Compiled by Anthony Wills

As already reported elsewhere, HYTHE pier, the 7th longest in the country, was breached by a sand dredger on the evening of 1 November. Two sets of piles were demolished. A helicopter and lifeboat were scrambled to look for possible casualties but no-one was injured, although two pier workers were left stranded on the far side of the gaping 50 ft. hole. Four spans will need replacing.

The skipper of the Donald Redford, 37-year old Andrew Bartlett, was arrested and charged with endangering life and causing serious damage to the pier, contrary to the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. He made a further appearance at New Forest Magistrates Court on 27 November, and was bailed to appear at Southampton Crown Court in January. Meanwhile, ferry services to and from Southampton were resumed from the newly constructed Hythe Marina, but this may not be available from January. The accident came at a time when plans were being considered to replace the ageing pier tramway with a broader-gauge Parry People Mover and extend the track into Hythe village to increase patronage. A study is being funded by Hampshire County Council in conjunction with White Horse Ferries.

English Heritage has decided that the Grade I listed BRIGHTON WEST is still capable and worthy of being restored, despite the recent depredations of storm and fire that have reduced the Concert Hall and Pavilion to skeletons. The Heritage Lottery Fund, which is still reserving a commitment of £14 million made to the West Pier Trust six years ago, was due to meet in January to take a final decision. MEANWHILE, Belgian marine contractor Depret has beaten off UK competition to win the £33 million contract to rebuild the Pier. The project will involve restoring the pier to its 1920s appearance and constructing a leisure and retail development on the neighbouring esplanade. Work could begin this spring if the Heritage Lottery grant is confirmed.

COLWYN BAY pier has a new owner: 31 year old Steve Hunt, who acquired it on 11 December 2003. He sensibly began his tenure by applying for National Piers Society membership!

An unemployed chef who had been living under BOGNOR REGIS pier hanged himself on 24 July 2003 in despair at being refused access to his baby daughter. An inquest was told that Stewart Bingham (29) had been drinking and using drugs.

Although the Friends of Queen’s pier RAMSEY (IOM) were unable to hold their customary Open Day on the closed pier in August 2003, they had a “Day Under The Pier” instead which raised £317 for charity. Since then they and other bodies such as the Victorian Society have met with John Shimkin, Minister of the Isle of Man Department of Transport, which is the Government body responsible for the pier, so for the first time a dialogue is under way. The Friends’ Vice-Chairman Michele Tramonta, who runs an art gallery in Ramsey, has painted a picture of the pier, which is available in limited edition.

A fresh attempt is being made to construct a new pleasure pier at BRIDLINGTON, at an estimated cost of £10 million. The Bridlington Pier Company originally submitted plans in 1982; these were passed by the local council, but foundered in a row over financing. The new plans, which suggest Regent Terrace or the area between York Road and Albert Terrace as possible sites, have the support of Bridlington’s Urban Renaissance Team. The only surviving structure on the Yorkshire coast is the recently restored SALTBURN pier. Bridlington is already home to the award-winning Beside The Seaside exhibition.

Meanwhile Canterbury City Council have given the go-ahead for a feasibility study into restoring HERNE BAY pier.

A judge at Norfolk County Court has ruled that Jim Davidson is not liable to pay compensation to a woman who slipped and fractured a vertebra in her spine when leaving a performance at GREAT YARMOUTH WELLINGTON pier theatre in 2001. Davidson was facing a personal liability claim of up to £500,000 in damages and costs. The restoration of the pier continues apace, though rumours that the theatre might be turned into a bowling alley have been denied.

MELBOURNE’s historic St Kilda pier kiosk has been ravaged by fire. The blaze, believed to have been started deliberately, began around 4 a.m. local time on 11 July 2003. Fire-fighters had difficulty getting water to the site on Por Phillip Bay and took about 90 minutes to extinguish the conflagration. The Government-owned Art Nouveau style kiosk had been in a state of disrepair for several years but was due to be restored in time for its centenary this year.

Peter Bennett, lessee of WEYMOUTH BANDSTAND pier, died of a heart attack on 27 September aged 59. The structure is of interest as an example of seafront art deco. It is in good decorative order and houses an amusement arcade, shop and café on the ground floor, with a Chinese restaurant on the first floor boasting excellent views over the beach.

An “architectural Oscar” has been awarded to Peter Emptage Associates Ltd. for their work on the new SOUTHEND pier entrance and bridge. The RIBA East “Spirit of Integrity Architectural Award” in the Architecture For Tourism category (supported by the East of England Tourist Board) was presented by the Mayor of Southend at a special dinner held at the Civic Centre on 16 October. On 8 December the Southend Pier Museum Foundation held a members’ evening featuring a Victorian Magic Lantern Show. The Foundation is seeking financial compensation from Southend Council for loss of admission revenue caused by the building works on the pier during the early part of the summer.

Plans by Wightlink to construct a new two lane roadway on the site of the former tramway at RYDE pier have met with considerable local opposition. The existing promenade pier would be used as a marshalling yard for cars waiting to board the car ferry, and the company says the services would be in addition to those operating from Fishbourne Quay. Protestors say the plans would ruin the oldest surviving pier in the country and create traffic gridlock. They were prevented (allegedly on safety grounds) from marching down the pier on 7 November to air their views. The National Piers Society has lodged its own objection to the plans.

On the other side of the island, TOTLAND BAY enjoys an idyllic location and it was planned to keep the pier café open throughout the winter months (access to the rest of the pier is restricted.) More tables are available following the removal of the gaming machines. The lessees have had to install a portable toilet, as the adjacent public ones operated by the IOW Council on the esplanade are closed until Easter!

Vandalism continues to be a problem at the closed BIRNBECK pier in WESTON-SUPER-MARE. The latest incident on 15 November involved the locks on the RNLI access gate being smashed.

After many years of neglect, culminating in bankruptcy, FLEETWOOD pier is undergoing a transformation into a multi-unit catering and entertainment complex, under its new owners Persian Leisure Ltd. It was relaunched in December.

The controversial new amusement arcade built on the site of HUNSTANTON pier finally opened its doors on 27 September 2003. It includes a café, bowling alley and shops, and replaces a building destroyed by fire in May 2002. There had been fierce local opposition from groups wishing to preserve the sea views opened up by the loss of the original complex, but it was revealed that the local council’s hands were tied by a lease dating back to 1870. The pier itself was lost in 1978 but is preserved on film in the Alec Guinness Ealing comedy All At Sea (a.k.a. Barnacle Bill).

LOWESTOFT CLAREMONT, which celebrated its centenary in 2003, is undergoing expansion. An upper floor is being added to the amusement arcade to house a 1,100 capacity nightclub. Owners Paul and David Scott are also in discussion with their local authority for funding towards restoring the decking and T-end lost in a storm in 1962.

VOE Pier Trust in the Shetlands has been awarded over £240,000 in grants from the Shetland Island Council and Shetland Charitable Trust to redevelop the historic pier, which dates from 1873. The pier has been declared unsafe and the money will go towards the cost of demolishing it, reclaiming adjacent land and erecting an industrial building. Ultimately a new breakwater and 22-berth marina will be constructed. The Pier Trust itself will contribute £30,000 towards the project.

Ghost-busters armed with special recording equipment visited CROMER pier pavilion in mid-November to investigate the presence of “spirits” in the theatre auditorium. An electro-magnetic field detector showed unusual fluctuations around the stage and dressing rooms and a video camera battery was inexplicably drained of its power. The complex is undergoing major alterations and extensions in time for the 2004 season. Its new bar is to be named after legendary impresario Richard Condon, who managed Norwich Theatre Royal and was responsible for launching the annual show Seaside Special which now packs audiences in every summer.

CLEVEDON is spending £60,000 on strengthening the pier legs, which have been corroded by the tidal flows in the Bristol Channel. Meanwhile the adjacent Royal Pier hotel is to be converted into luxury flats.

Official statistics released by the Government show that the “tourism deficit” has grown, with £2.30 being spent abroad by UK holidaymakers for every £1 brought in by visitors to this country. Spain has overtaken France as the most popular overseas destination. Inbound U.S. visitor numbers are down due to a weak dollar and terrorism fears.

The Chief Meteorologist at the Met Office has urged Government planners and energy companies to prepare more assiduously for bad weather. Speaking on the eve of the 300th anniversary of the Great Storm of 1703, Ewan McCallum said that better forecasting had not led to better preparedness.

Two months after the screening of Restoration on BBC-2 awakened fresh interest in our built heritage, a new survey by English Heritage, Heritage Counts 2003, has shown that 1,373 Grade I or Grade II Listed Buildings are still at risk, but 85% of local authority conservation officers felt overworked and incapable of protecting them. Meanwhile, a second series of Restoration is in production for screening in the summer.

SPECIAL OFFER: Remit Productions’ Pier Pressure, a new play by John Dane set on the end of a pier in the 1930s, runs at the Drum Theatre, Royal Parade, Plymouth from 11-14 February 2004. Tickets £10, but only £5 if you show your NPS membership card.  The play will be touring the country in the autumn.

PIERS MEDIAWATCH Compiled by Anthony Wills

“Oh, We DO Like To Be Beside The Seaside”… The Independent’s front page headline on 7 October said it all: the party conference season was in full swing, with the Liberal Democrats in BRIGHTON, Labour in BOURNEMOUTH and Conservatives in BLACKPOOL: cue for plenty of background shots of piers for reporters and politicians on TV and in the papers alike. The Daily Telegraph of 26 September 2003 reported that twelve disgruntled employees of BOURNEMOUTH pier planned to strip off during the Labour Party conference, to express their anger at losing their council pensions if the pier is transferred to private ownership.

Nice to see Vanessa Redgrave and William Devane enjoying a spot of furlough on LLANDUDNO pier in John Schlesinger’s touching wartime movie Yanks, made in 1979 and shown on BBC-1 at a ridiculously late hour on 6 October as a tribute to its brilliant director, who died in August.

Bob Monkhouse’s interesting two-parter Behind The Laughter, shown on BBC-1 on 13 and 20 October, included memories (and archive footage) of 1961 summer seasons at GREAT YARMOUTH BRITANNIA with Frankie Howerd, plus stunning shots of BLACKPOOL.

Who Got Benny Hill’s Millions? asked Channel 4 in a fascinating documentary shown on 18 October. Well, certainly not his sad former girlfriend Phoebe, who was interviewed in a seafront shelter with FELIXSTOWE pier in the background. The couple had met at the Spa Pavilion theatre in the resort.

By a strange coincidence BBC-1 in October screened two Carry On films featuring BRIGHTON PALACE pier. On 20 October it was Carry On At Your Convenience (1971), featuring a works outing to the seaside; a week later (27 October) the same pier turned up, more briefly, in Carry On Girls (1973). Besides their humour both sequences provide a valuable colour record of the pier and resort in the early 1970s.

The front cover of the October/November 2003 edition of New Horizons Florida, freely available in many newsagents, featured an impressive shot of NAPLES pier.

Actress Michelle Collins, star of the flop ITV1 series Single, was featured in the Daily Mail on 1 November extolling the virtues of weekending in BRIGHTON. Pictured in front of PALACE pier Collins, who as a child holidayed in West Sussex, finds the Brighton ozone really invigorating and enjoys taking her young daughter on the pier.

BBC-2’s Newsnight of 4 November, as part of a sombre report on army bullying, interviewed an ex-soldier in COLWYN BAY, with the pier clearly visible in the background.

ITV1 viewers in the Meridian region had a treat on 13 November when the In The Past documentary series included film shot in 1911 of overdressed Edwardians on BOURNEMOUTH pier, plus shots of BOGNOR REGIS, SOUTHSEA SOUTH PARADE and WEYMOUTH COMMERCIAL/PLEASURE.

BBC-1’s Breakfast Show on 14 November carried its weather forecast direct from a rather blustery MUMBLES pier, which also featured, not surprisingly, in the edition of Channel 4’s Brits Go To Hollywood focussing on Catherine Zeta Jones and shown the following evening. The ambitious Swansea lass, who recently starred alongside George Clooney in the comedy Intolerable Cruelty, appeared in talent contests there and in the nearby Patti Pavilion while still a child.

The Eastern Daily Press marked the 10th anniversary of the breaching of CROMER pier by the runaway Tayjack rig on 14 November 1993 with a 4-page pictorial supplement entitled A Night To Remember.

Raymond Gubbay’s new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates Of Penzance, playing at London’s Savoy Theatre, is set at the end of a pier, in the mistaken belief that the operetta was premiered on PAIGNTON pier in 1879. It was not, it was given a single performance at the Royal Bijou Theatre. Worth catching though, the show runs until March 20.

And finally … Alfie pursued Kat right up to the altar where she was due to wed Andy, in BBC-1’s award-winning ratings-topper EastEnders on 14 November. This episode attracted a staggering 15.9 million viewers. “In fifty years’ time you and I will be holding hands on SOUTHEND pier” the love-struck barman predicted. Let’s hope he’s right and that both institutions will still be around in 2053!