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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.


1830 - Two London Businessmen visiting the area came up with the idea of building a landing stage, out far enough beyond the low tide line so that passenger ships could dock at all times, linked to the shore by a kind of bridge. One of the visitors George Burge was an engineering contractor and knew of the Southend proposals. He had worked for Thomas Telford at St Katharine’s Dock in London.

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.


1831 - George Burge moved the project forward by raising, by subscription, the £50,000 required putting up the first £1000 himself. He also obtained Parliamentary Approval, the Private Members Bill being given the Royal Assent on 31st March.

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.

1839 - Problems became apparent when the wooden structure was found to be in an unsafe condition due to it being attacked by teredo navalis, the shipworm. The original structure was supposed to have been protected against such an attack by using copper bolts and nails but either this was not done or was inadequate.


1840 - A lady who had arrived at the Pier and was on her way to attend the court in Canterbury was run over by the train as she walked down the pier. She later died in Hospital.


1842 - A record 52,000 people landed at the Pier Head.


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.

1862 - Only a few boats were now visiting the Pier due mainly to the opening of the Herne Bay railway station the year before and at the end of the season the Pier closed for good.


1862/3 - During the winter the signal cannons were washed off the Pier into the sea,


1870/1 - There were discussions about shortening the Pier but eventually it was taken down by a demolition contractor and the materials auctioned off on the beach.


1873 - The idea of a shorter Pier survived and a group of gentlemen formed the Herne Bay Promenade Pier Company and built a modest 320 foot Pier, designed by Messrs Wilkinson and Smith, using cast iron piles filled with concrete, the timber decking was the work of local builder Charles Simon Welby. The London Bridge balustrading was preserved and there was a “Swiss-style” ticket office at the entrance. A small bandstand was erected at the far end.

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.

1884 - Although a welcome attraction to Herne Bay seafront the second Pier was not profitable as you could sit on the beach and listen to the music being played at the bandstand rather than pay to go on the Pier. So a wooden theatre known as the “Pavilion” was built across the entrance flanked by shops, a restaurant and public lavatories. It was designed by Mr McIntyre North and built by the Whitstable firm of Amos and Foad. It had electric light powered by a gas engine and generators. The rental provided a much needed income.

1887 - Formal gardens were laid out to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.


1890 - The pier company changed its name back to Herne Bay Pier Company and then applied to the Board of Trade for a provisional order authorising the extension of the Pier.


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.


1895 - Parliament granted permission for a deep sea extension of the Pier and by July the short Pier was rebuilt with a section of it wider than the standard 20 feet to allow for a future concert room although for some years this was simply a marquee. The theatre at the entrance was retained. The deep-sea extension was began immediately.


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.

1901 - The Company purchased two redundant horse trams from Bristol and after adaptation added these one to each end of the motor vehicle. Controls were also installed at each end so that the driver could always drive from the front. A later addition was a baggage trolley at one end.

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.


1905 - Although the new Pier was a great success and attracted visitors to Herne Bay it was badly managed. Henry Corbett Jones the Managing Director of the Pier Company, after being involved in a number of enterprises, was arrested for embezzlement. He got 5 years imprisonment and the Company went into receivership.


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-Young and Glanfield of London.

1910 - The marquee section was widened and the building which consisted of a timber clad steel frame was completed in seven weeks and was opened on 3rd August by the Lord Mayor of London.

The Grand Pavilion was designed to seat 1000 with a multi-purpose rock maple floor suitable for roller skating, dancing, public events and community activities. It had a stage with dressing rooms behind and there were refreshment rooms either side of the entrance. It cost just £2,000.

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”.

1914/18 - During the First World War the steamer services, the entertainment and the tram service were suspended with normal services being resumed after the cessation of the conflict.


1924 - The “Medway Queen” a paddle steamer was built and the Pier Head was one of its stopping point. Because of the popularity of Roller Hockey a second club was formed known as Herne Bay United Roller Hockey and Skating Club, “HBU”, and this club is today the largest skating club in the UK. From now until the present day players from the two clubs will form a part of every National team.

1925 - The old tram was replaced with a petrol-electric one built at Strode Engineering Works.


1928 - On 9th September the wooden buildings at the front of the Pier which once housed the old theatre were destroyed by fire. The whole structure was removed.

1932 - The Pier Approach was redeveloped with gardens and seats.


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-run place of entertainment and sport, typical of seaside resorts around the country, up until the start of the Second World War.

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.


1947/8 - After the war the compensation of just over £22,000 was not enough to carry out all the repairs necessary and only temporary wooden bridges were built over the gaps as steel was in short supply. These, however, were never replaced.

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.


1949 - The Pier entrance suffered sea-storm damage.


1953

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.


1962/3 - The next trauma for the Pier was in the winter when the sea froze for several weeks and when the thaw came the ice flowing between the piles no doubt caused extensive damage to the structure. 1963 also saw the last visit of the “PS Medway Queen” but the Pier did appear in the opening scene of Ken Russell’s first feature film “French Dressing”

1968 - After a structural survey the insurance cover was withdrawn and the Pier closed to the public.


1970 - The Council decided to refurbish the Grand Pavilion and re-deck the first section leading to it. The decking was completed but on 12th June a fire started at the North end and the whole building was destroyed in a matter of hours. Much of the steel framing collapsed and the whole structure was quickly dismantled and cleared away.


It  was agreed to build a new Pavilion and after a lot of design changes and cost cutting work finally commenced.


1974 - Under the Local Government reorganisation Canterbury City Council inherited the building.


1976 -The Pier Pavilion was eventually opened on 5th September by the MP, Edward Heath. The eventual cost being about £1,000,000 three times the original estimate.

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.

1978 - After a storm during the night of 11th/12th January a large part of the central section collapsed.

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.


2007 - In October the Council agreed in principle to the relocating of the activities that took place in the Pier Pavilion to an enhanced Herons Leisure Centre and a new sports arena at Herne Bay High School. Discussions on the future use of the Pavilion took place but in the end it was decided that the refurbishment would be too expensive and it was decided to demolish the building.


2011 - The Pier Pavilion was finally closed in September. Roller Hockey, however, thrives in a new arena at Herne Bay High School built to international standards and the enlarged Heron Centre now encompasses the gym.

The demolition of the Pavilion started straight away.


2012 - The demolition of the Pavilion was completed in June. The area where the building stood, now known as the platform, was tarmacked over and wooden seating installed on the old footfall of the pavilion walls. Gates were added to the front.

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.


2013 - The Pier Trust opened a shop in the White House which stands at the entrance to the Pier.

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-boarded.

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.

2015 - By July another 17 retail huts of various sizes had been built together with a toilet block for the use of patrons of the Village Food Court. The Pier Trust also opened it’s first permanent Office on The Pier in of course the style of a beach hut. Bailey’s also rebuilt the Games Hut  in the same style.


The new Canopy was completed in August.


The Pier in August as seen from a Drone.

2016 - In March the Grand Carousel moved onto the Pier.

History of the Piers

More details about the Piers can be found in the book “Herne Bay’s Piers” by Harold Gough published by Herne Bay Historical Records Society.


With Acknowledgements to:-

Herne Bay Historical Records Society

Mr Harold Cale

Wikipedia

Medway Queen Preservation Society

Mr Silvester