Happy Valley & the Floral Hall
Southend-on-Sea
The Happy Valley was located midway between what is now the Gentings Casino (Westcliff Casino/Westcliff Leisure Centre) and what was the Esplanade Public House on the lower level of Western Esplanade, it was running before 1909. The original Clifftown Parade bandstand that was built in 1902 was relocated to the Happy valley site in 1909 as the Clifftown site was increased in size to cope with the demand of people visiting. At the Happy valley site, the relatively gentle slope of the cliffs provided a natural amphitheatre, There was racked seating facing a stage which could accommodate an audience, a charge was placed upon the seating area, however, the footpaths to the back of the site remained free. One of the early acts was the music hall star G. H. Chirgwin (14th December - 17th November 1922) who's face paint gave him the nickname of the White Eyed Kaffira, his act would be a mixture of cockney material as well as straightforward blackface songs and sketches. During 1913 the Harry Rose Concert Party was playing twice daily concerts, no matter what the weather the band played on. Happy Valley was replaced by the Floral Hall in 1920, it was built by Herman Darewski who operated it for a number of years before it was taken over by the Council. The hall continued to be used for concerts as well as flower shows, the building was built so that it could be opened up in hot weather or kept closed in cold or wet weather. To keep people warm in the winter radiators were installed to heat the building. Advance booking was advised to avoid disappointment, performances took place every night at 8:00pm except for Sundays. The programme was changed every Monday & Thursday, a matinee was staged on Wednesdays at 3:00pm with Grand Gala nights every Thursday. The Southend Carnival has been going since 1906, the tradition of crowning the carnival queen, dates back to 1928 when Ena Bone became the first to be crowned at the Floral Hall. During the 1933 season the Floral Hall was staging "Modern Follies." Fred Beck and his cast of 16 performers were the resident act preforming the Follies during 1933, they included: Dorrie Dee who proved very popular with constant encores at the end of her act, Thurza Rogers & Lascelles with classical & eccentric dancing, Ena & Vera Fawcett doing tap dance, Ann performing a Blue Danube dance, Tony Drew singing baritone, Madge Villers signing soprano, Fred Beck & Dennis Lawes comedy act and Reg Lindo & Howard Clark on pianos. On Thursday 12th September 1935 the South African and Essex cricket teams attended the Floral Hall as the guests of the Parks and Entertainments Committee, the event was also attended by the Mayor & Mayoress. The resident lead Fred Beck arranged a special programme for the evening including an argument between Golf and Cricket, Spanish Serenade, a military medley and a musical burlesque. The Floral Hall would remain popular until the tragic events of Saturday 14th August 1937, Soon after 4:00pm a young lad spotted smoke coming from part of the building, within an hour the building was left as nothing but a twisted skeleton of steel uprights and cross members, the intensity of the fire had scorched nearby trees, the fire fighters had to act quickly to stop them combusting and spreading the fire up the cliff gardens, the trees survived but were scorched. As the fire raged hundreds gathered to watch the unfolding drama despite the rain. The fire had happened close to the end of the summer season, the Council started to look at what they could do for next season, a marquee was proposed but quickly rejected as there was little likelihood that an entertainment licence would have been granted on such a temporary building as a satisfactory kitchen and sanitation facilities could be included in the tented structure. In December 1937 it was proposed to build a café on the north side of the site, the building would be of "Old World" type construction, being built from weathered Elm & Oak boards with a straw & heather thatched roof, however, the plan was dropped as it was not expected to have been ready before the start of the summer season and that the flammable construction of the building could be a danger to further fires. The Floral Hall had been fully insured, this saw a pay out of £6000 for the building, £2000 for fixture & fittings, £4, 9s, 6d lost cash box, £31 lights & £200 for two pianos. The money for the pianos was immediately handed over to Mr T. J. Gilbert of 100 High Street Southend, who had leased them to the Council, £10 was handed to Messrs B. Roberts & Company of Leeds for the loss of advertising curtains. At the time of the fire the hugely popular Paramount Follies had been the resident show, with no plans in place to replace the building, the Follies show closed. With no time to construct a new facility it was decided to clear gutted remains of the building and tidy the site to make it presentable for the coming season, the site was landscaped to become part of the Cliff Gardens, the central point became a small fish pond, after a number of years the pond was filled in to become a flower feature.
Happy Valley
Floral Hall/Happy Valley Postcard
1936 Floral Hall Advert

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