Date: May 2019
Famously Henry Ford said on 6 June 1916 "History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today."
An untimely comment seeing 3 weeks later the greatest slaughter in a single day on the Somme took place–and for a 100 years we have been trying to learn from the experience.
And 26 years later to the day his country, along with other Allied troops, were fighting it out on the Normandy beaches. Another salutary lesson we are still struggling with.
For over 20 years I have been involved in local and family history in Leigh-on-Sea, a place where there is a huge amount of pride in our heritage, a deep desire to preserve what’s left and a constant battle to do so.
Leigh is not unique, there are towns and villages all over the country which have a rich and varied history and it is vital that this is saved if it can be, recorded if it cannot.
We are living in strange and earth shattering times – we are learning, oh so quickly, the damage that we as humans are doing to our planet and the consequences – and we are also learning that the technical revolution which we are living through is changing the world in which we live, work and play. Nowhere is this more so than in our town centres and we have to adapt to this. But we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. And in this case the baby is our heritage.
Yes buildings will have to change to cater for the changing needs of the modern world, how we shop, eat, play, and that can be done, but in our historic areas it has to be done with sensitivity and care, otherwise we will lose far more than we think.
Southend Borough has a rich history, and its not all about Saxon Kings and shipwrecks, important as they are. There are areas of great importance to how we, as a Borough, have grown over the centuries. Hamlet Court Road is a prime example – a thrusting, important thoroughfare at one time.
Those glory days may have gone but the work that is now going on to establish the road as a conservation area should be supported by the Borough Council and other bodies - it is too important to lose.
Shoebury, with its unique military history – the Borough needs to support local groups in preserving that heritage. There are many other areas such as Prittlewell, Southchurch and Milton, all worthy of heritage care, some, like Leigh, dating back to Domesday – far longer than dear Old Southend.
But the big problem facing Southend at the moment is its High Street. I have recently, with other Councillors, been looking at this knotty problem in detail – how can we improve it, how can we enhance it, how can we save it?
Well of course we have to change with the times. But we don’t have to forget past times.
Just walk down the High Street and look up. There are many truly awful buildings which have interspersed with the old and ruined the High Street’s character – change should start there, and I don’t mean by bulldozing them. For those of a functional design – flat roofs and massive concrete blocks – they need to be enhanced to fit in properly, given some detailing and interest to add to the High Street experience, which is going to change with more residential and leisure uses.
There are, however, lots and lots of buildings of great character, detail and historic significance to the town. Above ground level they are still there and evoke a time gone by when major entrepreneurs and benefactors in Southend, like Keddies and R A Jones, built buildings to last with an aura of history built in.
So in the headlong rush to save our High Street let’s take off the blinkers and see it as it was and as it could be again – not preserved in aspic, but remodelled, adapted and enhanced with more relevant uses - but don’t let’s change our heritage.
The meaning of BUNK is absurd, ridiculous, nonsense – Southend’s history is certainly none of those things.
Cllr Carole Mulroney
Liberal Democrat Group Leader & Councillor for Leigh Ward