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The glory days of Kent's piers and what they look like now

The sight of burly anglers, parents attempting to corral unruly children and pensioners hidden beneath layers of blankets is commonplace on the county’s piers.

Residents are familiar with the landmark’s food stalls and their views across the lapping seas.

An old postcard showing the octagonal ticket booths of the Victoria Pier in Folkestone
An old postcard showing the octagonal ticket booths of the Victoria Pier in Folkestone

Despite this, their histories – bestrewn with tales of death, visiting presidents, financial strife and destruction – have been starved of the same level of attention.

Here are the stories behind 13 of the county’s piers…

Deal Pier

The 330-metre-long structure has been the town’s focal point for the past 63 years.

At the end of the grey walkway sits Deal Pier Kitchen, a brunch-serving restaurant that – prior to the outbreak of coronavirus – would serve lobster dinners on Fridays and Saturdays.

The landmark, which is benefitting from £1.1 million of renovations, was preceded by two others.

A wrecked ship between Deal's Pier and castle with a vessel heading towards it to continue the salvage operation
A wrecked ship between Deal's Pier and castle with a vessel heading towards it to continue the salvage operation
Passangers boarding a ship from Deal pier
Passangers boarding a ship from Deal pier

Engineers had planned for the first to stretch about 135 metres.

But when it was opened in 1838, it was little more than half the length as the firm behind the proposals, the Deal Pier Company, struggled to finance the project.

After being buffeted – and steadily weakened – by gales for several years, it was torn from its foundations and flung onto the beach during a storm in 1857. Scrap from the pier was later sold along the seafront for £50 apiece.

Its replacement, which extended more than 335 metres into the Channel, opened seven years later.

The three-deck pier was twice crashed into by ships during baleful storms between 1873 and 1884.

The Royal Marines attended when Prince Philip visited Deal Pier in 1957
The Royal Marines attended when Prince Philip visited Deal Pier in 1957
Deal Beach and Pier looking north
Deal Beach and Pier looking north

And in 1940, it was destroyed when a mine-hit vessel ploughed through it and snapped off 60 metres of the structure.

Following a visit to survey its mangled remains, Prime Minister Winston Churchill allowed the Army to tear down the rest of the landmark.

In the wake of vociferous campaigning from locals, the town’s existing pier was built. Opened by Prince Philip in November 1957, it became the first seaside pleasure pier to be erected for 47 years.

Herne Bay Pier

The pier has had three iterations over the course of its turbulent past. The first was built in 1832 at a cost of £50,000.

A wind-propelled tram that ferried visitors from either end of the landmark ran over and killed a woman, who had been taking a stroll along the walkway before she was due to appear in court, in 1840.

The jetty later fell into disrepair and was sold for scrap in 1871.

A picture showing how Herne Bay Pier looked between 1899 and 1908
A picture showing how Herne Bay Pier looked between 1899 and 1908
A postcard sent in 1913 showing the third Herne Bay Pier
A postcard sent in 1913 showing the third Herne Bay Pier
An image of the pier at some point between 1932 and 1939
An image of the pier at some point between 1932 and 1939

After the site was snapped up in the same year, the timber structure was demolished and, following four months of construction, Herne Bay’s second pier was erected in 1873.

Despite the addition of a theatre, shops, lavatories and a ticket office, its finances were in the red.

In response to this, bosses launched a bid to rebuild the landmark and replace it with an iron jetty stretching more than 1,100 metres out to sea.

The plans were given the green light, and construction of the town’s third pier was completed in 1899.

At the time, it was the second longest in the country – but during the Second World War its middle section was blown up to prevent enemy landings.

Herne Bay Pier
Herne Bay Pier
A crabbing competition held on the pier in 2016
A crabbing competition held on the pier in 2016

The gap left by the explosion was later filled by two temporary bridges.

However, storms in 1978 and 1979 caused them to collapse, prompting a decision in 1980 to dismantle them.

As a result, the pier head has been left stranded.

The spectral structure can be seen clearly from the seafront, looming several hundred metres from the rest of the jetty.

Scores of residents have called for the platforms to be reconnected over the years.

The old Herne Bay pier head
The old Herne Bay pier head
The rundown-looking pier head photographed last year. Picture: Picture: Pete Stanley - Pete's Photography
The rundown-looking pier head photographed last year. Picture: Picture: Pete Stanley - Pete's Photography

But despite regular claims by pier trust bosses that they hope to extend the landmark towards the head, such plans have failed to materialise.

Dover Admiralty Pier

Hailed as one of the best fishing piers in the south east, the structure was built over a 28-year period, beginning in 1847 and ending in 1875.

The Admiralty Pier in 1895 with a paddle boat alongside before a planned extension
The Admiralty Pier in 1895 with a paddle boat alongside before a planned extension
A ship called the Queen beside the Admiralty Pier between 1905 and 1910. Picture: Dover Museum
A ship called the Queen beside the Admiralty Pier between 1905 and 1910. Picture: Dover Museum

Twin 80-ton muzzle-loading guns – the world’s largest at the time – were fitted at its head, but never fired and declared obsolete in 1902.

After the end of the First World War, Woodrow Wilson was welcomed by large crowds as he arrived at the pier during the first visit to Britain of a serving US president.

Barrage balloons, used to defend ground targets against aerial attack, were sited at the Admiralty Pier during the 1940s.

However, friendly planes twice crashed into the tethered inflatables between 1941 and 1942, killing two pilots.

The 1,300-metre landmark was rendered structurally unsafe after the Great Storm of 1987.

The inside of the Admiralty Pier's armoured turret showing a 16 ins Armstrong Gun. Picture: Dover Museum
The inside of the Admiralty Pier's armoured turret showing a 16 ins Armstrong Gun. Picture: Dover Museum
The Admiralty Pier photographed in July 2019
The Admiralty Pier photographed in July 2019

It was soon repaired and reopened, only to be hit by violent wind and rain in 1999.

Toilet fittings were ripped from their fixings, cast iron stanchions and railings were snapped and concrete blocks torn from the walkway during the miserable weather.

Having been restored and upgraded, the pier remains open to visitors – despite fears raised by its leaseholder, Dover Sea Angling Association, last July that it could be closed for as many as four years for repairs.

Pegwell Bay

In Victorian Britain, Pegwell Bay was an affluent fishing village in which prawns were plenteous and regularly caught to be processed into paste or sauce at a factory nearby.

And in an attempt to capitalise on the area’s wealth, businessman James Tatnell launched an eye-catching bid to transform the area into a resort that could rival Ramsgate.

A painting of Pegwell Bay in October 1858 by Scottish artist William Dyce
A painting of Pegwell Bay in October 1858 by Scottish artist William Dyce

He planned to reclaim and hive off six acres of the shore in order to turn it into gardens and to construct a pier.

The modified seafront stretch was unveiled in September 1879, with visitors charged two shillings – the equivalent of about £6 today – to enter.

Tatnell’s resort proved to be a commercial failure. Indoor pools and an aquarium earmarked for the site were subsequently never built.

The pier, 90 metres in length and made from brittle strips of wood and iron, was soon leased to a landlady in the village.

But a damaged barge ploughed into the landmark in December 1884 as gales pounded the coast. The extensive damage prompted the owners to dismantle the five-year-old construction.

This earned the structure the unwanted accolade of the country’s most fleeting pier.

Sheerness Pier

Back in the mid-19th century, Sheppey was a hugely popular resort, helped in no small part by the construction in 1835 of Sheerness Pier.

Designed to enable passenger-filled steam ships down the estuary from London and along the north Kent coast, the pier stood near the junction of West Street and Brielle Way.

Sheerness Pier in the 1930s. Picture: Bel Austin
Sheerness Pier in the 1930s. Picture: Bel Austin
The pier was finally demolished in 1971
The pier was finally demolished in 1971

It extended for almost 460 metres over the Medway.

However, it was closed in 1955 and finally demolished 16 years later.

Today, the piermaster’s house remains in Blue Town with the ramp leading off it revealing where the entrance to the structure once was.

Reclaimed land has meant the site has now been built on.

An 1897 picture of the remains of Sheerness pier after it was washed away in a storm. Picture: Mike Smith
An 1897 picture of the remains of Sheerness pier after it was washed away in a storm. Picture: Mike Smith

Also, on what is now the site of the Tesco supermarket car park, were the Zoological Gardens - which featured lions, tigers and bears. It shut in the late 1930s.

Dover Promenade Pier

Just 34 years after it was built, the landmark located opposite the Gateway Flats was demolished.

Having cost about £24,000 to construct, residents were allowed to take their first steps along the 274-metre walkway when it opened in 1893.

The view from the old Promenade Pier, looking back at the Burlington Hotel in about 1890. Picture: Bob Hollingsbee
The view from the old Promenade Pier, looking back at the Burlington Hotel in about 1890. Picture: Bob Hollingsbee
The Wellington Dock and Promenade Pier viewed from above in the 1920s. Picture: Aerofilms
The Wellington Dock and Promenade Pier viewed from above in the 1920s. Picture: Aerofilms

Steamers regularly left the pier to take revellers on daytrips around the coast to Hastings.

A pavilion was erected in 1901 – 12 years before the pier was sold to the admiralty for £8,000.

Local historian Jeff Howe previously told the Dover Mercury: "Many musical evenings were held in the pavilion between 1901 and 1913, and these were very well attended by townsfolk.”

The admiralty bought the structure for landing purposes, but leased it out as a pleasure pier following the conclusion of the First World War.

Despite this, it was flattened in 1927 after falling into disrepair.

The Promenade Pier in 1901 - eight years after it opened. Picture: Mike Waterman
The Promenade Pier in 1901 - eight years after it opened. Picture: Mike Waterman
A postcard showing Promenade Pier and beach at Dover in years gone by. Picture: Graham Tutthill
A postcard showing Promenade Pier and beach at Dover in years gone by. Picture: Graham Tutthill

And during the summer of that year, the demolition company, WO Hill, held two auctions to sell off pieces of the landmark, including windows, lavatory utensils and the maple dancefloor.

But in 2003, Mr Howe launched an appeal to find the pier’s glass dome, which was nine feet six inches in diameter, and its entrance.

Two of the original six gates were later discovered attached to stone pillars at the approach to a farm in Lenham.

"According to the landowner, the main entrance gates and turnstile gates were requisitioned during the Second World War for scrap," said Mr Howe.

Local historian Jeff Howe next to one of the gates, near Lenham, which are believed to have originally been on the Promenade Pier at Dover
Local historian Jeff Howe next to one of the gates, near Lenham, which are believed to have originally been on the Promenade Pier at Dover

"Although no auction catalogue seems to have come to light, it seemed reasonable that the sturdy iron entrance gates could have been bought and used at another location."

Folkestone Harbour Arm

Built in several stages over 50 years, the Harbour Arm was finally completed in 1904.

Ships seen on both sides of the harbour arm. Picture: Alan Taylor
Ships seen on both sides of the harbour arm. Picture: Alan Taylor

More than 9.5 million soldiers boarded vessels at the port in Folkestone as they left for the battlefields in France and Belgium during the First World War.

The Harbour Arm acted as a departure station and consequently the Mole Café, which provided free refreshments to servicemen and Red Cross volunteers, was opened on the pier in 1915.

Eight visitor books spanning 3,518 pages were signed by almost 44,000 soldiers and nurses visiting the canteen.

Among the names inside the volumes are King George V, who visited Folkestone in 1915, Winston Churchill and then Hythe MP Sir Philip Sassoon, cousin of war poet Sigfried Sassoon.

German reservists marching under armed guard in Folkestone Harbour. Picture: Robert Mouland
German reservists marching under armed guard in Folkestone Harbour. Picture: Robert Mouland
The Harbour Arm in 2011 was looking rundown before it was renovated. Picture: Pam Dray's Folkestone Through the Ages
The Harbour Arm in 2011 was looking rundown before it was renovated. Picture: Pam Dray's Folkestone Through the Ages

Not only do they contain British names; the pages are also etched with the signatures of British Empire troops, including a number from Canada, India and Australia.

Cross-Channel ferry services from the arm were running after the war. But these were ended in 2000 as they were squeezed out by the Channel Tunnel.

Plans to repair 100-year-old rotting woodwork, stonework and rusting metal along the arm formed part of a multi-million-pound regeneration scheme led by the Folkestone Harbour Company.

The train platforms on the harbour along the jetty were restored during the project, while spaces for pop-up food stalls, live music, exhibitions and events were also created.

The harbour arm during last summer
The harbour arm during last summer
The regenerated landmark in Folkestone photographed last year
The regenerated landmark in Folkestone photographed last year

It reopened after the makeover in August 2015.

Prince of Wales Pier, Dover

After engineer Sir John Coode had drawn its designs in 1892, the foundation stone was laid a year later by Edward VII.

It was completed in 1902 and intended to provide the east side of the harbour with shelter as well as areas for cross-Channel steamers and transatlantic ships to dock.

A 1956 photograph taken from the Prince of Wales Pier looking towards the Waterloo Mansions. Picture: Port of Dover
A 1956 photograph taken from the Prince of Wales Pier looking towards the Waterloo Mansions. Picture: Port of Dover
The Prince of Wales Pier in Dover in 2016
The Prince of Wales Pier in Dover in 2016

The location had been used by the relatives of those who died in the Zeebrugge ferry disaster in 1987 for 25 years prior to its closure.

During the ceremonies, the mourners would walk to the end of the pier on the anniversary of the catastrophe, which claimed 193 lives, to lay wreaths or throw flowers into the sea.

Margate Jetty

The Victorian structure brought huge prosperity to the town after it was erected in 1855.

A pavilion was added to the 335-metre jetty three years later as it became a launching station for steam ships.

A tempest tore through the landmark in 1877, leaving as many as 50 people stranded on the pier’s storm-ravaged head for a day.

Margate Jetty in 1897. Picture: Detroit Publishing Co.
Margate Jetty in 1897. Picture: Detroit Publishing Co.

Decking in the centre of the jetty was removed in 1940 to protect against invasions.

The two sides of the walkway were later reattached; but this preceded the gutting of the pavilion during a fire in 1964.

The jetty was closed to the public on safety grounds in 1976, and was severely damaged when it was overwhelmed by storms two years later.

More than a dozen attempts were made to blow up its remains before it was completely erased from the seafront.

An ambitious campaign was launched by historian and economist Bill Peppiatt towards the end of 2007 to rebuild the jetty.

Margate Jetty following the 1978 storm. Picture: Nick Smith
Margate Jetty following the 1978 storm. Picture: Nick Smith
An old picture of Margate showing the Winter Gardens and Jetty
An old picture of Margate showing the Winter Gardens and Jetty

At the time, he told Thanet Extra he needed considerable funds to bankroll his vision for the pier to become a focal point for the town once again ahead of the 30th anniversary of its demise.

He said: “It would be able to take craft from the Thames or the Medway and would be an excellent marketing point for the town.

“Margate was the birthplace of sea bathing more than 250 years ago and one of the original seaside resorts in this country.

“We should celebrate our heritage and seek funding and support for this idea.”

Broadstairs Pier

Almost 500 years ago, the Thanet town’s first pier was erected to shelter a local businessman’s shipyard.

Built entirely from wood, it stood in a similar location to where The Pavilion in Harbour Street is now located.

The Francis Forbes Barton on Broadstairs Pier in 1910
The Francis Forbes Barton on Broadstairs Pier in 1910
Broadstairs Pier photographed before 1914
Broadstairs Pier photographed before 1914

The structure was devastated by storms in the 1760s – but due to its importance to the fishing trade, a new pier was created in 1772.

It has since suffered greatly from storm damage and has been patched up several times over the years with materials ranging from timber planks and tar to used car tyres.

A warning against jumping or diving from the pier into the water – a practice commonly referred to as tombstoning – was issued by the Coastguard last month.

Broadstairs Pier during a Sunday Service led by the Royal Marines Band and attended by hundreds of people in 2007. Picture: Matt McArdle
Broadstairs Pier during a Sunday Service led by the Royal Marines Band and attended by hundreds of people in 2007. Picture: Matt McArdle
Broadstairs Pier
Broadstairs Pier

This came after a boy suffered a suspected broken ankle and knee when he leaped into the sea from the landmark.

Town Pier, Gravesend

The oldest cast-iron pier in the world, people flocked to it after it was built in 1834 in order to board steamers travelling to and from London.

It is estimated that more than three million passengers were transported between Gravesend and the capital from the West Street jetty.

But it fell into disrepair in 1900 following the rise of the railway.

A ferry leaving the town pier during the great frost of 1895. Picture: Mick Wenban
A ferry leaving the town pier during the great frost of 1895. Picture: Mick Wenban
The mudlarks of Gravesend in a boxing or wrestling match on the muddy beach alongside Gravesend's Town Pier
The mudlarks of Gravesend in a boxing or wrestling match on the muddy beach alongside Gravesend's Town Pier

The pier was used to house offices during the 1980s after it was purchased by a water and oil barge company.

But when the local authority took on the structure in 2000, work on its restoration commenced.

In 2012, a floating pontoon was opened, from which a ferry service between Gravesend and Tilbury now runs.

Just in front of the entrance to the pier sits the 450-year-old Three Daws pub.

The tavern, which is the oldest in the town, became a favourite haunt of smugglers, who made use of its tunnels, and was regularly raided by press gangs wanting to enlist boozing seamen into the navy during the 1700s and 1800s.

The Waverley at Gravesend Town Pier. Picture: Fraser Gray
The Waverley at Gravesend Town Pier. Picture: Fraser Gray
The ferry service was suspended in June 2017 because the pontoon leading to the boat from the pier was deemed unsafe and closed by Gravesham Borough Council
The ferry service was suspended in June 2017 because the pontoon leading to the boat from the pier was deemed unsafe and closed by Gravesham Borough Council

More recently, the building has been visited by ghost hunters and psychics claiming it is haunted.

Folkestone Victoria Pier

A former boxing and wrestling venue, Folkestone’s Victoria Pier was a hive of entertainment and bustling with activity.

The landmark gained popularity with soldiers during the First World War and regularly held projections of the latest films.

An old view of the Folkestone leas cliff from the end of Victoria Pier. Picture: Robert Mouland
An old view of the Folkestone leas cliff from the end of Victoria Pier. Picture: Robert Mouland
Victoria Pier and the swimming baths in Folkestone
Victoria Pier and the swimming baths in Folkestone

After the armistice in 1918, entertainment in the pier’s halls included roller skating, novelty shows, dancing and bands.

But the pier's fortunes changed as its popularity dwindled during the Second World War.

On one day in May 1940, only four people visited. Two months later, part of the central section was blown up as a defensive measure.

An old postcard showing the Victoria Pier's theatre. Picture: Sarah Smith
An old postcard showing the Victoria Pier's theatre. Picture: Sarah Smith
A postcard showing Victoria Pier in Folkestone. Picture: Robert Mouland
A postcard showing Victoria Pier in Folkestone. Picture: Robert Mouland

It was then burned down in May 1945 following an arson attack and its demolition finally began in 1952.

Dover Marina Pier

The newest of Dover's piers, the seafront feature was unveiled ahead of the May bank holiday weekend in 2016.

The Marina Pier in Dover
The Marina Pier in Dover

The 500-plus-metre landmark formed part of the massive Dover Western Docks Revival redevelopment.

Costing more than £250 million, the scheme represents the most expensive project ever undertaken by the Port of Dover.

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