Pleasure Pier


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Western Esplanade, Southend on Sea, Essex


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Statutory Address:
Western Esplanade, Southend on Sea, Essex

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Southend-on-Sea (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


A pier of 1889, designed by James Brunlees, extending approximately 1.34 miles into the Thames Estuary. The superstructure is now mainly C20 in date.

Reasons for Designation

The Pier, Western Esplanade, Southend-on-Sea, erected in 1889 with later additions and changes, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural Interest: it was designed by the renowned civil engineer James Brunlees. It is believed to be the longest pier in the world, and was adapted to carry an electric tramway in 1890. * Historic Interest: it dates to 1889, and has subsequently been added to and rebuilt following a number of fires. These progressive alterations add to its interest.


Southend-on-Sea grew out of Prittlewell, the largest of the six medieval parishes which constitute the modern settlement. By the late C19, Southend had overtaken its mother parish in importance and in 1892 it became officially recognised as a town, when it was incorporated; ‘on-Sea’ being added the following year. The other parishes were absorbed and amalgamated from the end of the C19 through to the 1930s, to form the town as it is known today.

The name ‘Sowthende’ first appears in a will of 1481, although what is now known as Southend did not begin to become urbanised until around 1700, when oyster cultivation began in the area. Within 20 years the whole of the foreshore from Southchurch westwards to Leigh was leased as oyster feeding grounds and oysterman’s huts began to be built, followed by humble terraces of cottages. Visitors started to come in small numbers to Southend to bathe in the sea, and in 1791 a syndicate was set up to develop a resort at ‘New Southend’. Following this The Terrace was built, renamed The Royal Terrace in 1804 after Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince Regent, stayed there. The royal association helped to boost the popularity of the resort, and in 1829 the first pier was built. The coming of the railways in the mid-C19 stimulated growth and interest in the town, firstly in 1856 with the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway, which led to the development of Clifftown, followed by the Great Eastern in 1889. Southend flourished as a seaside resort from the end of the C19 through to the first half of the C20, but its popularity declined towards the end of the C20. In recent years however, major developments such as the Southend campus of the University of Essex and improvements to the pier and Esplanade, have helped rekindle interest in the town.

The present pier dates from the late 1880s when it was decided that the original wooden pier of 1829 had become structurally unsound and had to be rebuilt. The pier was designed by James Brunlees and opened to pedestrians in 1889, and in the following year an electric tramway was installed. In 1897 the pier was extended in order to accommodate the increasing number of steamboats that moored there. An upper deck was added to the pier in 1908 along with a bandstand and shops. The final length, known as the Prince George Extension, which took the total length to 1.34 miles was completed in 1929. In 1939 the pier was closed to visitors, having been commandeered by the Navy as a central command post for all wartime shipping in the Thames. Post-war, the pier has suffered a number of disasters that have had a material impact upon its fabric. These include a fire in 1959 which destroyed the Pier Pavilion, to be replaced by a bowling alley; a fire in 1976, which destroyed most of the pier head including the cafes, theatre and amusement arcades; and in 1986 a ship sliced through the end section of the pier. Grant funding in the 1980s enabled the repair and rebuilding of the structure, although another fire in 1995 destroyed the 1960s bowling alley. During 2000/01 substantial sums of money were spent on works to the pier to celebrate the new Millennium. Improvements included illuminations and a new lifeboat station. The pier is said to be the longest pleasure pier in the world.


PLAN: the overall plan form of the pier is linear with a rectangular deck at the high tide line and a larger deck area of irregular plan at the pier head.

MATERIALS: the main materials are cast-iron stanchions and girders for the superstructure, with timber for the decking.

EXTERIOR: the entrance to the pier is on the south side of Western Esplanade. There is a mid-C20 amusement arcade at street level on the western side, and a two-storey, steel-framed visitor information centre on the eastern side, which dates from the late C20 or early C21. It has a wavy roof profile, and a fully-glazed tower that houses the stair to the upper deck. Within the lower deck are offices, maintenance workshops, and the passenger railway terminus, all of which date from the mid-to-late C20. There is a small museum attached to the pier at ground level. The pier stretches for approximately 80 metres before it reaches the high-tide line where there is large rectangular sun deck, which has three, small ancillary buildings made of timber. At this point the pier projects out into the sea, and the walkway on the west side and train track on the east side merge onto the same level, proceeding in a straight line towards the pier head.

There are iron railings on each side of the walkway and timber shelters with seating that date from the mid-to-late C20, sited at intervals along the pier. There are also lamp posts of an early-C20 design, on the western side. Near the end of the pier is a passing loop and train terminus with late-C20 steel, platform canopy, and a ticket kiosk. Beyond this are two, small, single-storey timber buildings, one with a hipped roof, the other with a flat roof. The pier head then terminates in a large open deck area which has bench seating and lighting. There are also wells within the deck with stairs to the lower decks and landing platforms. To the eastern side of the pier head is a late-C20 steel-framed building that houses a lifeboat station and gift shop. There is also a sun-deck on the roof and a glazed observation tower.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Bettley, J, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Essex, (2007)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

Images of England was a photographic record of every listed building in England, created as a snap shot of listed buildings at the turn of the millennium. These photographs of the exterior of listed buildings were taken by volunteers between 1999 and 2008. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Date: 09 Oct 1999
Reference: IOE01/00839/02
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Ken Clark. Source Historic England Archive
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