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1959: Southend Pier fire traps hundreds

VIDEO : Pavilion goes up in blaze

Three hundred people have been rescued after being cut off by a blaze on the world's longest pleasure pier on England's south-east coast.

The visitors became stranded when a large wooden pavilion at the shore end of the pier caught fire in the early evening.

The pavilion, which is used for holding conferences and other functions, was empty at the time.

Most of the trapped people had been at the far end of the pier when the blaze started.

They had to walk most of the nearly 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) back because the electricity to the pier's railway had been cut off.

However, they were not able to pass the burning pavilion and had to complete the journey by climbing down the pier structure and boarding boats to shore.

Firefighters from surrounding districts joined those in Southend to help put out the flames.

They were watched by a large crowd on the sea front - many of whom had come to see the pier's famous illuminations.

It took nearly two hours to bring the fire under control.

The pier's manager, Frank Flintoff, said the pavilion was very badly damaged but he expected the pier to be open the following day.

Southend Pier was first opened in 1830.

It immediately became a popular feature of the Essex resort which the Victorians called "Whitechapel-on-Sea" because of the number of Londoners from the East End who visited.

During World War II the pier was taken over by the Navy and was used as an assembley and loading point for convoys.

In Context
The fire caused damage estimated at 100,000.

The pavilion gutted by the fire was replaced with a ten-pin bowling alley which opened in 1962.

But fires continued to be costly for the pier.

A second serious blaze in 1976 severely damaged the pier head and the railway was forced to close in 1978 for safety reasons.

After years of local campaigning the pier was re-built and offically re-opened in 1984.

However, another fire in 1995 again destroyed much of the shore end of the pier including the bowling alley.

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