All entries for Monday 10 October 2005
October 10, 2005
Writing about web page http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/jarvism/slideshow/southend_pier/
At 10:40pm on Sunday 9th October, Southend Pier suffered its fourth fire in 50 years. Most of the entertainment area at the end including a pub, restaurant, fish & chip shop, ice cream & refreshments outlet, souvenier kiosks, arcade, and train station have been burned down and collapsed into the Thames Eastuary taking alot of the floor of the pier with them. The pier has been devastated.
The fire was said to be up to 40ft high and could be seen for miles around as 75 firefighters battled with the blaze and got it under control by 4am on monday. They apparently encountered problems with lighting and visibility at night with the smoke and also with water supply at that distance out into the Thames Eastuary while the tide was out and fire hydrants damaged by the blaze. Hovercrafts were used to help control the inferno.
By morning, the pier was still smoldering. The fire has cremated a good 130ft section of the pier which is virtually all of the entertainment area. Luckily the brand new (2001) Lifeboat station survived, although it is now without pumped water, electricity, cabled communication and is effectively cut off from the mainland.
The cause of the fire is as of yet unknown but it is being treated as suspicious. This is standard procedure untill more is known.
Southend Pier was opened in 1889 and has had extensions added in 1898, 1908 and 1929 bringing it to 1.34Miles (2.16km) which is its length today, the longest pleasure pier in the world.As I said at the start, this is the 4th fire the pier has suffered in 40 years.
- The first was in 1959 where a serious fire destroyed the large Pier Pavilion at the shore end of the pier. This was replaced by a 10 pin bowling alley in 1962.
- The second fire was in 1976 which destroyed most of the head end which was opened in 1908 to be destroyed. This was made safe but never restored fully and the fire damaged area is still visible for tourists. In 1918 the MV Kingsabbey boat collided with the pier between the old and new pier heads severing the lifeboat slipway and permanently damaging the boathouse, although a new RNLI lifeboat station was built in 2001.
- The third fire was of that bowling alley at the shore side which burned down in 1995 (I remember it personally) and the structure was repaired and a simple open floor area was put there without buildings.
- The fourth fire, as you have read, has devestated the only other functional part of the pier that hasnt been damaged aside from the walkway itself. There is already hope that this will be restored.
As for restoration, the borough council leader Ms Anna Waite has already said
“We will be looking to restore it to its former glory. It’s a very sad day and the pier will cost millions of pounds to rebuild”
The former MP for Southend, Sir Teddy Taylor has also said
“It’s sad because it’s one of the great assets we’ve got in Southend. It’s a great place to walk down, it’s a great opportunity for people to enjoy themselves. But sadly it looks as though we’re in for a horrible bussiness again.”
A significant part of the Southend coast line underwent a major renovation a few years ago including dredgers pumping billions of tons of sand onto over 5 miles of beach to battle erosion and raise the beach level by several tens of feet. A renovation of “The Kursaal” and improvements to “Adventure Island” and the arcades along the seafront and the opening of a Casino have all helped to remake Southend-On-Sea as huge tourist resort. There has also be significant rebuilding of Pier Hill and cliff face involving large scale earth movement to give the whole area at the foot of the pier an entire new look, including a viewing tower, elevators, and new paths and steps to link the sea front to the high street several tens of feet above up a steep slope. The pier bridge which links this new developement area to the pier was also rebuilt. In the past 5 years, £8-9million was spent just on the pier alone.
All of this significant construction and investment was aimed at improving the area for the tourism, one of Southend’s already strong points. Southend-on-Sea has said to be Essex’s answer to Brighton in Sussex, and with a long south facing beach, pier attraction, arcades and other seaside entertainment, its a very decent attempt.
Clearly after all this work going into Southend, the pier fire devestation is a significant blow, but given time, Southend will recover. It takes more than a fire to stop Southend being one of the top tourist resorts in the South East.
For more photographs of the ruins, see the Southend Pier Gallery.
Images and content from BBC, Reuters and Wikipedia.