Compiled by Anthony Wills
Blazes destroy Weston Grand pavilion and Fleetwood, but arson attack at Great Yarmouth Wellington averted
The Grade II listed GRAND pier at WESTON-SUPER-MARE was badly damaged by a fire that broke out at 0615 on the morning of 28 July ….
Blazes destroy Weston Grand pavilion and Fleetwood, but arson attack at Great Yarmouth Wellington averted
The Grade II listed GRAND pier at WESTON-SUPER-MARE was badly damaged by a fire that broke out at 0615 on the morning of 28 July. The Grand, which was voted Pier of the Year in 2001, had recently been sold to new owners Kerry and Michelle Michael. The 1930s amusement pavilion at the pier head was completely destroyed in little over an hour. Undaunted, Kerry Michael had most of the pier open within days and invited proposals for the rebuilding of the pavilion. From the six submitted the choice was Angus Meeks Architects’ chrome and glass structure with a wave-shaped covered walkway. Angus Meek are the company behind the development on Weston’s other pier, the Birnbeck.
Ironically the Mail on Sunday just the previous week had published in its financial section an article headed Return of the Great British Holiday Resort, which revealed that the Travelodge hotel chain was mounting a Save Our Seaside campaign in conjunction with Merlin Entertainments, National Express and Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Just one month later, early in the morning of 30 August, a passer-by spotted wisps of smoke coming out of a flat roof area on the former theatre building at GREAT YARMOUTH WELLINGTON. Fire crews were alerted and the blaze extinguished within an hour, before major damage could be caused. Investigations revealed that rubbish had been stuffed into a rainwater pipe situated close to a gas boiler and air-conditioning unit. Although thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused the formal reopening of the rebuilt pier theatre opened on schedule a week later as a ten-pin bowling alley. One of the concerned visitors inspecting the building was comedian and former pier lessee Jim Davidson.
A third fire which began early in the morning of 9 September completely destroyed the pavilion building at FLEETWOOD, which had been closed for some time and for which planning permission was being sought to erect flats. The conflagration was attended by ten fire appliances, an incident report unit and two aerial ladder platforms. Reports suggested that youths had been seen in the derelict building the previous evening. Pier owner Mike Simmons had had workers boarding up the building up after copper and lead had been ripped out. He has offered a reward of £1,000 for any information leading to an arrest for criminal damage. It is understood that the structure was not insured. As the piles were found to be corroded and unsafe the pier has now been completely demolished.
Meanwhile at SOUTHEND, following an insurance settlement, work on fully restoring the damage caused by the October 2005 fire at the seaward end has begun. The contractors are Nuttall John Martin and should be completed by next spring.
Birdman rained off but Worthing Pier Day enjoys wonderful weather
The Birdman Rally held on WORTHING pier on 5/6 July was unlucky with the weather – while flying was possible on the Saturday, gale force winds and heavy rain meant the cancellation of Sunday’s programme, including an RAF fly-past. Ron Freeman, who has won the event many times in BOGNOR, achieved a personal best distance of 84.9 metres, and the winner of the NPS trophy in the Leonardo da Vinci class was Bill Brooks of Marlborough. Considerable outside sponsorship will be required if the event is to continue in future. Despite the bad weather it is reckoned to have been worth £200,000 in publicity to the town, and restaurants and pubs reported a jump in takings. By contrast, Worthing held its third annual Pier Day on 21 September in brilliantly sunny weather.
Hastings closes completely – Trust preparing Lottery bid
HASTINGS pier closed completely on 1 September after Stylus Sports ceased trading there (they had been unofficially acting as caretakers). The Friends of Hastings Pier, who have formed a charitable trust aiming to take over the Grade II listed structure – one of seven remaining Eugenius Birch designed piers – held their final market there on 31 August. The Trust then agreed with Hastings Borough Council that once a Compulsory Purchase Order had been made against the Panamanian owners, subject to a successful Round One bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, it would submit a viable business plan to the Council for consideration in Cabinet in December or early January.
Waverley has an accident-prone autumn on the South Coast
p.s. Waverley was involved in three collisions in September, with the landing stages on the piers at RYDE (IOW), WORTHING and YARMOUTH (IOW), which had of course been recently restored with Heritage Lottery money. It is understood that all three will be out of action for a few months. Waverley has suffered badly with the inclement weather during the summer causing several sailings to be cancelled and others departing with light passenger loads.
The latest news on the PENARTH pier pavilion feasibility study is that it could be used as an environmentally friendly community centre, including a 95-seat arthouse cinema at the landward end of the structure. Pier owner Vale of Glamorgan Council has set aside £800,000 in its capital budget towards the estimated £2 million required. The Heritage Lottery Fund (who financed the feasibility study) will need further evidence of fund-raising before considering a further grant application. If all goes to plan work could begin in late 2009. The NPS has already arranged to hold its 2009 AGM in Penarth on 13 June.
A 50ft wall of sand was spread along the seafront at FELIXSTOWE on 29 July, preventing visitors from using the beach south of the pier; in fact the sea could no longer be seen from the promenade at all! The works are part of sea defences being carried out by Suffolk County’s coastal District Council in conjunction with the Environment Agency.
A 33 year-old unemployed chef, Lee Griffin, got into difficulty in the sea off CROMER pier in the early evening of 29 July (some reports say that he “tombstoned” off the pier). Among those involved in an unsuccessful rescue attempt by lifeguards and an RAF helicopter was the star of the Seaside Special summer show playing in the Pavilion theatre Peter Piper, who stripped to the waist and waded in to help. He was eventually ordered out of the water because of rough tides. Mr Piper went on to give his usual performance that evening. The body was washed ashore later that evening and discovered by Mr Griffin’s dog Storm. Ironically Mr Griffin had caught more than a dozen mackerel while fishing from the pier the previous Tuesday evening.
Gordon Brown chose to take his summer holiday in SOUTHWOLD – sensible chap! He did not actually step on the fine pier there, although he was photographed with it in the background (this may have been a mock-up). Unfortunately the weather was not kind to the PM during his stay in the resort. Tesco had listed the award-winning structure as top attraction in the country of places to visit. More recently the pier was used for a fashion shoot for Next magazine.
Simon Jenkins is to take over the Chairmanship of the National Trust in November. The Trust recently indicated that they wish to broaden their brief beyond stately homes, reflecting a broader view of the country’s heritage. They have never been enthusiastic about piers in the past.
The owner of COLWYN BAY VICTORIA, Steve Hunt, was declared bankrupt by Conwy Council on 17 July for non-payment of part of his Council Tax. Mr Hunt, who has been in dispute with the Council over this matter for some time, said the pier would be unaffected.
Having overcome safety concerns caused by high winds which damaged the roof of the cashier’s office, SOUTHEND pier opened a temporary roller-skating rink on 18 July. Situated on the site of the old bowling rink (destroyed by fire in 1995), the rink’s construction had been financed by a Government grant of £50,000. It was open seven days a week until 31 August.
North Somerset Council gave the owners of the derelict Royal Pier hotel adjacent to CLEVEDON pier 28 days to carry out essential repairs, failing which they would do the work themselves and charge for it. Now the trustees of the Grade I structure have expressed interest in buying the hotel provided that a realistic price can be agreed.
Surfers Against Sewage organised a beach clean-up at BRIGHTON on 26 July. Visit www.sas.org.uk/campaign/litter for details of similar events in the future.
SOUTHSEA CLARENCE director Jill Norman was quoted as saying, in answer to criticisms over the size of the proposed “Southsea Wheel”, that this was “non-negotiable”.
Coastguards around the country staged a strike over the late August Bank Holiday weekend, putting strain on RNLI crews.
This August was the wettest and most dismal on record, with rain nearly every day, some of it very heavy. The month was also notable for unusually high winds and decidedly cool evenings for the time of year. There was a brief sunny interlude in mid-September and at the end of the month. About 10% more Brits had opted to holiday in this country despite rocketing petrol and diesel prices. Ironically WESTON-SUPER-MARE topped the list with an 18% rise in visitor numbers (up by 140,000 on 2007), closely followed by BOURNEMOUTH and the Isle of Wight. Meanwhile James Bidwell, the Chief Executive of VisitBritain – which was formed by a merger of the British Tourist Authority and the English, Scottish and Welsh Tourist Boards some time ago – has resigned following a £5 million cut in his organisation’s Government grant.
A major exhibition Beside the Seaside opened at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on 17 September and runs until 13 April 2009. The show features snapshots of British coastal life between 1880 and 1950, including photographs, posters and seaside memorabilia, some of it over 100 years old. Admission is free.
CLEETHORPES pier held its first wrestling match in 30 years on 20 September, featuring masked star Max Voltage, Andy Simmons and Stixx among others. Has any other pier ever staged wrestling on its boards?
After its summer run finished at CROMER pier pavilion on 21 September, Seaside Special played for three nights at the Spa Pavilion, FELIXSTOWE, about 300 yards from the resort’s stricken pier. The Christmas edition will run at Cromer from 5 – 27 December, twice daily including Sundays (but no performances on Thursdays). Meanwhile a competition, sponsored by the East Anglia Daily News and BBC Radio Norfolk, has been launched to find a local act to appear in next year’s summer show. The shortlisted acts will appear in the Grand Finals to be staged in the Pavilion on 1 November.
Joe Longthorne’s variety show continued twice weekly in BLACKPOOL NORTH’s theatre until the end of October, to coincide with the resort’s famous Seafront Illuminations, which were switched on by the presenters of BBC2’s Top Gear on 29 August. For the first time in many years, however, no Party Political Conferences were held in the town, Labour having defected to Manchester and the Conservatives to Birmingham.
Following its summer sojourn in Portsmouth the amusing and instructive exhibition Secrets of the Saucy Seaside Postcard took up residence in BOURNEMOUTH’s atmospheric Russell-Cotes Museum from 24 October – 1 February 2009. Admission is free.
The Alexandra Players will be presenting Peter Quilter’s play Respecting Your Piers at the Alexandra Hall, Bramshot Avenue, Charlton, London SE7 from 30 October to 2 November. This is a comedy about five women who inherit a run-down pier.
The pop group Late of the Pier, lead singer Sam Eastgate, has been tipped as the next great British band.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the UK’s most popular tourist attraction, will no longer offer free entry from next year.
The latest edition of the popular Ordnance Survey Maps of Britain has photos of BLACKPOOL CENTRAL and BRIGHTON PALACE, both taken at night, on the front covers of maps no. 102 and 198 respectively. The maps retail for £6.99 each.
The phone company T-Mobile has been running a series of full page ads showing a booth on some pier decking, which has been identified as PENARTH.
London Underground trains have had some posters promoting National Rail’s GroupSave tickets (4 adults travelling together at a reduced fare), using a picture of four young men on the beach at BOURNEMOUTH, with the pier prominent in the background.
The Daily Telegraph of 7 June carried an illustrated feature of the pier at SELLIN on Rugen Island, which is about three hours by car from Berlin. The pier has a large pavilion resting on concrete decking.
The Sunday Times of 26 June carried an advertisement for Belgian breach resorts which included the pier at BLANKENBERG. There was an opportunity to win a family trip to Flanders crossing the Channel on SeaFrance.
The Times of 27 June reported that Sooty the little yellow bear had changed hands for nearly £1 million. Richard Cadell, who took over as presenter of the Sooty TV series from the late Harry Corbett and his son Matthew (60), formally adopted the glove puppet from its previous owners Hit Entertainment. Sooty was allegedly found by Harry Corbett in a magician’s shop on BLACKPOOL NORTH pier in 1948, and sold to him by shop assistant Bill Lamb, who as a 16-year old was helping out during the summer holidays. The bear’s official 60th birthday was on 19 July, though he has not aged one bit!
Sky Television’s July magazine for subscribers to its services featured part of a pier on its cover which has been identified as BRIGHTON PALACE.
The Independent on Sunday dated 13 July had a picture of BRIGHTON PALACE on the front cover of its Travel section, inside which there was a selection of Top Ten beaches around the UK, including mentions of the piers at SKEGNESS, SOUTHWOLD and also ALUM BAY (IOW), which was demolished in the 1950s.
Among the contestants on BBC1’s Last Choir Standing on 19 July were the BRIGHTON Gay Men’s Chorus, who were seen larking about on the resort’s PALACE pier.
The Mail on Sunday reported on 20 July that budget-size hotel chain Travelodge was planning to invest £150 million on improvements to its 55 existing seaside hotels and was offering £150,000 or £500 per bedroom to anyone who suggested a new or existing UK location that results in a new hotel opening.
The Sunday Times sent its roving reporter Chris Haslam in his VW camper van around the entire UK coastline in June and he reported his findings in the paper over six weeks, beginning on 6 July. He dismissed CLACTON pier as “grim” and WALTON-ON-THE-NAZE as a “carbuncle”. Unsurprisingly he was very taken with SOUTHWOLD and found WEYMOUTH one of the best beaches in the land, but failed to mention CROMER or SKEGNESS, loved LLANDUDNO, and gave favourable mentions to the piers at EASTBOURNE and BRIGHTON.
The Sunday Telegraph of 20 July featured a list of Top Ten UK piers, which was compiled at the paper’s request by Anthony Wills on behalf of the Society. The piers were (in geographical order around the coast) SWANAGE, WORTHING, BRIGHTON PALACE, SOUTHEND, SOUTHWOLD, CROMER, SALTBURN, SOUTHPORT, LLANDUDNO and CLEVEDON. Its sister paper the Daily Telegraph – without NPS assistance – chose CLACTON as one of its Top Six piers, which also included PENARTH, whose pavilion the paper described as a “popular entertainment venue” (it has been closed for many years).
Veteran writer Keith Waterhouse lamented the disappearance of the seaside postcard in his Daily Mail column of 24 July. A week later, commenting on the WESTON GRAND fire, he called piers “a threatened species” and remarked that “the great beauty of the piers…..is that unless they are a launching pad for the lifeboat, they serve no useful purpose except for the morning constitutional or a spot of fishing”. He returned to the subject on 11 September after the FLEETWOOD fire, revealing that he used to escape the Party Political Conferences in neighbouring BLACKPOOL from time to time and take the tram to its Fleetwood terminus, where he would visit the unique “kippers-by-post” shop!
The feature film Angus, Thongs and Deep Snogging (a teenage rites of passage comedy from the director of Bend It Like Beckham) was largely shot in EASTBOURNE and BRIGHTON, with several scenes taking place on their piers. The film was released on 25 July and did good business at the box office.
The Times Knowledge section of 26 July carried an article by Tom Dyckhoff amusingly titled Will It End in PIERS? including an interview with NPS Chairman Tim Phillips and focussing particularly on the hoped-for restoration and redevelopment of WESTON-SUPER-MARE BIRNBECK.
Former film director Michael Winner took a day trip by rail to BOGNOR REGIS for the Daily Mail and was appalled by the state of the pier and the run-down nature of the town itself. He was equally piqued by the absence of a dining car on the train, which made 12 stops on its leisurely way down from London! Winner’s article appeared in a two-page illustrated feature published in the paper on 30 July, which attracted support and criticism in roughly equal measure. An official defence of Bognor by Councillor Norman Dingemans appeared a week later. This was followed up three days later by a more sympathetic piece in the same paper from journalist Bel Mooney, affirming her love of the British seaside. A recent report had claimed that one in ten have never visited the coast. “How monstrous to bring up a generation who will never know the joy of spending a whole day on a beach”, Mooney commented.
The Times of 30 July reported on the bankruptcy of COLWYN BAY’s owner Steve Hunt over unpaid Council Tax business rate. Local MP David Jones expressed his sorrow for Mr Hunt who, he said, “had worked so hard to make a go of the pier”.
The Independent on 1 August contained a comment by reporter Simon Usbourne on his experience of “tombstoning” (jumping off piers). In an effort to discourage this growing practice Portsmouth City Council has been handing out cards warning would-be jumpers that, apart from injury or even death, they face a fine of up to £1,000.
Two days later the same paper carried a rather caustic article by novelist Joanna Briscoe condemning the media frenzy over the blaze at WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND and proclaiming London as the only sensible place to live in the UK. Among many critical responses was a letter from the NPS’s Anthony Wills (published on 6 August) stressing the iconic nature of Britain’s seaside piers and pleading for special government funding for their restoration.
The Sunday Telegraph of 3 August had a major spread on the transformation of BOGNOR REGIS, which is to have half a billion pounds in development money injected into its seafront – excluding the pier!
Highlights from the TBA gig held on BRIGHTON PALACE pier and featuring The Streets and McFly were shown on Channel 4 on 10 August.
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 12 August ran an interview with Bournemouth’s Director of Tourism regarding the artificial surf reef being constructed east of the newly restored BOSCOMBE pier.
BBC1’s Songs of Praise broadcast on 17 August came from BANGOR in North Wales, with the ubiquitous Aled Jones as presenter. The Grade II listed pier featured prominently in the programme, which was hampered by wet and windy weather.
According to a piece in Daily Mail of 19 August sea air may no longer be as bracing as advertising posters used to claim. Tests have shown that primary sulphate (SO4) emissions from passing ships burning off bunker oil can damage lungs. This may give particular cause for alarm in south coast resorts facing the English Channel.
The Daily Telegraph’s list of 50 Best Beach Scenes In The Movies, published on 23 August, included Bhaji On The Beach (Blackpool, 1993) at no. 29, Quadrophenia (Brighton Palace, 1979) at no. 21 and Wish You Were Here (Worthing and Bognor Regis, 1987) at no. 18.
Antiques Roadshow expert Paul Atterbury traced the history of Bank Holidays from their inception in 1871, through the heydays of seaside excursions in the 1920s and 30s, to diminishing interest in the 60s, in a full-page article in Monday 25 August’s Daily Express which mentioned piers just once.
American writer Bill Bryson, who now resides in the UK and is President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, revealed his love for seaside piers to readers of the September issue of Saga magazine. Calling piers a national icon he praised them for “being magnificent whilst having no evident purpose at all”. Meanwhile, in Bryson’s native America, Hurricane Gustav smashed into the newly rebuilt Ken Combs pier in GULFPORT, Louisiana on 1 September.
Martin Wainwright presented The Betrayal of Blackpool, BBC Radio 4’s thoughtful look at the plight of the Lancashire resort, on 5 September. The title referred to Blackpool’s failed bid to house the super-casino mooted under Tony Blair’s administration. Visitor numbers in recent years have fallen from 17m to 10m and the party political conferences have deserted the town. At the same time stag and hen parties in Blackpool’s 1900 licensed premises have given Blackpool a bad reputation.
Among those taking part in the programme were Professor John Walton and former Leisure Parcs chief executive Marc Etches.
The Times of 10 September was among several national papers that gave prominent coverage to the previous day’s conflagration that destroyed FLEETWOOD pier, due to celebrate its centenary in 2010.
Radio 4‘s You and Yours looked at the future of piers on 19 September, with particular emphasis on the avoidance of further fires. NPS Chairman Tim Phillips was joined by Chris Saunders of Bournemouth Seafront Services and Heritage Fire Protection Consultant, who had written to the Times two days earlier, suggesting that the Heritage Lottery Fund contribute to improved levels of fire protection on piers..
(Thanks to Peter Barker, Michael Bevis, Margaret Burgoine , David Cheshire, Debbie Fox, Tim Mickleburgh, Bernard Polley, Violet Salter, Nick Skinner. Steve Wilkinson and Ken Wisdom for their contributions)