Early Years

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The name and importance of Southend being of comparatively modern origin, the early story of the locality was bound up with the mother village, Prittlewell, with the port of Leigh and the two adjacent manors of Milton hall and Southchurch, which belonged to the group of estates which contributed to the support of the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury. It was the largest parish in Rochford Hundred and in the earliest days was mostly devoted to agriculture. Prittlewell was always a comparatively important unit of population in the Hundred, but it never became an administrative centre such as Rayleigh, Rochford and Hadleigh, or a busy seaport as Leigh. Archaeological discoveries afford evidence of human occupation of the Southend area from the earliest times. A gravel pit in Prittlewell yielded a roughly chipped hand axe, fashioned by men of the Old Stone Age in far off days long before the Thames flowed in its present channel, and similar discoveries were made at Rochford and Shoebury. In the New Stone Age there seemed to have been a regular factory for the making of flint implements on the north bank of the river Crouch at Hullbridge, and this may well have been continued long after the introduction of bronze. At about the same time there was a settlement of menat Thorpe Bay whose food consisted chiefly of shell fish, and whose manner of life was studied in the refuse heaps they left behind them. Travelling founders, the “tinkers” of the Bronze Age, left hoards of metal and implements buried, for concealment and safety, at Leigh, Prittlewell and Shoebury, while at Canewdon several large well shaped urns, used for cremation burials in Celtic or Iron Age times, were found. With the advent of the Romans the story of the countryside became somewhat clearer. In the neighbourhood of Hastings Road, at Leigh Hall and adjacent sites there were numerous discoveries of Roman pottery; near to Prittlewell Priory, close to the Prittle Brook, distinct evidence of a settlement in Roman times, pottery, large quantities of tiles, and a leaden coffin were uncovered. At Shoeburyness a Roman kiln was unearthed, by brick workers, and other finds of similar nature, or of coins of the period, point to the existence of an extensive colony on the north bank of the river during some part of the Roman occupation. It is also believed that the Romans linked up this corner of South East Essex by a road system subsidiary to the main routes of the county. They constructed a thoroughfare from Southend, or hereabouts, to Maldon, crossing the river Crouch at Hullbridge by stout bridge, the last remains of which disappeared at the hands of an irate barge owner in the middle 1800s. There were also roads leading out of the Hundred through Pitsea and Rayleigh. The name “Strathende” may possibly indicate the existence of one of the smaller Roman roads leading to the coast and joining this district to Maldon. For some reason or another, perhaps encroachment by the sea or fear of Saxon pirates, the population dwindled and historians have assumed that the main attack upon Essex was launched by the Saxons from the Stour, in north Essex, and not from the Thames side, but the discovery of Saxon military burials north east of Prittlewell suggest that Saxon occupation was much earlier, and more martial, than had been thought.
Southend-on-Sea

1822 Southend

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