Sweet smells of fresh doughnuts wafting through the air,
teeming waterfront cafes and screams of delight from thrill seekers on towering rollercoasters.
All things that accompany any trip to Southend on Sea’s seafront.
But overlooking all of it is the city’s most iconic landmark – the pier.
The grade II listed structure is the world’s longest pleasure pier, stretching 1.34 miles out into the Thames Estuary.
First opened in 1830 as a 600ft wooden walkway, the structure underwent various extensions before it was reopened as the iron pier in 1889.
Nine years later, the final extension was complete to garner its history-making title.
Visitors up for the challenge can stroll along the pathway or others may simply enjoy a relaxing journey on the famous railway.
But the pier is far more than just a tourist attraction, as the Pier Museum at the shore side can attest to, and played significant roles in both world wars.
In World War One, German prisoners of war were moored off the pierhead. POWs were escorted along the famous high street and the length of the pier to board their floating prisons.
Fast-forward 20 years to World War Two and the structure was taken over by the Royal Navy and renamed HMS Leigh.
Huge tethered balloons – known as barrage balloons – were hoisted into the air from the pier in order to ward off any advancing Luftwaffe bombers.
And it proved extraordinarily effective. Out of more than 84,000 ships that passed Southend, there was just one casualty – the SS Richard Montgomery
which is still visible at low tide to this day.
It’s no wonder it garnered the nickname Guardian of the Thames.
In the years since, the indomitable pier has withstood countless fires threatening to completely destroy it.
Most recently, in 2005, much of the wooden decking around the pier head went up in flames.
Still it stands – continuing to welcome over 300,000 visitors every year who stroll its length before grabbing a bite to eat at the several cafes and bars at the end.
No trip to the famous sight is complete without a visit to the Pier Museum, situated in the Old Pier Workshops underneath the train station.
Inside, the whole family can go back in time to experience the pier through the ages.
Working penny slot machines are ready for the kids to enjoy. DVD footage shows the history of the pier and its involvement in WW2 while display cabinets contain items from the time.
The Museum is a registered charity run entirely by volunteers, relying on the generosity of the public to remain open.
Open over weekends and Bank Holidays, it costs just £2.50 for visitors over 16 years to enter, with accompanied children under 16 going free.
Over Easter, entry is free for all ages.
If you would like to donate to this crucial accompaniment to Southend Pier, follow this link.
And if anyone would like to volunteer to work at the site, please email email@example.com.
Contact us: Swaines Industrial Estate, Ashingdon Rd, Rochford SS4 1RG – 0330 229 2121 – firstname.lastname@example.org