CLACTON PIER HISTORY & PRESS

The Steel Stella Fire

During a show at the Ocean Theatre on 4th August 1973 at 9pm a pier worker ran onto the stage, grabbed the microphone and said "Dont panic, the pier is on fire" Pianist Len Abbott first thought it was a joke but comedian Russ Abbott soon realised it wasn't and took control and asked the audience of about 800 to leave the theatre quietly. A witness remembered seeing comedian Jim Bowen at the back of the theatre helping the usherettes show people out. There was no sign of panic and pier staff later praised the public for a swift and orderly exit. In all approximately 3000 people were evacuated from the pier before the Clacton, Frinton and Weeley fire services turned up to put the rest of the fire out.

Pier worker Neal Rowland scrambled up the 50ft rollercoaster in vain in an attempt to contain the fire (you can see him on the right in the photo below). Pier staff quickly got the people off as it was just loading up for the next ride, staff then alerted the pier manager, Jo Rose to call the fire brigade. Quick thinking staff got on to the roof of the Ocean Theatre to damp it down to prevent the fire from spreading as there was alot of sparks and hot ash blowing about.

 

Neal & his workmate Andrew Jardine helped run the hoses across the theatre roof as the fire engines had to stay in the car park at the front of the pier in case the weight of them went through the pier boards. Unfortunately the fire hoses couldn't reach the heart of the fire in the engine room so all they could do was dampen the ride & surrounding area down to stop it spreading to the rest of the pier.

Pier staff had formed a bucket chain from the dolphinarium to the fire, their fire fighting attempts where seen as playtime by the dolphins as they dipped the buckets in for water, Bubble & Squeak even playfully grabbed some of the buckets and swam off with them. A number of the buckets were recovered from the bottom of the pool the next morning. All the staff involved that night got a free meal in the canteen, as a thank you for saving the rest of the pier from going up in flames. Two gangs of staff where formed shortly after, armed with chainsaws & spanners to make the rollercoaster area safe.

 

In November 1973 workmen moved in to start the huge task of dismantling the rollercoaster, the wood from the Steel Stella was placed outside the entrance of the pier and offered as firewood for free to the public, with a winter of terrible gales and the threat of powercuts, this was very handy for some.

The fire was thought to have been caused by an electrical fault in the pull up hut that housed the electrical machinery, the Steel Stella had been a landmark since the thirties and survived the war, sadly the end of its life had come. In December the final section of the Steel Stella was pulled down and the 36 year old ride was no more.

CLICK ON IMAGES FOR A CLOSER LOOK

The fate of the Steel Stella on the night of 4th August 1973

PUBLICITY & OLD PHOTOS

POSTCARD 1

POSTCARD 1

Greetings from Clacton-on-sea.

POSTCARD 2

POSTCARD 2

Clacton Dolphinarium 1970s.

POSTCARD 3

POSTCARD 3

1973

POSTCARD 4

POSTCARD 4

Greetings from Clacton-on-sea.

POSTCARD 5

POSTCARD 5

1974

PIER BROCHURE

PIER BROCHURE

An advert for the pier (1973) courtesy of Peter Watts

PIER ADVERT

PIER ADVERT

East Essex Gazette Advert (24th November 1972) courtesy of Martin Allen

DOLPHIN COVER

DOLPHIN COVER

Front cover of a tourist guide to Clacton & Harwich in the early 70's

PIER POSTER

PIER POSTER

Poster courtesy of Michael Goss

PIER PROGRAMME

PIER PROGRAMME

Flyer courtesy of Michael Goss

PIER FLYER

PIER FLYER

Flyer courtesy of Michael Goss

PIER POSTER 2

PIER POSTER 2

Poster courtesy of Michael Goss.

DOLPHIN ADVERT

DOLPHIN ADVERT

East Essex Gazette Advert (7th April 1972) courtesy of Martin Allen

BIMBO ADVERT

BIMBO ADVERT

Newspaper advert (July 1986) courtesy of Peter Watts

STEEL STELLA 1954

STEEL STELLA 1954

STELLA

STELLA

Big queues for the Steel Stella main attraction

WHIRLWIND 1983

WHIRLWIND 1983

The Whirlwind Rollercoaster - Easter weekend 1983

STELLA 50s

STELLA 50s

A view from the top of the Steel Stella with a car on its way up (1950's).

SEA VIEW

SEA VIEW

The Steel Stella from the sea.

SKYLINER RIDE

SKYLINER RIDE

GALLOPERS

GALLOPERS

HIGH WIRE ACT

HIGH WIRE ACT

The high wire act was performed by german acrobat Johann Traber, the 21 year old did stunts including hanging by his feet and standing on his hands while swaying side by side 135ft in the air on the thin pole. The act which had been in the Traber family for more than 300 years was staged twice a day on Clacton Pier and was the first time seen in the UK.

PIER GAP 1985

PIER GAP 1985

Clacton Pier in August 1985 with the two main attractions, the Lido Water Slide & the Whirlwind Rollercoaster

PIER FRONT 50s

PIER FRONT 50s

Steel Stella seen from the front of Clacton Pier.

ARIEL SHOT 1973

ARIEL SHOT 1973

Ariel photo of Clacton Pier before the Steel Stella fire (1973)

PLEASURE BOAT

PLEASURE BOAT

DICK EMERY

DICK EMERY

One of many stars who put on summer shows at the Ocean Theatre on Clacton Pier.

JOLLY ROGER

JOLLY ROGER

On the balcony of the Jolly Roger (year unknown).

1979 STORM

1979 STORM

A view of the damaged area from inside the dolphinarium.

STORM DAMAGE

STORM DAMAGE

The main pool and holding area after the storm.

In January 1979 severe gales hit Clacton Pier and caused an estimated £150,000 worth of damage, mainly to the dolphinarium and holding pools. There was a quick rescue operation to save Susie Wong the killer whale who was stranded in the pool, she was moved to Windsor Safari Park. Squeak the dolphin was moved to Brighton with 5 other dolphins to keep her company while repairs to Clacton Pier were underway. The sea lions and penguins were also moved to various locations around the country. The viewing windows around the pool were broken by the storm causing the pool to empty. 

DOLPHINS        KILLER WHALES        SEA LIONS        DOLPHINARIUM        PIER HISTORY

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