By the time of his death in 1900, Peter Bruff had helped turn what had thirty years before been an empty piece of farmland with a beach into the flourishing seaside town of Clacton on Sea. While working with Eastern Counties Railway from Shoreditch to Colchester, he began work on the Chappel Viaduct, which was constructed between 1847 and 1849. The viaduct carries the Sudbury Branch Line across the Colne Valley in Essex.
It stands 80 feet (24 m) above the river, has 32 arches and is 1,066 feet (325 m) long. The viaduct contains 4.5 million bricks. It was Bruff's dream for the line to Colchester to carry on as far as Ipswich but the railway company did not have sufficient funds.
As a result, Bruff formed his own company, the Eastern Union Railway, and built the line himself, including the 361 yd (330 m) tunnel through Stoke Hill by Ipswich railway station. While working on the Ipswich line in 1855 he bought a house, Burnt House Farm, in Walton, an already an established but unremarkable town on the Essex coast near Frinton. He began to work on developing Walton as a recognized seaside resort.
Peter Bruff's pier at Walton replaced an existing smaller pier which was blown down by a storm in 1881. Bruff was also responsible for the building of the Marine Terrace, South Terrace (destroyed by bombing in World War II) and Clifton Baths (today the Pier Hotel). Bruff is regarded by some as the Richard Branson of the 19th Century for the work he did in Clacton, which was virtually non-existent when he arrived.
Upon his arrival in 1864, Bruff made a private deal to buy 50 acres (200,000 m2), the central part of the town, for around £10,000. The land concerned centred on the area each side of the Pier and back as far as Rosemary Lane. In approximately 1870, work began on the seaside resort of Clacton-on-Sea.
The Times in 1871 wrote "That being an entirely new creation and not the adaptation of an existing town, none of the evils inseparable from the old watering holes will be allowed to exist in it. There will be no slums, nor do any object that can offend the eye." When the pier opened, the town began to truly grow. His later constructions in the town included: the Royal Hotel in 1872, a public hall in Pier Avenue, which was destroyed by a fire in 1939, and the creation of the town centre.
There is now a hospital ward and a residential road, both named in Bruff's memory.