The Architecture of Southend Pier

Southend Pier, the world’s longest pleasure pier, has a fascinating history.

Article By: Francesca Burke
Last Update: September 2019

If, like us, you’ve spent time in and around Southend-on-Sea, you’ve seen the pier. You’ve been down the pier. You tell out of town guests, with a certain level of pride, that Southend Pier is ‘the longest pleasure pier in the world’. But do you know why, at 1.34 miles long, Southend is the longest pleasure pier in the world?

History of Southend Pier

In the early 19th century, Southend was growing in popularity as a seaside resort, as its proximity to London made it ideal for day trips. Spending time by the sea was thought to be good for one’s health at the time – it was definitely healthier than London’s polluted streets! Unfortunately, tourists often bypassed Southend for Margate or elsewhere. This was because the Southend coast consists mostly of mudflats. The sea is only about six metres deep at high tide and at low tide, it recedes for over a mile. Consequently, large boats could not stop near the beach and no boats can dock at low tide at all.

The solution was a pier that extends across the mudflats far enough that boats can dock at all times. The first pier, made from oak wood, opened in 1830. At 600 feet, it was still too short to be reached at low tide, so several additions were made. By 1848 it was the longest pier in Europe at 7000 feet. In  1887 it was decided that the wooden pier should be replaced with a sturdier iron one, designed by Scottish civil engineer John Brunlees. It cost around £70,000 and was an immediate success. Gradually further additions were made, including an upper deck and space to accommodate steamboats.

Architecture of Southend Pier

Southend Pier in 1923, from Wikipedia

Further Additions to the Pier

A tramway had been included on the original pier, and that too has evolved into the electric railway we use today. A lifeboat station has been at the pier since 1879 and is one of the busiest stations in the country. It actually has two boathouses, one at each end of the pier. The pier itself is now a Grade II listed building! Despite being partially destroyed by fire five times, it still draws some 320,000 visitors a year. If you’ve got the itch to spend the day down there, a permit to fish from the end of the pier costs £6.50…

Southend Pier from above on a clear day

Southend Pier in 2007, from Wikipedia

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