Herne Bay Pier
Herne Bay Pier landing stage in 2006
|Official name||Herne Bay Pier|
|Type||Passenger steamer landing stage; tourist attraction|
|Carries||Steamer passengers; tram; pedestrians|
|Design||Head, Wrighton & Co of Thornaby-on-Tees|
|Owner||1899−1909 Herne Bay Pavilion Pier and Promenade Co
1909−1974 Herne Bay UDC
1974− Canterbury City Council
|Total length||3,787 feet (1,154 m)|
|Opening date||Easter 1899|
|Destruction date||11 January 1978|
|Toll||2d (1899) → 1s 6d (1968)|
Herne Bay Pier was the third pier to be built at Herne Bay, Kent for passenger steamers. It was notable for its length of 3,787 feet (1,154 m) and for appearing in the opening sequence of Ken Russell's first feature film French Dressing. It was destroyed in a storm in 1978 and dismantled in 1980, leaving a stub with sports centre at the landward end, and part of the landing stage isolated at sea. It was preceded by two piers: a wooden deep-sea pier designed by Thomas Rhodes, assistant of Thomas Telford, and a second shorter iron version by Wilkinson & Smith.
According to The Illustrated London News of 1850, Herne Bay had fewer than a dozen inhabitants at the beginning of the 19th century, until a military encampment prompted expansion of population. This small development in turn attracted visitors who disembarked via hoys from passing London-Margate steamers. After a few bumpy rides in hoys the visitors decided they needed a pier and family accommodation at Herne Bay, and so the first Herne Bay Pier began. At the behest of a group of investors led by Surrey building contractor George Burge who had worked for Thomas Telford in St Katharine's Dock, a 3,613 feet (1,101 m) long and 24 feet (7.3 m) wide pier was designed and built by Telford's assistant Thomas Rhodes. Telford was building Whitstable harbour at the time. The first wooden pile was driven on 4 July 1831, and the structure was completed on 12 May 1832 at a cost of £50,000 when the steamer Venus brought the first passengers, in the same decade as Telford Terrace, the Pier Hotel and the promenade.
It was built all of timber, with the piles being driven straight into the sea bed; it was "considered at the time the best specimen of pile-driving", and described as a "pier and breakwater". There was curved stone balustrading at the entrance, taken from old London Bridge which was demolished in 1831. A sail trolley vehicle running on tracks, powered by sail and foot and nicknamed Neptune's Car, ran the length of the pier from 13 June 1833, carrying passengers and baggage. When wind was inadequate as commonly happened, pier employees physically pushed the trolley. The pier's length was defined by the one-fathom draught of the paddle steamers and the shallow two-fathom depth of the sea even three quarters of a mile offshore at high tide. It was followed in 1861 by the railway station, and thus began the town's growth into a holiday resort. However because the wooden piles were never protected by copper sheathing they suffered from shipworm. By 1850, many piles had been replaced with iron ones, or with wooden ones "prepared by Mr Payne's process" against shipworm, but as a whole they showed irreversible deterioration from 1860 onwards. Pier dues were considered expensive at 1s 6d. Subsequently the first Herne Bay Pier Company failed due to competition between paddle steamers and the new railway which was opened on 13 July 1861, because previously most visitors arrived by steamer, then they all arrived by rail. The first pier was taken down in 1870 to 1871, long after the paddle steamers stopped coming in 1862.
In February 1871 the Herne Bay Improvement Commissioners bought the Pier Approach for £100. In the same year they bought the first pier for £475, completed its demolition and gave a 99-year lease for the Pier Approach to the second Herne Bay Pier Company. The second pier was built in less than four months for £2,000 and opened on 27 August 1873 by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Sydney Waterlow. Waterlow made an entrance, arriving by train with uniformed sheriffs and a retinue of "gorgeously clad" minions in purple, chocolate and green livery. His procession was led by the East Kent Militia to a town hall lunch, regatta, fireworks and dances with ten thousand celebrating locals. The pier was engineered by Wilkinson & Smith, built with cast iron piles filled with concrete, had a bandstand at the end and was only 328 feet (100 m) long: too short to land paddle steamers in spite of their shallow draught, but long enough for promenading and entertainment. It retained the London Bridge balustrade. Although the new pier authority, Herne Bay Pavilion Pier and Promenade Company, built a wooden theatre, shops, lavatories and ticket office across its entrance in June 1884 it made no money. The theatre was known as the Pavilion; it was designed by McInyre North and opened by Mrs C. Prescott-Westcar on 24 July 1884.
In response to popular demand, the pier company applied to Parliament in 1890 for powers to construct a deep-sea pier, and this was granted in 1891. In the August of that year, a temporary pier head was constructed, and in 1892 experimental visits were made by steamer Glen Rosa, but no further construction work took place, and the Parliamentary powers lapsed. In 1895 the pier company re-applied and was granted powers again, so by July 1896 the short pier was rebuilt to the design of Ewen Matheson of Walbrook in London. On 26 August of that year the first pile of the deep-sea extension was screwed. The third pier was built of iron and designed by Head, Wrighton & Company of Thornaby-on-Tees at a cost of £60,000 including fittings. During construction it survived the great storm of 28−29 November 1897 which destroyed the promenade and damaged houses. It was completed in 1899, and at 3,787 feet (1,154 m) was the second longest in England. In the first year the tram fares made £488. The pier was used by paddle steamers until the last visit by PS Medway Queen in 1963. The new 1899 restaurant at the pierhead later became a ticket office and cafe, and still stands today: wooden, octagonal and domed. It had a promenade deck on the roof, but this may now be gone, as it is not visible in photographs. The theatre was retained, and the public was first admitted to the landing stage and Pier Head Restaurant at Easter 1899. On 14 September it was formally opened by Mrs C. Prescott-Westcar of Strode Park House in Herne Bay. At a short distance from the entrance was a large concert marquee for the local Cremona orchestra, and an electric tram provided transport from one end to the other for a penny.
In February 1904 the managing director of the pier company and treasurer of Holborn Borough Council, Henry C. Jones, was arrested for embezzling funds from the council to use for the pier. He got five years and the pier company went into receivership. On 21 Oct 1908 the receiver offered the pier to Herne Bay Urban District Council for £6,000, and the council completed purchase on 29 September 1909. The council considered the old Pavilion Theatre at the pier entrance too small so in 1910 organised a competition to design a new Grand Pier Pavilion. Percy Waldram, Mr Moscrop-Young and Mr Glanfield of London won it, and in May to June of that year the marquee section was widened and the pavilion was built for £2,000. It seated a thousand and its auditorium was 130 by 95 by 35 feet high, with stage and dressing rooms. It had a rock maple, multi-purpose floor for roller skating, dancing, public events and community activities. Sir John Knill, Lord Mayor of London, arrived on 3 August 1910 through the decorated streets of Herne Bay with a coach parade of mayors and sheriffs to lunch on the pier, and opened it with a trumpet fanfare from the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers. The Grand Pavilion survived on 9 September 1928 when the theatre, shops and Mazzoleni's cafe at the entrance were destroyed by fire. In 1924 the pier received a new electric tramcar built by Strode Engineering Works at Herne, and in 1932 the Pier Approach was redeveloped to replace the fire-damaged site.
World War II
During World War II, the pier was encased in barbed wire and the army took it over, camouflage netting was manufactured in the pavilion by local women and the tram was last used in June 1939 to carry army stores. Steamers were requisitioned for war work, including the PS Medway Queen which became a minesweeper and Little Ship. In June 1940 the army blew up two sections of the pier between the pavilion and pier head to prevent enemy landing, then crossed the gaps with Bailey bridges in the 1940s. It has been suggested that the gaps and Bailey bridges weakened the pier structure and permitted the storm damage of 11 January 1978. In 1947, war-damage compensation of £21,924.15s.1d was received by the council, but this was not enough for full repair, and priority was given to the Grand Pavilion, substructure and decking. Bailey bridges had to be used to span the gaps so that by 1947 the pleasure steamers were calling at the pier again.
In 1950 the pier tram was sold for £12 10s because it could not pass the Bailey bridges, and replaced by a narrow-gauge steam railway which was gone by 1959. On 1 March 1949 the pier entrance suffered sea-storm damage, and again between 31 January and 1 February in the North Sea flood of 1953, when a twenty-foot tidal wave swept past the old pier-master's house, Richmond Villa, and as far as the High Street. As a result, in 1953 the stone balustrade from London Bridge, set at the entrance in 1833, was taken down and replaced with railings. The present whereabouts of the balustrade is unknown. In January 1963 the surface of the sea froze for weeks in the curved shapes of sea spray as far as a mile offshore. The tide continued to go in and out under its white crust, leaving the pier surrounded by ice. Rapid thaw then caused stress to the piles, exacerbated by previous storm damage and neglect. The summer of that year saw the last visit by PS Medway Queen. By 1968 the seaward end of the pier had been closed and abandoned. In September the same year insurance was withdrawn for the deep sea part of the pier beyond the pavilion, and the public excluded. The Grand Pier Pavilion was refurbished at a cost of £158,000 but was destroyed by fire possibly caused by a spark from a welding torch during pier entrance reconstruction in June 1970. The building burned down within hours, to the distress of Herne Bay. As replacement, the Pier Pavilion was designed in 1971 by John C. Clague, opened by Edward Heath on 5 September 1976, and called The Cowshed by the public. Meanwhile ownership of the pier was transferred to Canterbury City Council in 1 April 1974 merger.
Destruction and aftermath
Sea-anglers and others petitioned for the pier to be repaired, but storms on 11 January 1978 and in February 1979 caused progressive collapse of the central portion of the pier between the two Bailey bridges, and its remains were dismantled in 1980. The pier head was too solid for demolition, so it remains isolated at sea with its solar-powered navigation light on a pole. From 1989 the Waverley Preservation Society and Medway Queen Preservation Society have shown interest in a future rebuilding of the deep sea pier. The Association of Hotels, Business and Leisure (HBL) has been promoting the rebuilding of a deep-sea pier, and has created and costed its own design. A redevelopment plan for the pier was suggested by Cooperman Vision in 2004 and a feasibility study was carried out by the Council, but it came to nothing. In 2008 MP Roger Gale suggested that if Canterbury City Council had not refused permission for a casino in Herne Bay, that casino may have helped fund reconstruction of the pier. At the same time, Canterbury City Council was setting up the Herne Bay Pier Trust as a charitable trust to raise £12.5 million to rebuild the pier. As of February 2010, the sports centre was due to be closed in 2011, and on 22 February 2010 the £10,000 Herne Bay Pier Report was published by Canterbury City Council in association with Humberts Leisure, with the suggestion that the Herne Bay Museum and King's Hall sites be sold for redevelopment, to pay for a new build on top of the remaining pier stub. The time limit for public objections was 19 April 2010. The National Piers Society suggested in 2009 that the remaining stub of the pier was at serious risk of demolition or collapse. The sports pavilion was demolished in 2012.
In January and April 1899, two old pier signal cannon, used to identify the pier to shipping in fog, were recovered from near the end of the pier by divers. These were eventually installed on the steps of Herne Bay Clock Tower sometime after 1900. The Duke of Cambridge arrived at the pier in Herne Bay Steam Boat Company's PS City of Canterbury under the Royal Standard in 1837. There were two serious accidents on the first pier: in 1840 a woman with a wooden leg was knocked down and killed by the trolley which again in 1844 hit a porter who lost his arm. In that year, possibly in response to the second accident, Captain Charles Cornelius Gardiner was appointed pier master. On 16 July 1901 the electric tram went through the railings of the third pier, dragging a tram car with it and killing a woman.
The pier stayed open during World War I, but steamers were requisitioned for war service, entertainers were away fighting and tramcars became shelters. Lydia Cecilia Hill appeared as a dancer in the old Pier Theatre up to the age of 15 years, until it burned down in 1928. On 27 Nov 1941 a Wellington bomber crashed into the sea to the east of the pier. The first jet airspeed record and the first airspeed record over 600 mph was made between Herne Bay Pier and Reculver by H J Wilson who broke the World Air Speed Record at 606 mph in a standard Gloster Meteor Mark IV in November 1945. Cricketer Godfrey Evans used to box on the pier: "he would take on all comers at £2 a bout until his county Kent, fearing for his eyesight, told him to stop". From 1910 to the end of the 1960s the Grand Pavilion housed summer shows, winter pantomimes, exhibitions and the Remembrance Day and Commonwealth Day services. The Pier Pavilion, known as the Cowshed, had public roller skating sessions, and until 2010 was home to two roller hockey clubs which won championships. There was a gym, and other sports hosted here were badminton, judo, squash and five-a-side football. Since the pier was built, youths have worried local people by tombstoning off the pier. There is an annual crab-catching competition on the pier stub. The pier tends to be used as a marker for races.
In July 2013, the Herne Bay Pier Trust added twelve Beach Huts to operate as small businesses to attract more visitors to the pier.
Punch and Judy shows have always taken place during summer right next to the pier on the beach to the west of it, and this tradition is continued in the annual Herne Bay Festival. Pierrots used to perform in the open air at the end of the pier until 1914, and in 2009 a recreation of such a show at the Herne Bay Bandstand was specially commissioned by the Council for Herne Bay Festival. Ken Russell chose Herne Bay Pier as the backdrop to the opening sequence of his first feature film, French Dressing (1963), and returned to Herne Bay in 2008 to bemoan the missing pier. It also featured in Hugues Burin des Roziers' film Blue jeans - Du beurre aux Allemands, filmed in 1976. In 2008 Canterbury art students designed a virtual pier as part of the Cultural Trail.
Pier rebuilding project
A Herne Bay projects exhibition was arranged for 3.00-7.00 pm on 24 March 2010, at the Kings Hall, Herne Bay. This was organised by Canterbury City Council and Humberts Leisure, who wrote the Herne Bay Pier report.
The Pier - Changes afoot
The regeneration of the pier started in 2008, when the present owner of the pier, Canterbury City Council, set up a registered charity, Herne Bay Pier Trust. The Trust, was formed to take on the mammoth task of bringing the pier to life for the benefit of the community and it has recently been described by the Piers Society as one of the most active pier trusts in the country. All volunteers, the handful of trustees and their army of supporters and members are working hard to bring employment, start-up businesses, entertainment and fun back onto the pier and possibly to rebuild the long pier.
So, in 2012, the Pier Trust was left with a long leg, an unsightly windbreak walkway and a vast bleak empty platform where the 1950’s sports pavilion had just been demolished. With a loan of £25,000, the Trust set about building 12 retail kiosks along the right hand side of the promenade for which they had secured a lease. These pretty white seaside huts, made from hard-wearing materials not wood, are rented out for £60 a week to local start-up businesses to test out their dreams. Traders include craftsmen like silversmiths, photographers and framers; hats and bags, food and drink stalls and vintage retro goods – all picked for quality and value to attract visitors to the pier. The new kiosks were opened by the popular celebrity, Sandi Toksvig.
Spurred on by its first year’s success and the town’s support, the Trust is using the £50,000 Peoples millions Lottery win to commission a canopy and glass windbreaks to provide shelter over the food plaza. It is also building a toilet block for diners, a large sit-in café and a stage on the large platform which it is leasing for 20 years for £20,000 a year from CCC. The Trust has had to learn to run a full-time business to pay for the two leases and the additional 19 huts (making a total of 32) it is opening in 2015 on the platform.
The permanent acquisition of the helter-skelter has become an iconic shape on the skyline and the children’s activity area now includes a new boating pool and bouncy castle. During the future summer months, the Trust plans to make the pier available for entertainers, musicians and dance troupes to create programmes of entertainment, music and markets.
It is early days as the charity only signs the lease in 2015 but things are happening remarkably quickly on Herne Bay Pier.
One of the deep-seated ambitions of the local people is to see the long pier rebuilt. This was estimated as a £68 million project. However, with the EU directive that by 2020 that a third of our electrical power has to come from renewable sources, the Pier Trust is investigating the possibility that an energy company might create a lagoon in the bay, with turbines under a newly built pier walkway to generate energy from the tides. A similar project is happening at Swansea and recent news items suggest there will be many more such schemes to follow to harness power from the tides.
With the Thanet Way solar farm, the wind farm out at sea and a turbine pier, Herne Bay could put itself on the map as the greenest town in the SE. Solar panels on the roof of the mile long pier would also contribute to the energy productivity of the town.
However, the story of the pier continues to unfold in 2015. As a much loved part of this seaside town’s heritage, it really matters to the local people of Herne Bay to reinstate their pier to its former status as a focal point of the seafront. The level of local support was clearly evident when thousands of people voted successfully for their pier in the People’s Millions BIG lottery funding on ITV Meridian in November 2014, which will enable the proposed canopy extension to the windbreak and glass screening for the food area.
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- Gough, Harold, Herne Bay's Piers, (Herne Bay Historical Records Society, 2008) (ISBN 9781904661078: illustrated with numerous historical photographs; a posthumous publication for Gough who died in 2008)
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Herne Bay Pier.|
- Youtube: Ken Russell's French Dressing (1963): title sequence at Herne Bay Pier (Bailey bridge visible at 0.43)
- Youtube: Ken Russell's French Dressing (1963): sequence under Herne Bay Pier
- Youtube: Hugues Burin des Roziers' Blue Jeans (1977): featuring Herne Bay Pier - pan along pier from sea
- Youtube: Hugues Burin des Roziers' Blue Jeans (1977): featuring Herne Bay Pier - a walk along pier (1)
- Youtube: Hugues Burin des Roziers' Blue Jeans (1977): featuring Herne Bay Pier - a walk along pier (2)
- Oldukphotos.com: Late 19th and early 20th century photos of Herne Bay Pier
- Photographs relating to 1910 opening of Grand Pier Pavilion (poster, plans, Fred C. Palmer photo, Mayor of London and retinue)
- Herne Bay Historical Records Society contact details