Seaside resort and administrative centre of Southend unitary authority in southeastern England, on the Thames estuary, 60 km/37 mi east of London; population (2001) 160,250. Southend is the closest seaside resort to London and as such attracts nearly 3 million visitors a year; its major industry is tourism.
History There were successive occupations of the area by Celts, Romans, Saxons, and Danes. In 894 King Alfred successfully defeated the Danes at Benfleet, driving them across the site of modern Southend to Shoeburyness, where they formed a settlement. The name Southende was first used in a legal document during the reign of Henry VIII. The rise of the town as a health resort dates from the late 18th century, when it became a fashionable place for sea bathing. After the arrival of the railway in the 19th century, Southend developed rapidly as a seaside resort, popular with holidaymakers from London.
Features Southend has a 2-km/1.3-mi long leisure pier, said to be the longest in the world; 11 km/7 mi of seafront; an aquarium; and many public parks and gardens. These include the Cliff Gardens, known for their flower displays and a Floral Trail Tour. Nearly a third of all land in the area is protected for nature conservation, including Belfairs Wood Nature Reserve and Leigh National Nature Reserve.
The church of St Mary the Virgin, situated in the district of Prittlewell, originally dates from the 7th century. The present Norman nave was erected in the 11th century, the processional aisle in the 12th century, and the chancel tower in the 15th century. The 15th-century chapel has a stained-glass window attributed to the German artist Albrecht Dürer, and was formerly in the church of St Ouen, Rouen, France. The Cluniac priory of St Mary's at Prittlewood was founded in 1110 as a cell of the priory at Lewes, East Sussex, and the 13th-century Southchurch Hall was the residence of Sir Richard de Southchurch, Sheriff of Essex in 1265.