The original pier at Herne Bay was not only one of the earliest piers to be built, but was also by far the longest at that time. The famous engineer Thomas Telford approved the design of the first wooden pier, with its notable T-shaped head, and it officially opened in 1832. It was an incredible 3,633ft (1,101m) in length and had cost a staggering £50,000 to build. Constructed initially to form part of a route for continental passengers travelling between London and Dover, the enormous length of Herne Bay Pier was required due to the very shallow shoreline. As alighting passengers could not be expected to transport their luggage along such a distance, a sail-powered trolleyway was built, making its debut run on 13th June 1833.
Seven years after construction Herne Bay Pier had succumbed to the devastating effects of Teredo Worm, and close inspection of the structure had uncovered some alarming problems. Extensive repairs were required that included the replacement of the outer piles with timber protected by 'scupper' nails, and the replacement of the inner piles with cast iron duplicates. Steamer services from London ceased in 1862 and, by the end of the decade, the 40 year old Herne Bay Pier was in a serious state of decay. In 1870 the pier was finally demolished and its useful remains, sold for scrap.
There were mixed feelings as to whether a replacement pier should be built, but eventually the Herne Bay Promenade Pier Company financed a very modest structure at£2,000. Designed by Wilkinson & Smith the new pier was erected purely with promenading in mind, and extended only to a length of 320ft (97m). The second Herne Bay Pier opened on 27th August 1873, the rather bland structure being improved in 1884 with the building of a theatre at the shoreward end and some shops at the entrance. In 1892 visits by shallow draught steamers commenced as an experiement to gauge their popularity in the town.
Having been successful, this led to the construction of a third, deep-water, pier capable of handling regular steamers. Work commenced in 1896, the existing pier structure being incorporated into the new design, and the third Herne Bay Pier opened three years later. At 3,787ft (1147m) Herne Bay pier was now the second longest pier in the country, being eclipsed only by Southend-on-Sea. Once again the problem of moving baggage from the pier-head to the shoreward end had to be overcome and a construction railway, used originally by the contractors, was retained and converted for passenger use.
Although initially successful, mismanagement of the pier forced its owners into liquidation, ownership passing first to the builders, Head Wrightson, and ultimately to the local council who purchased it in 1909. The following year a new grand pavilion was built at the shoreward end. The Great War saw the temporary suspension of steamer services, the old tramcars being used as shelters. Both services resumed after the conflict, with the tramcars eventually being replaced by electric. The theatre that had been retained from the second Herne Bay Pier was destroyed by fire in 1928. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 saw the end of the tram service, and the pier was sectioned from fear of German invasion.
Resulting from storm damage in 1953, the re-opened pier finally closed in 1968 when it was found to be in a dangerous state. The Grand Pavilion remained open at the shoreward end but was destroyed by fire in 1970, whilst work was being carried out on the pier entrance. A new sports and leisure centre, officially opened by the Rt Hon Sir Edward Heath on 5th September 1976, has replaced the pavilion. Local anglers were among a group of campaigners pressing for the pier neck to be restored, but a severe storm on 11th January 1978 ended all speculation as the majority of the pier neck collapsed, leaving the head isolated at sea.