I didn’t set out to make a grand survey of Southend-on-Sea when I started the Clifftown Podcast, it was simply a chance to tell some stories, local knowledge and talking points, which had crossed my path so many times growing up in the town and had inspired me as a song writer. As I close the series (for now) with this tenth episode it has played on my mind a lot about what I was doing, why I was doing it and how it had turned out. I steered very little the way the episodes flowed, I followed chance a lot of the time and let things reveal themselves.
I was really pleased Andrew Moore agreed to join me on my walk along the Broomway. He is a fantastic musician and songwriter. His comments about the ancient paths leading out to the Broomway, which were little more than wooden markers either standing crooked in the mud or laying down flat like some primeval railroad, seemed such a perfect encapsulation of the whole intent of the podcast that I put it in the episode. His observation was that most things in this town change and it’s almost impossible to memorialise it all, especially as most of what we experience is trivial or ‘every day’ in the historical sense.
Andrew marvelled at how a basic wooden structure which was pummelled by the tide twice a day for decades, if not centuries, could remain as a testament to ordinary activity, ordinary lives. Similarly ordinary is the more complex endeavours of the 1960s ring road by the town centre with its associated high rise flats - this soon would be lost to major redevelopment but unlike the wooden paths in Wakering, this urban landscape will be erased within months and beyond living memory, it will largely be forgotten.
This resonated with me and brought to mind a myriad of instances throughout the making of this podcast where I had found glimpses of a Southend past which had been forgotten and not deemed relevant anymore. De-Camden island in the bonus episode for this month is a great example of where a community and human activity thrived - it meant something to someone long ago - but now you can barely find a trace. Likewise, I think of the green orchards and magical country lanes of Hamlet Court Road described by Harriet Jay, which existed barely over a hundred years ago (Episode 4) or the theatres where Houdini and countless others entertained the population of this town (Episode 5), the modern day venues where I have enjoyed friendship and music, the crux of a life experience, are already disappearing and becoming something new. Is my past being collectively forgotten as we speak?
The reason for these histories not being given their space, their recognition, is in my view simply that they don’t sit within that great pantheon of national history. Also, they can’t be used by the local governments to entice community pride or incentivise tourism - what is there to show people? The Prittlewell Prince has his bling but a seventeenth century shoe? For the most, these are ordinary events, experiences, objects which meant something to someone some time but seemingly hold no bearing on how modern Southend goes about its business today.
For me this is not so. To understand how medieval people moved between the islands here, how Victorians consumed entertainment, how pub rock poked through into the pop charts, why a Lithuanian strong man chose to spend his last days here or the role of rural magic and cunning men, this all adds up to what the town is today and what it has chosen to cherish and what it has chosen to leave behind.
Southend is an ordinary place like anywhere is ordinary to the people who live it day in day out. It’s as fascinating and inspiring as you want it to be and this podcast, I hope, offers you that option to open the door to it. The Clifftown Podcast is a primer into ordinary becoming extraordinary - you can choose whether it’s important to you, whether it’s interesting or relevant to how you wish to live in the ordinary place where you live.