Following the introduction of a railway linking Cleethorpes to the rest of the country, the resort was fast becoming the place favoured by holiday makers from as far afield as Manchester or London. During peak season, thousands of people would travel by rail Grimsby, before making their way to Cleethorpes to take in the fresh ‘sea’ air. As the number of holiday makers visiting the resort increased, so too did the number of people moving to the town to live. In 1871 the population of the town stood at 1,768, a decade later in 1881, the population had almost doubled. The increase in population heralded the start of a new era and provided the growing seaside town with an opportunity to establish itself as an exciting and formidable tourist destination.
In 1886 a proposal was put forward by Grimsby Solicitors W.H. Daubney and Anderson Bates to the Board of Trade requesting that the authority constructs a pier at Cleethorpes. Afterall, it was a well-known fact that any seaside town worth its salt had a pier. The proposal to construct a pier was a success and year later in 1867, The Cleethorpes Promenade Pier Order was obtained. The order permitted the creation of Cleethorpes Promenade Pier Company who would be responsible for overseeing the construction of the pier and managing its finances. Plans to construct the pier stagnated, and its wasn’t until several years later in 1872, when construction of the pier finally got underway. Responsible for constructing the pier were experienced pier contractors Wrightson’s of Stockton-On-Tees and Dowson’s Designs. The pair had worked together constructing piers in the past and had worked together on piers at Eastbourne, Scarborough and Skegness. Aside from being used as a port of call by holiday makers travelling from Grimsby to Cleethorpes via steamboat, it was hoped that the construction of a pier would help to increase property values in the area and attract ‘visitors of a better class’. The venture was financed by Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (later The London and North Eastern Railway LNER) and came at a cost of around £8,500. The Pier’s Grand opening fell on 4th August 1873, Bank Holiday Monday, and was a resounding success. On opening day 2859 turned out to visit the newly built iron pier which spanned over a thousand feet in length (1,200 ft/370 m) and was described as having ‘an unusually light and graceful appearance’. Admission to the pier on opening day came at a cost of 6d (old pennies). Entry to the pier thereafter cost 1d. By the 29th September, less than two months after Cleethorpes Pier had opened, admissions totalled 49,229.
In 1875, and elevated link or ‘landing stage’ was constructed at the head of the pier in order to improve landing and embarkation of passengers by boat. Over a decade later in 1888, a pavilion was built on the pier and situated on the end furthest away from the shoreline. Sadly, in 1903, tragedy struck and the timber pavilion was destroyed in a fire. Two years later in 1905, a new pavilion was built half way along the length of the pier, along with shops and a cafeteria. In 1936, the Pier underwent the first of many changes in ownership and was purchased by Cleethorpes Borough Council from LNER. During the Second World War in 1938, the landing stage was removed and two-thirds of the pier was demolished amid growing concerns that the German’s could use it as a way of gaining entry into Britain during an invasion. As a result, the pier was shortened from 1,200 ft in length to 335 ft.
The next notable event in the pier’s history took place in 1968 when the Council decided to renovate the pier, adding a 600-seat concert hall, cafe and bar at a cost of £50,000. As well as a traditional summer show, the newly renovated pier was also home to live wrestling matches, coin and stamp fairs as well as dance and music festivals. However, following a series of financial losses and a poor turn out during the summer shows, the Council made the decision to put the pier on the market in 1981. The same year, Skegness-based amusement company Funworld Ltd had high hopes for the pier and purchased it from the Council for £55,000. However, Funworld’s decision to purchase the pier was not as profitable as they had hoped, and by 1983 the pier was once again back on the market. As the threat of demolition loomed over the pier, Cleethorpes Borough Council decided to buy it back from Funworld. Unfortunately, a spanner was thrown into the works when at the last minute the Council realised that upon buying the pier, they would have to invest a further £200,000 to renovate it. As a result, the Council decided to pull out and the pier was once again put up for sale. Two years later in 1985 businessman Mark Mayer came forward and purchased the pier at a cost of £300,000. The experienced club owner transformed the pier’s pavilion into a modern nightclub named ‘Pier 39’. The grand reopening of the pier took place on September 4th 1985.
A pattern, however, had already begun to develop, and four years later in 1989, the pier was up for sale yet again. Whitegate Leisure PLC purchased the pier from Mr Mayor and spent half a million pounds developing the pavilion. The renovations took nine weeks to complete and the pier reopened in April 1992. Over the next few years, the pier changed hands several more times, before being bought by Luminar Leisure in 2006. Following a management buy-out, Luminar Leisure became known as Candu Entertainment. In 2006 Candu rebuilt the former Paradise Club, with the new Waterfront bar officially opened by Tim Mickleburgh, Hon Vice President of the National Piers Society. A year later in 2007, the pier was put on the market once more, before being purchased by local businessman Kash Pungi. Mr Pungi spent an estimated half a million pounds renewing the supporting legs of the pier. The project took five months to complete and used over 40 tonnes of steel. Whilst under Mr Pungi’s ownership, the pier was granted a 24-hour drinking licence, a move that was reported in the press as being supported by the local authorities and the police.
In January 2010 the pier went into receivership and was later purchased by Grimsby-based businessman Bryn Ilsley for a six-figure sum. Following yet another renovation costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, the pier reopened in November 2010. A year later in 2011 however, things started to go down hill and the pier was closed after having its licence suspended for 28 days because of what was described as being “incidents of serious crime and disorder”. By November 2011, the pier was being managed by new lease-holder Alistair Clugson, who vowed to make the pier “much more than just a nightclub”. The pier’s bar area was reopened as the Tides Bar and Restaurant in December 2011. Things took a turn for the worse in October 2012 when without warning, staff were informed that the business had suddenly closed. Meetings were had between pier owner Bryn Isley lease-holder Alistair Clugson to no avail. The situation was it seems, too far gone and reports soon emerged of removal men descending on the pier. The pier was later put up for sale with a guide price of £400,000.
In December 2012, The London Evening Standard advertised that Cleethorpes Pier was up for auction on 2nd February 2013. Whilst at auction, the pier failed to reach its guide price and was later purchased by a ‘venture partnership’ for above its original guide price. However, in May 2013, less than a month after the pier had been taken off the market, it was put back up for sale after the buyers failed to meet the conditions of the sale. In July 2013, local businessman Bryan Huxford purchased the pier for Community use. Plans to develop the structure were unveiled in November of that year but refurbishment did not take place until March 2015. In August 2015, the pier reopened for the umpteenth time since 1968 and was equipped with a restaurant offering fine dining, function room, public house and The Victoria Tea Room.
In 2016, Cleethorpes Pier was awarded the title ‘Pier of the Year 2016’ by the National Pier Society. The award came following a £4.7 million restoration which took place over the course of two years. Shortly after receiving the accolade, the Huxford family ‘reluctantly’ put the pier up for sale after expressing their belief that they had taken the business “as far as they could”. In December of that same year, the pier was purchased by Papa’s Fish and Chip chain for an undisclosed amount. The transformation of the pier into a fish and chip shop, created over 100 new jobs, much to the delight of local people. Papa’s Fish and Chip shop has officially been recognised as the world’s largest fish and chip shop and is capable of hosting up to 500 people inside its fine dining restaurant, tea room, bar and function room. In February of 2017, it was announced that the head chef of the pier’s restaurant would be George Papadamou, the winner of the National Fish and Chip Awards finals. The award is to recognise the very best in the British fish and chip trade and saw Papa’s pick up the award for marketing innovation.