The Britannia
All that is known about the early history of the Britannia public house is that it was built in about 1793 as a residence. According to Stephen Pewsey in his 1993 publication, "The Book of Southend-on-Sea", the building was nearly 200 years old and must have been built in, or shortly after 1793. This date coincides with both the opening of the Royal Hotel (as part of a 'New Town' of Southend on land granted by Daniel Scratton of Little Waltham) and the completion of Abraham Vandervord's 'Great House' (later the Minerva Hotel) on land granted by the same. Daniel Scratton was the Lord of the Manors of Prittlewell Priory and Milton Hall at the time. The Minerva and Britannia buildings stand very close to each other and were originally on adjacent plots. Daniel Scratton had granted the land for the building of the Great House (Minerva) when sitting in the manorial court on 16th January 1792. No record was found of the granting of land or building of the Britannia. The land could have been granted in the same court session and the possibility that the Britannia was originally associated with the Great House cannot be discounted. Both the Great House and Britannia can be seen standing close to each other in early depictions of the town. In an engraving (dated as before 1830 by the absence of the pier) and a painting of "Royal Terrace from the Sea, 1807" by C. C. Coventry (Beecroft Collection, Southend Museums Service) the buildings are seen as the most easterly buildings of the town. In Duheit's panorama of Southend from about 1825 (Essex Records Office/Southend Libraries Service), one of the best early depictions of the town, the town can be seen to have developed further eastwards beyond the Britannia. The three depictions show both the Great House and Britannia as residential buildings. The owners of the Britannia (like other seafront properties), also owned the land between the building and the beach. In return and as a condition of the original grant of land, they had the responsibility of maintaining the sea defences directly opposite the building. The Britannia was still a residential property in 1841 according to the census of that year and it is not listed as a pub or hotel in White's Directory of Essex, 1848. However, the occupants are listed in the 1861 census as Daniel Skilton, a beerhouse keeper; Ellen, his wife and Mary Ann Brown, a servant. The Skiltons ran the Britannia as a public house through the 1860s. This was a period when Southend's tourist trade was beginning to grow and at some time between 1848 and 1861 the Britannia had been converted from a residential property into a public house and hotel. In 1895, the Britannia site was offered for sale following the death of the owner, Mrs Ellen Bateman. At the time there was a sitting tenant, William John Penny, who had leased the property for 21 years from 1885. The site being sold comprised the Britannia tavern with plot of land in front and five cottages plus a stable and yard at the rear. The sale particulars described the Britannia as "the valuable old-established, fully licensed tavern". Two separate staircases led to six bedrooms and two W.C.s on the first floor. On the ground floor there were bars, a kitchen, a coal house and a private parlour. The sale particulars also refer to an 'Abstract of Title' dated 1854. This means that the property had changed in some way (from the original title of about 1793) in that year and so 1854 is likely to be the date when the property became a public house. The stretch of road, between the Minerva public house and gas works was characterised by a number of small greens between the road and beach promenade. As has been stated, the greens were originally owned with the nearest buildings but in 1890 the Local Board purchased Darlow's Green for £2,000 and in the years that followed the process was continued by the new Municipal Borough of Southend (from 1892) who purchased the remaining greens, including Britannia Green (in front of the pub). By the late 1890s the local authority owned all of the land in front of the buildings and began the work of improving and widening the road, in stages, eastward to become Eastern Esplanade. The Britannia pub lost its flagstaff in this process but the result was that, by summer 1908, trams were running past the Britannia pub and along the seafront. Historically, the land behind the Minerva and Britannia together with the land to the east had been a salty marsh. The development of the town eastwards along the seafront had been enabled by the digging of a drainage system for which the work had begun behind the pubs in about 1870. By 1894, the land behind the pubs had dried sufficiently for father and son, Alfred and Bernard Wilshire Tolhurst to open the 'Marine Park and Gardens' on the site. The Pavilion entrance (with the dome) was opened in 1901 as the Kursaal Palace, the name then adopted for the building with its ballroom, arcades and other attractions. This building meant the demolition some buildings around the two pubs. The Warwick Revolving Tower attraction was built on the resultant vacant plot adjacent to the Britannia in 1898 and until it was demolished in about 1906, towered above the Britannia when viewed from the seafront. The Warwick tower was replaced by a helter skelter ride and there have been rides or amusements on the site next to the Britannia ever since. Despite the drainage system (which is still in use), the area has remained prone to occasional flooding at times of exceptional rainfall. In about 2014, the Britannia was sold after being closed due to flooding. Despite its inclusion in the Kursaal Conservation Area, only the seafront facing wall was retained, having been shored up whilst the remainder of the building was largely demolished and rebuilt. Until this time, the Britannia had been one of the four oldest original buildings that still stood on the seafront - the others being Osborne House (the building with the double bow front at the foot of Pier Hill, now incorporated into an amusement arcade), the Hope Hotel and the Minerva Hotel. All four were built in the 1790s. Strictly speaking, in the case of the Britannia, the 'oldest original' designation now only applies to the building's façade.
By Warwick Conway
The Britannia, Image from the Terry Herbert Collection
The photo also provides a rare, rear view of the (left) Minerva which by about 1900 was obscured by an extension to the pub together with other buildings on Eastern Esplanade. It is difficult to be precise about the date of the photo.  The building next to the pub is interesting (by the way, it goes back a long way behind the pub). It bears the name C. Dowsett. Thomas Dowsett did have outlets all over town and he bought Strutts Parade on Marine Parade in 1865. He had several different types of business including 'fancy goods' or gifts and his sons ran some of these. But the only family member I could find in this period who was C. Dowsett was his second wife Clarissa who he married in 1881 thus setting a date for the photo, I might be happy to go with 1890.  The brewer Charrington Head & Co changed their name to plain Charrington & Co. in 1880 although it might have been a while before they bothered to change the pub sign.  My main concern is that both the 1875 and 1897 maps show 3 buildings between the Britannia and Minerva on the left of the Dowsett building. These are not seen in the photo suggesting a date before 1875.

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