Compiled by Anthony Wills

Weston Grand and Fleetwood fires – open verdicts

An enquiry conducted by the Avon Fire and Rescue Service has concluded that the exact cause of the conflagration on WESTON GRAND pier at the end of last July may never be known. The replacement pavilion has been commissioned and work should begin in the New Year.

FLEETWOOD pier, also hit by fire last year (for which no conclusive cause has been established), is no more. Following reports from English Heritage, the Health & Safety Executive and Wyre Council, the entire structure has been demolished. It had been due to celebrate its centenary in 2011 – instead it becomes a “lost pier” in the Society’s register.

Piers for sale

TOTLAND BAY (IOW) pier was put up for sale in December but failed to reach the reserve price, understood to be £100,000. The privately owned pier, in a highly picturesque setting, needs total restoration.

Shock rejection for Penarth
The Heritage Lottery Fund has turned down the Penarth Arts & Crafts Trust’s application for funding towards the restoration of its pavilion. Despite commending the business plan (for which it paid) the HLF said it was not convinced that sufficient additional funding was in place to allow the project to go ahead. The planned transformation of the 1929 pavilion had alarmed the 250 members of the local gymnastics club which has used it since 1961.

Scottish pier seeks NPS help

DUNOON pier in Scotland has been under threat for some time. The council commissioned a report from a local conservation expert, who enlisted the Society’s help in assessing the structure’s relative importance in the context of UK piers in general.

Hastings awaits HLF decision

The Friends of Hastings Pier submitted an application for £2 million to the Heritage Lottery Fund in September. Time is running out to save the Grade II listed Eugenius Birch structure, which dates from 1872. Meanwhile the 1,066 White Rock theatre directly opposite the pier, which was costing Hastings Council £500,000 per year in subsidy to run, has been contracted out to Qdos Entertainment from February.

It’s All Go for the Brighton Eye and Boscombe surf reef

Positive news at last regarding the planned i360 tower opposite the remains of BRIGHTON WEST pier. Construction has begun in Holland on the steelwork fabrication consisting of eleven steel “cans” varying in thickness from 85mm at the bottom to 20 mm at the top. The Dutch firm involved built and erected the London Eye back in 2000. Transporting the cans to the site will present major problems as they weigh up to 57 tonnes each. The opening date for the tower has now been put back to 2011, still in time for the London Olympics.

Meanwhile, the artificial surf reef to the east of the newly restored BOSCOMBE pier has had its base layer of geo-textile bags completed. The bags have been anchored to the seabed and pumped hard with 7,000 cubic metres of sand. Work has been suspended over the winter due to limited daylight and stronger currents which would have limited the divers’ time underwater. It is set to resume in April and be completed by September.

Other news

The Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior III, used in many of the organisation’s campaigns (currently “Give Coal The Boot”), was moored at the end of SOUTHEND pier in late October, so that members and supporters could visit.

The owner of BOGNOR REGIS pier, parts of which date back to 1865, has come in for some criticism over the past few years, but he has recently re-felted the roof of the former theatre building (now two nightclubs) and the clubs themselves (which have many fine original decorative features) have been repainted, all at his own expense. The hope is that the roof, which has also been treated with a special sealant, will now last for another thirty years, despite the fearsome battering it takes from the elements. The East Sussex Branch of the NPS paid an enjoyable visit a few years back and the Cinema Theatre Association will be visiting at the end at the end of March. The small fire damage caused by a vagrant last year is being repaired with insurance money.

North Norfolk District Council has stopped short of making a firm decision on committing £1.4 million on essential maintenance for CROMER pier. Nevertheless it is inviting tenders for the work, which it plans to carry out the work in stages to ease cashflow. The authority already subsidises the summer and Christmas shows on the pier, as well as its general running costs. Audiences for Seaside Special last summer were about 10% down, largely due to the appalling August weather, which put people off visiting Cromer. The Christmas Special, which ran for three weeks, was highly commended for its production values.

Still at Cromer, the winner of Norfolk’s Find a Star competition, sponsored by the East Anglian Daily News, was 16-year old conjuror Luke Cook from Gorleston. Luke will join the cast of Seaside Special for its 12 week run this summer, and hopes this will be the beginning of a long showbiz career. Before that the theatre presents the Pasadena Roof Orchestra (March 20), Ken Dodd (March 22 – sold out) and Patsy Cline (April 11).

High Street retailer The Pier (Icelandic owned) has become one of the victims of the recession. 400 jobs were under threat as the company was placed in administration.

Waveney District Council is seeking £3.2 million from the Townscape Heritage Initiative (a Heritage Lottery programme), Parks for People and the SeaChange charity to enable it to regenerate rundown parts of LOWESTOFT’s seafront. Sadly it seems that none of this money would be directed to restoring the (privately owned) CLAREMONT pier, which during the night of 4 January had some lead stolen.

Protest is mounting at the decision to allow the construction of a “wind farm” in North Wales which could see up to 200 wind turbines erected nine miles off the coast at LLANDUDNO. Building is set to begin in 2010.

According to the journal Industrial Archaeology the piers at BUSSELTON and BUNBURY in Western Australia are under threat, and the State Tourism Commission appears to have no interest in saving them.

An “earthquake machine” using windscreen wipers and an old armchair, designed by five teenagers under the guidance of SOUTHWOLD pier inventor Tim Hunkin, went on tour around local schools and is set to appear at the National Science and Engineering Fair in London this March.

15-year old Richard Elston and some of his fellow pupils raised over £500 for the RNLI on 28 September when he and some friends ran the 7 miles between CLACTON and WALTON piers in 51 minutes.

NPS President Gavin Henderson visited RAMSEY (IOM) in October where he viewed the dilapidated Queens Pier and gave a lecture to a packed hall in the island’s capital Douglas, as well as a couple of radio and press interviews.

Gary Lineker was spotted filming a new commercial for a well-known brand of crisps on BRIGHTON PALACE pier in November.

Anthony Wills represented the Society at the annual Heritage Link day which allows up to 86 heritage organisations to debate and discuss common concerns. The guest speaker at the event (held on 3 December in London) was the new Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Jenny Abramsky CBE.

35% of Britain’s 587 beaches failed to meet the European guideline standard for water quality last summer, according to a DEFRA report. 96% met the minimum standards but, when it came to the World Health Organisation’s minimum standard for safeguarding the health of sea bathers, that figure fell to just under 66%. The exceptional UK rainfall between July and September is thought to be a major contributory factor. This swept farm fertiliser, street debris and animal and human waste into the tides. Remember that when you strip off for that cooling dip this year!

Punk band All Systems Go! had a nasty shock when they started taking promotional pictures on SOUTHEND pier. An official from the Council, who own the pier, said they required £5 million of public liability insurance.

(Thanks to Peter Brady, Bernard Colley, Anthony Hicks, Tim Mickleburgh, Violet Salter, Steve Wilkinson & Ken Wisdom for their contributions)

PIERS MEDIAWATCH – compiled by Anthony Wills

The Daily Mail of 21 October featured a well-illustrated two-page spread on piers, written by Marcus Dunk. It included fine tinted pictures of ABERYSTWYTH, BOGNOR REGIS, BRIGHTON WEST, COLWYN BAY VICTORIA, LOWESTOFT SOUTH, REDCAR and WESTON-SUPER-MARE BIRNBECK in their heyday. Sadly, as so often happens, there was NO mention of this Society or its website, in fact the reason for the feature was unclear.

The Sunday Times magazine of 26 October contained a truly stunning 6-page spread featuring some of the winning entries in the 2008 Take A View Landscape Photographer of the Year awards. They included dramatic beach shots of Beer, Hove, Hunstanton and Woolacombe as well as the Thames Estuary and, of more interest to this journal, a magical picture of BANGOR pier and the Menai Straits taken by Andrew Barton one hour after sunrise. There is also a book published by AA Publishing at £25.

The Guardian of 1 November showed a selection of pictures of life in urban Britain taken, at the paper’s behest, by the photographer Martin Parr. Parr was particularly interested in life in BRIGHTON, which he described as “living in a cartoon… where the tack is very tacky, the refined very refined”. Hopefully his picture of the PALACE pier fell somewhere in the middle.

The six remaining contestants in the penultimate edition of Miss Naked Beauty (for “naked” read “natural”) shown on Channel 4 (18 November) were seen “strutting their stuff” down BLACKPOOL NORTH pier.

Also on Channel 4 (25 November) the High Society Season documentary Britain’s Greatest Black Entertainer chronicled the rise and fall of cocktail pianist Leslie A Hutchinson (“Hutch”), who counted members of the country’s Royal Family among his conquests, yet ended his days at the bottom of the bill in variety shows on WEYMOUTH and SKEGNESS piers.

The rising young Welsh pop singer Duffy, in an interview for the Sunday Times published on 23 November, revealed how she and her sister used to visit LLANDUDNO pier to hear the band, her sister trying unsuccessfully to persuade her to get up and do a song.

The Daily Telegraph magazine of 6 December had a handsomely illustrated and affectionate feature on GREAT YARMOUTH’s historic circus, an iconic building or similar if not greater importance to the town as its two piers. The news regarding the Winter Gardens glasshouse which abuts the resort’s WELLINGTON pier is not so good. It was closed abruptly due to structural safety concerns. In a further development, local councillors have given the go-ahead for a huge casino project, provisionally called The Edge, despite objections from English Heritage.

On 11 December BBC2 Wales screened a 30-minute documentary Pier Pressure following a year in the life of COLWYN BAY Victoria and its troubled owner Steve Hunt.