Clacton Pier, more than any other British pier, has changed its image in keeping with the entertainment trends of its paying customers over the decades. In doing so it has succeeded in remaining commercially viable and has always, throughout its long history, fulfilled the aims and hopes of its owners and builders. Today Clacton Pier seems to provide almost every conceivable amusement and is probably best described as a fairground over the sea. This however hasn't always been the case and, like many other piers, Clacton Pier as seen today started from much humbler beginnings.
Clacton Pier was essentially the brainchild of one man, Peter Schuyler Bruff, Engineer and Manager of the Eastern Union Railway. Despite intense local opposition, Bruff could see the potential of the sleepy fishing village as a seaside resort, with its easy access from London by boat, and some years later, by rail. Under his personal supervision a wooden pier was constructed, opening to the public on 18th July 1871. Predominantly a landing pier for goods and passengers, it was also soon to become a popular venue for promenading, its completely uninterrupted deck not even broken by an entrance building.
With the arrival of the branch line in 1882 and the resorts easy access by sea on the Belle Steamers, Clactons popularity with day-tripping Londoners was becoming intense. Such were the demands to land steamers, by 1890 it was decided by the operating company that Clacton Pier would have to be extended, and better facilities for entertainment provided. By 1893 Clacton Pier's length had been increased to 1,180ft (360m). The work incorporated a polygonal pier-head, which surprisingly defied building conventions of the time having been constructed using Pitch Pine, an impressive regency styled polygonal pavilion to match, a concert hall, refreshment rooms and a waiting room.
In 1898 the original operating company went into liquidation and the pier was put up for sale, being purchased by the Coast Development Company. Little changed on Clacton Pier over the next 25 years until Ernest Kingsman purchased it in 1922. Kingsman was to instigate numerous additions that included the immediate construction of the 'Blue Lagoon' Dance Hall and the Lifeboat House. The construction of the Ocean Theatre in 1928, the widening of the pier deck in 1931 and the building of the Crystal Casino and swimming pool, a year later, in 1932. Being situated on the East Coast, the Second World War saw the inevitable sectioning of the pier neck in 1940 for fear of German invasion, along with the demolition of the Crystal Casino and the children's theatre. Although the pier neck was repaired on the cessation of hostilities, the demolished buildings were never replaced.
Storms have always provided an element of drama in the history of most piers, and Clacton Pier is no exception. In 1978 exceptionally high seas, fanned by very strong winds caused nearly a £100,000 worth of damage. A year later, just as repairs were being completed from the previous storm, Clacton Pier was again to take the full fury of the sea. This time suffering damage to the Lifeboat House and the Dolphinarium, the latter necessitating the hasty removal of a killer whale, a dolphin, sea lions and some penguins. The great Hurricane of 1987 was also to cause its fair share of problems.
Clacton Pier has had several post-war owners who have included the New Walton Pier Company, Austrian Automatics, E & M Harrison Ltd and most recently, the Ball Family who have done much to refurbish the pier. The modern Clacton Pier is maybe not for the traditionalist, but having said that, it does unashamedly provide exciting and colourful entertainment, loved by so many, that is now a feature of the popular British seaside resort.