For many, many years cargo from places such as Newcastle and London landed in bays on the beach at Herne Bay one of them known as the Lower Bay being opposite the Ship Inn presumed to be the oldest existing building in Herne Bay today. People also came from London and then travelled onto Canterbury, Dover and then France. The road to Canterbury also started at the Ship Inn. The ships called “hoys” had to beach on the incoming tide and then sail away on the next. Passengers on passing paddle steamers could be brought to the shore by fisherman. Neither way of disembarking was ideal for the passengers.
By 1830 the town was becoming popular as a bathing resort and it is now that the story of the Herne Bay Piers begins.
So the idea of Herne Bay Pier was born and it was probably Thomas Rhodes who was Thomas Telford’s chief assistant who design and started the build. He unfortunate designed it in wood probably because he was trained as a carpenter.
The work of building the first Herne Bay Pier commenced on the 4th July but it was not long before Telford diverted Rhodes to a more prestigious job in Ireland and George Abernethy took over.
1832 – The Pier was finally completed in September although the first passenger ship the “Venus”, which was owned by the newly formed Herne Bay Steam Boat Company, had already arrived on May 12th. The Venus also had sails as “steam” was thought to be unreliable.
The Pier was an impressive 3613 feet long which was probably longer than Southend Pier which at that time had not reached its final length. There was a curved stone balustrading at the entrance taken from the old London Bridge which had been demolished in 1831.
1837 – Now the London Dover route had become more accessible on 20th September Queen Victoria’s uncle, the Duke of Cambridge, arrived at the Pier in another of the Herne Bay Steam Boat Company’s boats named “City of Canterbury”. A pair of signal cannons which were kept at the Pier head for use in fog were fired in salute. The Duke of Cambridge remained in Herne Bay for two hours before continuing his journey to Canterbury and Dover.
Rail’s had been included in the Pier’s construction so that a wind propelled “train” known as Neptune’s Car consisting of a closed car, an open carriage and a flatbed luggage trolley could operate the whole length of the Pier. Porters rode on the trolley not only to handle the baggage but to push the “train” if the wind was in the wrong direction or ceased to blow at all.
1850 – By this time various repairs had been made and many of the piles had been replaced by iron ones or with wooden ones with copper nails driven into them.
This second Pier was built in four months at a cost of £2000 and was formally opened on 27th August by the Lord Mayor of London. Special trains had been laid on from London and it was estimated that 10.000 people were present for the occasion.
1891 – In August a temporary wooden landing stage was built at the end of the Pier and at times of high water two small paddle steamers which normally operated pleasure cruises on the Thames were hired to tie up at the landing stage. As the Company had intended this raised the expectations of another long Pier and larger paddle steamers visiting Herne Bay once more.
The Company set about the task of raising the finances and overcoming the legal requirements for a third Pier.
1897 – A great storm in November destroyed the promenade and damaged houses but the partly built extension to the Pier survived.
1899 – During the construction the signal cannons that were lost in the winter of 1862/3 were recovered and now flank the South African War memorial on the Clock Tower.
The third Pier opened for business at Easter with the total length being 3787 feet including the head which was 76 feet square and had built on it an octagonal wooden restaurant with an upper deck surmounted by a dome. The piles were iron. The remains of this can still be seen on the head today.
The pier was designed by Ewing Matheson of Walbrook in London and built by Head, Wrightson & Co of Thornaby on Tees at a cost of £60,000.
An electric tramway had been included in the build and in April a tram started operating between the marquee and the restaurant at a penny a journey. The bodywork of the tram was built around two electric motors which had been purchased from the United States but as there was no loop in the line the tram just shuttled from one end to the other.
The official opening was on 14th September.
Unfortunate an accident in July left one of the leading cars in the sea and a lady passenger dead. The revenue in the following years fell drastically.
1909 – In September the Pier was purchased by the Herne Bay Urban District Council for the bargain price of £6,000 – the Pier now belonged to the People.
The Council considered the Theatre at the entrance was too small and launched a professional competition to design a Grand Pavilion to replace the marquee. The winner of the £2,000 prize was Percy J. Waldram and Messrs Moscrop-
The Grand Pavilion was designed to seat 1000 with a multi-
Although Rink Hockey as it was then know was played in Herne Bay before 1910 the new facility at the Grand Pavilion led to a boon in the sport not just in Herne Bay but throughout Kent. The Herne Bay Club, “The Bay”, was formed and along with Montreux is the oldest Roller Hockey Club in existence today. The first World and European Championships were held in the Grand Pavilion which became known throughout the world as the “Cathedral of Rink Hockey”.
1934 – By now the tram was becoming very unreliable. A new battery operated one was purchased and was attached to the old tram to run in tandem.
The Pier remained a well-
1939/45 – During the Second World War the Pier was closed and taken over by the Army, the electric tram performing its last journey on 3rd November 1939 by carrying military stores and equipment. The steamers were used for war work, the “PS Medway Queen” becoming a mine sweeper.
In June 1940 after the fall of France and the threat of a German invasion grew, the Army dismantled two sections of the Pier to prevent it being used as a landing point. These gaps also prevented any maintenance being carried out during the war and its condition deteriorated badly.
In the latter part of this period the Grand Pavilion became a camouflage netting factory employing many of the local women.
Steamer services resumed but the trams could no longer operate due to the wooden bridges and they were sold as scrap. The only transport on the pier was a narrow gauge steam engine and locomotives, which for a few seasons, operated between the wooden bridges.
The Pier again suffered from the storm surges during the North Sea Flood. This and previous storms put enormous pressure on the almost unsupported central section of the Pier. Several sections of the old London Bridge stone balustrading, which had already been damaged many times over the years, were knocked down and the Council replace the whole balustrading with standard sea front railings.
It was agreed to build a new Pavilion and after a lot of design changes and cost cutting work finally commenced.
In the new Pavilion were a number of amenities but importantly a new roller hockey rink was constructed to international standards but unfortunately almost immediately became too small with the increase in the International rink size. The look of the building was not liked by the local people who called it “The Cowshed”.
The rest of the Pier remained closed.
1979 – More damage was caused during further storms.
1980 – The state of the Pier was now so bad that the whole section from the Pier pavilion to the Pier head was dismantled in the summer. The Pier head was considered too expensive to remove and remains a poignant reminder to all of the Pier’s past glory.
Herne Bay Pier was effectively lost as a seaside Pier and the situation may have remained – but not so.
The demolition of the Pavilion started straight away.
On 3rd June the Pier was reopened by Cllr Jean Law and Claire Lomas followed by a tea party to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The North end of the Pier, unfortunately, remained closed due to the deterioration of some of the wooden under beams.
2012 – In December the Council showed their continuing support of the Pier by voting to spend £220,000 on repairs.
The Council leased the part of the Pier to the east of the wind break to the Trust who had built 12 beach hut styled retail outlets which has formed the start of the Retail Village which was opened by Sandi Toksvig and Cllr Ann Taylor.
The Pier Attractions was also formed with the arrival of the Helter Skelter which has already become a major feature of the Pier.
2014 – The repairs to the under beams were completed and the area around the Platform was re-
The Pier Amusements grew with the addition of a games hut and a children’s boating pool.
In October the Trust was awarded £6000 from the Area Panel to build a stage on the Pier Platform and in November won £50,000 from the Meridian People’s Millions to build a canopy over part of the Pier Platform.
Glass panels were installed in the windbreak so that the retail huts could be seen by people walking down the west side of the Parade.
The new Canopy was completed in August.
The Pier in August as seen from a Drone.