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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Essex

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Southend Pier
Stuck in the mud

It was Sir John Betjeman who said "The Pier is Southend, Southend is the Pier", and he certainly had a point!

Today the pier is world renowned, but it has never lost its local links. The Southend community has been tied up with the pier's history since the first pile was driven into the mud in 1829.

The pier still holds a special place in the hearts of many - even local football fans taunt their opponents by boasting about the length of their pier!

Southend's first pier

Southend's first pier was wooden.
Wooden pier with tram rails, 1885
© Courtesy of the Southend Pier Museum Foundation
Made from piles of oak, it opened in 1830 to encourage trade and tourism in the area.

In the early-19th Century, steamships began to carry holidaymakers from London down the Thames. Southend's development as a resort, however, was initially hampered by its lack of good landing facilities. Travellers often bypassed the town, preferring to continue to Margate rather than hitching a lift with a fisherman into Southend! The construction of a pier helped to stop this trend.

The pier was popular with locals from the beginning. When Sir William Heygate brought the news from London that Parliament had passed a bill allowing the construction of a pier, he was mobbed by enthusiastic crowds.

Horse and carriage on Southend Pier, 1885
© Courtesy of the Marlinova Collection
By the 1880s, however, the wooden structure was unsafe, and it was decided to construct an iron pier. James Brunlees, who built Britain's first iron leisure pier at Southport, designed it.

But the old pier was not wasted - a Mayoral chair was made from some of the wood in 1892!

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