FIRES, crashes, deaths, disaster - no matter the knock-backs over the decades nothing has managed to sink Southend’s famous pier.

And now the landmark 1.3 mile structure has been voted the Pier of the Year by the National Piers Society.

Much has been written about the pier’s many fires, including the devastating blazes of 1995 and 2005, about the important role that the pier played during the Second World War and about the many famous faces who have filmed here thanks to Jamie Oliver’s cafe.

But to mark this latest award here are 25 facts about the world’s longest pleasure pier that you might not be aware of:

1. When the iron pier was being constructed in the late 1880’s to replace Southend’s original wooden pier, it wasn’t plane sailing. Not everyone was in favour of the project due to the cost. There was increasing concern that the timber used for the planks on the walkway were rotting with wood worm. The project was almost halted several times and council meetings got very heated when the issue was raised. The iron pier was finally completed in 1889, at a cost of almost £70,000 (equivalent to around £10million today).

2. In October 1874 crowds of tourists were left horrified after a ‘fashionably attired gentleman’’ walked ‘with great speed’ to the end of the pier, took a revolver out of his coat pocket, pressed the weapon to his stomach and fired. He died on the spot.

3. To mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 a yacht race around the British Isles was organised. The race was to start in Southend. The Prince of Wales and a great entourage came down to the town to launch the event. To cater for such a distinguished guest £200 was splurged on a new jetty to be built next to the pier for ships to dock and for the prince to stand on. It was quickly lambasted as a complete waste of money as it was so poorly built it was useless. On the bright side, 5,000 people flocked to Southend to enjoy the event.

4. In 1900 the pier was becoming so popular with visitors from east London that a new saying was doing the rounds: “When good West Ham councillors die, they go to Southend!” The appeal of the pier became so great that one newspaper printed an ‘interview with the Pier’. It took the form of a female visitor writing about her visit to Southend and asking the pier questions, to which it responded!

5. In 1901 the pier made £5,000 in profit and it was hailed as one of the most successful years in the pier’s history. Some 260,000 people arrived at the pier by steamboat in the same timeframe. Two years later 1903 more than a million people paid to use the pier.

6. Back in July 1902 a party of 200 ‘bean feasters’ caused a huge rumble on the pier when they wanted to return to their steamer after a day out boozing in Southend but refused to pay the 1 penny toll to get back to their boat. They tried to force their way though and police had to be called to sort out the fracas.

7.When councillors voted to spend more than £18,000 on expanding and improving the pier in 1903 many fought the plans. One member of the corporation blasted: “to spend money on this poor old pier would be waste of money. If they are going to spend £18,000 at all, let them spend it on a little pier at Westcliff, with a big concert hall at the end.”

8. Over the years a number of people have shot themselves on the pier. One of them was Henry Appleton. In October 1904 Appleton, a clerk from London, left his office, took the train to Southend, walked up the end of the pier then pulled out a gun and shot himself. Appleton, who had an important role at the London County Education offices was worried about his job and his mother’s health. He had asked his co-workers what time the next train to Southend was earlier in the day, stressing: “I want to get there as soon as possible,”

Echo: Landmark - a shot of the pier in the early 1900sLandmark - a shot of the pier in the early 1900s (Image: Newsquest)

9. In 1904 George Reeves, a hotel owner visiting Southend from London was travelling on the conductor’s platform on an electric car on the pier when he fell and grasped the brake-wheel. He was electrocuted so badly the fingers on his left hand were burned to the bone and his right hand was singed.

10. Many ships and barges have crashed into the pier over the years. In December 1907 A hay barge named ‘the Robert’ on its way from Rochford to Greenwich, slammed into the pier. The crew, including the captain and his dog, had to jump to safety. In 1908, a hulk ship named The Marlborough broke free of its mooring during a gale and crashed into the south side of the pier. In 1933 the barge, Matilda Upton from Ipswich, collided with the pier.

11. In January 18, 1921, the pier was sliced in half by a 200 tonne ship named Violette. The motor-driven, three-masted Violette, which was laden with a cargo of 241 tons of iron girders and logs, crashed into the end of the pier with her engines at full throttle. The ship, which was carrying a crew of eight, was bound from Antwerp to London but had faced increasingly bad weather since she set off. The accident left a 180ft gap on the west side of the pier and dislodged countless wooden piles, causing more than £7,000 of damage.

12. In 1926 a woman named Genevieve Parker tried to drown her son by throwing him off the pier. The boy, named Peter, who was eight, was heard yelling “mummy mummy!” from the waters below. The 42-year-old mum was seen in a distressed state on the pier, pleading with people to save her son and saying “did I throw him in? I don’t know why I did it”. A man named Tom Purbrick who was at the end of the pier jumped in the water and saved the lad. The mother was taken away by police and Peter was looked after by the authorities. At a court hearing the mum yelled out to Peter as he walked into the court: “you still love mummy, don’t you?”. Little Peter didn’t reply. The mum was accused of being ashamed of the boy because he was black, something she denied. After a lot of legal wrangling she was remanded in custody.

13. In 1927 two huge oak chests were strapped to the end of the pier for an entire year. People were bewildered by why they were there and what was inside them. Lots of rumours about the contents spread but the truth was rather mundane. Inside the chests were hundreds of yards of British sisal hemp and manilla hemp. Basically, the materials needed to make rope. There were holes in the chests to let in the water at high tide. It was all an experiment to test the strength of the ropes and hopefully prove that British-made rope was just as good as imported rope and was strong enough to withstand the elements.

14. In August 1930 a group of young women were turned away from Southend Pier because they were wearing beach pyjamas. The party had set off from Canvey but as they tried to dock at the pierhead some of the women were refused entry by a pier official for being ‘indecently clad’. The girls were wearing the latest fashion in beach costumes - bright cretonne trousers and jumpers, no stocking, white shoes and white sailor hats. The young women were not happy and branded the men of Southend “a silly stuffy lot of old fogies”.

15. Alcohol has been part of the pier’s entertainment appeal for many decades, but it wasn’t always so. Booze wasn’t allowed to be served on the pier until after the war. In July 1935 the catering manager at the pier applied to get an occasional licence so that alcoholic drinks could be served during the centenary celebrations of the pier. It was flatly refused.

16. In October 1937 Irene Goddard, aged 23, who had been reported missing from her Westcliff home was found dead on the live rail of the pier’s electric tramway.

17. When the Second World War broke out the pier was closed to the public and was turned into HMS Leigh. Once it did reopen visitor numbers swelled – exceeding pre-war levels and peaking at a colossal 5.75 million from 1949 to 1950. This new chapter brought new attractions to the pier including the Sun Deck Theatre, the Solarium Cafe, as well as amusements and a Hall of Mirrors.

18. In 1959, a fire destroyed the pavilion located at the shore end of the pier. Over 500 people were trapped on the other side of the blaze and had to be rescued by boat.

19. In 1962 the pier opened its new tenpin bowling centre. The 18- lane Excel Pavilion was a knockout success and within weeks special arrangements had to be made to open the bowling centre round the-clock.

For several months 24-hour bowling lanes were in operation on the pier with people coming night and day to experience the thrill of bowling over the estuary. Each week a special guest would be invited along to have a go at getting a strike.

Echo: Pier of many uses - Angling on the pier in the 1920s. As well as fishing competitions the pier hosted beauty pageants, concerts and daredevil displays on a regular basis.Pier of many uses - Angling on the pier in the 1920s. As well as fishing competitions the pier hosted beauty pageants, concerts and daredevil displays on a regular basis. (Image: Newsquest)

20. In 1971 a child from Rayleigh was almost killed after plunging through rotting planking on the pier. Four-year-old Cheryl Byfield had playfully jumped off a bench onto the pier deck when the plank sea-sawed and tiny Cheryl fell through the gap and plunged 30ft into the water below. Fortunately, the tide was just deep enough to carry her to a stanchion and she clung on for dear life. She was plucked out of the sea by family members and taken to hospital for shock. An investigation into the accident was called for and the report uncovered several serious structural failings on the pier.

21. The pier became the scene of an illegal immigration swoop in 1971 when a a Dutch ship was boarded by the police just off the Southend coast.

Inside the ship - the Noorderhaven - the authorities found five men from India who were huddled inside a tiny, dark locker, with hardly any belongings and no documents.

The Noorderhaven had been on its way from Rotterdam to Greenwich when it was intercepted following a lengthy collaboration with Essex Police and the Dutch authorities.

The ship was anchored close to Southend Pier for one night while the Dutch captain – suspected of smuggling illegal immigrants - refused to get off. The five men were eventually taken by the Home Office, refused entry to the UK and sent back to India. The drama led to the leaders of a huge Dutch smuggling ring being arrested.

22. In June 1974 the pier was finally declared saved from the scrapheap. After mighty protests from residents, the council - which wanted to pass plans to demolish the pier due to rising maintenance costs - agreed a £1.5 million investment over 10 years.

23. Part of the old wooden pier was saved and used to build the Southend Mayoral Chair in 1892. The ornately carved chair is on display at Porters in Southend.

24. The pier was once destined to get its own rollercoaster. In 2008 businessman Tony Garner came up with plans to build the world’s biggest rollercoaster at the end of the pier as part of a £50million scheme to spruce up the seafront. Alas, it never came to fruition.

25. Southend may be the world’s longest pleasure pier but the longest disembarkation pier in the world is the Progreso Pier in Mexico which juts a titanic four miles to sea.