The Most Remarkable Event in Southend’s History
From Part 1
Despite all the crowds and congestion, Superintendent Pryke in charge of policing arrangements, commented on the overall excellent conduct of huge crowds and the good behaviour of the seamen. Not a single arrest had been made. Referring to the seamen Superintendent Pryke added, in the whole of my 35 years of London and county experience, I never seen a more orderly and sober lot of men.
Following the great rush on Sunday, the rest of week was more orderly. Many thousands still came by train and steamer and all the warships were open to visitors in the afternoons. At 8.45pm on the Monday evening there was a huge aerial firework display along the seafront organised by James Pain and Son. It included a set piece in 10ft letters with the words Welcome to the Fleet emblazoned on each side of the pier.
On the Tuesday the Lord Mayor of London, Sir George Wyatt Truscott and his wife, the Sheriffs and most members of the city corporation, along with the principal members of the Port of London Authority arrived by special train, about 80 ladies and gentlemen in all. They were greeted by the Mayor of Southend. There followed a procession through the town and a ride on the pier trams to the pier head. From there the guests were taken by boat to the Enchantress for lunch aboard and a tour of the fleet at anchor.
Of great interest to the visitors was the ‘mimic’ or mock battle performed by the fleet which included a pretend torpedo attack, the torpedo being one of the newest weapons possessed by the navy.
Meanwhile, for the rest of the week lunches, receptions and entertainments were put on around the town for the fleet’s officers and men. Wednesday saw the hosting of a special meat tea for 500 sailors at the Kursaal by the Southend Mayor. There followed a gala dinner evening at the Palace Hotel in honour of Admiral Sir William May and a party of 130 officers. During the day a band from the home fleet provided music for visitors and residents of Southend. Not all the performances were official though, as in one case the bandstand was simply commandeered by Navy men for an impromptu performance. On the same night the fleet put on a light show which was described as a marvel to see.
The penultimate day of the pageant saw the Mayor of Southend and 60 guests (including ladies) entertained for lunch aboard the Dreadnought by the Admiral. After lunch, following a tour of the ship, the guests were told by gunnery officers of the fearsome capabilities of the armaments on modern battleships. One officer contrasted the weapons of the navy in 1909 with those of the Dutch when they raided the River Thames 240 years earlier. Then the Dutch cannon could strike just a few hundred yards inland as was witnessed with the destruction of part of St Catherine’s Church, East Tilbury. However, the gunnery officer shocked his visitors by adding that the fearsome Navy guns on modern warships moored in the same position as the Dutch had occupied, could now easily strike targets as far as away as the suburbs of West and North London.
During the evening of Friday 23rd July, the great fleet began to depart with the battleships weighing anchor during the evening and on Saturday morning. The weather had suddenly changed to cold and blustery.
Southend began to return to normal. The town had never seen an event like it in the past, and probably would never see anything like it again.
The week had passed smoothly, although Southend had a number of new temporary residents, being 130 sailors who had failed to return their ships. The police obligingly found accommodation for a number of the absentees in police cells around the town before arranging for them to be handed over to navy authorities. One unfortunate sailor, a stoker, had to have a hand and foot amputated after falling from a pier tram.
There was an interesting travel snippet on the Great Naval Pageant. On the 22nd July 1909, Herbert J. Mitchell had a letter published in the Southend Standard praising Police Constable Cameron who was on point duty at Hadleigh Corner (by the Church*). Hadleigh Corner was described as one of the most dangerous in the county. PC Cameron had been on duty alone directing traffic from early in the morning until late at night and his efforts had prevented many accidents. On the first Sunday of the pageant some 2,000 vehicles an hour, both cycle and motor, passed through Hadleigh. The letter writer suggested that for future bank holidays and such days where other attractions were to be held, two police constables should be on duty directing traffic at this spot.
* Present day junction of Rectory Road and London Road A13 by St James the Less Church.
Note. The Royal Navy today (2022) has between 50 and 70 active units depending on which type of vessels are counted.
Extracted from the Essex Hundred Histories
Essex Weekly News
Illustrated Weekly News