Tag Archives: West Pier

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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Sunny Afternoon

After a chilly, and at times, damp start to the week we finally had some beautiful weather and I got out for a long walk, wandering down from the central shopping area at Churchill Square to the beach, where the building work has started on the new tower to be built on the seafront in Hove, opposite the sad remains of the much loved West Pier.  From there I walked along the seafront and beach to Brighton Pier (what those of a certain age remember as the Palace Pier, but that was in the days when Brighton was just a town and Hove was next door, actually).  There were lots of visitors down on the seafront, enjoying the lovely sunshine, although as the photos show not too many on the beach itself.

West Pier Brighton & Hove

West Pier

 

 

Brighton Beach

Brighton Beach, East Sussex

Fishing Museum Brighton

Fishing Museum, Brighton

I stopped off at the beautiful Fishing Museum between the two piers.  It’s just a tiny place run by volunteers in one of the old arches at the back of the beach and open all year round with free entry.  Every year in May they hold the Mackerel Fayre and The Blessing of the Nets.

Blessing of the Nets with the Salvation Army band, 2014

Blessing of the Nets, Salvation Army band, 2014

Silver Sounds, Blessing of the Nets, 2014

Silver Sounds, Blessing of the Nets, 2014

Coming up as I write this is March 8th – International Women’s Day – and Brighton isn’t without its famous ladies over the centuries.  We currently have the first Green MP, Caroline Lucas, representing Brighton Pavilion, but back in the time of King George IV we had Martha Gunn, and to quote the poem:

To Brighton came he,
Came George III’s son.
To be bathed in the sea,
By famed Martha Gunn.

(Old English rhyme, author unknown)

Although not born in the town, we also had Phoebe Hessel.  Famed for dressing as a man to follow her young love into the army in the mid-1700s, she eventually ended up living in Brighton and is buried close to Martha Gunn in St Nicholas’ churchyard.

St Nicholas’ Church is the oldest building in Brighton – the oldest possibly because it’s built on a small hill almost outside what was the old fishing village of Brighton and when the French invaded and flattened the place in 1545, having just wrecked the Mary Rose in the Solent, it was the only building they left standing.   Now over 900 years old, St Nicholas’ Church is still open to visitors and residents alike, with lunchtime recitals most Wednesdays in addition to the usual services and other activities expected of such a long-standing establishment.

Well, that’s it for now.  See you next time – and meanwhile enjoy life wherever you are!