The Birth of Clacton-on-Sea

This article was originally published by the Clacton & District Local History Society in the Clacton Chronicle, Issue No.13, Winter 1996/97, author is Kenneth Walker.

… I have always considered Tuesday, 18th July, 1871 to have been the birth date of Clacton-on-Sea.  The occasion was the arrival at a small pier of the paddle steamer, ‘Queen of the Orwell’, diverted from its normal route between London and Ipswich.  She was gaily decorated with flags and had on board William Jackson, Chairman of the Woolwich Steam Packet Co., who operated the service.

On the pier we read that Peter Bruff, founder of the new resort, “was in attendance to receive him. Approaching almost within hailing distance, a gun boomed from the steamer, and presently she was alongside.  The Chairman and many of the numerous passengers having come on to the pier, champagne was uncorked and ‘Success to the Pier at Clacton, among them being Ladies and Gentlemen from Ipswich, Bury St. Edmunds, and Colchester.  After a hurried call the Queen of the Orwell steamed away amid hearty cheers from those on the pier, and the booming of the gun again told Clacton a new era had been inaugurated.”

A layout for the new resort had yet to be determined, for the one produced in July of 1871 to accompany an effusive prospectus was completely altered the following month.

Clacton in 1871

So Clacton-on-Sea started with a pier and little else.  There may have been a few huts or bathing… and at an early date a pair of timber cottages was erected in Pier Avenue (then ‘Main Approach’) for pier staff, but it was removed after a short time.  Before the end of the year however, Rose Cottage (now 24 Rosemary Road) had been built and two villas, now part of the Lord Nelson, had been commenced.

In the meantime Verandah Lodge was again accommodating visitors and was briefly used as a school.  An application for a license having been rejected, it was let to the village grocer and draper who opened up the first store.  A few years later the business was transferred to the other side of Rosemary Road where it continues as Johnson and Son.  Verandah Lodge was eventually replaced by the ‘Imperial Hotel’.

That the pier had been constructed by Bruff only half the length authorised and that steamers could not berth at very low tide, may have been due to shortage of money – or time?  This was remedied six years later.  Not so readily condoned however is that Bruff’s layout brought dwellings within 100 feet of the cliff-top and before very long they would have been toppling over the edge due to coast erosion had they not been subsequently protected by a costly system of sea defence.

Wrote a wag at the time –

A fine sandy beach, broad and hard enough to carry a four-wheeled wagon; a Jetty running a good way out to sea; a high loamy cliff; on the top of the cliff a bean-field; in the dim distance a few labourers’ cottages and a bar or two; in the bean-field three men and a boy cutting the beans.  ‘Viola tout.’ Crackton will be a fine place no doubt – when they begin to build it.

Such was Clacton-on-Sea in 1871!

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