Corporation Loading Pier

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Southend’s first loading pier was made operational in 1834, this was to be found the east side of the wooden passenger pier, this loading pier was little more than a timber and stone construction 234ft from the shore. During the construction of the present day iron pier between 1889-1891, the loading pier was demolished and a replacement built opposite the Ship Public house and Hotel on Eastern Esplanade. It soon became evident that the new loading pier was inadequate to cope with the increased volume of traffic using Southend as an off-loading/loading stop. In 1910 the local council elected to have a new loading pier built and asked for tenders to be submitted. Construction on the Corporation Loading Pier began in 1912, it was constructed out of re-enforced concrete, the design was by Mr T. W. Pedrette of Enfield, London. Construction lasted two years and the pier opened on 23rd July 1914. The pier had set the local authority back some £10,878, the shortness of the pier kept its construction costs down as well as further maintenance costs, but it also meant that only flat bottomed sailing barges could use the pier on the high tide. Later in 1914 a tram spur was opened on the pier, and Glenshaw’s and Pier of Bolton were commissioned to construct three coal powered cars (1A, 2A & 3A) for operating duties. This consisted of a drive unit and two tipper wagons for transporting coal to the tramways power station. The trains remained in service until they were retired in 1931, only to be scrapped the following year. At the out-break of the Second World War the pier like all others in the country were taken over by the Admiralty, this saw the warehouse gain a reinforced concrete machine-gun post, which was positioned on the front roof of the warehouse.
Apart from the war years the pier proved to be a success, but with a down turn in the use of flat bottomed sailing barges in the Thames and the country as a whole, the late 1950s early 1960s saw the pier drop the amount of freight it processed. With this the council began wet leasing the pier to private company’s, the last official use of the pier was recorded in the early 1980s when two station tugs were moored there. There was an incident in January 1983 when on a high tide the small coaster Macedonia (formally Manta) managed to get close enough to the pier to get moored, with the crew believing it was secure they left, as the tide turned the mooring ropes slipped and the coaster swung away from the pier and grounded its stern on the beach along side. The stranded vessel became a tourist attraction until it was able to be pulled off the beach by tugs on a high tide a few weeks later. Plans to restore the old loading pier have been around since 1970, there have been eight different proposals for a marina incorporating the pier at a centrepiece. In the early 1990s the Rowallen Group who had just completed the restoration of Southend’s historic landmark Kursaal, were chosen as the preferred developer for not just the old pier but also the former gas works site opposite the pier. The proposed plans would include a Health and Fitness Centre, Hotel, Care Home and houses on the gas works site, whilst the pier would be turned in to a restaurant. The developers were given a five year exclusivity deal on the site, however, no plans were formally submitted within the time frame set down by the council and the site was re-advertised. After a number of years of no interest in the site, a new developer came forward in 1998 and unveiled ambitious plans for the pier, the new developer proposed to convert the dilapidated pier into a hotel and restaurant. Majestic Marine and Leisure proposed a major rebuilding of the structure so that it would have become a replica of the White Star Lines 1930s RMS Majestic cruise liner. However, the scheme never made it past the planning stage, with funding, planning and lease issues, the scheme collapsed in August 1999. Since the piers last official residents had left no maintenance had been carried out. With the failure of the 1998 proposals the council decided to undertake a last sale of the site, no bidders came forward to buy the pier. A review of the structure in December 2000 by the council, decided that the derelict structure should be demolished once funding could be found. After a further study into the safety of the pier, it was found that the structure would need a massive overhaul, the majority of the supports were in poor condition, the council later announced in 2003 that the pier would be demolished. Suddenly, a resurgent of interest gathered in the pier, with a number of proposals being announced. In October 2003 a restaurant was planned then in January 2004 a Bistro was proposed, this would have seen the demolition of the warehouse building and replaced with a new two-tier glass building built in its place. The plans were tied to the redevelopment of the old gasworks site, work on the gasworks soon commenced with a large number of new houses and flats being constructed to the front of the site, a hotel was proposed. Planning issues delayed the hotel’s construction, with delays in the hotel proposal the pier remained quiet and unloved. Yet another proposal was announced in January 2004, this time it was proposed to build a bistro style restaurant, with a Burlington style shopping arcade and housing on the rapidly deteriorating pier. The proposals failed to meet deadlines set by the council and were not followed up. Then in September 2007 a final decision on the fate of the pier was finally made, after a structural survey of the decaying landmark, the fabric of the pier was found to be structurally unsound, an insurance report assessment carried out in 2006 had made it clear to the council that they would risk a corporate manslaughter charge if anyone was killed on it. So the final order was issued to demolish the pier. With the demolition order sent out, work soon began on removing the derelict pier from the Southend shoreline. The contractors moved on site on Thursday 13th September 2007. The demolition process was estimated at six weeks because of the tides, soft sand at one side of the pier and the complex issue of how to demolish the pier in the quickest safest way possible. A special method of demolishing the pier was employed, the sand on the western side of the pier was too soft for the heavy plant machinery to operate without sinking, whilst the structural instability of the pier prevented the machinery from rolling onto the pier and attacking from above. The demolition started with the central decking closest to the shore being removed, leaving the sides intact to act as a barrier, this would stop any large sections of debris being washed on to the beach. When the demolition team reached the warehouse building, the Western (Southend Pier) side was removed to just before where the World War Two Machine Gun Post had been sited, then the other side was demolished, the end section of the building was then demolished in one go. With the major part of the demolition completed the remaining section of the deck soon disappeared leaving only a few piles sticking out of the mud like the mortal remains of some sort of pre-historic beast. These too soon tumbled with just a few remnants left to remove, the story of another of Southend lost piers comes to an end.
That was not the end of the story though, in November 2009 planning approval was given to the proposals by the Robert Leonard Group, who wanted to build a two storey restaurant with terracing. The lower floor would house a café/bar with a restaurant on the first floor. The company had originally submitted a planning application in 2005 before the pier was demolished. We do not know why this plan failed. Over the years various efforts were made to rebuild this site but all to no avail, what we do know today, is that nothing stands on the site where the old pier once stood.
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