Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: Visiting the Southend Central Museum

As a passionate naturalist, and as someone that was both born near Southend and grew up nearby, Southend Central Museum has always been a special place to me. This is despite the fact that I hadn’t been back in over a decade. I remember a school trip there once when I was a lot younger to visit the planetarium that can be found upstairs. So, when I had the opportunity to visit again recently, I decided to satisfy my curiosity. Nestled in the heart of Southend-on-Sea near Southend Victoria train station, this museum is a hidden gem that offers a diverse range of exhibits that cater to the curiosity of both seasoned museum goers and budding enthusiasts. I shall hope to do the Southend Central Museum justice with this overview, in the hope that you too will fall in love with it.

One of the cannons from the London greets you as you enter the museum

Upon entering the Museum, you are greeted by a cannon from the ill-fated London, a 17th Century Cromwellian era warship that exploded and sank in the Thames Estuary in 1665. The London was a 76-gun ship in the Navy of the Commonwealth of England, built at Chatham Dockyard between 1654 and 1656. She was part of the convoy sent to collect the exiled King Charles II from the Netherlands in 1660 in order to restore him to throne. Sadly, the London sank i following an on-board gun powder explosion. Previously, the Southend Central Museum had operated a long-running exhibition dedicated to the finds from the wreck, which ran until the summer of 2019. Aside from this very dramatic example of local history, the museum also has a number of exhibits exploring the natural history of Southend, as well as historical artefacts from the various time periods prior to the modern day when people settled along this prosperous stretch of the Thames.

Of course, I was immediately drawn to the natural history specimens

Me being me, I was immediately drawn to the galleries on the right of the entrance that showcase the Thames’ wildlife, including shore birds, fish, and everything in between. There are a small number of stunning dioramas of preserved specimens, illustrating what life is like out on the foreshore. Further around the museum, is a mock-up of the study of a Victorian naturalist, complete with a display of delicate butterflies, and other such curios from the natural world. Each display throughout the museum is thoughtfully arranged and accompanied by informative placards that offer valuable insights into the biology and behavior of the creatures on display (see above).

Southend has always been an important source of seafood such as cockles and various marine fish

Carrying on from the theme of natural history, is the exhibits on fish and the other species that have made Southend (and the surrounding areas) such an important maritime location. I can’t remember how many times we visited the cockle sheds on the shore at Leigh-on-Sea as a child, but it must have been in triple figures. While my mum and dad were having a cheeky pint, myself and my brother were gorging ourselves on the locally sources mussels, cockles, and sprats to name a few. Unfortunately, this isn’t something I’d like to do today (even if I still ate fish) due to the high rate of sewage discharge that has found its way into the Thames in recent years. I wonder if this will be the death nail of such industries that are only just managing to hold on.

Some of the EKCO branded products on display at the museum

The Southend Central Museum has the largest collection of EKCO products currently amassed, and they are always acquiring more. For those that aren’t aware, EKCO (from Eric Kirkham Cole Limited) was a local electronics company producing radio and television sets from 1924 until 1960. The company later expanded into plastic production for its own use, Ekco Plastics produced both radio cases and later domestic plastic products; the plastics company later became Lin Pac Mouldings Ltd. Those items held in the museum include radios, television sets, electric heaters and blankets, bathroom accessories, domestic design, kitchenware, and a large archive of documents and ephemera. It was great to see so much of this up-close, as well as interact with some of the displays telling you the history behind the products, the brand, and the people that produced them locally. If you want to see all of this EKCO paraphernalia, you’ll have to rush! EKCO: 100 Years of Design and Innovation in Southend is only on display until the 26th November 2023.

The royal charter granting Southend city status – a very important piece of paperwork!

I have always considered Southend to be a city due to both its size and historical significance, although it has only recently gained that status under some terrible circumstances. On the 15th October 2021, the local MP David Amess was murdered during one of his ‘constiutency surgeries in nearby Leigh-on-Sea. In the wake of his death, Queen Elizabeth II announced to grant Southend city status just three days later, in the honour of Amess. Amess was known for being at the centre of a long-running campaign to make Southend-on-Sea a city. It is a shame that this dream only became a reality after his tragic death. Something that is species thought, is being able to see the royal charter signed by the Queen on display in the museum.

Some of the coins of various ages found in the local area

As someone that has recently fallen in love with the BBC comedy The Detectorists (created by and starring Mackenzie Crook), I was excited to see some golden coins collected from the local area (among other metallic goodies). For those that are not aware of The Detectorists (go and check it out), the show revolves around the lives of two metal detector enthusiasts, Andy and Lance, who are members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, a fictional town in north Essex. The series follows the quirky and endearing adventures of Andy and Lance as they spend their free time searching for buried treasures with metal detectors, in the picturesque countryside of Essex. You can see why I was so excited to see these finds, as well as those dating to more modern times on display within the museum, as you never know what you’re going to find. It also demonstrates the rich local history of the area too.

Recovered artefacts from on display from the Prittlewell Princely Burial

In 2003 archaeologists from the MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) excavated a small plot of land in Prittlewell, Southend, Essex. Previously, Roman and Anglo-Saxon burials had been discovered here when Priory Crescent was being constructed in 1923, and they wanted to find out what remains had survived, how these might be affected by the proposed road widening scheme. It is always a good sign when archaeologists are engaged with the local landscape, and want to protect our cultural heritage. Quickly, archaeologists identified a large, square pit filled with what appeared to be the remains of a timber lining. As excavations continued, the archaeologists found a complete burial chamber full of amazing objects and the remains of a wooden coffin where the deceased would have lain. This was clearly a find of some significance, dating to the Anglo-Saxon period.

More taxidermy and one of the only fossils in the museum, which I suspect came from further afield

In conclusion, the Southend Central Museum is a true haven for curious minds of all ages. Its well-curated exhibits, informative displays, and commitment to education make it a valuable resource for anyone interested in the wonders of the local area. This museum offers a rich and immersive experience that will leave you with a deeper appreciation for the beauty of Southend, its rich historical significance, and its natural history. A visit to this museum is not just an outing; it’s a journey of discovery. I will certainly be back soon, and ready to explore the next exhibit which replaces the EKCO: 100 Years of Design and Innovation in Southend one. If you’ve visited the Southend Central Museum, what were your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments below.

Peering through the window of the Victorian naturalist’s study

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