On Customs leaving Southend

My last schoolboy summer holiday saw a ladybird infestation, and my tackling Stranger In A Strange Land with amateur cricket as a backdrop at the Chalkwell Park I often visited. As summer gave way to autumn, my childhood ended as my career began.

I began my full-time working life in November 1976 at HM Customs and Excise. In one of those little ironies I started at Metropolitan House in Victoria Avenue (now called Victoria House), just a few floors above where I had been signing on during that summer.

In those days HM Customs and Excise employed something like 5000 people in Southend-on-Sea. Not only did they have a significant presence in Metropolitan House, but they could also claim offices in the following locations:

Alexander House, Portcullis House, Baryta House, Coleman House (subsequently C.E. Heath House), Carby House, the Prudential building, Maitland House, and an significant IT operations in Shoeburyness.

I may have missed an office or two out; this is just my memory after all. Added to this, Cupids Country Club was a Civil Service Sports ground.

It was the Thatcher government that saw the beginning of the decline. The job that Maggie’s minions started looks to be completed within the next five years, if reports are to be believed.

Of course times change, and progress marches on. But my generation had a substantial employer in the borough, offering a career and good money. In those days we also had Access/Mastercard, a large Inland Revenue presence, significant insurance companies (including C.E. Heath, or CUACO), and manufacturers like Amstrad, Hi-Tech, Lesney – all in addition to HM Customs and Excise.

Victoria Avenue was a buzzing, thriving office environment in those long ago days. Whether it will ever be thus again is debatable, even unlikely. Time marches on, but progress is not always welcome. When HM Revenue and Customs, as HMC&E is now known, finally bids adieu to Southend I think we will have lost something of value.

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