In 1892 visits by shallow draft steamers began as an experiment to see how popular a new service would be and by 1895 ambitious plans were underway for a new deep-water pier capable of handling regular steamers. Work on the new iron structure began in 1896. When it was finished this would be the second longest pier in the country, running 3,787 feet (1147m) out to sea and requiring a small railway to carry the passengers and their luggage to shore.
But the new pier was almost destroyed before building had finished by one of the worst storms the town had ever experienced. It began on Sunday November 28th 1897 and reached its peak at midday on Monday 29th when the following description was written:
It was then that the sea, with irresistible force, began to sweep every obstacle before it. As it thundered against the sea wall it tore the projecting wooden railing from its place as if it were merely matchwood. The paving was wrenched in pieces and eventually in place of the trim promenade, which had been for so many years considered one of the longest at any English watering place, there was nothing left but a chaotic, wreck-strewn waste. The houses facing the front were fortunately not so much injured as they might have been; but the damage done to them was considerable. The effect of the seas as they struck the sea wall and rose many feet into the air – solid masses of water throwing off foam and spray and rending everything within reach – was indescribably awful and grand.
The pier was opened for business at Easter 1899 and in the first year the tram fares were £488. Although the new pier was a great success at attracting visitors to Herne Bay it was badly mismanaged by its owners. The Managing Director of the Pier Company, Henry Corbett Jones, was involved in a number of enterprises and in 1905 he was arrested and charged with embezzlement, falsifying documents and making false declarations. In 1909, after months of negotiation, ownership of the Pier was transferred to Herne Bay Urban District Council for a fraction of what it cost to build.
The pier finally belonged to the people of Herne Bay. A competition was launched to design the new Grand Pier Pavilion which was planned for the landward end of the pier. The winning design was by Percy J. Waldram and Messrs Moscrop-Young and Glanfield of London and the building was opened in 1910. The Grand Pier Pavilion was designed to seat 1,000, with an auditorium 130 feet by 95 and a ceiling height of 35 feet. It had a level floor to provide space for skating and dancing as well as a raised stage. It remained open for sixty years, providing the town with a venue for summer concerts, flower shows and exhibitions and civic ceremonies of all kinds.
The Great War saw the temporary suspension of steamer services, entertainments and the tramcars being used as shelters. Normal service resumed after the conflict, with the old tramcars eventually being replaced by a petro-electric tramcar built at Strode Engineering Works in Herne. The wooden theatre at the entrance to the Pier which had been retained from the second Herne Bay Pier was destroyed by fire in 1928.
The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 saw the end of the tram service. For the duration of the war the pier was closed and encased in barbed wire in case the Germans decided to mount their attack on England from Herne Bay. As an extra precaution two sections of the pier were removed completely in 1940.
In 1948 Herne Bay experienced another terrible storm, equal to that of 1897. Five years later, in 1953 the east coast of Britain took a terrible battering in February and the seafront and its properties were flooded. Ten years later, in the terrible winter of 1963, the sea froze. The pier which had stood for almost seventy years was beaten by the elements and declared unsafe. It closed in 1968. The Grand Pavilion remained open at the shoreward end but was destroyed by fire in 1970, whilst work was being carried out on the pier entrance. A new sports and leisure centre, officially opened by the Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Heath on 5 September 1976, has replaced the pavilion.
Local anglers were among campaigners pressing for the pier neck to be restored, but a severe storm on 11 January 1978 ended all speculation as the majority of the pier neck collapsed.
Since then the Pier head has been left isolated at sea, a poignant reminder to residents and visitors of Herne Bay’s past glories. Local inhabitants, fishermen and tourists alike have never let go of the idea of the Herne Bay Pier being rebuilt to its original glory. In spring 2009 Canterbury City Council agreed to the formation of the Herne Bay Pier Trust. The main objective of the Trust is the preservation, renovation, reconstruction and enhancement of Herne Bay Pier. Canterbury City Council does not have the funding for such a project, so it is up to independent and possibly European Funding to see this beautiful example of Victorian engineering brought back to its original glory…
From: The Herne Bay Pier Trust