SOUTHEND’S new City Wheel, with its skyscraper views and amazing lights, is sure to become a landmark tourist attraction to our city.

But while this exciting seafront ride is sure to entice the crowds, there was once a water ride in Southend that was destined to become iconic - but ended up being more of a damp squib.

Many people have heard of the Water Chute – an amusement ride at the historic Kursaal in Southend which lasted for decades in the park’s heyday.

But long before that amusement arrived there was once a water chute built next to Southend Pier. It opened in 1902 but it didn’t make a splash. It’s not much of surprise – half the town were against the thing in the first place and when it did get built a surprising amount of dead bodies kept being found at the bottom of it.

The water chute was built to entice in more day-trippers and holidaymakers. It was positioned east of the pier entrance complete with a basin that would be filled with seawater, which would change with each tide.

But local residents, especially those who worked on the water, weren’t so keen on the idea.

In February 1902 a meeting was convened to discuss the project. Southend Town Council decided to erect the water chute near the pier pavilion but the local watermen had put forward a petition against the scheme. Sixty names had signed it.

The boatmen complained the structure was ‘an undue interference to the tide-way and would be detrimental to them in rough seas. They also feared it would create a nuisance by accumulating seaweed as well as interfering with the general cleanliness of the beach.

It also soon came to light that the original plans for the water chute were wrong. The wall of the structure had to be made far higher than originally thought due to the danger of the ‘water getting in at high tide’.

In short, the whole project was a bit of a debacle but the project was pushed through anyway at what seems like breakneck speed.

The venture started off okay, however, and by the Bank Holiday Weekend of Easter, 1903 it proved to be the star attraction for daytrippers who as usual, flocked to the growing seaside resort of Southend. But it quickly ran into trouble when something went wrong with the machinery.

A report in the Southend Standard described the scene: “The water chute started operation on Good Friday, and continued on Saturday, though not with perpetual success.

“Large crowds waited to go down, but had to be refused. It was evident there was a ‘screw loose’ somewhere.”

In short a bolt had come out somewhere on the ride. It took a while to fix.

At this time Southend was also celebrating the installation of its first bandstand which was erected on the cliffs and drew in hundreds of visitors who flocked to listen to music and dance to the popular music of the time.

It seems, however, that within just a few months of opening the water chute was being looked upon as an eyesore.

Southend councillor George Allen blasted: “Our seafront and foreshore must be improved, but in a reasonable and practical manner.

“From the first I was opposed to the eyesore of our esplanade water chute. I was one of the two East Ward members to vote against it.”

The attraction remained open, sporadically for a few years, but soon began gathering dust. The site quickly became synonymous with the gruesome discoveries of dead bodies.

Early one Sunday morning in 1905, the body of a woman was found floating in the water chute basin.

The body was that of 41-year-old Laura Taylor, the wife of a London police officer. Her story was tragically sad. A subsequent inquest heard how 13 months earlier she and her husband had lost their child.

Her husband told the inquest how she would frequently say how she longed to be with her baby. Her husband tried to console her, but the love of the mother for her lost one finally led her to take her own life by travelling to Southend and drowning herself. A bag belonging to her was found on the shore. It contained a gold brooch and a sheet of notepaper, on which was written “Section 13. No. 147, Row Kl.” This was the number of her child’s grave.

By 1906 the water chute was irking local traders and residents who deemed it an eyesore. So many people were chucking rubbish into the water chute the council put up a board warning offenders they would be fined.

In April of 1908 at about 3pm in the afternoon a man named George Nunn, of Prittlewell Street, Southend discovered the body of a fully-developed male child lying in the tank of the water chute.

With the assistance of a passerby he recovered the body, which was wrapped in white apron with bib and bands, a white cloth, and a piece waterproof sheeting. The child had evidently been neglected at birth, and the body was removed to the mortuary – that time located underneath Southend Pier – to await an inquest. The coroner ruled there were marks of violence on the child’s body and the probable cause of death was ‘want of attention from birth’.

In July 1910 there was a water chute mystery that made headlines. An inquest was held at the Park Hotel after the body of Ellen Turner, aged 53, from Plaistow was found early on a Wednesday morning at the bottom of the water chute.

The first witness called was Coastguard member Thomas Dennison, stationed at Shoebury who stated that on Wednesday morning he was passing the water chute basin, when he saw what looked like ‘bundle of clothes’ floating in the water. He gave information to the police, and when a constable came, they got the deceased out.

George Turner, the husband of the woman, stated at the inquest that for some weeks past his wife had been “somewhat low and depressed, but had not been as bad as to warrant medical attention By 1909 there had been calls for the chute to be made into a swimming or boating pool. There was even an attempt to dismantle the chute and transport it piece by piece it to Weston-Super-Mare where it would be re-built, but the builders in charge of the project went bankrupt In 1912 the Southend Standard carried the headline “Exciting incident at the water chute”. While patrolling Eastern Parade in the small hours a police inspector heard cries of “help! help!” coming from the direction of the pier.

He ran in the direction the shouting was coming from and found it was coming from the water chute. He looked over and was able to make out the shape of a young man who was struggling in the water.

It turned out the lad was William Bray, from Manor Park who had been homeless, sleeping on the seafront for several nights. Had had come down to the town to look for a summer job.

On the night in question he had walked to the edge of the chute, sat down and went to sleep. The next thing he knew he woke to find himself in the water. He had rolled off the chute wall while asleep.

He admitted he had almost given up hope by the time help arrived and truly believed he was going to drown.

Eventually the chute itself was removed but the basin remain. It was turned into a site for boating and swimming and later became the location for the popular Golden Hind replica ship.