It’s traditional on a British Bank Holiday to travel to the seaside, to play in the sand and to enjoy the attractions and distractions that the beach has to offer. It’s also traditional that a British Bank Holiday is a grey, cold, water-logged affair. Today was no exception, and to the seaside I travelled, regardless to have a look around the world-famous pier and the charming museum that celebrates its illustrious history.
Sure, Brighton Pier has its charms and every seaside town worth its salt makes the most it can of its pier, but what sets Southend Pier aside from all the others is the sheer size of it. At 1.33 miles it is the longest pleasure pier in the world.
It was a bit to grey and blustery to attempt the 2.6 mile round journey to the end of the pier and back, granted Mum and I could have taken a tram but it’s not the same, is it?
So, we took a look at the pier’s little volunteer-led museum. As we paid our £1 entry, we were greeted by a really friendly bunch. Rather than leave it to the signs, they took the time to explain about the “No photograph policy” and even asked about the notes I was making for my blog.
As we walked around the museum, Marie, one of the volunteers, took the time to talk to us about the collection, telling us how one of the old trams on display used to be used as a chicken coop before it was restored by the museum’s volunteers. She even opened up the Signal Box for us so we could see the coverage it got in the local press and so we could see the levers.
Southend Pier hasn’t been the luckiest of piers in the past; in 1959 a fire destroyed the Pavilion that used to greet visitors at the shore-end of the pier (it was replaced by a bowling alley) and in 1971 a child suffered an injury, which led to the walkway being rebuilt.
Worse, however, was yet to come.
In 1976 the pier was struck by another blaze, which destroyed the cafes, theatre, amusement arcades, coastguard station and the radar training school! According to family history, my Nan was on the pier on the day it burned down. Apparently as she reached the shore, looked over her shoulder and said to her sister, “Pat! Look at all that smoke!”
1995 saw yet another fire struck the pier, this time destroying the bowling alley. A decade later and yet another fire ravaged the iconic structure.
Time and time again, the pier has risen –quite literally- from the ashes.
Even when Southend Council proposed to close the pier in 1980, the public cried out to save the town’s claim to fame and quashed the plans. The town is fiercely proud of its historic and iconic pier, “Southend is the Pier, the Pier is Southend,” said Sir John Betjeman, so it comes as no surprise that the volunteers that run the museum are so passionate about their collection.