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Southend-on-Sea Pier (1846), site of
Southend-on-Sea, Essex, UK
associated engineer
James Walker
James Simpson
date  1829 - 1846
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Pier, seaside  |  reference  TQ883849
ICE reference number  HEW 79
The original pier at Southend, now replaced, was only the third seaside pier built in Britain. It was once the longest in Europe. Its timber piles came to be badly damaged by marine borer and the whole structure was replaced by the present pier in the late 19th century.
At first there was a jetty at Southend-on-Sea, apparently erected in 1802. Construction of a proper seaside pier began in 1829, pre-dating the one we see today by 60 years. In 1828, interested local landowners had met to promote a Parliamentary Bill for the Southend Pier Company. It received royal assent on 14th May 1829, with company capital fixed at 12,000 divided into 240 shares of 50 each.
On 18th July 1829, the first timber pile was driven and a week later, on 25th July 1829, the first stone was laid by the Lord Mayor of London. The engineer was James Walker (1781-1862), President of the Institution of Civil Engineers from 1834 to 1845.
By May 1830, the partly completed timber structure was 243.8m long, and in June the first 182.9m of it opened to the public. An old vessel about 30m long, the Clarence, formed a temporary pier head in deeper water. It was accessed via a narrow shingle causeway some 400m long followed by a boat ride. By 1833, the pier had reached 457.2m the length at which tolls could be collected. The first 182.9m of the structure was 6.1m wide, the next 61m between 3.65m and 3m wide and the rest 2.4m wide.
In 1833-34, the Mount a pier head complete with lighthouse was constructed on 38 Memel fir timber piles, driven between 2.4m and 3m into sand and blue clay. The pier head structure was 30.5m long, 7.6m wide and stood 7.6m above low water level.
The 305mm x 356mm Memel piles were sheathed in copper from ground level to 915mm above low water, or 3m above the seabed. The piles were morticed into 317mm deep longitudinal fir beams, with secondary timbers of 305mm x 102mm. The timberwork was secured with wrought iron straps, bolts and spikes, and covered in a pitch and tar coating.
Nevertheless, marine borers (Teredo navalis and Limnoria terebrans) ravaged the timbers to such an extent that within four years some piles were eaten through, and six temporary piles had to be installed. Wind and sea damaged the rest of the pier head piles, and the pier sank about 230mm at its western end.
On 30th July 1835, the Southend Pier Amendment Act was passed to raise additional capital, on condition that the pier would be made longer. In 1835, it was extended to around 792.5m and was marked on Admiralty charts of the Thames Estuary. By 1846, the pier had been extended again, this time to a European record of about 2.13km.
The extension was designed by James Simpson (1799-1869). The new work was a combination of oak and cast iron piles, driven between 2.4m and 3m into the ground. Oak piles, 305mm in diameter with wrought iron shoes, were used for about one-third of the distance seaward of the existing structure. The remaining piles were 317mm square and of cast iron, with fir poles inserted into 1.5m long sockets at the top. They varied from 3.65m to 8.8m in length.
The piles were driven at 8.5m centres along the pier promenade and at 5.1m or 4.3m centres for the pier head and landing places. All piles were connected with oak cross braces. Longitudinal beams 317mm deep carried oak plank decking. The fastening straps and bolts were of wrought iron.
The new pier head was 31.1m long, 14m wide and rose 7.6m above low water spring tides. It consisted of 40 cast iron fir-topped piles, again driven 2.4-3m into the seabed, and 20 fender piles. Its three levels enabled passengers to alight at all states of the tide. The middle and lower platforms wrapped around the end of the pier head, and were 1.75m wide. The middle platform was 2.35m above the lower, while the upper platform was 4.9m above the lower.
The existing lighthouse was refurbished and installed on the new pier head, in a position similar to the one it occupied on the old one. A timber railway was constructed to haul luggage carts, either manually or using wind power.
The pier cost 42,000 to construct. On completion in 1846, it was sold by order of the Public Works Loan Commissioners to David Waddington for 17,000. He soon transferred his interest to railway developer Samuel Morton Peto (1809-89), who sold it to his business partner Thomas Brassey (1805-70) for 20,000.
In 1856, the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway built by Peto, Brassey and Edward Ladd Betts (1815-72) reached Southend.
In 1873, horses were introduced on the pier tramway to pull passenger wagons. In 1875, the timber rails were replaced with iron tracks, after Brassey sold the pier to the Southend Local Board for 10,000 plus legal and refurbishment costs (almost 12,000 in total).
The increasing maintenance costs of the pier, and demand for a longer structure, led to calls for the construction of a new one. In 1878 and 1882, powers to enlarge the existing pier or construct a new one were obtained, but neither was enacted.
In January 1881, the 45.7 tonne barge West Kent (built Deptford, 1865) was swept under the pier in a gale, slicing through the structure and causing part of it to be washed away. The barge, which was unloading timber in the harbour before the collision, was salvaged, repaired and continued operating until 1925. Also in 1881, the horse-drawn tramway closed. The horses tended to put their hoofs through the gaps in the deck planking.
On 30th July 1883, Lloyds of London established a maritime signalling station on the pier head. In November, a high level entrance to the pier, from Western Esplanade, was approved.
A new tollhouse was built in 1885, designed by Edward Wright and costing 5,610. In August, the board decided to build a larger concert hall to replace the canvas-covered Octagon, improve the pier head and upgrade the tramway. In October 1885, the board engaged James Brunlees (1816-92, knighted 1886) as engineer. A new pier was proposed, with cast iron piles and timber decking.
On 29th March 1887, the Act of Parliament authorising a new Southend-on-Sea pier was passed. In September 1888, a contract was awarded for the new structure, designed by Brunlees, with ironwork by Arrol Brothers of Grimston Works, Glasgow. Construction commenced shortly afterwards, alongside the original timber pier, which was used to store materials for the works.
In May and June 1890, fires destroyed a 400m length of decking on the old pier, delaying work on the new structure. The 1846 timber pier was demolished once construction of the present pier was completed (opened August 1890).
Resident engineer: John Paton
Contractor (1844-6) Jonathon Hall
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH E&CBDCE1. BDCE2

Southend-on-Sea Pier (1846), site of