Compiled by Anthony Wills

A saviour for Brighton West?

A Sussex businessman has offered to rebuild the iconic BRIGHTON WEST pier in time for its 150th anniversary in 2016. Mike Holland has consulted the firm involved in the restoration of WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND, who have estimated the cost at £25 million. Mr Holland, who has published computer generated images showing a raised walkway leading to a three tiered pavilion, said he would raise the money in conjunction with local businessmen and apply for Heritage Lottery funding. However, Rachel Clark of the West Pier Trust said they were committed in the first instance to the erection of the 360 degree i-Tower, though this had been delayed by the economic turndown. The pier has been closed to the public since 1975 and almost completely destroyed by fire and the elements since.

Walton no longer for sale but Schveningen on the market

The 2,610 ft long pier at WALTON-ON-THE-NAZE has been taken off the market, thus following in the steps of SOUTHWOLD and BRIGHTON PALACE, also recently withdrawn from sale. However the pier at SCHVENINGEN in Holland is up for sale. During the past year BLACKPOOL NORTH, COLWYN BAY, TOTLAND BAY (IOW) and WESTON-SUPER-MARE BIRNBECK have changed hands.

Local authority buys Colwyn Bay

Conwy Council has purchased COLWYN BAY VICTORIA from the Crown Estate with the aid of a £36,000 grant from the Welsh Government. But although this might have been seen to add weight to the bid for £4.9 million of Heritage Lottery funding towards restoration it has unfortunately been turned down.

Beaumaris to reopen at Easter

After refurbishment costing £2 million, including a doubling of its width, the 570ft long pier at BEAUMARIS on the Isle of Anglesey will reopen to the public at Easter. The official reopening ceremony is scheduled for 15 June. On 13 May members of the National Piers Society will be visiting the pier as part of their AGM weekend.

Weymouth Sea Tower is on schedule

The £3.5 million Tower being erected at the end of WEYMOUTH COMMERCIAL & PLEASURE pier was “topped out” on 27 March and is on schedule to open early in July. Spectators at the top will have a grandstand view of the course over which sailors will be bidding for Olympic medals at the Weymouth & Portland Sailing Academy. The tower, which has been constructed in Budapest and transported to Dorset in sections, will accommodate 70 visitors at a time and offer panoramic views along the Jurassic coast. A land train will transport visitors from the Sea Life Centre along the promenade and past the Pavilion Theatre.

Worthing pier reaches 150 not out!

WORTHING pier celebrated its 150th birthday in style on 12 April. There were performances by musicians and artists, a pass-the-parcel contest along the pier’s entire length and a “blowing bubbles flashmob”! 40 students painted 4 ft by 2 ft panels giving a timeline of the pier’s history. The anniversary came at a time when the Council was giving serious consideration to the way ahead for the Grade II listed structure. The theatre remains under its control for the present but the Southern Pavilion has been empty since the failure of the Angelik nightclub.

Bournemouth pier theatre wins temporary reprieve

The pier theatre at BOURNEMOUTH, which closed last September due to lack of patronage, has been spared for one more year and will offer a programme of shows from May. The proposed conversion to a “Rock Reef Centre” will require the installation of a greater electrical power supply and lessees Openwide Coastal are reluctant to leave the building unused during the 2012 season.

Southend plans big celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee

Southend Council has announced that the Tall Ship Atlantis will be moored at the pier from 1-5 June as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. There will be opportunities not only to look around the ship but also go sailing on it. Over the weekend of 2/3 June there will be an Art On The Railings exhibition on Pier Hill (opposite the Palace Hotel), with an interactive children’s workshop using a crown theme.

Summer plans for Herne Bay

The Herne Bay Pier Trust held a public exhibition on 21 March to show its plans for a domed building on the site of the former sports centre, which cost £750,000 to demolish. Officers from Canterbury City Council have been working with members of the HERNE BAY Pier Trust to ensure that the former sports centre site on the pier is put to use during the forthcoming summer season, including a Diamond Jubilee tea party, a film show and a firework display.

News from the USA

MALIBU pier in southern California is suffering from the downturn in the U.S. economy. Two restaurants have closed down in the past year through lack of patronage. The pier was built in 1905 and originally served for delivering and despatching freight, but in 1934 it was extended to its current length of 705 ft. and the public was allowed to use it for fishing and recreation purposes. At the start of the Second World War it became a U.S. Coastguard lookout station, but a severe storm put paid to that in the winter of 1943-44. In 1960 an artificial reef was constructed about a mile south-east of the pier to protect it from ocean damage. California State Parks purchased it in 1980. In 1993 it was severely damaged by the El Nino storms and closed two years later. Reconstruction costing $6.2 million (roughly £4 million) began in 1999 and the pier reopened in 2008, however the optimistic forecasts expressed at that time have not so far been borne out.

GALVESTON on the Gulf Coast – made famous in a song written by Jimmy Webb and sung by Glen Campbell – has had a pleasure pier since the 1940s, when the island was a carefree family destination. But in the ensuing years the pier lost its appeal and after being battered by Hurricane Carla in 1961 it closed. Four years later the Flagship Hotel was erected on it but that in its turn was destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Now $40 million (about £24 million) is being spent on rebuilding the structure to a length of 1,130 ft., with attractions including rides old and new, carnival games, souvenir shops and restaurants. The pier is scheduled to open on Memorial Day (28 May).

Other news

Welsh Office minister David Jones visited PENARTH on 22 February to see for himself the £3.9 million restoration work being carried out by R. & M. Williams Ltd. on the iconic Pier Pavilion. After a decade of neglect it is expected to re-open next summer as an educational and cultural centre for the area as well as acting as a base for volunteer organisations such as the RSPB and Coastwatch.

SALTBURN was embroiled in a full-scale terror alert on 12 March when a woman wearing a head dress and scarf over the face and believed to be carrying suspicious items in a rucksack was confronted by police officers armed with sub-machine guns as she walked along the seafront near the pier. Workers in the pier arcade were trapped for 90 minutes as police tried to prise the bag from her before forcing her to lie face down on the ground while an army bomb disposal unit with sniffer dogs were called in to examine the contents. Earlier in the day she had visited a hardware shop in the town and was traced to the seafront where she was sitting in a shelter. After an eight hour stand-off, which saw the promenade evacuated, she was arrested under the Mental Health Act.

A Compulsory Purchase Order was issued by HASTINGS Council on 19 March after the pier’s Panama-based owners Ravenscroft failed to meet the deadline for responding to the notice of repairs.

Britain’s piers certainly benefited from the exceptionally warm weather at the end of March. With unbroken sunshine and temperatures in the low 20s right across the country resorts were crowded with visitors anxious to forget the worries of rocketing petrol prices and general economic uncertainty.

RYDE, the UK’s oldest pier (it opened in 1814) has begun celebrating early. On 31 March it held a party to celebrate the passing of the Act of Parliament which authorized its construction. Among the attractions were appearances by the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra and the Medina Marching Band which played the length of the pier. There were also vintage car displays, historical and art exhibitions and an opportunity to purchase souvenirs made from original pier wood. Collections were taken in aid of St Catherine’s School and the Earl Mountbatten Hospice.

“That’s the way to do it!”
Celebrations for the 350th anniversary of Punch & Judy in this country are being organised by Puppetlink Ltd, with the aid of a Heritage Lottery grant. The project, called The Big Grin and organised in conjunction with the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, kicks off with a weekend of merriment in London’s Covent Garden on 12/13 May, followed throughout the summer by touring exhibitions, story trails, drop-in art activities and schools workshops all around the country, including ABERYSTWYTH, HASTINGS, WEYMOUTH, WORTHING and BRIGHTON, where the Fishing Museum will open a permanent display on a site where Punch & Judy shows have been given since the 1830s.

The Friends of SWANAGE Pier – the National Piers Society’s Pier Of The Year 2012 – are holding their Annual General Meeting in the Mowlem Theatre community room on 24 May. Members will hear about the five year business plan designed to help plug the ever increasing gap between income and expenditure, part of which involves the appointment of a General Manager to oversee the daily running of the pier and source external funding. The Friends have been able to hand over £26,000 to the Trust over the past year and a programme of fund-raising events is being arranged including a Queen’s Jubilee celebration on 4 June, a Family Fun Day on 5 August and a Beetle Drive on 15 November.

Structural repairs to CROMER pier are set to commence in June and take 16 months to complete, with breaks during the height of the summer and winter. The project is costed at £1.1 million and is expected to secure the pier’s future for another 20 years. The lifeboat station and shows in the Pavilion Theatre will be unaffected. Bookings are now open for Seaside Special, which begins on 16 June.

CADW (Welsh Heritage), Conwy County Council and the LLANDUDNO Seaside Buildings Preservation Trust are all monitoring designs for a replacement building – possibly a 4* hotel – on the site of the former Pier Pavilion, which burned down in 1994 and has been an eyesore ever since. Previous plans submitted by the site’s owner, a businessman from the Midlands, have been turned down as unsuited to such an important Victorian conservation area. (The National Piers Society’s AGM on 12/13 May will include a visit to the site, which is adjacent to the pier.)

Co-owner of WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND pier Michelle Michael has been appointed to the Management Committee of the British Association of Leisure Parks and Promenade Attractions (BALPPA).

The owner of BURNHAM-ON-SEA pier is in dispute with Sedgemoor District Council. The Council had ordered the removal of a conservatory type building on the pier forecourt (used as a sweet shop) because it was deemed to be out of keeping and should have had planning permission. Louise Parkin, whose family have run the pier for 44 years, said that the building was a permitted development. She said the confectionery sales had been subsidising the losses in the amusement arcade for four years. Local residents have signed a petition in support of the building.

A historic painting by J.M. Turner of BRIGHTON CHAIN pier (demolished in 1896) will go on public display for the first time in more than a century at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery next year. The 1824 watercolour, which had been in private hands, was sold at auction for £225,000 at Christie’s New York, the money coming from the Royal Pavilion & Museums Foundation with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A student photographer believes he has captured images of a ghostly figure at the head of CLEVEDON pier. Matthew Hales (17) was taking early morning shots using a 30-second time lapse on his camera. Pier mistress Linda Strong agrees that the images appear to support his claim. Fishermen, who are allowed on the pier 24 hours a day, have also reported seeing a ghostly figure.

Our Amsterdam-based member Guurtje Wink visited BLANKENBERGE pier (Belgium) in February and reports that the World Piers Exhibition has been dismantled. Its whereabouts are unknown. Guurtje will be coming to the UK for the Society’s AGM in May and plans to visit a total of 11 piers!

Cavern Club Revisited is among the shows booked for BLACKPOOL NORTH theatre for the summer. Featuring The Merseybeats, Brian Poole, Chip Hawkes and The Swinging Blue Jeans, the show will play every Monday from 30 July to 3 September at 7.30 pm.


Michael Portillo rode in the driver’s cab on the SOUTHEND pier train as part of the episode of the latest series of Great British Railway Journeys shown on 3 January.

Radio 4’s Nature broadcast on 17 January featured recordings made on BRIGHTON WEST pier in the late 1990s by two engineers who rigged microphones in the derelict concert hall to capture the murmurations of their starlings at their nightly roost. The West Pier Trust’s Fred Gray was on hand to supply some historical background.

The Polish film comedy Polish Roulette, released on 27 January and shown in 40 cinemas around the country, featured a number of scenes shot on SOPOT pier.

SWANAGE pier got a good plug on BBC2’s Britain’s Heritage Heroes shown on 20 February, when presenters John Craven and Jules Hudson stopped off there on a glorious summer’s day, met pier master Russ Johnson, took a boat round the structure with the chairman of the Diving Club and finished up purchasing and installing a pier plaque to record their visit.

SALTBURN pier was featured on BBC2 as part of the documentary series about pioneering photographer Francis Frith, Britain’s First Photo Album, presented by John Sergeant and shown in March. The pier was also put to unusual use when Sky TV filmed there for a forthcoming National Geographical Channel programme looking at the effects of a tsunami hitting the coast. They installed a water tank on the pier to create a huge wave.

Towards the end of March actors Daniel Mays and Sheridan Smith filmed scenes on BLACKPOOL NORTH pier for the forthcoming TV drama series Mrs Biggs, about the wife of the Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, due to be shown on ITV1 in the autumn. The cast and crew then flew to Australia which is standing in for Brazil, where Biggs took refuge for many years.

Two commercials shown recently on ITV have featured piers. A charming one for Sainsbury’s featured a father and his son taking a day trip to the seaside – in this case WORTHING. More interesting was the Homebase series of ads which for some reason were filmed on SANDGATE pier in Australia. This pier opened in 1872 and was refurbished in 2000. It is the starting point for the Brisbane to Gladstone yacht race in April each year.

The ad for the new season of fashion wear from the Mulberry company featured two models posing on BRIGHTON beach with a large stick of rock and the PALACE pier in the background.

(With thanks to Margaret Burgoine, Mike Davies, Debbie Fox, Robin Jones, Daphne Leach, Anthony Lynn, Tim Mickleburgh, Ben Robinson, Ken Shenton and Chris Wyatt for their contributions)