A shot taken at Herne Bay in Kent, England with what remains of the pier in the background. and lifebouy in the foreground.
According to The Illustrated London News of 1850, Herne Bay had fewer than a dozen inhabitants at the beginning of the 19th century, until a military encampment prompted expansion of population. This small development in turn attracted visitors who disembarked via hoys from passing London-Margate steamers. After a few bumpy rides in hoys the visitors decided they needed a pier and family accommodation at Herne Bay, and so the first Herne Bay Pier began. At the behest of a group of investors led by Surrey building contractor George Burge who had worked for Thomas Telford in St Katharine's Dock, a 3,613 feet (1,101 m) long and 24 feet (7.3 m) wide pier was designed and built by Telford's assistant Thomas Rhodes. Telford was building Whitstable harbour at the time. The first wooden pile was driven on 4 July 1831, and the structure was completed on 12 May 1832 at a cost of £50,000 when the steamer Venus brought the first passengers, in the same decade as Telford Terrace, the Pier Hotel and the promenade.
The pier was built all of timber, with the piles being driven straight into the sea bed; it was "considered at the time the best specimen of pile-driving", and described as a "pier and breakwater". There was curved stone balustrading at the entrance, taken from old London Bridge which was demolished in 1831. A sail trolley vehicle running on tracks, powered by sail and foot and nicknamed Neptune's Car, ran the length of the pier from 13 June 1833, carrying passengers and baggage. When wind was inadequate as commonly happened, pier employees physically pushed the trolley. The pier's length was defined by the one-fathom draught of the paddle steamers and the shallow two-fathom depth of the sea even three quarters of a mile offshore at high tide. It was followed in 1861 by the railway station, and thus began the town's growth into a holiday resort. However because the wooden piles were never protected by copper sheathing they suffered from shipworm. By 1850, many piles had been replaced with iron ones, or with wooden ones "prepared by Mr Payne's process" against shipworm, but as a whole they showed irreversible deterioration from 1860 onwards. Pier dues were considered expensive at 1s 6d.Subsequently the first Herne Bay Pier Company failed due to competition between paddle steamers and the new railway which was opened on 13 July 1861, because previously most visitors arrived by steamer, then they all arrived by rail. The first pier was taken down in 1870 to 1871, long after the paddle steamers stopped coming in 1862.