Compiled by Anthony Wills
One of Britain’s most successful piers, WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND, has changed hands for a sum believed to be in the region of £5 million. The new owners of the 104 year old Grade II listed structure are 49 year old business man Kerry Michael and his sister Michelle, who already have interests in restaurants, insurance and garden centres. They have also purchased some of the mermaid displays seen on Blackpool seafront last autumn. Their plans for the pier envisage more live music and entertainment, market stalls, improved catering, weddings and childen’s parties. They also intend opening for Christmas and the New Year if the demand is there. The Grand Pier has only changed hands three times since opening in 1904. It had been owned by the Brenner family since 1947. It was named NPS Pier of the Year in 2001 and the Society’s 2006 AGM held in Weston included a guided tour conducted by Rod Brenner.
Sixty feet of the remaining decking at the end of BOGNOR REGIS pier has been removed by contractors on safety grounds, further reducing its length to around 350 ft. The work was carried out at low tide early on the morning of 27 March. The end section had been cordoned off for several weeks, even before the strong winds and high tides of 9-11 March. The columns that were removed were those put back after the pier was sectioned during the Second World War, and reckoned to be inferior to the originals. They have not been put into storage. This is the latest in a series of losses to have struck the Grade II listed pier, which opened in 1865 to an original length of 1,000 ft. The seaward end with its pavilion and diving platforms disappeared under the water in 1965 and a further section was swept away in a storm in October 1999. The pier’s previous owners had applied to demolish the remaining sections in 1994 but the current owners, Bognor Pier Leisure Ltd., had spent in excess of £50,000 restoring cross-bracing and supporting columns, even though they derived no income from the area. An application from a newly created charitable trust for £2 million of Lottery funding to help restore the pier was turned down in 1998. The pier which is the ninth oldest surviving one in the UK, has been privately owned since 1909 and was included in the Society’s list of Top Ten Threatened Piers last July. It is ignored in a major seafront regeneration scheme being planned by Arun District Council in conjunction with developers St Modwen, once favoured to restore BRIGHTON WEST. As a result of the above, the International Birdman Rally on 5/6 July – the 30th due to be held In the resort – has had to be cancelled. The resort holds its Sands of TiIme Seaside Festival over the weekend of 31 May/1 June, with this year a Pirates and Smugglers theme. For further Information,and a timetable of events telephone 01243 825535. Meanwhile at the shoreward end of the pier new entrance doors have’ been fitted to the arcade and the former cafe has been converted into a separate 18+ adult gaming area. The owners recently applied to the Council for permisslon to construct new steps leading east off the pier onto the shingle beach near the fishermen’s boat area for a proposed decked refreshment area, but this was turned down.
Five years after the WEST pier blaze of 28 March 2003 the police investigation into its cause is being wound down. According to the Brighton Evening Argus, which pUblished an eight page supplement to mark the anniversary, the lack of forensic evldence and eyewitness accounts of the start of the conflagration mean that the chances of identifying possible arsonists and reaching a satisfactory conclusion are virtually nil. The paper has managed, under the Freedom of Information Act, to examine confidential coastguard documents detailing the desperate struggle to save the Grade I listed structure from the first anonymous mobile phone tip-off at 0950 that morning until the incident was signed off at 1520. OVer 40 fire-fighters on the beach aided by helicopters, lifeboats and fishing vessels fought to extinguish the blaze but were defeated by a combination of heat, low tide and underwater obstructions.
A government proposal to compel anyone fishing in the sea using a rod and line to purchase a licence costing £25 a year for adults and £5 for children has met with fierce resistance from the National Federation of Sea Anglers and owners of the many piers which offer fishing facilities. The Government says the income from licences, which would apply whether an angler was fishing from land or boat, would be used to improve conditions.
Still on angling, a 41-yearold night fisherman on SANDOWN (IOW) pier in December landed a sea bass weighing 19 lb.11oz, which is 11oz. more than the previous recorded heaviest catch in British waters.
After all the fuss, the super casino bid which BLACKPOOL lost out to Manchester is not being given a governmental go-ahead after all. Manchester Council’s reaction has been to threaten legal action against the Government in respect of an estimated £250 million lost investment for the city. However, a number of so-called “large” casinos have been sanctioned at vanous destinations including GREAT YARMOUTH (where there are already two licence bidders), while resorts including SKEGNESS, SWANSEA and TORBAY are being given permission to build smaller ones. Meanwhile Blackpool has been offered Government “sweeteners” totalling £934 million towards updating the Illuminations, restoring the tram system and expanding its higher education provision. The Fylde coast resort is also favoured as the likely location for the UK’s first American-Style Christian theme park. modelled on the successful Holy Land Experience in Florida. And it is currently running, with support from the National Fairground Archive at Sheffield University and a London showbusiness agency, the Whoopee Club, an 18-month festival entitled Admission All Classes, to support the town’s attempt to be recognized as a World Heritage Site. The festival includes events at the Tower Circus, Grand Theatre, Winter Gardens and all three piers, including performances of Burlesque & Exotic Cabaret in the NORTH pier theatre on 24 & 25 May, plus recreations of pierrot shows in August. For further details visit www.admissionallclasses.com
BOURNEMOUTH has emulated SALTBURN by installing special lighting, mounted into the pier deck, which reflects on to the newly replaced central windbreak. The lights, which are switched on from dusk until 2am., are programmed to change colour in patterns and waves, creating a spectacular effect. The former Showbar nightclub above the pier entrance building has been converted into a family restaurant and bar called Aruba. It is decorated in tropical style and has an outdoor terrace with hammock seats offering panoramic views over the pier and along the bay. A live parrot adds to the atmosphere! The Pier Theatre, now managed by Openwide International, has a full programme of shows from May onwards, centred upon The Magic of Laughter on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 13 May, and including tribute bands and one-night stands from the likes of Joe Longthome and Marty Wilde.
About a mile eastwards the restoration of neighbouring BOSCOMBE pier is on track to be completed by May. The area in front of the pier is being made more pedestrian friendly. The Grade II listed 1950s entrance building will be fitted out with a high quality Italian cafe on one side and a beach goods shop plus takeaway stall on the other. The concrete pier deck has been restored, the decking renewed and the central windbreak will feature an interpretative history of the pier from its opening in 1889. The old Mermaid amusement building has been removed and a new 18 metre square viewing platform erected in its place.
CLEETHORPES pier developed a reputation as a mecca ror Northern Soul fans in the 1970s, and some of the DJs of that era including Colin Curtis, Ginger Taylor and Soul Sam returned to Pier 39 for a recreation of the Soul All-Nighter on the night of 9/10 January.
BLACKPOOL Pleasure Beach once again emerged as the UK’s top visitor attraction in 2007, according to figures released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. The number of visitors to the theme park was, however, 3% down on 2006, at 5.5 million. The company recently invested £8 million in a new white knuckle wet ride entitled Infusion.
Piers at BOGNOR REGIS, BRIGHTON, EASTBOURNE, HASTINGS and SOUTHSEA among others claim to have been hit by changes to gambling regulations (which took effect on 1 September 2007) restricting the stake monies and prizes awarded by big-money adult gaming machines in seaside arcades. Trade body BACTA estimates that family amusement centre takings, already hit by the smoking ban and the growing popularity of internet betting, are down by an average of 23%, because the maximum stake has been halved from £2 to £1 and the permitted number of machines offering prizes of £500 has been reduced to four per arcade. Several South Coast MPs signed an Early Day motion put down by the Labour member for Morecambe calling for an urgent government review in order to correct an imbalance in the regulations and safeguard the future of coastal arcades.
Following the Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £350,000 towards the cost of replacing wooden supports affected by gribbles (reported in PIERS 84) YARMOUTH (IOW) pier was closed to the public over the winter months to allow the work to proceed.
The sinking of the 6,395 tonne Greek-registered freighter Ice Prince off Portland Bay in the English Channel on 14 January resulted in substantial quantities of timber planks being washed up along the shore from WORTHING to HASTINGS six days later. The accident caused sightseers to flock to the resorts affected, and police had to close the beaches in order to permit salvage operations to proceed smoothly and prevent looting by members of the public. Worthing pier was closed for one day while safety checks were carried out. The section of beach east of the pier was eventually reopened on 4 March. In another incident the ferry Riverdance, en route from Northern Ireland to Heysham, ran aground off BLACKPOOL between CENTRAL and NORTH piers in stormy conditions during the night of 31 January/1 February. Four passengers and 19 crew were rescued by helicopter. An exclusion zone was set up around the beached vessel to stop sightseers getting too close. The ferry’s cargo of heavy lorries had to be removed before she was re-floated and towed away several weeks later.
The popular afternoon tea dances on SOUTHSEA SOUTH PARADE pier had to be suspended in late January after the Gaiety Lounge’s central heating system broke down. Portsmouth City Council was seeking talks with the pier’s owners Leisure Parcs to express its concern at what it saw as the pier’s increasingly shabby appearance. Meanwhile the resort’s CLARENCE pier has applied to increase the dimensions of its proposed Solent Eye Big Wheel (see PIERS 86) to 180ft diameter and to open a cafe bar, with live and recorded music, serving alcohol from 10 a.m. to midnight over the Wheel of Fortune amusement arcade. Objectors are concerned by the potential noise impact on nearby residential properties.
It was announced at the end of January that the historic ships Mary Rose and Cutty Sark are to receive lottery grants totalling £31 million towards restoration and refurbishment. £10 million of this has been approved as an emergency grant to cover the extra costs after the Greenwich based Cutty Sark was devastated by fire. The ship has already received Lottery funding in excess of £12 million.
Meanwhile, the Culture Media and Sport department gained yet another new Secretary of State, Andy Burnham, when James Purnell was chosen to replace Peter Hain after the latter’s resignation as Secretary of State for Work & Pensions. Mr Burnham was a former adviser to Chris Smith at the Culture Department. The Minister for Culture (including Heritage) is Margaret Hodge. Former Secretary of State Tessa Jowell is charged with overseeing the 2012 Olympic Games.
The winner of Coast magazine’s Best Seaside Attraction Award announced in February was SOUTHWOLD pier. The judges, who considered a shortlist drawn up by 10,000 readers, praised the Suffolk pier for its quirky and individual renovation of a coastal classic and its breadth of appeal. BOURNEMOUTH was named Best Beach for water quality, scenic beauty and visitor facilities.
A fisherman who had gained unauthorised access to WESTON-SUPER-MARE BIRNBECK pier and island on 7 February was swept into the sea. The body of the fisherman, who had a young wife and child, has not been recovered to date.
Former Soho porn king Paul Raymond, real name Geoffrey Quinn, who died on 3 March aged 82, began his career in variety as a mind reader with Gaye Dawn on CLACTON pier in 1947. They called themselves Mr & Mrs Tree – pronounced “Mystery”.
The coasts of Britain, particularly in the South West and Wales, were battered by heavy rainfall and strong winds gusting in excess of 80 mph for three days from 9-11 March, when a deep depression coming in from the Atlantic coincided with high spring tides. Road and rail travel was disrupted, many coastal residents had to be evacuated from their homes and police urged the public to stay away from seafronts. The seaward end of HASTINGS pier (already closed to the public on safety grounds) suffered damage when two upright columns broke away from their supports and several areas of bracing failed. At PAIGNTON a hut on the front deck of the pier broke free and ended up leaning at 45 degrees against the railings. Unfortunately the bad weather coincided with UK National Tourism Week!
West Norfolk Council is seeking to draw a line under the long-standing row over the replacement amusement arcade opened in 2003, built on the landward end of the site of the former HUNSTANTON pier, which disappeared in a 1978 storm. The Council has said it will not consider any more objections because these would not be upheld in court, and that it will draw up a deed releasing the current arcade owners from any obligation to replace the lost pier.
QUEENS pier RAMSEY (IOM) has a new website: www.queenspier.org The Friends of Ramsey pier can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org A recent independently conducted residents’ poll on the island received a comparatively high response rate of 46%, of whom 81% (56,000 voters) were in favour of the pier being restored. Meanwhile the Isle of Man Victorian Society has reacted swiftly to a local radio report that the Department of Transport were planning to remove railings, seating and lamp standards from the closed pier, on safety grounds. They have written to the Planning Committee pointing out that Listed Building Consent is required which means the proposals must be advertised and time allowed for public objections. In a further shock move it has been announced that the section of the Manx Electric Railway between Laxey and Ramsey will not operate this summer, after an engineering survey reported that the track was unsafe. The section between the island’s capital Douglas and Laxey is unaffected.
CLEVEDON pier hosted the launch of photographer Clive Minnitt’s handsome new book about the Grade I listed structure on Easter Sunday; the book’s foreword has been contributed by Griff Rhys Jones, former presenter of BBC2’s Restoration series. On Saturday 24 May the pier will be marking the 10th anniversary of its reopening after restoration in style, with Punch & Judy, bands and fancy dress competitions.
The first detailed survey of local authority owned CROMER pier in 18 years has indicated the need for a phased programme of work costing up to £800,000 over the next decade, in order to secure the structure’s future over the next 50 years and help withstand rising tides and diminishing beach levels. Decking damaged in the November 2007 storm needs replacing urgently and 60% of the remaining decking and supporting timbers would need renewing in due course, at a cost in the region of £265,000. Replacing corroded steelwork would cost around £280,000. Some of this work would have to be carried out during summer seasons when the weather was clement. Meanwhile it is business as usual at the Norfolk pier’s Pavilion Theatre, with a full programme of one-night stands in the run-up to the annual Folk on the Pier Festival (9-11 May), an amateur production of Barnum (24-31 May) and then the legendary Seaside Special, starring Peter Piper, in residence for three months from 21 June on five evenings a week this year (Tuesdays – Saturdays) with more afternoon matinees than before. .
After workmen were seen measuring the perimeter of the derelict LLANDUDNO pier pavilion (almost totally destroyed by fire in 1994) rumours have been circulating that a boutique hotel is planned for the site, though no planning application appears to have been received by the local authority.
There are plans to build a 21st century pier on the seafront at INGOLDMELLS, just north of SKEGNESS. The directors of Coastal Land Ltd., who own the beach and foreshore, have commissioned award-winning architects Atomik to design a triangular structure with three wings, one for bars and restaurants, one for shows and concerts and one possibly to house the Skegness casino. An outline planning application has been submitted to the local authority. A new pier at MORECAMBE is also on the cards.
(Thanks to Michael Bevis, David Cheshire, Sylvia Endacott, Fred Gray, Tim & Anne Mickleburgh, Peter Stockhill, Steve Wilkinson and Ken Wisdom for their contributions)