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Unveiling Clacton Pier: Where History Meets the Sea! Delve into the captivating narrative of one of England’s most iconic seaside landmarks. From its humble beginnings to its present-day allure, embark on a journey through time and tides along the enchanting shores of Clacton-on-Sea. Dive into nostalgia today!


Clacton Pier opened on July 18 when the SS Queen of the Orwell was the first ship to call there.

The structure was just 300 yards long (lengthened to 390 yards and widened in 1890) and vessels could only berth at high tide. The pier had been granted parliamentary approval in 1866 after permission had been sought by Peter Bruff, founder of the town, who needed a way of accommodating passenger ships coming to Clacton.

Its main use was as a landing platform and jetty for various goods and products, but it was soon realised that both the pier and town promenades offered a popular day out for Victorians who flocked there in their droves. The first proper building came in 1893 when the Pier Pavilion (now the Jolly Roger) was erected, with its primary purpose as a theatre.


Mr Kingsman announced that he had bought the pier after it had gone into administration, and he formed the new Clacton Pier Company. It took just a year for him to realise that the structure’s future lay not in its current role as a landing stage but as an entertainment complex. This coincided with the arrival of a young man, Bert E Harvey – stage name Clown Bertram, who went on to become one of the pier’s most famous entertainers.

Kingsman soon added a large amusement hall called the Crystal Casino in the centre of the pier and it was fitted out with all the latest slot machines of the day. The 1,000-seater Ocean Theatre followed in 1928 and put on summer variety shows.

An open air Olympic-sized swimming pool – the first to be built on a pier anywhere in the country – was unveiled in 1932 and a further theatre, an open-air stage, was created as a home for the Ramblas Concert Party. The Blue Lagoon Dance Hall was created two years later on the right-hand side of the pier.


Among the new attractions added by Kingsman was the wooden Steel Stella roller coaster, erected at a cost of £2,000 and it became an iconic symbol of the attraction. By the end of the 1930s other rides included dodgems, racing cars, a ghost train, electric boats and a seaquarium and by then Kingsman had invested about £250,000 (approximately £18million in today’s money). Around 40,000 people were attracted daily.

War broke out in 1939 and the pier closed. During the conflict the structure was hit by a mine which left a hole 60ft across and the pier was also breached to prevent any invasion by the enemy. Ernest Kingsman died in 1942 and his wife Ada, and son, Barney, took over the business. The pier partly re-opened after the war and it was fully open by 1948.

The pier had lost its Children’s Theatre and Crystal Casino during the war, but a Helter Skelter was added to the site and steamers returned.



In the 1960s austerity was receding and travelling abroad was becoming easier and more affordable. By 1971 Kingsman took the difficult decision to sell the pier. His family had totally transformed the venue, creating one of the UK’s leading attraction centres on a par with those in Blackpool and Brighton.

In June it was announced that Clacton Pier had been sold to the Goss family, also owners of Walton Pier. Michael and his wife, Sandra, took over the helm at Clacton and the first thing they did was to close the pool and open a dolphinarium. Mr Goss brought in his great friend, Reg Bloom, to take on the running of the dolphinarium under the brand of North Sea World.

The family also decided to enhance the Ocean Theatre season and brought in several regular top names including Bob Monkhouse, Dick Emery, and Leslie Crowther – as well as daytime children’s shows. The Blue Lagoon was converted into an amusement and bingo arcade.


A significant storm struck the pier and caused major damage. It was hit by 30ft waves and there were fears the structure would collapse due to the two days of bad weather in January. Sea lions and penguins had to be rescued. Fortunately, the dolphins, Bubble and Squeak, were wintering at Whipsnade. Repairs cost around £150,000 and Goss – true to his promise – managed to reopen the attraction just two months later.

Another freak storm hit around 12 months later. Again, the dolphinarium was badly affected along with the east side of the attraction. Killer whale, Suzie Wong, sea lions and penguins were rescued and transported to Windsor Safari Park. The pier reopened on March 9 – all except the dolphinarium which was closed for a couple of years.

The Goss family had also suffered a fire to the Steel Stella which had to be dismantled, and the plug had been pulled on the Ocean Theatre, bringing in the Ghost Safari ride and a shooting range to fill the space. Despite the pier thriving, the family decided to move to America.


A consortium headed up by Francis McGinty, who already had the bingo concession, bought the pier from Michael Goss in July. He was joined by his brother, Denis, John Threadwell, and David Howe who had been a manager at the attraction since 1955.

The consortium – under the name of Anglo Austrian Automatics – announced major plans for a £10million transformation over the next ten years and the first step was to reopen the dolphinarium and introduce three killer whales. One died and landed the pier in an international controversy with Greenpeace. Neptune died 18 months later, and Nemo eventually left for Windsor Safari Park in 1985.

A new ride, the roller coaster Whirlwind, was leased in and attracted more than 10,000 customers in the first week. In the same year the Jolly Roger reopened for the first time since 1964 and was home to Sally Chipperfield’s Circus. It was a one-season reprieve for the pier’s oldest building which returned to storage uses.


Two new features, the Cockney Pride pub and Oscars nightclub, were introduced in 1982 and 1983. Oscars went on to become one of the pier’s greatest successes. It lasted for 16 years and played host to some of the top bands, DJs and solo artists. Among them were Blur, The Prodigy and Boy George. It was voted among the top three nightclubs in Britain for several years by BBC Radio 1 listeners.

An ice-skating rink was created on the left-hand side of the pier in the “Pleasure Dome” and was then turned into a roller-skating rink after a couple of years. It proved popular with disco sessions and a light and video show.

Four new rides, Star Cruiser, Space Shuttle, Star Fighter and Driving School took the total up to 23. In the same year the dolphinarium was converted into a Fun Lido with three water chutes.


After a poor summer season the consortium put the pier up for sale in December. The Receiver came in and there were 40 enquiries but, in the end, it was Francis McGinty who reconstructed the consortium, formed a new company – Total Quest Ltd – and bought the attraction back for £400,000.

They introduced helicopter rides as a new attraction but due to a change in legislation they only lasted a couple of seasons. Despite all the effort and investment, visitor numbers continued to fall, and the Fun Lido was closed.

By the early 1990s the only areas making money were the popular Oscars nightclub and the amusements. In 1993 McGinty again called in the Receivers. They recognised Oscars was the key to income. Elsewhere changes were made such as refurbishing the Big Wheel, a new entrance created to the Roller Rink and a new marketing campaign launched.


A change of fortunes came along when in October E&M Harrison, a local family who were owners of several amusement arcades, bought the pier. They also held the concession for all the amusements on the attraction which now had Ted Harrison and his son, also Ted, at the helm.

They announced a three-year plan and immediately set about a facelift which included a new Waltzer, the Twist, Truck Convoy and Teacups rides. The roller-skating rink was removed, and the dodgems restored with new cars. An amusement arcade was replaced by a fish and chip shop and a large amount of much-needed maintenance carried out.

The Harrisons also abolished the 50p entrance charge, making entry to the pier free for the very first time. They committed to keeping Oscars and The Cockney Pride open all year round and the Cockney Pride was transformed into a family pub.


The decision to close Oscars was finally taken and the emphasis was made to continue investment in creating a wholly family centred attraction. Part of the venue was turned into a ghost train. More investment followed with the Twister ride, followed by the Frog ride and Techno Jump. The Harrisons had already brought in more children’s rides, a Punch and Judy Show and special fireworks nights.

It was in 2004 that Ted Harrison Snr decided to retire, and Ted Jnr took over the reins. He continued for a further four years but in 2008 he decided to pursue other business interests and put the pier up for sale.

The family had achieved a major refurbishment, brought in a much-needed maintenance programme, updated rides, and reinvented the seaquarium. In short, they had brought back the visitor footfall.


On March 16 Billy and Elliot Ball took control of the pier having spent 14 months completing the deal along with their father, Billy Snr, and mother, Lynn. The two brothers, aged 28, and 25, who lived in Clacton, had been involved with amusement arcades and began in the area they knew best by bringing in new machines.

The next urgent job to tackle was the Cockney Pride, which had been closed for seven months. Work started the day the brothers took over and the pub reopened as the Boardwalk Bar and Grill four months later. In the same year the pair brought in the Helter Skelter along with the Wave Swinger Chairoplane.

Stella’s Revenge roller coaster, a nod to the pier’s history, opened in 2011 on the same footprint of the old Steel Stella, and the Lanes Bowling Centre opened that year in the area previously occupied by Oscars. The bowling centre was soon joined up with the amusement arcade.


The pier’s very first substantial building, the Jolly Roger, reopened in partnership with Circus Fantasia. It was the first time the site had a proper use for more than 30 years. The circus lasted for three years after which it returned to being a storage area. However, it was the start of ambitions to bring the venue back into a more permanent occupation.

The final remains of the old swimming pool had already disappeared and replaced by a Go-Kart track brought in from Germany as well as Bumper Boats. The Miami Beach Party ride was commissioned especially for the pier.

From the very outset the Balls realised the viability of the attraction they had purchased and focused on it becoming a 52-week a year business. As part of the master plan, preparations got underway in for the biggest investment they had undertaken.


Phase one of a multi-million-pound project to develop the main building on the east of the pier for Skull Point Adventure Golf, Discovery Bay Soft Play, Dockside Dodgems, the Galley Restaurant and Captain’s Table food outlet was born. Work started and the development opened in July 2018, on time and on budget.

Later that year, phase two of the project got underway and it was completed in March 2019. It included work on the pier’s central concourse – joining up the east and west sections.

Attention then moved to improvements on the ride deck and the Queen Mary building was demolished.


The scheme carried on into 2020 and on Valentine’s Day it was halted temporarily when the west corner of the ride deck collapsed due to the effects of Storm Ciara. This was followed weeks later by the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.

Not to be put off, work continued while the attraction was forced to close and the Log Flume (bought in 2018 along with the Looping Star Roller Coaster) was ready for use in August – following the pier’s reopening in July when Covid restrictions were lifted.

Also in 2020 the pier was named Pier of the Year by the National Piers Society, beating off stiff competition from 60 others around the country. It was a true honour and recognition of the efforts made under the Balls’ ownership. In December the attraction unveiled its new purpose-built Santa’s Grotto along with reindeer stables and animatronic characters.


The Wheel Experience arrived for the season as part of the pier’s 150th birthday celebrations. It was initially leased but after considerable success it was bought outright the following year and has a permanent site at the front of the attraction.

The Looping Star Roller Coaster, a replacement for Stella’s Revenge, opened in October 2021.

A book, ‘Clacton Pier – The first 150 years’, was published the following year in collaboration with well-known local author and historian Norman Jacobs and in November a decision was taken to close the seaquarium due to rising costs.


The seaquarium was replaced by Jurassic Pier, a new dinosaur attraction with walk-through experience and 4D cinema which opened at Whitsun.

That weekend The Jolly Roger staged four children’s shows with BBC personality Andy Day as part of the opening of Jurassic Pier and it reopened to the public again in September for an end of the pier variety show which was put on to celebrate Year of the Pier 2023.

In September/October the pier staged its first Oktoberfest in a marquee on the attraction’s forecourt. The event is now a regular in the calendar and was expanded from four days to nine to meet the demand form visitors.

This was also the year Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited the pier as part of a trip to Clacton to celebrate the Government allocating Levelling Up funding to the town.


The book has been written to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Clacton Pier. It is 220 pages and is lavishly illustrated with approximately 400 photographs.


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