Grand Pier Pavilion
Marine Parade, Herne Bay
Herne Bay has had three piers in its time as a town. The Grand Pier Pavilion was sited on the third pier, albeit it was much longer way back then. The latest pier was actually completed in 1899 and at the time it was the second longest pier in Great Britain and had a small theatre sited on there as you walked onto it. In fact, the pier was so long that you could take a tram from one end to the other. In later years this theatre was deemed too small and so a larger theatre was built further along the pier at a cost of £2000. The floor of this new theatre was made from rock maple and so not only were there shows but it also hosted dances and of course, roller skating. This larger theatre was known as the Grand Pier Pavilion and was opened to much fanfare on 3rd August 1910 by Sir John Knill, the then Lord Mayor of London.
1910 was a boom year for roller skating and thousands upon thousands of people flocked to the rinks that were popping up in every town and city throughout the country. Within a couple of years, however, the craze had subsided but the Grand Pier Pavilion continued to thrive, probably because it was still used also as a theatre and dance hall.
The first recorded "official" race on the rink was a one mile scratch race on 19th April 1923, but it wasn't until 1934 that the National Skating Association looked to use it as a venue for a British Championship event. On 10th January 1934 Eddie Stumbke (Alexandra Palace) won the Half Mile Championship for the third time in succession and so began what would become a regular trip to the south coast for Britain's elite speed skaters.
In 1936 the Southern Counties Championship was held on the rink for the first time, which went on to become a staple venue for the event right up until 1968.
The first ladies British Championship held here was the 1939 Half Mile Championship for the George French Challenge Shield. The race was keenly won by local speed skating superstar, Violet Kirby who would go on to even greater things within the sport of roller speed skating.
During the Second World War the Pavilion was commandeered by the army and the local women worked inside the hall making camouflage netting for the war effort.
Shortly after the war in November 1947 and as Europe started to find its feet again, England challenged Belgium to a series of international races. The pavilion was chosen as a venue for a number of the events and although Belgium would come away as winners, the Grand Pier Pavilion was once more opened up for business and helped usher in a new era of speed skating in and around Great Britain.
Over the years the rink would become synonymous with popular races for established club trophies. Such trophies as The George Walters Cup, The Stableford Cup, The Madelin Dauncey Trophy and The Sidwell Cup, let alone the regular British Championship events. Despite its diminutive size and being the smallest rink on the calendar, the venue was big in character. It produced some great battles between some of the sports giants, but one stand out race was the 1959 Men's One Mile Championship. It was the one and only time the blue ribband NSA event was held here but the race would be hard fought. Victory would eventually go to local lad, Jim Lipyeat, winning his one and only British title just ahead of world medallist and British international, Les Woodley and soon to be World Champions, Leo Eason and Danny Kelly.
By 1969 the rink had seen better days. It was almost 60 years old and was in need of more than another lick of paint. On 3rd May 1969 the Stableford Cup and Madelin Dauncey Trophy was once again held. Little would anyone realise that these would be the very last speed skating events to be run at this wonderful and most popular of rinks.
Shortly after these races the rink was closed for refurbishment. £158,000 had been awarded to renovate the rink and bring it up to the standard of its former glory days, but on Friday 12th June 1970, during these renovations, the building caught fire and was quickly and completely destroyed. The town was in mourning for the loss of one of it's most prized possessions. The Grand Pier Pavilion had survived storms, it had even survived the blowing up of pier sections by the British armed forces during the war to prevent any risk of enemy invasion, but it could not survive a welding torch operated by a clumsy welder.
Almost 60 years on since it first opened, the Grand Pier Pavilion rink at Herne Bay was no more. Home to legends such as Pete Walters, Vi Kirby and Jim Lipyeat, what remained was soon dismantled. In the following years it was decided to build another Pavilion and in 1976 the town once more had a roller skating rink that stretched along the pier and into the sea that would discover a new generation of skating legends, but that folks is another story.