Compiled by Anthony Wills


Police arrested two men from nearby St Leonards on suspicion of arson following reports of a huge fire on HASTINGS pier at 01.00 on the morning of 5 October. The fire, which began in the ballroom, spread very quickly and destroyed over 90% of the buildings on the pier. Firefighters had difficulty in containing the blaze because of access problems. Some used lifeboats to get closer to the conflagration. Dozens of homes in the town were left without water as the fire service shipped in a huge water truck to help maintain supplies.

The following night the seafront was closed and a giant crane brought in to demolish parts of the pier thought to be unsafe. Hastings Council emphasized that nothing was being done that would jeopardize the restoration of the Grade II listed structure. When conditions permitted a structural survey would be undertaken to ascertain the extent of the damage both above and below deck before any further decisions were taken.

Hastings had headed the National Piers Society’s list of Top Ten Threatened Piers for some time and a spokesman said that this was devastating news. The Society had supported the Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust in pressing the Council to issue a Compulsory Purchase Order on the structure’s absentee owners Ravenclaw – but the Council had not yet done so. The pier was then to have been vested in the Trust (now a charitable body) which had already been drawing up a feasibility study as a prelude to an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund and other financial sources. Only the previous day the Trust had invited architects to submit designs to redevelop the attraction. Jess Steele, the Trust’s treasurer, said “This tragedy has further galvanized public support for securing the future of this much-loved pier. If the survey shows that the substructure is re-usable we will do our utmost to bring this great asset back to life.”

Even before the devastating conflagration on 5 October, which was headline news in all radio & TV bulletins as well as the local, national and international press, the pier had received considerable media coverage. BBC2’s Newsnight had a lengthy feature on 30 July as part of a light-hearted investigation into the Coalition Government’s proposal for a “Big Society” and Nick Hurd, recently appointed Minister for Civil Society (with responsibility for charities, social services and voluntary organisations), was interviewed on the derelict structure itself. The following evening Channel 4 News carried a story entitled A Tale of Two Piers, which included filmed reports from Hastings and Weston-super-Mare Grand, sandwiched around a brief interview with Anthony Wills from the NPS on the much touted pre-election Tory manifesto commitment to consult on the possibility of public finance for restoring privately owned piers. (The Society is committed to this and had lobbied MPs and ministers at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham just before the fire took place.)

As might be expected the fire received a huge amount of coverage, including as far away as Los Angeles. Chairman Tim Phillips appeared on BBC South East live from Weston-super-Mare, where he was attending the Grand Pier reopening press conference. Media Relations Officer Anthony Wills was on Meridian TV and penned a 300-word piece for the Daily Mirror. He also contributed to the BBC News website coverage, which also included comments from the Victorian Society, and was extensively quoted on the Guardian website. The Times also had a major feature on the disaster coupled with a none-too-complimentary editorial claiming that the state of Britain’s seaside resorts had forced the Party Political Conferences to move inland to such cities as Manchester and Birmingham. The Daily Mail led the way as far as pictorial coverage was concerned. BBC-2’s Newsnight pulled off a coup in persuading Baron Wei of Shoreditch, the man charged with promoting David Cameron’s Big Society, to join their reporter in an RNLI lifeboat trip around the pier. NPS patron Gyles Brandreth gave a succinct history of the pier to presenter Sarah Montague on Radio 4’s Today programme on 9 October and
previewed the forthcoming Party On The Pier celebrations next March. Booker prizewinner Howard Jacobson supplied a thoughtful and humorous piece with a good plug for the National Piers Society in The Independent on the same day. And Anita Rani talked to members of the Hastings Pier Trust in a feature for BBC1’s The One Show on 12 October.

Other news:

Weston-super-Mare Grand reopening delayed

WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND pier, which was due to reopen in July, has been dogged by a series of problems stemming from the late handover of the new pavilion and compounded by one of the main sub-contractors into administration in August. It was then discovered that the new decking around the pavilion was already failing. Then in early September the roof started leaking, damaging the new go-kart track which had to be re-laid. Consequently several dozen bookings including children’s and engagement parties had to be cancelled, as was a planned Red Arrows fly-past. The summer season’s business, estimated to represent £1m of revenue per month, was lost, and many employees had to wait to start work. Although the rides were in place thousands of pounds worth of stock  piled up.  The pier finally re-opened on Saturday 23 October in time for the half term holiday. The restoration of the pier, following the disastrous fire in July 2008, has cost in the region of £50 million.

Big plans afoot for Blackpool South

BLACKPOOL SOUTH pier could be given an £8 million makeover if detailed plans are approved. The innovative all-weather building, designed by Kirkman Architects, would be topped by a wave style roof. Visitors would enter via a barrel vault and be conveyed by rising ramps through an amusement centre with ten pin bowling, children’s play areas, a café and bar to a sun terrace facing out to sea and the original pier with its rides and family fun. Up to 30 new jobs will be created.

TORQUAY PRINCESS pier has had a £4 million makeover paid for its owner Torbay District Council.

RYDE (IOW) pier has been closed to vehicles since early August after a routine weight inspection revealed rusting steelwork. Consent for repairs to the Grade II listed structure had to be obtained from the Isle of Wight Council and English Heritage. Meanwhile owners and operators Wightlink reached agreement with the Council for ferry customers to be allowed to park their cars in Quay Street and St Thomas’s car parks in Ryde and travel down the pier by train before crossing the Solent. The car ferry service from Fishbourne to Portsmouth was unaffected. It should be noted that as long ago as the winter of 2005 (see PIERS 78) the NPS was expressing concern for the structural condition of the pier.

SOUTHPORT pier marked its 150th birthday on 2 August with a day of celebration including party games, face painting, magic shows and live music in the pier head pavilion. The structure, which opened in 1860, was the first iron pier and is currently the second longest at 3,650 ft. It was restored with Heritage Lottery and other funding in 2002 and named the Society’s Pier of the Year in 2003.

A 2,000,000 Euro grant from the European Regional Development Fund, to boost the £1.7 million Lottery award already made, is enabling the famous Medway Queen steamer to be restored in Bristol prior to returning to Gillingham (Kent) for refurbishing early in 2011. Following trials the 86-year old vessel is expected to re-enter service in 2013, travelling between Sheerness, SOUTHEND and the Kent coast. The p.s. Lincoln Castle, however, which was based in Grimsby, has been broken up for scrap.

SOUTHEND MP Derek Amess has called for the town’s pier to be involved in the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games. He was speaking during an adjournment debate in the House of Commons in June.

Alan Titchmarsh’s first guest in his Walk of Fame series screened on ITV1 on 1 August was model and actress Twiggy, and together they strolled alongSOUTHWOLD pier and had a go at some of the unusual machines in the Under the Pier amusement arcade. The pier also featured prominently in the opening titles of the programme, which was made in May before the announcement that it was up for sale (see PIERS 96). Also on 1 August the Sunday Express featured a large photo of ST ANNES pier in its travel section.

WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND was the subject of a major article by Simon de Bruxelles in the Times on 2 August. Although well researched the piece was blemished by a typographical area which gave its age as 160 rather than 106!

The Guardian of 7 August devoted its entire travel supplement to the British seaside. Among the piers included were MUMBLES (an appreciative piece by the editor of Building Design magazine), the amusement arcade atSOUTHWOLD, the theatre on BLACKPOOL NORTH, the rebuilt WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND, WORTHING’s Birdman Rally, Punch and Judy nearLLANDUDNO, donkey rides at SKEGNESS, surfing on either side ofSALTBURN and the Pier Hotel opposite HARWICH HA’PENNY.

HERNE BAY Pier Trust held an exhibition over the weekend of 21/22 August showing ideas for a replacement building for the Sports Centre once it has been demolished in 2011. The display, which was held in the Café on the Pier at the start of Herne Bay Festival Week, had as its theme Reclaim, Regenerate, Rebuild Our Pier, and attracted over 1,200 visitors, some of whom joined the Trust on the spot. In addition to futuristic designs including biomes the show featured a mass of archive pictures and memories and was illustrated by clips from Ken Russell’s comedy French Dressing, filmed in the resort in 1964 when the pier was still intact. NPS Media Relations spokesman Anthony Wills was interviewed by BBC Radio Kent and the Herne Bay Gazette in connection with the plans. For further details or to become a member visit

The summer issue of Inside Trax, a lifestyle magazine published by the drugs company Meditrax, featured piers on its cover and an illustrated article in its centrefold, for which the NPS provided images and information.

Vale of Glamorgan councillors have been discussing moving the PENARTHTourist Information Centre from its present site at the pier entrance to the town’s main street. Concern has been expressed that this might have an adverse effect on bookings for the Waverley sailing across the water to Clevedon. BOGNOR REGIS TIC is also facing a move from its prominent dedicated site on the Place St Maur to a small room inside the Alexandra Theatre complex.

A new book, Wish You Were Here (published in July by Sceptre), is the result of its author Travis Elborough spending 18 months travelling around the coast to find out about the British public’s relationship with the seaside.

A museum dedicated to the saucy seaside postcards designed by Donald McGill (1865 – 1962) opened at 15 Union Street, RYDE (Isle of Wight) on 10 July. NPS Patron Gyles Brandreth paid it a visit for BBC1’s The One Show on 5 August. Visit their website for details of opening hours.

MARGATE was the venue for a Dippers & Dunkers Festival from 20-27 August. Described as a Festival of New Variety, Burlesque and Seaside Entertainment it was curated by Prof. Vanessa Toulmin from the National Fairground Archive of Sheffield University and included Punch & Judy shows, puppet workshops, a performing flea circus and a history of Margate’s beauty contests. BBC television filmed part of the Sassy Seaside Show at the resort’s historic (1786) Theatre Royal for future transmission. Elsewhere in the town the Dreamland entertainment complex looks a very sad sight but work on the new Turner Art Gallery by the harbour wall is progressing well.

Following on from WORTHING’s hugely successful event in August a second Birdman Rally was held at its previous home BOGNOR REGIS on 12 September. However – not deliberately – Worthing staged its annual Pier Day on the same date! It was organised this year (with financial assistance from the Council) by Revolutionary Arts, and the theme was the 30s to the 50s (the age of austerity). Attractions included The Vobes’ 1940s Radio Road Show, a live calypso band, Made In Worthing art installations, face painting and, of course, Punch & Judy.

The Fifth Portsmouth Film Festival, held on 23-26 September, had a seaside theme and included a rare screening of Ken Russell’s iconoclastic 1975 movie version of The Who’s rock opera Tommy, shown in the Kings Theatre where the Pinball Wizard was shot. The film of course was notorious for causing the conflagration on SOUTHSEA SOUTH PARADE pier.

The August issue of Saga magazine contained a 5 page pictorial feature on The Great British Pier with striking images of LLANDUDNO, BANGOR,BLACKPOOL NORTH, CLEVEDON, BRIGHTON WEST and SKEGNESS taken by Neil Setchfield.

September’s Beautiful Britain had SOUTHWOLD pier on its cover and included a well researched and illustrated two-page feature on five chosen piers:BOSCOMBE, CLEVEDON, LLANDUDNO, SOUTHEND and DUNOON (Argyll), which is not get recognised as a seaside pleasure pier by the NPS. Elsewhere in the magazine there was a history of Punch & Judy (

The September issue of The Railway Magazine featured a 4-page article on the short-lived Brighton & Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway (1896-1901) with some fascinating photographs.

The 2011 British Tourism Week is to be launched with a nationwide event called Party on the Pier, which will take place on Saturday 12 March. Party on the Pier will spearhead more than 200 special tourism events over the following seven days and is bound to attract enormous media attention both at home and abroad. The NPS had a busy time in July contacting piers all round the country, and received a very encouraging initial response. Party on the Pier is strongly supported by Minister of Tourism John Penrose and VisitBritain and will be launched in London on 20 October, with NPS Patron Gyles Brandreth as one of the speakers.

The Friends of SWANAGE pier are looking for volunteers to help in the shop (just 2 or 3 hours a week) or collecting tolls at the pier gate. Full training will be given.

Just fancy that….. a horse named Mumbles Pier came in at 28/1 in a race at Market Rasen on 17 July!

And finally….. Greater love hath no man for a pier than to sit in a bath of baked beans and have passers-by pay 50p to scoop up a handful and flick them over him. Step forward Steve Howe, who in early August gallantly undertook the task in aid of HASTINGS pier!

(Thanks to Tim Mickleburgh, Miss J. Whibley, Ken Wisdom and Chris Wyatt for their contributions)