Brighton’s West Pier – A Short History

Designed by Eugenius Birch and built in 1863-66 in the reign of Queen Victoria, the West Pier was Brighton’s second pier. The Chain Pier, built in 1823, was Brighton’s first but a storm in 1896 destroyed what little was left of it by then.

Using cast iron threaded columns which were screwed into the sea bed, strengthened with girders and ties to provide the required support for the decking above, the pier was orginally built with two toll houses at the land side, with twin kiosks in the centre and a ladies’ and a gentlemen’s retiring room at the sea end. In the 1870s the middle section of the pier was widened to house a covered bandstand, and in the 1880s further work was done adding a pavilion at the far end, weather screens for the whole of the pier and a landing stage for steamships. R W Peregrine Birch, the grandson of the original architect, oversaw the final building work which included bathing accommodation.

In 1901, the landing stage was enlarged, and in 1903 the pavilion was converted into a 1,000 seat theatre. Then, during the First World War, the covered bandstand was demolished and, having widened the pier again, an 8-sided oval-shaped concert hall to seat 1400 people was built around a frame of iron arches. This was completed in 1916 and apart from a new top-deck entrance which was added in 1932 no further major alterations were ever done.

In the early 1960s the West Pier was used in the making of the (1963) film Oh! What a Lovely War, and also in the 1970s film Carry On Girls.

West Pier

The West Pier was closed to the public in 1975 needing much repair before it could be considered safe, but nothing was done and finally it was badly damaged by storms in the winter of 2002/3.

West Pier

Then, in March and May 2003 serious fires, at least one of which was possibly caused deliberately by arsonists, destroyed much of what was left. In 2004 and again in 2014 further heavy storms caused more damage, leaving the little that remains today in 2015.

West Pier

West Pier, 2015

West Pier, 2015

It’s one of only two Grade 1 listed piers in the UK.


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