The Coast Development Company, who operated the 'Belle' steamer fleet between London Bridge and Great Yarmouth, built Southwold Pier along with Lowestoft and Felixstowe. Construction was authorised by The Southwold Pier Order of 1899, and a design from W Jeffrey was accepted. Opened in the summer of 1900, the wooden pier extended to a length of 810ft (245m), and had a T-shaped landing stage at the head.
A wooden pavilion with refreshment rooms was later erected at the shoreward end. Despite offering these basic facilities, Southwold Pier was always designed with a functional purpose in mind. This was to allow passengers, especially from the lucrative London market, to disembark at various places along the East Coast on route to Great Yarmouth. Consequently, the Coast Development Company could offer more varied excursions to its customers but, more importantly, the steamer traffic boosted the smaller resorts' local economy.
The Amusement Equipment Company took control of Southwold Pier in 1906 when the Coast Development Company was succeeded by the Coast Development Corporation Ltd. Belle Steamers continued to operate the London to Great Yarmouth service until the early 1930s. The T-shaped landing stage at the head was swept away in a violent storm in 1934 and was never replaced. In 1936 the timber buildings at the shoreward end were replaced with the two-storey pavilion that remains today.
In common with the majority of piers on the east and south coasts of England, Southwold Pier was sectioned in 1940 for fear of invasion. To make matters worse, a drifting sea mine subsequently struck the pier, destroying a further section. Southwold Pier was repaired in 1948, at a cost of £30,000, but now in a much-weakened state it was always going to be vulnerable to the elements. In October 1955 a storm isolated the seaward end, and a further gale in February 1979 reduced the piers length to only 150ft (45.4m).
The pavilion building has performed many roles during its time, and in the 1960s it was even used as a public house. Purchased by the Iredale family in 1987, the pavilion's first floor theatre and function rooms were completely restored, the former cafeteria re-opened as Flippers Diner, and a fitness studio has replaced the old Neptune bar. Part of the ground floor remains as an amusement arcade, with a bar to the rear. Access to the surviving section of the pier neck is from the bar, and serves as a unique beer garden. A long hard fund raising campaign, started in 1999, recently secured sufficient money to extend Southwold Pier's neck to its former length. This was officially opened on 3rd July 2001. The T-shaped head has also been restored, and when the MV Balmoral pulled alongside in June 2002 it was the first ship to do so in nearly half a century. This has been a wonderful achievement by the Iredale family, and they thoroughly deserve all future success.