To counter the waning tides, local dignitaries pushed for a pier to be built. This would allow boats to reach Southend at all tides. The campaign was led by former Lord Mayor of the City of London Sir William Heygate, 1st Baronet, a resident of Southend.
On 14 May 1829 the first Pier Act received the Royal Assent. On 25 July the Lord Mayor of London Sir William Thompson laid the foundation stone of the first section of the pier.
In June 1830 a 600 foot (180 m) wooden pier was opened, using around 90 oak trees in its construction. But it was still too short to be usable at low tide, so by 1833 it had been extended to three times its length, 1,800 feet (540 m).
A further extension in 1846 meant the pier now stretched just over a mile, but it still wasn't long enough, so a later rebuild extended it to a length of around 1.3 miles (2.1 km).
In 1848, the pier was the longest pier in Europe at 7,000 feet (2,100 m).
With all the costs involved in carrying out so many extensions and renovations, the original owners got into finanical difficulties (hardly surprising!) and ended up selling the pier for the grand total of £17,000 (equivalent to £2,111,635 today).
By 1850 the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway had reached Southend, and with it came a great influx of visitors from east London.
The Pier employed a horse tramway to convey goods and visitors to and from the pier head.
The many visitors took their toll on the wooden pier and it was sold to the Southend Local Board (the local government in place at the time).
In 1887 work began building the new iron pier, which was opened to the public that summer, though work was still ongoing.
The new iron pier was finally completed in 1889, at a cost of almost £70,000 (equivalent to £9,584,229 today).
It was an immediate success, so much so that demand outstripped the capabilities of the pier and a further extension was proposed.
Part of the wooden structure of the old pier was subsequently used in the construction of a new mayoral chair in 1892.
A single track electric railway starting running in 1890, and was the first pier railway in the country.
By 1891 the pier railway ran the full length of the pier and carriages were in use.
The pier's first extension was completed in November 1897 and formally opened in January 1898 making it the longest pleasure pier in the world at 1.3 miles long (7080ft).
A mortuary located under the old pier remained after construction of the new iron pier, despite complaints about the smell by passersby and traders!
It was reported that during 1903, around 1 million people had paid admission to use the pier while 250,000 passengers had alighted from pleasure steamboats.
An upper deck with a bandstand was built, along with a series of shops.
During the early part of World War I, three prison ships were moored off the pier. The first of which held German soldiers who had been captured in France, while the other two mostly held civilians.
Prisoners would walk along the high street and the length of the pier to board the ships. The Admiralty, responsible for the Royal Navy during the war, paid for a war signal station at the pierhead, although the pier remained open for recreation. During the spring of 1915, prisoners on the ships were moved away from the pier to other camps due to safety concerns.
The years following the war saw the heydey of Southend Pier and it became necessary to increase facilities to allow for a greater number of boats to dock.
So, the pier was further extended in 1927 and formally opened on 8 July 1929 by Prince George, Duke of Kent. This new part of the pier was on the east side and was named the Prince George Extension; it was 326 feet (99 m) long and cost £58,000 (equivalent to £3,925,995 today).
The pier train system expanded, and by 1930, four trains, each made up of seven carriages, were running on a double track.
The work of doubling the electric railway was completed in 1931, and cost around £35,000 (equivalent to £2,540,398 today)..
Southend Pier celebrated its centenary on 23 July 1935 when Lord Richie of Dundee, chairman of the Port of London Authority unveiled a bronze plaque on the pierhead.
The centenary was not celebrated in 1930, which would have been 100 years after its first opening, as 1835 reflects the date when the Admiralty began to include Southend Pier on their navigation charts.
The pier closed to the public on 9th September 1939, and for the next six years it was taken over by the Royal Navy and renamed HMS Leigh.
Its purpose in the war was twofold. Firstly it served as a mustering point for convoys. Secondly, it was Naval Control for the Thames Estuary.
In 1945 the pier reopened and visitor numbers exceeded pre-war levels, peaking at 5.75 million in 1949–50.
The Dolphin Café was built out of the scrap and timber left by the navy. This joined the other attractions added to the pier that year such as the Sun Deck Theatre, the Solarium Café, as well as amusements and a Hall of Mirrors.
In 1949 the rolling stock was replaced with four new trains.
In 1959, a fire destroyed the pavilion located at the shore end of the pier. Over 500 people were trapped on the other side of the fire and had to be rescued by boat.
The pavilion was replaced by a ten-pin bowling alley in 1962, however, by then British holidaymakers were turning to package holidays abroad. The use of the pier slowly began to decline and with it the structure began to deteriorate.
In 1976 a fire destroyed much of the pier head. The massive blaze was battled by fire fighters working on the pier and from boats, and even using a crop-spraying light aircraft.
The bowling alley was damaged in a fire, and a year after that, the railway was deemed unsafe and had to be closed.
In 1983 a grant from the Historic Buildings Committee meant the much needed repair work to the pier could commence and new railway and rolling stock could be bought.
The total cost of the 1984/86 reconstructions was £1.3 million (equivalent to £4,058,919 today). HRH Princess Anne inaugurated the new railway service on 2nd May 1986.
On 7th June 1995 the bowling alley was destroyed by fire. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries and there was no damage to the shore railway station or the Pier Museum, although storerooms and workshops were destroyed.
All services to the pier head were cut, access to the walkway was severed and some 30 metres of the railway track were damaged.
In June 2002 the RNLI Lifeboat Station and Gift shop was officially opened, and was funded by the RNLI.
In 2003 the new pier entrance was completed in the Summer costing £1.9 million.
On 9th October 2005 a fire severely damaged much of the old pier head including the railway station, pub, restaurant, gift shop, and toilets.
The Southend lifeboat was deployed to transport the first fire fighters to the scene. The pier head station was destroyed in the blaze, so a replacement with two platforms was constructed to take the pier trains as close as possible to the area where the blaze took place.
On 16th September 2009 the new station platform and office was officially opened in the summer by the Worshipful Mayor of Southend.
On 17th May 2012 the new Cultural Centre was lifted onto the pier. The unique £3m Cultural Centre was designed by White Arkitekter working in partnership with London-based architects Sprunt, and was constructed off-site at Tilbury Docks.
From there it was lowered onto a barge and transported along the Thames. The 170-tonne structure was then hoisted onto the pier head at high tide using a 400-tonne marine sheer leg crane.
On 17th July 2013 His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent ceremonially re-named the iconic Southend Pier Cultural Centre ‘The Royal Pavilion‘. The Duke unveiled the plaque bearing the building’s new name after officially opening the new RNLI lifeboat house on Southend seafront.
Southend Pier has held a number of Royal visitors including the Duke‘s father, HRH Prince George, who officially opened the Prince George extension in 1929.
On Tuesday 28th September 2021 a very special morning delivery arrived at Southend Pier - The first of the brand new electric pier trains.
The pier train replacement project saw the diesel trains, which had been in operation on the pier since 1986, replaced with new, eco-friendly trains, designed in heritage green and cream following a public vote.
This was not the end of the line for the former diesel trains will remain part of Southend Pier, with carriages installed on the Pier providing visitors with seating and shelter.
On Tuesday 1st March 2022 Their Royal Highnesses (TRH) The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall officially unveiled the first new eco-friendly train named, Sir David Amess, in honour of the late MP who tragically died in October 2021.
TRH also met Pier staff and colleagues from HM Coastguard Southend and Southend RNLI.
In the early 19th century, it was widely believed that spending time by the sea was good for your health. Since it was so close to the capital, many Londoners started to visit Southend for this reason alone.
However, our seven miles of coastline consists of vast mudflats, which means the water is never very deep, even at high tide, and it recedes over a mile at low tide.
Because of this, larger passenger boats weren’t able to dock near the shore at high tide, and no boats at all were able to dock at low tide. This meant many potential visitors would sail past Southend and go on to other resorts where docking facilities were better.
To counter this problem, local dignitaries championed for a pier to be built, which would allow passenger boats to reach Southend at all tides.