Southend-on-Sea has the longest reigning Monarch in British history to thank for its move to city status. The Queen has agreed to elevate the iconic seaside resort in honour of Sir David Amess, the MP for Southend West, who had long campaigned for it to become a city. Sir David was killed in a knife attack during one of his regular constituency surgeries on October 15th 2021 – just a day before, he had given what would prove to be his last broadcast interview to voice his support, again, for Southend to be made a city. But while the record breaking Elizabeth II has changed Southend forever, it was a queen consort of Great Britain who first helped put this place by the sea on the map.
In 1804, Caroline of Brunswick arrived in Southend to take the air. At the time, she was Princess of Wales and it was a moderately ambitious beach resort trying to elevate itself from its origins as a small settlement of fishermen at the ”south end” of the more famous Prittlewell. Owing to poor road connections, the area was finding it tough to compete with the bright lights of places like Brighton but it had acquired a reputation as a genteel holiday resort and so the princess set up home at numbers 7,8 and 9 Grand Terrace.
By then, she was well and truly separated from her husband, the future King George IV. They had loathed each other at first sight and considered it an achievement to manage the nine months of marriage that produced their only child. But while both were surrounded by salacious rumours, public sympathy lay with Caroline. In fact, the rumours continued even while she was in Southend with whispers of far from regal behaviour taking place during her tenure of the terrace. But on her departure, the place where she had stayed was renamed Royal Terrace while the presence of this popular princess helped make Southend a go to resort.
Caroline’s unhappy marriage would go on to create further public scandal as her husband tried, and failed, to divorce her while she made life far from comfortable for him by turning up at his coronation, demanding to be crowned consort, only for the door to be slammed in her face. However, Southend’s fortunes were far more favourable and the town became a Victorian seaside sensation.
Royal Terrace still bears the name it acquired thanks to its time as a regal holiday hotspot. And it is now part of a city as, by royal command, Southend is elevated to honour a man who really did change it for good, forever.