The Clifftown Podcast – Tour of Hamlet Court Road

For this note I have created a walking tour of the Hamlet Court Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, mentioned in the fourth episode. I hope you enjoy the built heritage which Andy Atkinson of the Hamlet Court Conservation  Forum showed me. Enjoy.

Location: Hamlet Court Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, SS0 7DD

Directions: Ample parking at Hamlet Court Road car park, SS0 7UA. By train, the Westcliff-on-Sea train station is 50 minutes from London Fenchurch Street. Hamlet Court Road is a minute’s walk from the Southend side.

Duration: Less than a mile’s amble, approx. 45 minutes.

Start at the north end of Hamlet Court Road where the London Road runs. Start walking on the left hand pavement heading back towards the estuary and Westcliff train station. On the opposite side of the road to your right, above the shopfronts, are superb examples of  Edwardian architecture (Edward VII). These are the best known heritage buildings of the area and create an elegant curve down into the road.

Continue walking and when possible cross the road to the right hand side of the pavement until you reach the intersection where St. John’s Road feeds into Hamlet Court Road from the left. On that corner, adjacent to the Post Office is a fine example of early 1900/turn of the century building that is highly decorated with white dentals and red brick. The turret is a regular feature for Southend properties of this period and the number of windows suggest the desire for optimum sea views. The style of the building  reflects London and other city architecture of the period suggesting a high status or prestige area within the town.

Opposite this building on the side you are standing and above the shopfronts is highly decorated Romanesque embellishments from the Edwardian period. Looking slightly tired now you are still able to see the high decoration and dormer windows.

Staying on the same side of the road walk to the corner of Anerley Road and again look to the opposite side of the street where you will see the unique Havens Building. Designed in the early/mid 1930s this building is currently listed and represents one of the first open floor department stores in the country modelled on Heals of Tottenham Court Road. Hamlet Court Road was known as the ‘Bond Street of the east’ during its inception, showing it’s importance to the region but also in relation to London. This is confirmed further with the knowledge that the original train station was going to be called ‘Kensington-on-Sea’ rather than Westcliff-on-Sea.

Havens is covered in glazed terracotta tiles called faience and was a department store until 2017. It still retains it’s original decoration, double height glazing, including bushels of leaves falling down the columns. The canopy over the windows is suspected to be not original

Continuing down the road you will notice the Thames estuary coming into view as the road widens at the junction where the Savers shop is. The widening is due to the original Edwardian houses having front gardens that would have taken up the wide pavement you see now.  You can still see these houses above the shop fronts leading from the ‘Ramen + Chill’ restaurant onwards. These houses are situated on the southern corner of St. Helen’s Road leading down. The Savers shop is housed in a new build which was designed to replicate the original Art Deco building, which burnt down in a fire.

Cross to the left hand side of the road so that you are on the corner of St. Helen’s Road and walk past the Shagoor Indian restaurant and stand outside the Tara Thai restaurant next door. Look to the opposite side of the street to view a recently renovated Edwardian building which boasts one of the finest examples of that era’s shopfronts in the country containing curved glass and wooden framing. This is truly a special property to view and cherish.

Continue to the Hamlet Court Pub on the corner of Canewdon Road and face the opposite side of the street. Here, above the shopfronts, are examples of 1930s properties, some of the later buildings to be erected in Hamlet Court Road. This was the site of the the Hamlet Court or Hamlet House, which in the nineteenth century sat in sculpted gardens. The property was once home to Victorian poet Robert Buchanan who lived there during the 1870s, writing poems and plays which were popular in the West End during the 1880s. Buchanan wrote to a friend saying that there was no ‘no finer place to be when spring becomes a certainty’.

Other famous residents of Hamlet Court included Edwin Arnold, another poet who also became the Editor in Chief of the Daily Telegraph in the later nineteenth century and Sir Philip Cunliffe-Owen, the curator of the South Kensington Museum and a grand exhibition organiser of the Victorian age. Harriet Jay, sister in law to Robert Buchanan and Victorian polymath in her own right mentions the Hamlet Court in her biography of Buchanan from 1903 mentioning that it was ‘a paradise for the poet to dream in’. She laments the loss of ‘Lover’s Lane’ (an avenue created by ancient elm trees) and the  meadows around the Court in the same book. The Court was demolished in 1929.

The 1930s buildings now standing are referred to as reduced Art Deco and show unique features of waterfalls cascading from openings in the parapet wall down the central pilaster columns. There is also green roman clay tile coping on the parapet, which references the Art Deco building Sunray House around the corner in Canewdon Road.

As you are standing outside the Hamlet Court Pub look diagonal to you on the opposite corner where you will see a row of Edwardian buildings bookended by a magnificent former bank building built in a style known as ‘bank baroque’. Featuring a turret crowned by a cupola this is an exuberant building demonstrating the common practice of banks in the Edwardian period creating ostentatious and highly decorated buildings.

Turn left into Canewdon Road down the side of the Hamlet Court pub and walk to Preston Road. You will notice the road is lined with elm trees, some of the first and last remaining original features of this Edwardian suburban planning. The road contains many fine examples of Edwardian arts and crafts movement properties. The brickwork and wooden edging of some of these properties is beautiful. Number 35 Preston Road you will find an incredibly rare example of architectural design from Herbet Fuller Clark, an arts and crafts architect most famously know for designing the magnificent Black Friar pub in London. This property in Preston Road is one of the very few other properties he designed. It’s a unique and arresting.

Return to Canewdon Road and walk back up to the Hamlet Court Road and over into the other side of Canewdon Road. Walk past the ‘Bank Baroque’ building on your left and directly behind it on Canewdon Road you will find a fine example of the Art Deco building known as Sunray House with it’s curved windows and distinctive ‘Crittall’ window frame design.

Continue walking down Canewdon Road until you reach the corner of Ditton Court Road. If you look right you will see a fine example of very early grass and tree lined verges, built in 1904.  It has been speculated that these are some of the very earliest street layout designs in Southend and not only inspired layout in Thorpe Bay and Westleigh but also inspired the eminent Victorian town planner, Sir Raymond Unwin, to use some of these ideas in his own designs, most significantly in Hampstead Garden Suburb. The belief is that Unwin, who also designed Ozone Cottage in nearby Pembury Road, was close to the Victorian developers of the area and owners of the railway  line, Lord Brassey and his sons. It could be speculated that Unwin was inspired by the layout of Ditton Court Road for his own designs published in the seminal 1909 book ‘Town Planning in Practice’. If you look left you will see some of the original holly bushes remain, set at three foot intervals. These would have been chosen for the ease in sculpting and maintaining.

Turn right and walk up Ditton Court Road until you reach a magnificent brick building with small windows. This would have been built by local craftsmen and inspired by designers such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It is an incredible piece  of architecture.

This brings you to the end of the tour and you may wish to refresh yourself at the Hamlet Court pub or try the superb coffee and homemade cake at Frank & Luna’s on Canewdon Road.

M G Boulter 2021.

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