Robert A. Jones
Robert Arthur Jones was born in Liverpool in 1849. He worked for a clock and watchmaker in Manchester before moving to Southend where he set up his own jewellery business, opening his shop at 76-78 High Street in 1890. At the time, this was one of the northernmost of the shops that existed on the developing High Street. Jones had arrived in a crucial period for the fledgling new town. The area had been managed for centuries by the Scratton family who, as Lords of the Manor, had owned all of the land. But in the second half of the 19th century local boards had been established to monitor key services at a local level and these were largely funded by public subscription. The boards comprised and were elected by landowners and lessees thus allowing businessmen like Jones to become influential in the running of the town. Local governance was then transformed by the Local Government Act of 1888 which established County and County Borough Councils to replace the local boards. In 1892, two years after Jones opened his High Street shop, Southend became a Municipal Borough taking over some responsibilities from Essex County Council. In 1914 the town, enlarged by the addition of Leigh, gained the status of County Borough, exempt from county council control. Jones was involved in the discussions during this transition and had advocated the name 'Thamesmouth' for the new borough. Instead, the name 'Southend-on-Sea' was adopted as it was considered a better means of promoting the towns new economic development as a tourist resort. Meanwhile, Jones' business was highly successful with his shop employing as many as 40 staff. Although the shop was well-known for its elaborate clock, prominently positioned on the shop front and projecting over the High Street, part of his success was due to the practice of giving free gifts to those who bought rings costing more than 10 shillings (50p decimal) and handing out liquorice and humbugs to youngsters at a time when sweets were a luxury. Jones purchased a large house on the cliffs overlooking the estuary for his family home. To the house at least, Jones was able to apply the name "Thamesmouth". The building still stands opposite the war memorial on Clifftown Parade today (but is now subdivided into apartments and called "Imperial Manor"). Thus Robert Jones became known for his generosity and also as a philanthropist and benefactor of the town. In addition to small gifts that had been made at his shop such as clocks and trophies, Jones was also known for gifts to the town of public seating and benches. At Christmas he dressed up as Father Christmas to visit the Victoria Hospital and local children's homes where he presented gifts and Christmas trees. In 1905, Jones became President of the first Southend Carnival and Chairman of its Organising Committee. The purpose of the carnival was to raise funds for the Victoria Hospital which had been built using public subscriptions and opened in 1888. The funds raised were needed to maintain and staff the hospital on Warrior Square as well as paying for treatments at a time when there was no National Health Service. The funds also paid for extensions to the hospital but by the 1920s, the 100 beds at Warrior Square were insufficient for a town population of well over 100,000. In 1926, a year after Jones' death, former Southend MP Rupert Guiness (then Viscount Elveden but later Earl of Iveagh) offered a 12 acre site on Prittlewell Chase plus a substantial amount of his own money for the building of a new hospital. Robert Jones' son, Edward Cecil Jones also contributed as did Alderman Albert Martin. Even so, this represented only the beginning of the fund raising campaign and the Carnival was again established as the most successful means of raising the remainder of the funds necessary. The new Southend General Hospital opened in 1932. The tradition of the carnival continued however and by the years that followed World War 2, Carnival Week had become a major annual event with hundreds of thousands turning out to watch the spectacular procession which could be several miles long. As a benefactor of the town, Robert Jones is perhaps best known for the acquisition of Prittlewell Priory and its garden by the Borough for use as a museum and public park. Daniel Robert Scratton, who had owned the Priory estate, had foreseen the development of the town and its transition to local governance. Scratton had decided to retire to a rural estate in Devon and did so in 1869. But did not simply flee to Devon and abandon the residents of Southend to their fate. His solicitor, William Gregson, continued to maintain Daniel's interests in Southend until the 20th century and his name can be found on the lists of new Local Boards being established in the town to look after Education, Health and even the Shrubbery. Gregson also kept Scratton briefed on all that was happening in Southend and sometimes Daniel turned up unexpectedly in Southend to oversee some matter or another. But, to maintain any degree of authority in such involvement, Scratton needed to own land in Southend and so, whilst selling much of his land, mainly from his Milton Hall Estate he retained his ownership of the Priory and surrounding land. Scratton also saw the need to maintain the Priory together with a family presence in Southend so that a Scratton was at least seen to be the 'Lord of the Manor' until a suitable local authority took the helm. Daniel and Maria Scratton were childless and so there were no family members with expectations of continuing the family's life at the Priory and who would resent the loss of such inheritance. Scratton instructed Gregson to find a suitable 'heir' from distant relatives. Gregson's recommendation, Edward Joshua Scratton not only fitted the bill but was also a barrister and so experienced in matters of law. Daniel Scratton legally adopted Edward Joshua as his heir in 1884 and adapted his will (drafted in 1870) accordingly. Daniel's will granted Edward Joshua and his oldest son (Edward William Howell Blackburn) ownership of the Priory for the remainder of their lives after which it would pass to the local authority as a public space. Edward and his son were effectively caretakers of the Priory with a limited tenure but would benefit from the sale of Scratton's other land and property (in Devon for example) upon his death. Edward already had a home and business in Scotland and so allowed his younger brother William Howell (also a barrister) the use of the priory for a nominal sum as a residence for his own family (1887). William's family seemed to live an idyllic lifestyle at the Priory but it was one that was not supported by his income and besides, William was a frequent gambler at horse race meetings. As William fell into financial difficulties, he re-mortgaged some of the priory land and so fell into more debt. By 1897 Daniel Scratton was putting the finishing touches to trusts and bequests so it was evident that his health was failing. William then made a conditional agreement with the Mayor, Bernard Wilshire Tolhurst, to sell the priory and its 'pleasure gardens' to Southend Corporation (for use as a public park) for £16,000. When the agreement fell through, William made a revised offer to lease the priory to Southend Corporation for 10 years (at £450 for the first 3 years and £500 for the remainder of the term) provided the Corporation agreed to purchase the property for £16,000 during the term of the Lease. When this offer was rejected, William sold some of the land between the gardens and St Mary's Church for residential development. In 1901 Daniel finalised his will and he died in 1902. In the same year, Edward Joshua's oldest son reached legal age and could claim a right to his subsequent inheritance of the Priory. William continued to sell land on the north side of St Mary's but in 1908, after losing the rest of his money gambling, William committed suicide, shooting himself in the head with a pistol. Edward Joshua took back ownership of the priory which was then valued at £16,800 and which the family intended to sell but this resulted in a legal challenge by the trustees of Daniel's estate in 1910 and with a judgement in favour of the trustees, a stalemate ensued regarding the future of the priory. Edward Joshua died in 1916 whereupon his son, by then Captain Edward Scratton, inherited the Priory. The property had been sadly neglected and was in need of much repair. Captain Edward had been left with family debts and had a career in the army. He repeated the earlier offer to sell the Priory to the local authority and then, Believing he had satisfied the terms of his inheritance and with no response to his offer, Captain Edward put the Priory and its lands up for sale by auction. It was R. A. Jones who then stepped in and a deal was agreed in 1917 in which Jones paid a 'consideration' of £6,000 to Captain Edward Scratton who, in return, 'freely' conveyed the Priory and its gardens to the Borough, thus satisfying the terms of Daniel Scratton's will beyond dispute. Jones also paid £400 for the lodge and cottages at the entrance to the gardens and a further £3,000 for building land around what is now Priory Crescent. All of this property was then withdrawn from the auction and sold according to the private agreement. R. A. Jones also agreed to build a new entrance and iron gate at the south west corner of the gardens and to widen the road (now Victoria Avenue) in front of the new gate. The wider road was would later facilitate the use of the new park gates as a trolley bus terminus. Thus, R. A. Jones had negotiated a deal from which all parties would benefit. In addition to Edward Scratton and Robert Jones, the agreement was signed by the Town Clerk, Herbert James Worwood, Councillor John Rumbelow Brightwell (a former Mayor) and Councillor Herbert Arthur (a future Mayor). By this means, the council agreed to maintain the priory as a public park for the enjoyment of the town and to do so 'in perpetua'. The agreement was witnessed by two Company Sergeant Majors (based in York) and the assistant Town Clerk. The Borough had acquired a derelict family house on the site of a ruined medieval priory together with 30 acres of parkland. The Corporation refurbished and rebuilt parts of the house for use as a museum whilst retaining and incorporating such fragments and foundations of the original monastic buildings that had survived. They also landscaped the gardens as a park which they enclosed with a fence. The first world war delayed the work however and there was a further wait for the new gatepost plaques and finials to be cast before Priory Park was officially opened by H.R.H. the Duke of York (later King George VI) on 14th July, 1920. The building was opened as Southend's first museum in May 1922. The opening ceremony was performed by Sir C. Hercules Reid (President of the Society of Antiquaries) in the company of the Mayor, Sir John Francis and other dignitaries It had cost the Corporation £7,500 to restore the refectory and priory buildings. A part of the other land that had been purchased in the agreement, was donated by Jones to the Borough in memory of his recently departed wife. This opened as the Jones Memorial Ground (on the corner of Sutton Road and Eastern Avenue) in the same year as Priory Park (1920). It provided an open space and sports ground for children of school age. A children's playground was later incorporated into the site. A year later, Jones donated land on the opposite corner of the junction as the Victory Sports Ground in memory of sportsmen who had lost their lives in the Great War. As well as the gifts of sports grounds, Robert Jones supported local sport in other ways. He served as President of Southend Athletic Football Club, Southend United Football Club, Southend Swimming Club, the local Swimming and Water Polo Association and was Vice-President of Southend Rugby Football Club. He sponsored various leagues and tournaments for which he donated and usually presented the trophies. He was also President of Southend Chess Club. Robert Jones had, at one time, also served the Borough as a town councillor but in 1919 he was made a Freeman of the Borough of Southend in recognition of his outstanding generosity. For the same reason, he was also awarded the MBE. When Robert Jones died in 1925, there were unprecedented scenes at his funeral. Huge crowds turned out to watch the procession and every civic dignitary packed St John the Baptist's Church to pay their respects. Flags flew at half mast, shops closed, lessons were stopped in schools, the bandstand fell silent and children were bussed in from outlying areas to join the mourners. He was fittingly buried in Priory Park, beneath a cross standing at the centre of the priory cloister. His name can be found on several monuments within the priory gardens and there is also a memorial at St John's Church. The cost of the east window in the Priory refectory that incorporates Robert Jones' coat of arms, was partly funded by the children of Southend. On a nearby wall, there formerly hung a painting (by Stephen Pearce and dated 1867) of Daniel Robert Scratton sitting astride his horse and amidst his dogs. The Priory buildings can be seen within a rural background. Together the window and painting represented two of the characters most associated with the priory. But they also represented two individuals who both did what they thought was best for the benefit of the town during a period of great change in its economy and governance. Firstly Daniel Robert Scratton who realised that his world as a member of the landed gentry was coming to an end and who made elaborate plans for a smooth transition to the new order. Secondly, Robert Arthur Jones who embraced the new opportunities and used his wealth to provide public facilities for the use and enjoyment of the townsfolk whilst promoting a spirit of public service and benevolence. The painting of Scratton remains within the collection of Southend Museums. Following Robert Jones death, his son Edward Cecil Jones successfully continued his father's jewellery business. Like his father, Edward became a town councillor, used much of his personal wealth for the benefit of the town, was awarded the Freedom of the Borough (1953) and was also awarded an MBE. For 25 years he was Chairman of the Southend and South East Essex branches of the NSPCC. When Edward died in 1967, he was buried alongside his father. Today, the Premier Division of the Southend Borough and District Football Combination continues to play for the R. A. Jones Memorial Cup, the trophy first presented by Edward Cecil Jones in 1934 in memory of his father. On a personal note, I worked for a period in the 1970s at the Cecil Jones School, a purpose built (1969) comprehensive school named in honour of philanthropist Edward Cecil Jones (now Cecil Jones Academy). Whilst spending most weekdays in the school, I also spent most Saturday mornings refereeing school football matches at the nearby Jones Memorial Ground, donated to the town by Robert Jones in memory of his wife.
By Warwick Conway
The Famous Jones Clock
Edward Cecil Jones

Southend Timeline Southend-on-Sea © 2009 - 2022. All Rights Reserved

The Gates at the Jones Memorial Recreational Ground, the gates have been moved over the years from the their original position on the corner of Sutton Road and Eastern Avenue
Cecil Jones Academy, Eastern Avenue, Southend
Entrance Gates at Priory Park
Monument in Priory Park, Inscription reads, This park comprising thirty acres and the mansion called “The Priory” in which are incorporated some buildings of the Cluniac Priory of St Mary of Prittlewell was presented by R. A. Jones Esq. To the inhabitants of the county borough of Southend-on-Sea for perpetual public use. A .D 1917
R. A. Jones Memorial in the recreational grounds
Entrance Gates of the Victory Sports Ground
Southend-on-Sea’s No 1 History Website! Documenting The Town & The Townspeople
Now Incorporating The Sea Of Change Website
Website Info:
Chalkwell ▪ Eastwood ▪ Leigh-on-Sea ▪ Prittlewell ▪ Shoeburyness ▪ Southchurch ▪ Thorpe Bay ▪ Westcliff-on-Sea