Where Is London's Longest Pier?

By Zoe Craig Last edited 11 months ago
Where Is London's Longest Pier?
Erith Pier, looking down the Thames towards the Dartford Bridge. Photo by Ray Wewerka.

You won't find London's longest pier on any helpful TfL river services maps.

It doesn't even feature on TfL's plans for extending the reach of the Thames Clippers 'as far afield as Barking'.

But London's longest pier was once an important part of many a city gentleman's daily commute.

Welcome to Erith: regeneration project; starting point of the LOOP; host of the Erith Oil Works, the Erith Playhouse Theatre, and the Erith Yacht Club... and home of London's longest pier.

The history of Erith Pier

Opened on 22 August 1842, the wooden pier at Erith expanded some 444ft into the river Thames.

Back in the early 1840s, the pier was a hugely exciting development. The accompanying Pier Hotel opened in 1844, offering holidaymakers a place to stop overnight, outside the city.

The Pier Hotel, Erith. Photo from around 1865.

Erith opened its Pleasure Gardens a year later, on 6 July 1845. It had all the usual Victorian entertainments: a broad walk, archery field, bowling green, conservatory, maze, refreshment rooms and a fountain.

According to the Erith Museum website, two ships, The Diamond and The Star travelled between London and Gravesend calling at the pier daily, offering the gentlemen of Erith a luxurious means of getting into their offices in central London.

One contemporary report stated, "Members of the stock exchange would board one of the steamers and engage in a hearty breakfast with wine, and were the worse for it early in the day, and quite wrong when they returned at night."

But Erith's days as a pleasure seekers' destination were numbered.

An early picture of the pier at Erith.

The stunning Victorian creation experienced a whole seven glorious years as a bustling commuter hub before the railway came to Erith in 1849, offering a quicker way for Erithians to get into the city.

Then, in April 1865, the Southern Outfall Works opened at Crossness, disgorging 70 million gallons of raw sewage into the river at high tide. It was assumed that the effluent would all float gently out into the North Sea. It didn't.

The pier, hotel and gardens were all sold at auction in 1865. In spite of various efforts to make the leisure businesses, increasingly engulfed by Thames industry, a success, they all failed.

Erith Pier as industrial wharf

Erith's long pier offered London's industrial ships a deep water wharf until the 1950s.

Erith's deep working wharf last century.

Cargoes such as coal and other bulky freight were unloaded to shore and over the side into smaller boats for shipment up the river. Seeds for the nearby oil mills and newsprint for Fleet Street were also unloaded at Erith.

Erith Pier today

By 1957, the wooden pier was no longer fit for purpose.

A new, concrete pier was built, shaped like a boomerang, around 360m long.

The unique shape means it reaches far enough into the river to defy the Thames tides, before bending to offer ships safe berths, parallel to the riverbank.

Erith Pier in 2011. Photo by Tom.

As part of the construction project, the Pier Hotel was demolished to make way for warehouses.

Through the 60s and 70s, Erith's industry declined, and much of the old town was demolished. The pier lay abandoned until the late 1990s.

Then in 1999, a Morrisons superĀ­market was built on the site of the old deep wharf, retaining the pier as a public amenity.

Erith Pier in 2008. Photo by Philip Anderson.

Erith Pier is now popular with anglers, ship-spotters, and walkers wanting a bit of peace and quiet. This blogger suggests it is 'rarely crowded' and 'feels like a genuine democratic space'.

Indeed, we defy you to read blogger Steve's post about the pier and not fancy taking a trip down to sunny Erith sometime soon.

Last Updated 13 December 2016