In St Mary’s Church, Prittlewell on the wall is a plaque remembering a Thomas Dowsett. He is buried in St John’s, Southend along with many members of his family. There was once a Dowsett Avenue in Southend and there is a ward at Southend Hospital named after him. Who was he and why is he remembered?
Thomas Dowsett was Southend’s first mayor and he used his status and wealth to help improve Southend and helped to shape what we see today. He was elected in 1892 and held the post for one term.
Born in 1838, to a ‘poor bookie’ one of Thomas’ first jobs was as a living scarecrow, I suppose it’s different. A hard worker, Thomas would hold several jobs and eventually ran an emporium in Southend High Street (where the Royal fish and chip shop is today, opposite the Royals). In his emporium, he pretty much sold anything and everything. He would also found Milton Hall Brick Company. On his death his businesses were worth £220,713. He was described as a quiet man. One who always watched but his mind was forever active.
He was also an estate agent, he was one of the founders of Southend on Sea Estates Company Limited) and would be responsible for the building of Clifton terrace. Along with two other landowners in the area, he gifted an area of land to the each of Southchurch to the town, which was developed into Southchurch Park and is home to county cricket.
He would also purchase Southchurch Hall in the late 19th Century. In 1925 his son (Thomas Dowsett died in 1906) gifted the hall to the people of Southend for them to open it up and for it to be used as a library (it would eventually be turned into a museum which can be visited today. For more information on this head over to https://fortheloveofhistory.home.blog/2019/04/09/the-hidden-gem-of-southchurch-southchurch-hall/). The Hall was formally opened by Herbert Arthur Dowsett, Thomas’ son on 2nd June 1931 after a period of restoration.
Thomas Dowsett also set up the Dowsett almshouse Trust where he gifted 8 almshouses to provide affordable housing for the poor and elderly. These houses can still be seen in Cranford Avenue.
Thomas’ son, Arthur would go on to be mayor of Southend like his father. H e was elected three times, 1925-6, 37-8 and again 1938-9. Herbert would take over as managing director of his father’s companies. In addition, he was also involved with the opening of Southend General Hospital in 1932 and served as a representative for the borough on the Runwell Mental Hospital committed in the 1930s. He died of a heart attacked on 26th August that year. Like his father, he is buried in St John’s churchyard.
Thomas W. Dowsett, grandson of Thomas Dowsett (son of his eldest, also a Thomas) was a soldier in the first world war. A student at Southend High School for Boys, Thomas would join the Honourable Artillery Company. He was killed in action and is buried Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery, Ypres. , His name is on the schools memorial organ and he is noted as being the first student from the school to be killed in the war.
Herbert’s son H. Lansgon Dowsett would serve in the Secord World War attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Battalion Home Guard. When the war ended he became chairman of the Southend (West) Conservative Association.
Thomas Dowsett and his family helped to shape what Southend on Sea is today both in buildings and in their actions. That is why they are this week’s People in Focus.
Rayment, D. C (2019) A-Z of Southend: Places, people, history. Amberly Publishing: Stroud.
https://www.essexarchivesonline.co.uk/Result_Details.aspx?DocID=268487 [Accessed 20/11/19]
https://www.southendtimeline.com/1906.htm [Accessed 20/11/19]
https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/23078 [Accessed 20/11/19]
http://dowsettalmshouses.btck.co.uk/ [Accessed 20/11/19]
http://southend19141918.co.uk/southend-prittlewell-rolls-of-honour [Accessed 20/11/19]