Southend Timeline

Bringing Your Memories Back to Life

Pier Hill.

Originally known as Royal Hill and in more recent times as Pier Hill, the sloping grass aera between the Pier Toll House and the aera of cliffs known as The Shrubbery (Never Never Land) gives a direct access route from the seafront to the lower end of the High Street, it has a long history of changes here we take a look back at just how much the area has changed.

However first things first just what was The Shrubbery... 

The Shrubbery

The Shrubbery is or was the land that later become home of Never Nevar Land, the site was originally a public park which you could buy a ticket to visit. The site became Never Never Land, when Never Never Land closed the site become an open public park.

          The read about the history of Never Never Land see here:

                               Never Never Land History 


      Two rare tickets to visit the Shrubbery (unknown years)



Pier Arcade

Since 1804 very little development had taken place on the slopes, at the bottom sat a few wooden huts including Ingrams Hot Baths, a few shops and a cafe.

With the ever increasing number of people coming into Southend the area was looking tired and decrepit and was crying out for a major make over.

The Southend Corporation (Pier Committee) elected to sponsor a competition to have the sloping site alongside the Pier Toll House developed into a new attraction for the town.

At the closing date of the competition fourteen companies or individuals had submitted designs; the winning design came from Southend based architect James Thompson.

However the winning design was not progressed until December 1895, with building starting in 1896.

A number of disputes between the building contractor and the Corporation and problems stabilising the land caused a number of delays and increased the cost of the project. 


 The building project was opened in the Summer of 1898.

First Promenade: Photographic Studio, Clock Tower, Bandstand, reading room, shelter & several shops.

Seafront Promenade: Shops, Alcove Seats.

The new facility also included heated Sea water baths, restaurant, toilets, cloak rooms and waiting rooms. the final cost of the scheme was £14,675.

The bandstand and clock tower were demolished in the 1930’s, these were replaced by another retail unit.

Over the years the use of the facility would change regularly, the Southend Corporation used the building for its Tourist Information Centre and Pier & Foreshore Offices, an aquarium was also opened in the arcade during the mid 1960’s.

However the structure was becoming more difficult to maintain and the old problem of the stability of the cliffs and natural spring water courses running throughout the cliffs caused many problems, these eventually caused the closure of the buildings in the early 1970’s.

The site was demolished in 1977 and landscaped to form the Pier Hill green however evidence of the sites previous use was evident as the top of the arched shop fronts could still be seen just poking above the hill.  Also still present was the two windows that looked into the swimming baths, these were found on the steps that run up the side of Jenny’s Cafe they had been bricked and concreted over when the rest of the buildings had been demolished but the recesses had survived, the grand staircase running down the western side of the site was also demolished. 


                                    Two views of Pier Hill the curved wall at the top is the remains of the grand staircase whilst the arches are remains of the shops. 

Looking down Pier Hill towards the Pier

"One Last Look"

A short video taking "one last look" at Southend's Pier Hill before it was rebuilt.



Queen Victoria

In 1897 the Mayor Bernard-Wiltshire Tolhurst donated a white stone stature of Queen Victoria to the Borough of Southend-on-Sea.  The statue to celebrate the monarchs Diamond Jubilee was placed on a small flat area outside the Grand Pier Hotel on grove Terrace. 

In 1962 the stature was relocated to Clifftown Parade, during her time on Pier Hill a long standing joke was that she was pointing towards the toilets down on the sea front!

On the 23rd August 1974 English Heritage placed the statue onto the national listed buildings register (English Heritage Building ID: 122895)

In 1989 the city of Victoria in British Colombia, Canada approached Southend Council with a request to buy the statue and ship it all the way to sit outside their own Provincial Government offices, the request was politely turned down!

An age old problem with the stone statue was the pointing hand, it kept being stolen so for a number of years the Queen was left handless.

Queen Victoria seen in a postcard view on top of Pier Hill

 That was until May 2007 when fine art student Laura Keeble cast 14 plaster hands and placed them around the bottom of the statue.

In October 2008 Southend Council contracted Southend based sculptors Bedini & Sons to carve a new hand to the Queen, the new hand was carved from white Carrara marble from Italy.

The move from Pier Hill to Clifftown Parade was the first and so far the only move for the now 115 year old three ton statue however in March 2011 a proposal was put forward to relocate the Queen from Clifftown Parade to the newly refurbished Victoria Gateway (Victoria Circus) it was rejected by the council.

Her Royal Highness still sits tall and proud on top of the Cliffs pointing out to sea.



    Queen Victoria in Clifftown Parade 2011                                                                                                                                                                        Queen Victoria's new hand




Pier Hill Demolition

The site was to remain this way until the complete renovation of Pier Hill in this saw the last remaining elements of the Pier Arcade finally being demolished. 
During the excavation works parts of the pier arcade buildings were found including a tiled wall, and various other small parts of demolition rubble. 

These next few photos take a look at the demolition of the 1977 Pier Hill, and the remnants discovered of the 1898 Pier Hill.










 The "Queens Seat" the small flat aera was the spot the statue of Queen Victoria sat                                                            Work just starting on removing the hill.

                      The two small windows are from the Swiming Baths                                                               What were windows were also discoverd during the works

                    The red phone boxes that once stood at the very top of Pier Hill and the shelter.






             The ornate railings that once stood along Pier Hill

                  A tiled wall still in good condition                                                                                                 Small remnants of more walls were also found.

The new Pier Hill

The redevelopment of Pier Hill saw the winding pathways, more staircases added along the length of the hill, and sloping landscaping with meandering walkways snaking their way through the old hill.  Something the old Pier Hill had lacked was seating the redevelopment saw dozens of extra seats installed along with flowerbeds and trees.  The historic Grand Staircase was also rebuilt in the same position as it was when the 1898 scheme was completed. 

The cost of rebuilding Pier Hill cost £5.8m, the money came from two grants one from The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (£3.7m) with the second coming from The European Union Objective 2 scheme.  Pier Hill was formally opened on 19th January 2005 by Keith Hill MP, Minister for the Thames Gateway

The design of Pier Hill was to develop an open gateway between the Seafront & the Pier with the High Street.


Two views of the redeveloped Pier Hill in the snow, photographed in 2010



The popular viewing tower forms a striking feature on the seafront. Two lifts are provided to access the upper lever of Pier Hill leading to the High Street. (photographed 2011)



Another view of the viewing tower. (photographed 2011)

The Fountain

Another attraction that was part of the redeveloped Pier Hill was a fountain that was located opposite to the entrance of the Pier.  The fountain featured dancing spouts of water that would alter the timing and height they would shoot into the air, childen would play chicken as thay darted through the resting spouts in the hope that they would not get a sudden soaking!

However drainage issues saw water seeping into the buldings below resulting the the taps being turned off until a solution could be found, the problem persisted so the fountain was removed a short time later.


          Pier Hill Fountain during its working life, photographed 2007                                                                               The fountain after its removeal, photographed 2011

Southend Pier Hill Fountain Video



Another aspect of the redevelopment of Pier Hill was the installation of a piece of public art.

In 2006 Southend Borough Council were awarded £390,000 by the Arts Council to install a new public art installation on the newly redeveloped Pier Hill.  

The new art work that was commissioned was to be a “living” piece designed by Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier and named “Lifelines”
The new installation was a 54-metre-long sculpture with a width of 0.5meters.

The artwork featured six lines of coloured panels in the walkway leading to a large clear acrylic box structure the coloured panels in the walkway then continued on the other side box.

The large clear acrylic box structure measured 9m long x 0.5m wide with a height of 2m.  Inside the box of the artwork, were 6 individual 1.8M high polycarbonate sheets. Each of these was etched with an “ECG” style "heartbeat" along its length, which was illuminated by the LED channels underneath the box.

The name “Lifelines” came from the fact that was well as the box and lights in the path a weather monitoring station was erected at the top of Pier Hill.  It would collect information on wind speed, barometric pressure, humidity, light, sound and movement, this was then sent to a data logger that processed the information via an onsite computer to continuously pulsate and change the colours of each life line. 

There was in excess of 100,000 LED's and 1024 DMX addresses to produce a feature that responded to the residents and visitors of Southend.





      Lifelines working as it should have. Photographed 2006 

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Lifelines weather monitoring station

Lifelines worked well in the first few years of it's "life" but it was targeted by vandals who would scratch their names into it, condensation also became a problem as air could not pass freely inside the box, these issues soon led to it breaking down.  The continued problems in maintianing and keeping the artwork going, the council voted to remove and place Lifeline in to storeage at the cost of £20,000.

Lifelines was finally removed in March 2011.

 One last look...

Two view of Lifelines in March 2011, just days before it was removed. 


Lifelines today... its gone!

NOTE: I would be very intrested to hear from anyone who has video of Lifelines working


A hidden piece of history...

Dispite the rebuilding of Pier Hill one small part of the old hill surrives hidden away in plain sight... 

Behind this rather unassuming gate sits a little piece of history...

 Photographed on a snowy February day in 2012


A shelter under the upper level was provided half way up Pier Hill with a row of seats inside, remarkably the shelter and the seats surrived and today sit quietly behind the locked gate and a stone wall.



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