Compiled by Anthony Wills
Eastbourne fire update
The Funtasia pavilion on EASTBOURNE pier was destroyed by fire during the afternoon of 30 July. The conflagration began at about 3.15 pm and rapidly took hold. The pier was safely evacuated within five minutes without loss or injury and crews from the East Sussex Fire & Rescue Services were soon on the scene. With the aid of the RNLI they pumped water from above and below onto the 90-year old building, which was reduced to a smouldering wreck. The fire was brought under control at around 8 pm, with 30 firefighters remaining at the scene overnight.
Pier manager Christos Stylianou, whose staff were relocated to a nearby hotel, paid tribute to his staff and members of the emergency services: “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to East Sussex’s brave firefighters and the RNLI for helping to contain the fire and for saving the Waterfront Bar, Atlantis nightclub and many concession units on the deck. They worked tirelessly for many hours trying to combat the blaze against the wind fanning the flames further down the pier. It was heartbreaking watching as the fire took hold and ravaged the main arcade building… we have to be grateful that the rest of the splendid pier was saved”. He added: “The pier is seen by many as the heart of Eastbourne seafront. The people of Eastbourne have been unbelievable: the camaraderie, the pulling together – true Dunkirk spirit…. All parties have been tremendous in helping us pick up the pieces, in helping seasonal staff find alternative employment and in helping concessionaires carry on their businesses.”
The cause of the fire was initially assumed to be an electrical fault inside the arcade, but was soon being treated as human intervention, either deliberate or accidental. Significantly, exactly one month earlier a discarded cigarette butt had sparked a minor blaze underneath the decking at the pier head.
The disaster occurred just days before the town’s annual four day Airbourne Festival, for which the pier would normally have been packed with visitors. Several functions had been booked into the Ocean Suite at the pier head and the owners Six Piers Ltd worked hard to relocate them into seafront hotels.
The Prime Minister and George Osborne visited Eastbourne the following day and pledged £2 million to help the town’s tourism recover. Part of this went towards the setting up of a Pier Benevolent Fund, which is being used to help cases of genuine hardship for businesses affected by the blaze, such as employees and traders who overnight lost their livelihoods at the peak of the summer season. Eastbourne residents quickly donated £4,500 towards the Fund and a Pier Revival Fete was held on 29 August in a local recreation ground. The Fund is being managed by Eastbourne & District Chamber of Commerce (www.eastbourneunltd.co.uk) who paid for pictures of the pier to adorn the hoardings which block access. Temporary kiosks were soon erected along the seafront to house the dislocated businesses (many of whom were uninsured) and the pier owners have promised reduced rents for a period once the structure is able to reopen. Stabilisation work began almost immediately, but tragedy struck on 19 August when a worker from the contractors MPMarine Ltd fell from the pier onto the beach and subsequently died from his injuries. Floral tributes were left near the pier entrance.
Hoardings have been erected around the burnt out pavilion, which is having to be completely dismantled, and access to the rest of the pier has been granted. The hard drive containing the CCTV footage inside the building was sent to Wales for rebuilding and police have been examining it in conjunction with the forensic evidence on the scene. Security staff were employed to keep the public away from the underside of the pier but there were reports of treasure hunters swimming underneath looking for coins. The arcade’s safes however were successfully rescued from the waters.
Questions were asked as to why Eastbourne had received £2 million of public money in the wake of the disaster when Hastings received nothing after its pier fire of 2010. It was emphasized however that none of the money would be going directly to the private company that owns the pier and that their loss would be covered by insurance. The Hastings Charity Trust received money from the Government’s Coastal Community Fund as well as a major award of £11.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Eastbourne pier was designed by Eugenius Birch and opened in 1870. It was sectioned in 1940 as a precaution against enemy invasion. The Funtasia amusement pavilion was originally the pier ballroom and opened in 1925. The pier is generally regarded as the finest on the South Coast and is Grade II* listed.
Great Yarmouth Britannia “fire” was a false alarm
On 22 August, a few weeks after the conflagration at Eastbourne, 900 members of the public were evacuated from the BRITANNIA pier at GREAT YARMOUTH after a fire alarm went off. A subsequent investigation showed that the alarm had been sounded “with good intent”.
Stabilisation work begins on Southsea South Parade
Work to stabilize SOUTHSEA SOUTH PARADE pier began on 14 August, when contractors KD Solutions started cleaning the piles to prepare them for inspection by structural engineers. The work was completed just before the remains of Hurricane Bertha hit the South Coast. It was commissioned on behalf of the business consortium which has exchanged contracts to purchase the pier. A sign affixed to the hoardings blocking entrance to the pier claims it is under new ownership and the company’s directors are aiming to reopen it by next spring. The South Parade Trust has urged the Council to get involved in the repairs but the Council has said it is none of its business.
Bognor Pier Trust receives £10,000 grant
The newly formed BOGNOR REGIS Pier Trust has received a grant of £10,000 from the Department for Communities & Local Government to help it with fundraising and legal costs. The Trust is seeking to purchase the freehold of the pier from its private owner and apply for Lottery and other public grants towards restoration. Trust members manned a stall at the South Downs Folk Festival in Hotham Park over the weekend of 27-28 September, and are busy planning events to mark the pier’s bicentenary next May: the National Piers Society will have a presence there. For further information please visit www.bognorpiertrust.co.uk
Campaigners hoping to build a new pier at REDCAR have received a boost after the local Council, which also owns the nearby SALTBURN pier, decided to include it in their long-term development plans. Carl Conway, secretary of the Redcar Pier Association, said: “This is fantastic news. Redcar needs to present itself as a tourism destination, improve the footfall in the town centre, and attract more visitors – we believe that a traditional pier can be a big part of helping to do that. We want the pier to offer a tangible link with the sea: after all, Redcar grew up as a fishing port”. The Trust is hoping to become a Registered Charity.
Redcar’s first summer show in years was held during August at the town’s newly opened Tuned In Centre, but there is concern that the town’s historic two screen Regent Cinema, which sits at the entrance to the long gone COATHAM pier, may be driven out of business by a new multiplex to be built on the site of the former bowling centre. The cinema suffered during the winter storms and members of the Regent Heritage Trust turned out on 10 August to give it a spruce-up.
Redcar’s futuristic Beacon – dubbed the Vertical Pier by some – opened at the end of March 2013, but has been struggling to attract traders. Visitors to the 80ft high futuristic helterskelter-style edifice have been divided in their opinions, though there is no doubt that it offers fine views of the town’s beaches (including the site of the former pier, demolished in 1981) from its summit.
Just Fancy That! A recent survey has revealed that Redcar tops the list for the most frequent use of the F… word on Twitter!
A new pier for Fleetwood?
Plans to build a new pier at FLEETWOOD on the site of the one demolished in 2008 are at an early stage. The Fleetwood Plus Community Interest Company is taking its inspiration from the successful People’s Pier campaign at HASTINGS.
TEIGNMOUTH pier, which was badly hit by the winter storms in February, finally reopened for business at the end of July.
The current Pier Of The Year, PENARTH, has been named the “most special place to visit in all of Wales”, in a competition organised by the Welsh National Trust.
SWANAGE pier has a new Pier Master, Brian Erskine, who succeeds Russ Johnson. Throughout the summer the pier had a daily boat service to and from Poole, operated by Blue Line Cruises. Another service, to Brownsea Island, began in August. PS Waverley operated daily from the pier during September. The Friends of the Pier have raised over £32,000 in the last year towards the cost of maintaining it: many of the original documents and drawings from the Swanage Pier & Tramway Company, dating from the 1890s, have recently been discovered, and will in due course be housed in the town’s museum.
CROMER pier manager Rebecca Wass is undertaking 14 sports challenges to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Centre in Norwich. These have included a six mile run, fire walk, abseil, 100 mile bike ride, and 12,000 ft tandem skydive. Still to come is a 12-hour triathlon (cycle, climb and kayak) up and over Mount Snowdon. Rebecca’s accomplishments have raised over £2,000 to date.
Volunteer divers have been exploring the waters off SOUTHEND pier for traces of an English naval ship which sank to the bottom of the Thames after an explosion in March 1865. The London was a 64-gun vessel in the English Navy and was used to escort Charles II back from Holland during the Restoration. Now English Heritage is funding a two year project to explore and excavate the wreck. Fixtures and fittings are being sorted, cleaned, wrapped and labelled by Southend Museum Services.
World-famous fashion designer Zandra Rhodes made a public appearance at SOUTHWOLD pier on 30 June to launch her Sandra On The Pier collection in the Seaweed and Salt boutique. Zandra said: “I cannot think of a better place to have a collection than on Southwold pier; it has just the right of quirkiness and is perfect for a great British day out”.
Thousands of people gathered at BOURNEMOUTH’s Pier Approach on 9 August to listen to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra performing works by the noted Hollywood film composer John Williams, including Star Wars and Harry Potter. 3,500 tickets were allocated by ballot for the two concerts and those who were unlucky listened to the music from behind the barriers. Meanwhile, on the pier itself, attempts to run a variety show in the Key West restaurant at the pier head on Wednesday nights had to be abandoned due to poor attendances.
Marking the 50th anniversary of the battles between Mods and Rockers at BRIGHTON, actor Phil Daniels, who starred in the 1979 film Quadrophenia, which recounted the events, visited the Goodwood Revival Festival in West Sussex to inspect a specially constructed model of the PALACE pier. The sold out Festival ran from 12-14 September.
In the same month, residents of SALTBURN were roped in as extras in a Bollywood film being shot on the town’s pier. The film, Shandaar, stars Shalid Kapoor and Alia Chatt and is reported to be about “destination weddings”.
And finally… Two pensioners who had been on an all-day trip on ps Waverley disembarked at PENARTH having mistaken it for CLEVEDON. The accident happened in the dark on 8 September. Penarth’s pier master Peter Andrews helped the hapless couple by booking them into the Glendale Hotel for the night and they completed their journey to Somerset the following morning.
All the national papers covered the fire on Eastbourne pier on 30 July, most of them with front page stories. The Guardian had a dramatic image spread across its centrefold. NPS Media Relations Officer Anthony Wills appeared on BBC South East ITV Meridian and French Radio London and spoke to numerous reporters from the national and local press. Projected appearances on Sky News and BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight were cancelled after he arrived in the studios to make way for developing stories concerning the Ebola virus outbreak. NPS President Gavin Henderson was interviewed by Sarah Montague on Radio 4’s Today programme, Chairman Tim Wardley gave a statement to the Associated Press and Vice-Chairman Tim Phillips spoke to BBC Radio Wales. Eastbourne-based member Robin Jones also gave interviews locally.
The Society’s new publication British Seaside Piers received a huge amount of coverage in the national press, the Press Association and Rex Features, as well as mentions in Building Design & Construction, Current Archaeology, Best of British, Discover Britain (online), Down Your Way, BBC History Live! supplement, Cornwall Today, Kent Life, Cardiff Times, Island Life (Isle of Wight), Isle Of Wight Gazette, On The Wight (online), Southampton Daily Echo, Southampton Herald, Wanderlust (online), Midweek Herald (Devon) and Suffolk Life. Our new Patron Joan Bakewell penned an article for the Daily Telegraph and co-author Anthony Wills wrote special features for The Sun, Daily Express (full page), Financial Times, Retirement Today, The Lady, Geographical magazine and the Eastern Daily Press. He appeared on BBC Radio Five Live’s Up All Night, BBC World Service, BBC Radio Wales, BBC local radios Bristol, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Nottingham, Sussex & Surrey, as well as independent stations Future Radio, Manx Radio and Talk Radio Europe. Both he and Tim Phillips travelled to Cromer for a book signing as part of a “200 years of piers” party on 26 July which was organized by Tim Wardley and Suzie Hart, who arranged for special birthday balloons to be released. Seaside Special this year included a beautifully designed and dressed number marking the anniversary and NPS Patron Gyles Brandreth sent a special message which was read out to the audience at the evening performance.
Pier Review was the title of a major article by Christopher Beanland in the Independent on 20 August, which gave the Society’s correct website address but mistakenly said that CLEVEDON was the current Pier Of The Year.
The May issue of the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Proceedings on Engineering History & Heritage included a paper given by Nigel Winterbottom on major works on BRIGHTON PALACE pier. These involved replacing the 1930s piled structure under the pier head at a cost in the region of £2.6 million. These had to be carried out while preserving visitor access to the pier and keeping in mind its Grade II* Listed Building status.
The August issue of Dancing Times included an article about the Vienna Festival Ballet’s visit to CROMER’s Pavilion Theatre, part of a tour which sees the company having to adapt to a different stage every evening.
With thanks to Graham Cadman, Daphne Leach, Daphne Lewis, Tim Mickleburgh and Chris Wyatt for their contributions.