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Westcliff almost got its own pleasure pier – here’s how

Westcliff almost got its own pleasure pier – here’s how

But did you know that Westcliff was once destined to get its own pier – one that would have rivalled not only Southend’s 1.3-mile-long pier, but also Brighton’s historic palace pier?

Plans for a pier – in the then more affluent area of Westcliff –kept cropping up in the early 1900s but perhaps the closest the district ever came to getting its own pier came in the early 1920s when it really did look like the scheme would finally come to fruition.

At this time Southend Pier, located a mile or so away on the seafront, was getting plenty of attention from tourists and daytrippers. But the constant crowds were taking a toll on the pier. It needed to be expanded and upgraded.

The Southend Corporation turned down an offer from Leolyn Hart of Brixton – a famous London theatre artist and stage set producer – who had offered to spend a hefty sum expanding the pier.

After the refusal Hart suggested he could instead build a pier exclusively for Westcliff. The project was initially welcomed by the council and got as far as a detailed plans being drawn up.

The Westcliff pier was going to be 600ft long (though some wanted it to be 1,000ft), with a lavish dance hall to cater for an audience of up to 1,000 people.

The site for the proposed structure was to be a mile-and a-half west of Southend Pier, between Seaforth Road and Crowstone Road.

It was to cost £17,000 to construct and £800 per year to maintain.

It was said the pier was going to “rival the multiplicity of attractions at the Palace Pier, Brighton”.

It was to have a grand concert hall up to 90ft wide. There would also be dressing rooms for performers and the concert hall would have polished parquet flooring. A refreshment hall and a large promenade deck for concerts and shows were also to be included.

The structure would have taken up 14 acres of the foreshore and a sea wall with lock gates was also part of the scheme.

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But it wasn’t to be. In July of 1922 without fanfare and much to the dismay of many Westcliff residents, Southend councillors quietly announced they were not going ahead with the project. “Westcliff is consequently disappointed,” one newspaper report into the saga stated.

Echo: Headline shows how the scheme’s destiny changedHeadline shows how the scheme’s destiny changed (Image: Newsquest)

It seemed that warnings by opposition councillors that a pier in Westcliff would be ‘the goose that killed the golden egg’ when it came to Southend Pier, had won through.

If we look back in history, we can see plans for a pier in Westcliff had been rumbling since the early 1900s, long before the 1920s scheme was raised.

In 1908 a large and “enthusiastic” meeting of residents and local business owners and traders, was held at Kings Hall in Westcliff. At least 600 people flocked to the meeting which was held to address growing concerns over the severe lack of entertainment in Westcliff.

The meeting heard how Westcliff residents – after a hard day’s work – were having to walk all the way down to the Cliffs bandstand in Southend to hear live music. In fact, 90 per cent of people attending regular concerts at the bandstand were indeed from Westcliff.

Families wanted a bandstand of their own. But many also wanted their own pier. One of them was meeting goer ‘Mr Montague’– who said he wanted Westcliff to be “more jolly”. “We have to stick at home every night or go to the public house,” he said.

However, many were opposed to Westcliff getting its own pier or jetty because they believed it would ruin the front and destroy the character of the area’s residential properties. The pier plan was therefore put on ice.

In 1912, however, the dormant scheme was resurrected. The London Evening Standard newspaper wrote how: “Westcliff – the fashionable part of Southend, wants a pier of its own. Not only has the borough grown enormously of late years but the congestion on the present pier at Southend is quite sufficient to detract from its value.

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“The consequence is that, whilst the people of Westcliff have to travel a long way to get to the pier, they often find on arrival that it is crowded with excursionists.

“The corporation is agreeable to the wishes of Westcliff and it is also supported by the Westcliff Ratepayers Association. The opposition comes from ratepayers’ associations in the eastern part of the borough. and the question is now resolved into conflict between east and west.”

That same year a new £17,000 plan for a pier at Westcliff was made public.

This pier was to be located near Palmerston Road. Some plans stated it would be 300ft long, others 600ft. Again, the scheme included a bandstand. It was hoped to some of the thousands of revellers who regularly went to Southend pier for their jollies would defect to Westcliff once the scheme was completed.

A pivotal part of this pier scheme was that it would be a place where yachts could dock, but councillors including Captain Henry Cooney lambasted the idea, saying the pier should be situated in the most shallow part of the foreshore and that Palmerston Road was a silly idea.

He wanted the pier to start from Westcliff Yacht Club He ridiculed the plans at a council meeting, saying: “To provide landing for boats would be absolutely useless. The suggested pier is not a pier, it’s a pavilion on piles!”

Yet again, the scheme was shelved, but not for long.

A year later, in 1913, calls for a pier at Westcliff were still being made. At a meeting of the town council into whether to vote for a £19,000 upgrade scheme for Southend Pier which needed a huge makeover, one councillor said: “to spend money on this poor old pier would be a waste of money. If we are going to spend this money let it be on a little pier at Westcliff with a big concert hall at the end.”

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Of course, nothing happened. Southend Pier was upgraded, and Westcliff’s dream of a pier was thrown out.

After the 1922 saga, the scheme cropped up again in 1925. This time the suggested site was at the historic Crowstone monument and the backers were financiers from the ‘Chalkwell Hall Syndicate’. The pier was to be 800 yards long- and yet again it included plans for a concert hall.

One of the backers of the scheme intimated how Southend councillors needed to be put in their place and they had neglected Westcliff for far too long: “The corporation seem to think that all they need worry about is Southend. But Westcliff needs some place of entertainment.

“We are in negotiation with a syndicate controlling several piers around the coast and hope to see it erected in the near future,” he said.

Money issues, however, slashed the syndicate’s hopes of building the dream Westcliff pier.

In 1932 – you guessed it – the plan was back. This time the Westcliff pier was to cost £400,000 and would have a sunbathing station, seaweed baths, a ballroom a concert hall.

Underneath the pier would be a car park for 500 vehicles connected to a children’s boating pool.

None of the schemes succeeded of course and all these decades later we have to wonder if the project is dead in the water for good or could it return yet again? Time will tell.

  • June 25, 2023