Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 149,270 pages of information and 234,239 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Southend Pier

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1830 The first wooden pier of 180-metres was opened and used some ninety oak trees in its construction and employed a horse tramway to convey goods and visitors to the pierhead.

1834 The pier was extended

1846 A further extension added to stretch it over a mile before a later rebuild extended it to a length of around 1.3 miles (2.1 km).

1847 The pier was purchased by the Eastern Counties Railway.[1]

By 1848, it was the longest pier in Europe at 2,100 metres (7,000 ft).

By the 1850s the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway had reached Southend, and with it a great influx of visitors from east London and the visitors took their toll on the wooden construction.

1875 Sold to the Southend Local Board.

1882 Application to enlarge and improve the pier.[2]

1887 The board resolved to replace the pier with a new iron pier, built alongside the old wooden one. The new pier was designed by James Brunlees, who in 1860 had built Southport Pier, the first iron pier at Southport, Lancashire.

1889 August. The new pier built at a cost of £68,920 was opened to the public.

1890 A single track electric railway commenced running the length and was the first pier railway in the country.

1898 An extension was added and known as the New Pier Head.

1908 An upper deck with a bandstand and shops opened.

1911 Application to enlarge and improve the pier.[3]

WWI Three prison ships were moored off the pier, the first of which held German soldiers who had been captured in France, while the other two mostly held civilians.

1927 Work commenced on extending the pier by 99 metres and was undertaken by Peter Lind and Co

1929 July 08th. New extension opened by the Duke of Kent and named the Prince George Extension, allowed larger steamers to visit the pier.

WWII Southend Pier was taken over by the Royal Navy and was renamed HMS Leigh, closing to the public on 9 September 1939 and becoming the Naval Control Centre for the Thames Estuary.

1976 Fire destroyed much of the 1908 pierhead

1978 The electric railway closed, due to deterioration and the cost of repairs

1986 May O2nd The railway re-opened using two new diesel trains on a simplified single track with a passing loop

1986 June 30th. A 54.9-metre (180 ft) tanker named Kings Abbey crashed into the pier, severing a 21.3-metre (70 ft) gap from the new pierhead to the rest of the pier, destroying the boathouse used by the lifeboat service and causing major structural damage due to the destruction of iron piles and supporting girders. While this was temporarily bridged to restore access, full repairs were not completed until 1989.

2000–01 The pierhead was redeveloped including construction of a new lifeboat station in partnership with the RNLI.

2005 October 09th. Fire severely damaged much of the Old Pierhead including the railway station, pub, shell shop, snack bar and ice cream shop. Much of the wooden planking was destroyed, but the main iron structure was largely undamaged. Heat from the fire was so intense that the Pier Railway tracks buckled and trains could only run to about 15 metres (49 ft) short of the old station.

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