Gravesend Town Pier was designed by William Tierney Clark and built in 1834 by local resident William Wood at a cost of £8,700. The new pier was constructed on the site of the earlier Town Quay, which is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Astonishingly, over 3 million passengers used the pier from 1835 to 1842. In its heyday, the pier was a bustling hive of activity but around the turn of the 20th century, Gravesend Pier fell into disuse due to the arrival of the South Eastern Railway’s North Kent Line.
A slow decline
As Gravesend’s residents could now reach many destinations far quicker by rail, the pier’s importance for commuting to London declined sharply, although it was still being used for leisure cruises.
There was still a glimmer of hope for the pier as, In 1854, the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway opened on the north bank of the Thames. This brought a lot of new people to the area and the pier began to thrive once more.
Ownership of Gravesend Town Pier changed a few times over the years and in 1930, a new landing stage and terminus station for serving ferry customers was opened in an attempt to further revive the pier’s flagging popularity. Unfortunately, the pier just couldn’t compete with other forms of transport and the station eventually closed in 1992.
The continuing decline of the pier’s structure prompted Gravesham Borough Council (along with English Heritage, English Partnerships, Heritage Lottery Fund, Kent County Council, and Manifold Trust) to restore this fabulous structure in 2000. Just a couple of years later the renovation project had been completed and the ferry service does still continue to this day thanks to local subsidies.
A new lease of life
In another attempt to boost Gravesend pier’s popularity, the council included a restaurant/bar at the end of the pier. After suffering financial hardship, the original company that ran the bar went bust, but the batton was picked up by another company and is now the well-known Riva Restaurant. If you’ve not visited Riva, it’s worth popping along for a bite to eat as the views overlooking the Thames are pretty good, and with the amount of passing traffic on the river, there’s always something interesting to look at.
There were plans for a steel pontoon joining the pier that would be able to accommodate smaller boats, yachts and the famous Waverley paddle steamer, which is the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world – The 45 metre long pontoon was finally completed in 2012, heralded by the firing of a water cannon being fired, which also celebrated 180 years since the pier original construction.
In another twist of fate in the pier’s chequered history, the pier’s access bridge was damaged in June 2017, meaning that it was once again closed to the public whilst it underwent repairs. Fortunately, to the delight of regular passengers who used the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry, the pier was opened again less than a month later. Gravesend Pier is still important today for commuters that need to cross the River Thames to and from Gravesend and Tilbury as it’s the last available crossing before the Dartford Tunnel and QE2 bridge further out to the east.
The pier may appear unassuming and is perhaps regarded as nothing special, but it’s actually the oldest surviving cast iron pier in the world and as such, is Grade II listed.