Steeped in ghastly rumour, these concrete steps could have been built anytime from the early to the mid 20th Century, and are believe to have gained their name from several local folklore tales – the first is that the steps were devilish in that they would draw crude words from the mouths of tired pedestrians, as they reached the top of these incredibly steep old blighters! Another tale is that a young woman fell to her death, tripping at the top of these steps, subjected to a fall steep enough to be fatal. No truth in this death is evidenced. Rumour has it that she still haunts these steps, or that as she was climbing the top of the steps she saw the devil, frightening her and causing her to fall back to her death at the bottom. Other stories speak of the devil himself living under the steps – ready to pounce on those who lingered on the steps too long! Another story describes how the devil once knocked at the door of the very old Jarvis Hall a short way down the road at the top of the steps. David Hurrell on www.BenfleetHistory.org.uk has the theory that the name of the steps originally emerged from the steps laying on an ancient footpath connecting Bread and Cheese Hill to St. Mary’s Church, and that in bad weather church-goers could cop-out of attending using the precarious steps as an excuse – hence ‘the devil’ got the better of them. There is also a story that once a drunken sailor began making his way from Thundersley down to his boat moored in Benfleet Creek, to see a horned creature with glaring eyes coming out of the bushes. It was probably a stray billy-goat from a nearby smallholder.
Another snippet of local curiosity is in the name of ‘Bread and Cheese Hill’, which reportedly got its name in the Edwardian Era when early motorcars travelling to Southend would heat up as they ascended the hill, and the drivers and passengers would eat their lunch here whilst their car engines cooled.
Benfleet History Community Archive explains where the steps lie:
The Devil Steps are in a wooded area that lies between Hill Road and Mount Road. A public footpath leads through the woodland to the bottom of the steps and this is a regular walk for many of the local residents. Following the footpath through eventually leads you into Mount Road, just beside the Bread & Cheese Public House.
At the bottom of the hill their was once a brickfield; somewhere in which bricks were made and sold or dug from the clay in the woods. Bricks made here are thought to have been used in the construction of Jarvis Hall and part of St. Mary’s Church. At the top of the steps lay ‘Crescent House’, recently remade.
The steps in Summer 1961 by Harry Emery, and Winter 2010 by Eileen Gamble
An early video clip of the steps from 2012