History of Shoeburyness

Churchill Visits – With the war raging the Prime Minister Winston Churchill paid a visit to Shoeburyness to inspect the troops based at the garrison and no doubt to see the latest advances at the ranges towards defeating the Nazi threat.


Shoeburyness is a somewhat divided place from the geographical point of view as the Garrison lies between ‘Shoebury Village’ and ‘Cambridge Town”, the latter deriving its name from the public house named after the Duke of Cambridge. In the middle of the 19th century there was very little here apart from a few farmhouses, hardly any of which still exist. In 1851 the total population of the parish was approximately 151. The area, like so many of the South and East Coasts, was probably one in which a lot of smuggling took place, the marshes and hidden creeks lending themselves very well to such activities.

It was of course, the coming of the RA Garrison and School of Gunnery that very gradually led to the development of the area. The coast curves quite sharply at Shoebury and the army took over quite a bit of the coastal area together with some inland ground to form the Garrison and some years later the War Department took over the land further east which formed the New Ranges.

The Garrison came in the middle of the 19th century and Shoebury began to grow. Houses were built at the Garrison end of the High Street and Rampart Street. Shops began to open and then more roads leading off the High Street, but even then it was not completely built up until the 1920s and 1930s. Cambridge Town began a little later than the first part of the Village High Street. Residents became used to the firing of the extremely loud and heavy guns. The soldiers were always an integral part of the area and many with their families remained in the town after retiring from the army. The splendid horses belonging to the Garrison were a sight some older residents still remember. They could be heard clattering down the High Street early in the morning. Harry Wheatcroft, the famous rose grower, lived at North Shoebury, and you can guess where the good man came from; several local people were always to be found at the ready with bucket and shovel!

In the years between the wars, Shoebury was quite well known as a holiday resort. The beaches are good and safe for bathing, and it always been a source of enjoyment to walk out on the mud at low tide, provided of course one is sensible enough to learn how quickly the tide comes in. Sailboarding and water-skiing are now often to be seen.

In the latter part of the 19th century and up until the Second World War, Thames barges used to carry refuse from London which was used in the local brickworks. The barges were then reloaded with bricks and taken to London and other parts of the country. Children used to love to watch the barges being unloaded. Across the land from the beach to the brickfields (now nonexistent) were two narrow gauge railways used to draw the refuse and bricks, at first pulled by horses, later by a small engine. Both lines cross the High Street but there was no level crossing. Up until the 1930s there was a blacksmith’s forge on the beach, just above the sands – another great source of entertainment.

The main sources of employment over the past years were the brickworks, Garrison and railways, as well as farming. One local remembers how she and her brothers used to watch the men working in the brickfields. First they would see the clay (marm) and sand put in a grinding wheel, and then see it come out the front and be moulded and cut into shape. Then the bricks were stacked criss-cross to dry. She now wonders how much money the brickworks lost by the spoilt bricks caused by curious little fingers being poked in to see if the bricks were dry.

There are a number of historic and fine buildings in the area. St Andrew’s at South Shoebury is a Norman church started in the 1100s, and the timber porch which is said to be the finest example in Essex was added to it in 1400. St Mary’s at North Shoebury is a 13th century church. Other listed buildings include South Shoebury Hall, where the manorial courts used to be held. It is a medieval timber-framed house dating from the mid 15th century.

The village information above is taken from The Essex Village Book, written by members of the Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes and published by Countryside Books. Click on the link Countryside Books to view Countryside’s range of other local titles.