The History of The Pier

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

1831

1832

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 Southendproposals. 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.

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.

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 oldLondon Bridge which had been demolished in 1831.

1837

1839

1840

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.

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.

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

1850

1862

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

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.

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

1870/1

1873

During the winter the signal cannons were washed off the Pier into the sea.

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.

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

1887

1890

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.

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

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

1895

1897

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.

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.

A great storm in November destroyed the promenade and damaged houses but the partly built extension to the Pier survived.