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The English city of Southend-on-Sea, most often called simply Southend, is situated on the Thames estuary and the North Sea. It is 64 km (40 miles) from London, making it the nearest coastal resort to that city. It attracts millions of tourists to its beaches, gardens, and carnival celebration. Another attraction in Southend is the Southend Pier.Southend has been a popular seaside resort since Princess Charlotte of Wales.

  Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world, jutting over the Thames Estuary. Seaside spas and resorts were popularized centuries, in the belief that the sun and salt water air were beneficial to one’s health, particularly those suffering from tuberculous and other chest complaints.

  The pier was built during the Victorian Era, a time when people were flocking to seaside resorts and the pier was seen as an additional attraction for those who frequented the resort at Southend.

  The ground along the coast at Southend is largely mudflats, so even when it is high tide, it is not very deep, so large boats cannot stop near the beach during high tide, and during low tide, no boats at all could stop there. Instead, the boats would pass Southend and stop at Margate and other resorts where the waters could be negotiated. In May of 1829, at the request of many proponents of the resort and the area began campaigning to get a pier at Southend to overcome the problem. The official approval was given by Royal Assent in May if 1829, and on 25 July of that same year, Sir William Thompson, the Lord Mayor of London, laid the cornerstone for the pier.

  Finally, in June of 1830 the long-awaited pier was opened. It measured 180 meters (600 feet) long. While it was indeed a pier, it was not long enough to be useful at low tide. It was another three years before it was extended to 580 meters (1,800 feet). In 1846, it was again extended, this time to a length of nearly 1.6 km (1 mile). In 1848, the Southend Pier measured 2.1 km (1.3 miles) long.

  In 1872, the pier added a horse tramway to get visitors across the pier. The wear and tear on the pier proved to be significant, and construction began on an iron pier in 1887. That summer, the public was able to walk the pier even while it was still being built. The iron pier was finished in 1889. It was a success. So much of a success, in fact, that an extension of this new bridge was needed.

  A single-track railway was instituted in 1890, the first pier railway in England. By the time 1891 rolled around, carriages traversed the pier as well as the pier railway. The extension of the iron pier was finished in November of 1897, and the official opening was two months later. A bandstand was added to the pier, on an upper deck, and several shops were also opened on the upper deck.

  When World War I began, three prison ships were anchored at the pier. One of the ships housed German soldiers captured in France, and the other two housed other prisoners of war, while the pier remained fully open to the public. The ships were moved to camps elsewhere because of safety concerns.

  Southend Pier was closed to the public during World War II, beginning in 1939 when it was used as a mustering point for military convoys as well as becoming Naval Control the estuary. When it reopened in 1945, visitor levels swelled, and in the 1949-1950 season, nearly 6 million visitors enjoyed the pier. In 1959, the pavilion at the shore end of the pier caught fire. More than 500 people were trapped on the other side of the blazing pavilion and were rescued by boats. In 1962, the burnt-out pavilion was replaced by a bowling alley, and in 1976, another fire destroyed a large portion of the pierhead. In 1977, the bowling alley caught fire, and the next year, the railway had to be closed due to safety concerns.

  The pier got a grant to perform badly-needed repairs, which were attained during reconstruction from 1984 through 1986. In the summer of 1995, the bowling alley was victim to another fire, this one destroying it entirely. The pierhead was shut down while 30 meters of track and access to the walkway were shut down for repairs after the fire.

  Yet another fire broke out in October of 2005, this time damaging most of the old pierhead, including the railway station. The Southend lifeboat transported firefighters to the blaze. In 2021, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, who would be crowned King Charles III and Queen Camilla in the Spring of 2023, visited Southend Pier.



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