches along the east coast.

The sale of Seaside House Farm promoting its fine sandy beaches and purity of air by Clacton Beach in July 1865 sets the start of Clacton-on-Sea.

Clacton-on-Sea 1871-1914
Mr Peter Bruff a Civil Engineer working on the London to Norwich Railway Line, owner of The Clifton Hotel in Walton On The Naze. Truly a man of vision buys Seaside House Farm with 50 acres in 1865.He could see the potential of a virgin site, fine sandy south facing beaches, and near zero coastal erosion plus his railway line not far away. A dream was about to come true.

Mr Bruff obtains a Parliamentary permission to build a 300 yard Pier and an extension to the railway. Due to cash flow problems he only manages the Pier with the help of The Woolwich Steam Packet Com already running very successful trips from London Bridge to Margate and Ipswich. Someone else bought the railway to Clacton a bit later.

Our own deeds are written out with Peter Bruffs idea of a quality town for quality people.

The first Steamship arrived on 18th July 1871 as a trial run named SS Queen of The Orwell, then on 27th of July the SS Albert Edward brought 300 guests to Clacton-on-Sea. The dream was beginning to take off.

1871 also saw the introduction of the Bank Holiday Act with the first one in August.

By July 1872 The Royal Hotel was officially opened. The directors of the Steamship Com were making a name for them selves. Able Penfold, William Agate, James Ellis, William Jackson and Thomas Hayes all form major road names in Clacton. They also formed the Clacton Gas & Water Com. The population in the 1881 census records 651 people in the new town of Clacton-on-Sea. In 1892 the Town Hall was built, now Barclays Bank on the corner of Rosemary Road. The Royal Hotel is the pale blue building to the right and above The Weatherspoons Pub The Moon and Starfish by Pier Ave. now sadly in disrepair, but I’m told absolutely beautiful inside. The building is now awaiting planning permission for a £10.000.000 refurbishment and extension project.

The Clacton Urban District Council was formed and started to take control of all the development popping up everywhere. Replacing the eel & pie shops either side of the pier with beautiful flower gardens to name one of its first jobs.

The people were coming by railway (1882) and by steamship in there droves, in 1880 6780 visitors, by 1890 it was 71.922 by boat alone. In 1886 at Ellis road a man by the name of Riggs was serving 1200 meals a day in his establishment called Riggs Retreat. In 1893 the Pier was extended into deeper water to allow longer visiting times.

But for Mr Bruff the cheap trains were not bringing the right kind of people, day trippers from East London was not what he wanted.

During the 1890’s it was all happening in Clacton, the Victorians were here for the Operetta Houses, Open Air Concert Parties, Indoor Theatres, Bathing in the sea.. In 1894 a London Concert Group called Graham, Russell and Bentley arrived, they performed in the open in Westcliff Gardens with a tent for bad weather. Mr Graham and Mr Bentley went on to form The Westcliff Theatre still putting on good acts today. Stanley Holloway joined them in 1912 for two years.

The day trippers were still coming and filling up the Pubs and having a great time. A lot stayed or came back on retirement.

The First World War bought Clacton to a Stop. Fortunes came and went.

After the War the Council filled in the cliff top trenches with the Gardens of Remembrance still maintained to the highest standards one could expect.