With four exciting venues, Southend Museums is a publicly funded established service with a varied collecting remit, and dynamic programme of activity.
Prittlewell Priory, Central Museum and Planetarium, the Beecroft Art Gallery and Southchurch Hall all have incredible stories to tell, fascinating collections and engaging displays and exhibitions on show. Our enthusiastic and passionate team cares for, researches and interprets these buildings and collections ensuring the communities heritage is accessible for many generations to come.
The museum service plays a vital role in collecting, documenting, and exhibiting Southend’s history and heritage. We have over 50,000 objects in our care across Material Culture, Archaeology, Natural History, Fashion and Textiles and Fine Art. There really is something for everyone!
Who we are
Southend Museums Service will preserve the unique cultural heritage, collections and stories of the area, celebrating the powerful identity of Essex and stimulating local pride and joy.
Through conservation and interpretation, we will provide the widest possible access through dynamic displays and exhibitions, engaging events, and an exciting learning programme. We will inspire curiosity and creativity through our work, embedding social inclusion in the heart of our organisation.
Our history as a museum service dates all the way back to 1906, when the then library service acquired archaeology artefacts from local donors. Soon after, we officially became a museum in 1922 when local philanthropist and jeweller RA Jones donated the grounds of what is now Priory Park and the Prittlewell Priory, to the local council.
Once home to Cluniac Monks, Priory became a Victorian family home and was later purchased by RA Jones. From this generous donation, the grounds became a public park and the Grade I listed Scheduled Ancient Monument – Prittlewell Priory, opened as Southend’s very first museum.
As the museum service expanded, Prittlewell Priory remained one of our sites, and continues to be the jewel in our crown today. The priory was lovingly restored to its original glory as a historic property in 2012 with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. With the addition of the Visitor Centre beside the Priory, it has become the perfect place to unwind and soak up some history.
Central Museum and Planetarium stands around the corner from the Victoria train station in a Grade II listed building on Victoria Avenue. Built in 1905-6 at a cost of £9,374 and funded by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the building initially contained Southend’s first free public library. Until it reopened its doors as another museum under Southend Museums umbrella in April 1981. 3 years later, a planetarium was built into the Central Museum, constructed by astronomer Harry Ford in 1984.
The museum is now home to the internationally significant Anglo Saxon burial assemblage ‘The Prittlewell Princely Burial’ which is dated to around 580AD. These finds along with a variety of other fascinating artefacts pertaining to social history, archaeology and natural history are on permanent display in Central Museum.
In 1930 we welcomed another wonderful addition to our museums service: Southchurch Hall. This Grade I listed medieval moated manor house stands proudly in Southchurch Gardens and contains an incredibly rich history of owners and uses. Up until the 1920’s it was used as a farmer's home, before being extensively renovated and donated to Southend by the Dowsett family. The current hall dates all the way back to c.1321-1364 and has a Tudor and 1930s extension.
Before being rehomed in 2014, the Beecroft Art Gallery originally occupied an Edwardian building in Westcliff-on-Sea. This building, along with a dynamic and eclectic collection of art, was endowed to Southend by Walter Beecroft in 1952. The Beecroft Art Gallery now resides next to the Central Museum and Planetarium in a grand 1970s Brutalist building. Alongside local art exhibitions and a permanent display of the Beecroft collection, the gallery also showcases a rolling programme of fashion and textile exhibitions utilising the museum's extensive collection of dress and textiles.
With a passionate body of employees and volunteers, Southend Museums plays a vital role in the preservation, conservation and interpretation of our local cultural heritage. As custodians of internationally significant collections, we place engagement, access and social inclusion at the heart of all our work.
We can’t wait to welcome you to one of our unique venues.