House of fun
PUBLISHED: 17:12 20 June 2014 | UPDATED: 17:12 20 June 2014
Clacton on Sea is one of the UK's most famous seaside resorts. Lily Floyd looks at an historic attraction that provides entertainment whatever the weather
Clacton on Sea boasts many attractions and charms; it is the largest town in the Tendering peninsula, a seaside resort for day visitors and holidaymakers and is home to the largest pleasure pier in the UK at more than 6 acres.
In fact, Clacton Pier has been an iconic part of the district’s tourism heritage since it first opened its gates to the public in July 1871. It was originally built to accommodate the movement of manufactured goods, products and many other items. But piers and promenades offered a new type of day out at the seaside for the Victorians and Clacton became a popular holiday destination for the working and middle classes.
Cabinet member for tourism, events and leisure services, Councillor Mark Platt, has lived in Tendering most of his life and loves the district for its diversity and mass appeal. Mark says: ‘Whether you are looking for an award-winning coastline, exciting family attractions, incredible heritage or beautiful countryside, then Tendring holds the answer. Everyone associates Clacton with the pier, as it has been providing entertainment and wonderful memories for residents and visitors for more than 140 years. If you are looking for a family attraction that brings together the best traditions of an English seaside resort with the modern twist to keep everyone entertained, then the pier is everything you could wish for and more.’
Clacton Pier has had several owners since opening, which has led to many developments and investments over the years to help maintain it. In 1994 a local family, The Harrisons, bought the pier and embarked on a refurbishment programme which saw most of the rides upgraded and the whole pier cosmetically improved. The Harrisons ran a successful operation until they made the decision to exit the leisure industry and the pier was sold to the current owners, the Ball family, on March 16, 2009.
Billy Ball, owner of The Clacton Pier Company, explains why running the pier with his brother Elliot means everything to him. ‘It has always been a dream of mine to be running Clacton Pier, ever since I was young boy,’ says Billy. ‘I’m actually living the dream at the moment and it feels fantastic. There is so much opportunity for Clacton Pier, even though we are very focused on the traditional side of things, there are other avenues which we are exploring at the moment.’
Today, Clacton Pier still provides a great British day out beside the seaside for the whole family to enjoy, with a wide variety of entertainment including rides, adult gaming, amusements and much more. The Ball family has also continued to heavily invest in the pier to ensure it will be there for future generations to enjoy, but to also entertain and amuse today’s visitors.
Billy adds: ‘We are improving and creating new experiences for the public and we are really focusing on developing areas that have been closed for quite a long time. We have just started working on the small aquarium, which is going to take around 18 months to complete. We have invested a lot of money into this, to bring it up to date and to make it very educational and informative. There will also be a go karting track in the former swimming pool area, which has been closed for several years. It’s due to open at the end of July, which is exciting.’
In 1922, Ernest Kingsman purchased the pier after it had gone into administration, with plans to turn it into a leisure and entertainment centre. By the start of World War II, he had invested around £250,000 into Clacton Pier’s redevelopment including building the Ocean Theatre, Children’s Theatre, Blue Lagoon Dance Hall, Crystal Casino, an open-air swimming pool, open-air stage for the Ramblas Concert Party and the Steel Stella Roller Coaster, which was later destroyed by a fire in 1973. During the war the pier was damaged by enemy action and was also breached to prevent its use by an invasion force.
Peter Watts has been an employee at Clacton Pier for more than 30 years and has very fond memories of the pier. Peter explains: ‘As a teenager the pier became one of my favourite places to visit. It offered my first taste of amusement rides and I still have memories of going on the original Steel Stella Roller Coaster for the first time. There have been lots of days when you do something out of the ordinary. I remember playing ball with Nemo the killer whale and opening a new ride like the Whirlwind Looping Coaster and watching all the happy faces coming off the ride for the first time. It definitely brings a sense of achievement.’
Peter adds: ‘The pier has certainly never stood still. Attractions have come and gone and newer ones have taken their place. Certainly the Kingsman family paved the way for how the pier has evolved over the years. Without their expansion of the original wooden pier, I doubt Clacton would have a pier now. Most of what you see today is built on the foundations of the Kingsman family’s investment.’ n
No 1 North Sea
Clacton on Sea
01255 421 115