The most significant weather event in Essex history, the Tidal Surge of 1953, led to Southend-on-Sea being overwhelmed by the water. The pier's water level measuring device broke when the water level reached 4 feet past the danger level and many of Southend’s attractions, including the Esplanade and the Leas, were flooded by the dreadful weather. Two people were killed by the icy cold waters in the town. In nearby Great Wakering the weather washed away a temporary housing estates of Nissan Huts. The surge of water forced many families to climb onto the roofs of their homes, braving the weather conditions to escape the flood waters, and one older couple, who could not manage the climb, spent nine hours standing on top of their stove, chest deep in water. The Southend lifeboat was busier than at any time before or since as it battled the weather conditions to provide help for those stranded on Wallasea Island.
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Southend-On-Sea was originally the southern part of the village of Prittlewell, on the Essex coast. In the 18th century, however, the Georgian passion for the sea air and salt water bathing meant that Southend-On-Sea, with its seven miles of beaches, rapidly grew into a popular tourist resort. With the advent of rail travel, Southend-On-Sea thrived as a day trip and holiday destination for workers from London who were attracted to its pleasure pier and its possibilities as a commuter town. Southend-On-Sea is proud to have the longest pleasure pier in the world, measuring 1.34 miles. Whilst it has suffered from many fires and collisions in its history many visitors are still attracted to it today. The advent of package holidays abroad led to a steep decline in holidays at home and Southend-On-Sea suffered accordingly. Following extensive redevelopment in the 1960's and 70's, however, Southend-On-Sea now attracts about 6 million visitors every year, generating annual revenues of more than £200million. Southend-On-Sea is an important hub for employment, business and leisure. The Cliff Pavilion attracts many performers on tour, as do the New Empire Theatre and the Palace Theatre.
Among the notable people who have a link to Southend and the surrounding area are comedian and actor Lee Evans and Phill Jupitus. Mathew Baynton, best known as one of the actors on Horrible Histories, was born in Southend-On-Sea, as were former England Football Manager Peter Taylor, and Dicky Moore of pop band Scritti Politti. Bollo the Ape (aka Dave Brown) from the Might Boosh was born in Southend-On-Sea and politician John Hutton (Baron Hutton of Furness) was born in neighboring Westcliff.