History of the Pier
Chronological Data 1802. First small jetty built, at the western end of the path below the Shrubbery, for the convenience of those who made use of the pleasure boats. 1828. Meeting of local landowners called to discuss how to improve the amenities of Southend, one of the proposals was to construct a new pier and jetty or causeway from the shore to deep water where the flag will be hoisted and a light constantly burning at night, so passengers and goods may be landed at all times of the tide without delay, inconvenience and risk of accident. 1829, 14th May. The first Pier Act received Royal Assent. 1829, 25th July. Lord Mayor of London lays the foundation stone of the first section of the new structure. 1830, June. The first section of the wooden pier, which did not exceed 1,500 feet in length was opened. 1834. The loading pier called the “Lighthouse” or “The Mount” opened replacing Clarence the 100ft vessel moored in the deep channel. 1835. Plans to extend the pier again to the deep water channel in the estuary. 1835. The pier is first marked on the Admiralty chart, as the result of a survey in 1834-1835. 1846. Extension completed, the pier runs from shore to the deep water channel. Southend claims to have the longest pier in Europe, length was now 1 mile and a quarter in length, with a tramway that runs the length, the car being drawn by two horses. 1846. Pier sold by the mortgagees to developers of Cliff Town for £17,000. 1846, September. Naval officer falls from the promenade into the sea, luckily he was rescued. For the next ~28 years the pier had various owners. c1874. Pier offered to the Southend Local Board for £12,000 eventually sold for £10,000. 1877. Southend Local Board vote to build new pier and is authorised by an Act of Parliament. 1877. First yacht race around the UK, starts and finishes at the pier. 1879. First lifeboat is stationed on the pier. 1881. January. Pier damaged during a great storm. 1881. The Barge West Kent owned by Messrs. Vandervored hits the pier, a large portion was carried away. 1883, 30th July. Commercial maritime signalling for Lloyds of London set up on the pier head. 1885. New Pier Entrance Toll House erected. 1885. Construction starts on the new iron pier next to the original wooden pier. 1887. Pier extended by 150 yards. 1887, 29th March. Act of Parliament passed for new iron pier. 1887. 1st September. At the request of the General Post Office the signal station at the pier head commenced to function as a public telegraph office. Later being rehoused to a new signalling station on the new extension. 1888. Southend becomes a Borough the new Town Council faces gradual silting up of the channel at the pier Head. This problem was met with an extension of the new pier and new pier head costing £21,000. 1889. First section of the new iron pier is completed and opened to the public. This was the first pier in England to have an electric railway, the old Toast-Rack tram ran on a single track. 1890, May. The old pier was not to go without excitement. As its structure was made of wood It was not unusual for outbreaks of fire to occur. Up to this date they had all been easily dealt with a bucket or two of water. Some fifty yards of decking was destroyed on the last Sunday in May. The following Thursday the old pier was on fire again nearly a quarter of a mile of planking was destroyed. The efforts of the firemen was hampered because this section of the old pier was loaded with materials used for the building of the new pier structure. The reflection was seen for miles, and took some hours for the outbreak to be subdued. The fire created much alarm among the townspeople. 1890, 24th August. Newly constructed iron pier officially opens to the public although still incomplete. 1895, July. Pier sliced in two by a lighter barge owned by the Thames Lighterage Company during a gale. 1896-1897. Construction of pier extension starts due to silting up of the Thames. 1898. Formal opening of the new extension and pier head. 1898. Article from a Southend Guide on the new iron Pier. THE PIER has a wide platform, and visitors are charged one penny each for promenading upon it. A tramway also runs down one side. It is one of the favourite promenades of the place, and is usually well attended by pedestrians and anglers, who attach baited lines to the side rails and catch or attempt to catch many kinds of fish. CAPTAIN KELLY was elected Pier Master, March 1891. The Revenue from the Pier the year before his appointment was £5,250, but it was anticipated that, with good management, it would reach £7,000, but as a matter of fact it reached £9,340, and the year ending Lady Day, 1896, it was £13,579, which again was exceeded the following year and reached no less a sum than £14,300. His duties are great and he does them well. He has sole charge of the Pier and its approaches, the loading pier jetties, beach and foreshore, all plant, goods and properties, the proper conduct of trams, and he has to report on all applications for licenses, the collection of rents and tolls, and to check and certify all accounts. The Corporation has not, probably, a more hard working servant. Should he ever retire, it will be a difficult matter to fill his place. THE PAVILION is capable of seating 1,200 people, it has an excellent stage, and during the season performances are given daily, afternoon and evening. The electric light is used to illuminate the pier and Pavilion. About a quarter of a mile apart shelters have been erected for resting purposes, should rain or fatigue overtake one while strolling down. At the extreme are Lloyd’s offices and a flagstaff which is used for signalling purposes; there are also a refreshment room, lighthouse, cloakroom, etc. There is also a landing stage for the steamers which arrive daily form London, Sheerness, Chatham, and Rochester, during the summer months. THE NEW PIER EXTENSION was constructed in the years 1896-97 by the Corporation, at a cost of £20,000, for the purpose of giving greater facilities and safety to the Steamboat Passengers (numbering, landing and embarking, last season 211,000) and also to give sufficient water to the larger class of steamers now plying.

Sea of Change Southend-on-Sea

Pier Train Southend-on-Sea
The History of a Seaside Town

Sea of Change Southend-on-Sea © 2010 - 2021 P. J. Wren. All Rights Reserved.

Building the first wooden pier. In the year 1814 the first passenger steamer completed a voyage from London to Margate on the River Thames. That day was an important one for the little Kent town for until then the only means of transport had been the stage coach or sailing boat. It would be twenty years or more before visitors could travel by railway and it was, therefore, not surprising that the steamboat service was an immediate success. So much so that in 1825, only 11 years later, steam vessels carried 50,000 people on the Margate run. People who were interested in developing Southend as a “watering place” became alarmed at the prosperity which the steamboat was bringing to Margate. Tidal conditions at Southend did not permit even a small steamer to disembark passengers close to the shore except at high water and it was evident that if Southend was to survive as a holiday resort the provision of better landing facilities was essential. There were local pleasure craft and barges, owned by Mr. Mayall, Mr. Cockerton, and Mr. Vandervord; however, apart from short jetties and ‘hards’, no pier existed for passengers and goods landing at low water. A group of local landowners, who could foresee the benefit of increased trade and traffic, met at the Royal Hotel, and proposed, among other things, that a pier should be erected. Therefore an Act of Parliament was to be sought, prompted by by Sir William Heygate, one of the local landowners, former resident of Royal Terrace, and former Lord Mayor of London. The scheme was to be financed through subscriptions and shares, and the money recouped through toll charges on goods and people. After some arguments, and various objections the pier would start at the foot of Royal Terrace ridge, with a toll house erected at its entrance. On the east side of the pier would be a harbour, consisting on little more than breakwater. The first section of the pier, some 1,500ft in length, was opened in 1830 and was built almost entirely of wood and eventually continued until it extended to about half a mile from the shore. As the tide receded beyond this point, passengers desiring to embark had to proceed from here on foot or by cart along a hard way of shingle for a further quarter of a mile where they were faced by a stretch of water over which they had to be ferried in small boats to the pier head in the deep water channel. This was at first an old vessel named “Clarence“ about 100ft in length, later replaced by a structure of piles called the “The Lighthouse” or “The Mount”. Nevertheless in spite of its inconvenience a daily service of steamboats from London was soon in operation and excursions were run to Herne Bay. The building of the pier was not only the project for which the Pier Company had received Parliamentary sanction, but included also the provision of a proper harbour for barges, etc., on the east side, the making up of Pier Hill, the construction of a road by the sea to Shoeburyness and also a road to Prittlewell. But by 1835 all the money had been spent, the pier was incomplete and no roads had been made. Further application to Parliament was necessary and as a condition of sanctioning the raising of further capital, the company were required to carry the pier to deep water. This was accomplished in 1846 and Southend could then claim to have the longest pier in Europe, the completed structure being a mile and a quarter in length. It was built entirely of wood, the first 600ft having a width of 20ft beyond which the promenade gradually diminished to a minimum width of 8ft. A tramway ran the length of the pier, the car being drawn by two horses driven tandem fashion. The pier head was 102ft in width, had three berthing places for steam and sailing vessels, which enabled passengers to land and embark at all states of tides.

1898 The Iron Pier with entrance Toll House and Pavilion.

The original Pier with harbour and octagon


The original Pier with covered octagon platform.

1898, 10th December. Nearly 100ft of the pier is wrecked by the ketch Dolphin causing damage at a cost of over £1,000. 1900, March & December. Pier wrecked by vessels causing damage to the structure. 1902, Water chute opens left to the pier entrance, this was in built part of the old harbour only to be replaced quite soon afterwards by a boating pool. 1907. Permission granted for extension of the railway & covering of pier head station. 1907, 14th December. Pier hit by the barge Robert, laden with hay causing a 60ft gap, damage was to the western promenade side near the old Pier head over twelve piles were broken. 1908, 25th July. Upper Promenade Deck pier extension opened by Mayor Alderman J. C. Ingram. 1908, 23rd November. Thames Conservancy hulk Marlborough broke from her moorings in a gale and was carried through the promenade between the old and new pier heads destroying 60ft of decking. 1909, 12th July. Barge Alzima hits the pier between third & fourth shelters with slight damage. 1914. Admiralty takes over the signal station pier head. 1914, November. Three prison ships moored off the pier holding German soldiers and civilians. Due to safety concerns in spring 1915 prisoners were moved away to other camps. 1915, March. Captured German U-boat exhibited at pier head. 1917, August. Plane crash lands on pier causing light damage. 1919. Railway track found to be of poor condition, new running rails fitted. 1921, 18th January. Pier broken in two when the concrete motor ship Violette went through the pier between the last shelter and the old pier head. Piles were broken for about 160ft, decking and tramway etc had to be replaced. 1921. Red lights installed along the length of the pier to warn sea craft of structure. 1921, 14th July. Pier reopens. King George V visits Southend for yachting week 1927. Upper pier deck extended. 1928, 20th September. Pier train crash. Shore bound and pier head bound carriages collided at the entrance to the changeover causing damage to both the pier and carriages. No serious injuries were reported and an emergency rail service was resumed three hours later. 1929, 7th July. Prince George extension opens at the cost of £57,700. 1930: Improvements to railway track start. 1931. The old entrance toll house is demolished. 1931. Louis Tussauds waxworks opens next to entrance of the pier. 1931, 7th June, Mr. Ernest Turner fell from and was run over by one of the electric trams. He was instantly killed, verdict was accidental death. 1932. Further extension work carried out the pier becomes the worlds longest at 1.49 Miles (2.4 kilometres). 1933,17th March. Pier damaged by Matilda Upton barge in a gale, about 20 yards of the promenade deck was damaged costing £3,000 to repair. 1933,16th April. Pier railway reopens as a two track system. 1935, January. First launch from the new lifeboat station. 23rd July. The Pier’s centenary. Unveiling of a tablet on the boathouse and official opening of the slipway by the Chairman of the Port of London Authority Lord Ritchie of Dundee. 1935, May. Home Fleet visit for King George V Silver Jubilee. 1937. Man falls from pier train landing on sand below. 1937, May. Visit of the Home Fleet for the Coronation of King George IV. 1939, 25th August. Southend pier is taken over by the Royal Navy and becomes HMS Leigh. Southend becomes the headquarters of the Thames and Medway Control. The Army thought is was tempting to an invader. Two hundred Pioneers lived on it months. Pill boxes were built beyond the pavilion. Depth charges and chutes and U.P. rockets were installed on the pier head. A special upper deck was built on the Prince George Extension and mounted anti aircraft guns in concrete emplacements from which fine work was done against the Luftwaffe and flying bombs. 1939, 9th September. Pier closes to the public. 1939, 22nd November. Southend Pier and anchorage attacked from the air by the Germans. 1940, August. Heinkel He111’s stick bomb the pier. 1941, February. Pier station hit by bomb slight damage. 1939-1945. V2 hits the pier pavilion, rocket went through the roof then the floor before embedding its self in the mud below, luckily it failed to detonate. 1945, 17th May. After restoration to peace time condition, the full length of the pier is opened to the public. 1949. End of life for Toast Rack carriages, it is reported they had travelled in excess of 3 million miles carrying 65 million people. 1949, March. New railway carriages delivered. 1949, April. Inauguration of the new pier electric trains by Lord Broadbridge, Lord Mayor of London. 1950. The Dolphin Restaurant is built. 1950, 20th May. Pier railway Jubilee Season. 1953. Pier entrance gets a special Royal Archway to celebrate the 1953 Coronation. 1959, October. The pier pavilion is destroyed by fire. 1963, September. Medway Queen paddle steamer makes her last visit. c1963. New bowling alley built on the site of the pavilion. 1969, 8th August. Fire in the Dolphin Restaurant, pier head. 1969. Steamboat service from the pier head is suspended. 1970. Californian Consortium offer to buy for £12.5 million and move the pier to the USA. 1971. A child falls through rotten decking prompting the start of a total rebuild of the deck. 1971,11th August. Fire in storeroom & disused restaurant pier head. 1973. The Save Southend Pier Action Group is set up. 1973, December. The pier becomes grade 2 listed. 1974. Pier railway goes back to single track operation. 1976, 25th March. Lifeboat operations are stopped due to the silting up of the area around the lifeboat slipway. 1976, 29th July. Fire destroys the pier head. 1977, May. Remaining pier head businesses reopen. 1977, November. Fire in the roof of the bowling alley building. 1978, 1st October. Railway track found to be unsafe pier trains withdrawn from use. 1980, 31st July. Emergency budget meeting held by Southend Borough Council. Voting concluded that the pier should close although this never happened. 1980. Lecorgne Amusements take over pier operations. 1984, November. Restoration project starts. 1985. Reconstruction of pier railway starts. 1986. Brent Walker take over running the pier. 1986, 11th & 12th March. New diesel powered pier trains are delivered. 1986, 2nd May. New pier train service runs again and is officially opened by HRH Princess Anne. 1986, 30th June. The sugar tanker Kings Abbey slices the pier in two and destroys the lifeboat house. Later a temporary boathouse station was set up. 1986. 11th August. Gap left by the Kings Abbey tanker collision bridged from the pier head to the main pier. 1988. Brent Walker ceases running of the pier. 1989. Centenary of the iron pier. New pier Museum opens. 1995, 7th June. The bowling alley is destroyed by fire. 1998. Bowling alley area re-decked. 2000. 17th November, New pier illuminations are switched on. 2001, 13th August, The pier bridge is hit by double decker bus. 2001, October. Ideas are discussed to replace the trains with a monorail or cable cars. 2001, October. Upgrade to the fire fighting facilities on the pier. 2002. Pier bridge and entrance demolished. 2002. New lifeboat house opens. 2002. Re-decking of last remaining section of the1976 fire damage begins. The sun deck is also rebuilt. 2003, February. Yacht collides with pier head, crew climbs up pier supports to safety, boat sinks in the heavy seas. 2003, May. New glass pier entrance and bridge constructed. Refurbishment to the pier shelters and toilets. 2004, 16th June. Speed boat hits pier and sinks, three people on board suspected of drinking are injured. 2005. Pier trains are given a new look and painted from red to blue. 2005. Hexagonal pier head pavilion demolished. 2005, 9th October. Fire destroys the old pier head including the railway station, pub, shell shop, snack bar and ice-cream shop. 2005, 12th October 2005. Fire reignites on the pier head decking but is soon extinguished. 2005, 1st December. Pier reopens, visitors can view the pier head from temporary platform. 2006, 5th August. Pier fully reopens after damage is repaired. 2009, 17th September. Pier train derails, on its way to the opening of the new pier head station. 2009, 17th September. New pier head station opens costing £2.4 million. 2010, 24th December. Pier closed due to damage caused by bad weather. 2010, 30th December. Emergency repairs complete pier opens again. 2011, September. Maintenance barge moored at the pier slams into the pier by bad weather. Pier closes until damage is repaired. 2012, February. Pier closes due to being struck by fishing boat. 2014, October. Small fire on the shore end of the pier little damage. 2012, 17th May. A new pavilion built at Tilbury is lowered onto the pier head by crane. 2012, 19th July. The new pavilion opens to the public as the Royal Pavilion Cultural Centre on the pier head. 2016, June. Pier closes for repairs and checks on the structure. 2020, March. Pier closes to the public in line with national government guidelines as the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold of the country and a blanket lockdown is introduced. 2020. Pier re opens with COVID-19 restrictions in place. 2020. 5th November. Pier closes again due to another COVID-19 lockdown. 2020. 2nd December Pier reopens with COVID-19 restrictions in place.

The original Pier with horse drawn car.

Sea of Change Southend-on-Sea