In 1935, Southend Council leaders were looking for a way to really boost the tourist economy.

Then they had a bright idea - let there be light!

They decided to really go to town by illuminating the seafront for the first time ever.

Weird and wonderful illuminations including giant gnomes, goblins, illuminated flowers and fire-breathing dragons were installed for the summer season in “The Shrubbery” (land opposite Royal Terrace that what would later be known as Never Never Land).

A 40ft long “floating gondola of light” fitted with more than 600 lamplights was moored off the seafront

Special evening coach trips were laid on from Liverpool Street in London to cater for extra swarms of daytrippers who had heard about the attractions.

On one weekend in August alone so many people who had come to see the lights were left queuing at a Southend rail station that a riot broke out. As travellers in 20-strong deep lines rushed the barriers, all hell broke loose, resulting in a number of women fainting.

The shrubbery creatures were described as “the strangest monsters that the earth has ever brought forth in a dry summer”.

“They have given the area such an air of un-reality that it has been re-christened Never Never Land,” one newspaper reported.

Other illuminations along the seafront included a “Red Riding Hood” tableau, ‘Neptune’s nursery’ and a floodlighting effect on the cliffs. Another huge hit was the “pillar of light” illumination in Western Esplanade.

Made up of a tower of cones of diminishing sizes, the spectacle was fitted with 400 lamps with colour schemes changing every few seconds.

Politician and journalist Sir Harry Brittain was invited to the town as the VIP guest to officially switch on the new lights just in time to kick off carnival week.

He praised the lights saying: “Boldness in publicity pays.”

He stressed: “This will repay Southend a thousand-fold and delight visitors by the hundreds of thousands. I do hope that this electric display created by Southend will awaken the electrical industry itself.”

He wasn’t wrong.

That year one million visitors flocked to Southend to see the lights. As well as the Shrubbery and the esplanade, the Pier Pavilion, Pier Head and Kursaal were all adorned with new illuminations.

One of the most striking was a glowing “lighthouse” in Western Esplanade as well as a 50ft giant beacon in the shape of a cross.

The following year, the illuminations were just as bright – if not more so. On one Saturday in August 1936, £20,000 was spent on switching on lights.

One of the biggest positives? They were said to outdo those of rival resort Blackpool.

And people noticed.

In 1935, Lancashire even sent its chief engineer to Southend to check out the lights and to learn from Essex’s success before trying a similar scheme in Morecambe.