Compiled by Anthony Wills
Upgraded Eastbourne pier on the market for £5 million
EASTBOURNE pier has been put up for sale, with a guide price of £5 million. The 139 year old Eugenius Birch structure – one of just seven remaining – had recently been upgraded from Grade II to Grade II* listed building status, thereby joining a select group of just five other piers. This is probably what prompted the owners Six Piers Ltd. to place it on the market. A spokesman for Humberts Leisure, the agents handling the sale, said the company wished to concentrate its business interests nearer its North West base (in which case SOUTHSEA SOUTH PARADE may also be disposed of). Although superficially attractive Eastbourne pier requires a great deal of work to maintain it in proper working order, not to mention decorative condition. The sale has attracted a great deal of media attention, including articles in the Times and Telegraph as well as local press, TV and radio coverage.
Weston Birnbeck “open to offers”
Another Eugenius Birch pier, the Grade II* listed BIRNBECK at WESTON-SUPER-MARE, is in the news. According to a report in the Bristol Evening Post of 10 July, it could also be sold if the right buyer came along. Purchased by Urban Splash South West in 2006 the 142 year old pier, which is high on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register, has not seen any of the promised restoration. This is partly as a result of the credit crunch but also there has been the departure of Urban Splash’s regional managing director, Jason Collard, in March. To add to the pier’s woes the adjacent derelict Royal Pier Hotel was destroyed by fire on 4 June. Four youths were seen loitering nearby and a 20-year male was subsequently arrested and charged with arson. It is understood that the hotel was not insured. Three weeks later, on 23 June, two drunken men in their 30s waded into the sea near the pier and got into difficulty when the tide turned. More than 50 personnel, including lifeboats and an RAF helicopter, were involved in a fruitless search, and the bodies were later recovered. The following week saw a similar incident in the same area, but luckily this time the offender was rescued.
Weston Grand back on track
Elsewhere in the town, after some well publicised sparring between the owners of WESTON GRAND and North Somerset Council concerning additional costs relating largely to Health & Safety issues, it was announced that both sides are fully committed to the rebuilding of the pavilion which was burnt out at the end of July last year, meaning that the target date of summer 2010 can be achieved. A spectacular ride running the length of the pier is currently being installed.
The new Chairman of BALPPA (British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Promenade Attractions) is John Bollom, owner of MUMBLES pier, whose father John is Life President. Colin Dawson, the current Chief Executive, steps down in July and is being succeeded by Martin Barratt.
The new owners of CLACTON pier, Billy and Elliot Ball, celebrated their purchase with a firework display on 12 April. Since then they have installed a 1949 helter- skelter as one of several new attractions, which include a reproduction Greased Lightning car and a Marilyn Monroe lookalike. Night fishing from the pier has been reinstated.
The latest Sea Change Awards were announced in April. WORTHING was the only town with a pier in the list of nine resorts. It will receive £500,000 to regenerate the eastern end (towards Brighton) of the seafront with a new cultural area. The other lucky towns were Dawlish, Jaywick, Leysdown, Margate & Whitstable, Newbiggin-by-the Sea, Penzance, South Shields and Wells. A total of £29 million has been dispersed to 28 resorts to date, leaving £16 million remaining.
DEAL pier has won a RIBA 2009 award for the designers of the new pier head café (Niall McLaughlin architects). The judges described it as “a beautiful addition to the town and seascape”. Deal was voted Pier of the Year last year.
The holiday season in England and Wales got off to a good start, with warm sunshine both over Easter and at half-term time in late May, and the end of June saw a marked surge in temperatures up into the 80s, but July saw a return to variable conditions.
The conductor Carlo Rizzi has agreed to become Patron of the project to restore the Pavilion on PENARTH pier currently being organised by Penarth Arts & Crafts Ltd. Mr Rizzi is a resident of the town.
A skating rink has opened on LOWESTOFT CLAREMONT pier in the area between the amusement arcade and the (closed) neck.
This year’s www.visitisleofwight.com (paper edition) contains features on SANDOWN, RYDE and YARMOUTH, with specific mentions of their piers. Last year the website received an impressive 1.2 million unique visitors, outshining many of its rivals. It was one of the first tourism websites to introduce video streaming for its users. It has also introduced a schools section offering details of suitable accommodation as well as ideas for curriculum based studies and subjects which can be easily integrated during visits to the island.
Comedian Ken Dodd, now aged 81, was presented by a CROMER ceramic crab complete with a mini “tickling stick” after appearing in two Sold Out shows (one of them lasting five hours!) at the Pier Pavilion at the end of March. Earlier in the month a simulated emergency evacuation of the theatre was carried out (the first in four years) in order to help fire fighters from the surrounding area to familiarize themselves with the Pavilion and train for any incidents that might occur there.
My Weekly issue dated 28 March had a four page feature entitled Stay At Home whose recommendations included SOUTHEND, LLANDUDNO and SOUTHWOLD.
The spring issue of Explorer magazine carried a feature on West End star (Oliver!) Jodie Prenger extolling the delights of her home town BLACKPOOL, especially the North pier, where she once appeared in a show.
The actress Kimberly Nixon, who hails from Pontypridd and had been accustomed to holidaying in Tenby, has been in SANTA MONICA (as she told the Sunday Times on 12 April) filming Wild Child with Denzel Washington, and has been appreciating the resort’s pier. Also in the USA, a 2,400 villa resort is being built near JUNO BEACH pier in Florida, enabling timeshares to be traded for hotel stays.
The Telegraph ran a big splash on 14 April headed Bigger Bognor! Seaside town returns to its roots, referring to the resort’s planned £1 billion regeneration. This was somewhat premature as the scheme, developed in association with St Modwen property group, has become a victim of the current recession, though luxury seafront flats have been completed. Nearby Butlins Southcoast World, however, buoyed by the success of its 4* Shoreline Hotel, has built a second one (the Ocean) aimed at attracting the luxury tourist market. Meanwhile the owner of BOGNOR REGIS pier, John Ayres, has made further improvements at his own expense. He is creating a sheltered area with picnic tables and chairs on the upper terrace (formerly known as the Roof Garden). This will enable drinkers in the Conservatory Bar to move outside, possibly to smoke, without getting wet. The terrace is already served by a new toilet block, which can also be used by the snooker club housed in the former Roof Garden Theatre. In addition Mr Ayres has redecorated the exterior of the pier, which is attractively lit at night. Fishing at high tide, for which no charge is made, is extremely popular, even with the recently reduced length of decking.
A Mail On Sunday feature (18 April) on Britain’s Got Talent 2007 winner Paul Potts revealed that he and his wife Julie-Ann’s first date consisted of ten pin bowling and supper on MUMBLES pier. The pair had met via the internet.
A botched break-in at CLEETHORPES pier at the end of April led to the arrest of two men who had remained on the premises in time for the police to arrive.
The Times journalist Richard Morrison penned a provocative article entitled “Clear up these seedy resorts and we’d all like to be beside the seaside again”, which appeared on 11 May. Basing his observations on visits to Margate and Weston-super-Mare Morrison argued that where there is no money or will to restore rusting Victorian promenades to the pristine state that will delight rather than repel visitors, the “eyesores” should be removed – and he included the ruin of BRIGHTON WEST in that category. In the same paper on 13 April Michael Freedland had already urged UK resorts to try harder. He quoted examples at BOURNEMOUTH, where deckchairs (costing £2 to hire) had to be returned by 4.30 pm, and all roads leading to the seafront had had parking meters installed on them. Ironically, the same paper’s issue of 16 May recommended Bournemouth as a stylish place to stay.
The Friends of RAMSEY QUEENS held their Annual General Meeting on 28 May, where Chairman Fred Hodgson was able to report more positive developments in the campaign to restore the 173-year old structure. The Isle of Man Council of Ministers finally completed their reports and recommendations in autumn of 2008. Their conclusions were that the Queens pier is of national heritage significance and should be restored. This could be carried out either by linking it to a new marina in Ramsey Bay (subject to a condition that the developer completes the refurbishment of the pier prior to the completion of the commercial and residential development), or that the pier be refurbished with the use of modern materials funded by the Government. These options were unanimously approved by Tynwald (the IOM Parliament) at the end of January. A Steering Group is to be set up to report not later than November. Watch this space! It is now important that the Friends attract more members in order to help progress these recommendations. Anthony Wills and Tim Wardley visited the island in late July and met with representatives of the Friends, as well as giving interviews to the local press and Manx Radio.
BOURNEMOUTH pier was hit by a speedboat on 30 May. A female was thrown from the boat and had to be rescued by the coastguard. The pier itself was undamaged.
The popular Where Was I? quiz in the Sunday Times dated 31 May was easily answered by any pier enthusiast. The answers were MORECAMBE and Eric Morecambe and the winner enjoyed a 7-night half board stay at the 4* Hotel Jagerwelt in Kitzbuehel (Austrian Alps). In the same feature on 26 July the answer was HUNSTANTON.
For the first time in its 25 year history the SOUTHWOLD Festival of the Sea, held on 19-21 June, took place on the pier, with proceeds going to the Fishermen’s Mission, a national charity founded in 1881 that supports fishermen and their families.
The June issue of Virgin Trains’ on-board magazine Hotline carried a six-page illustrated feature entitled Seashells And More On The Chic Shore, covering the attractions of SOUTHPORT, LLANDUDNO, MORECAMBE and BLACKPOOL.
A two-page spread in the Business section of the Times on 6 June was headed Can A Cultural Makeover Restore The Faded Glories of an Essex Resort? No prizes for guessing that the resort in question was SOUTHEND, a picture of whose pier filled half a page. Part of the ambitious plans for the town, it was stated, was a gallery or cultural attraction at the pier’s end (which could subsequently be licensed for civil marriages) and a complete refurbishment of Southend airport in time for the 2012 Olympics. The airport, incidentally, was sold by the Council to the Eddie Stobart haulage company.
The Escape section of the Observer on 7 June carried a feature (with contributions from the Society) on SALTBURN, timed to coincide with the presentation of the Pier of the Year Award at the Annual General Meeting in Penarth.
SOUTHEND pier was the starting point for a well written and beautifully illustrated article by Jonathan Glancey in the Guardian of 22 June, in which the National Piers Society was prominently mentioned.
The Daily Express of 26 June carried a comprehensive piers feature written by Robert Gore Langton with considerable help from the Society, a body which he described as “estimable”.
HASTINGS Pier Trust held a fund-raising Quiz Night on 3 July. The Trust has erected banners bearing the legend You Can Save It!! along the sides of the ailing structure.
Canadian singer and West End star Edmund Hockridge, who died in April aged 89, topped the bill at BLACKPOOL NORTH pier theatre for several seasons during the 1960s. This year the theatre, which was dark until 2008, has a full programme of shows for the summer season, beginning with the Bachelors, followed by the Comedians, Billy Pearce’s Laughter Show and Freddie Starr. Elsewhere the hardworking cast of Seaside Special on CROMER pier, which opened on 21 June, will for the first time be staging special children’s matinees on Friday afternoons in August. The shows begin at 3 pm and last for approximately 45 minutes.
CLEVEDON held a picnic on 19 July – possibly the first such event of its kind on a pier?
The m.v. Balmoral is based at PENARTH throughout August. There are also a few sailings from WESTON-SUPER-MARE Knightstone Harbour in August and September.
BLANKENBERGE pier in Belgium is staging a season of comedy nights on Fridays in July and August. Its World Piers Exhibition is also open throughout the summer. The NPS is planning a tour of the piers along the Western Flanders coast in April 2010.
The 2009 Birdman Rally took place on WORTHING pier on 22/23 August, and the third Worthing Pier Day is being held on Sunday 13 September.
The ninth annual Southsea Folk Roots and Blues Festival will take place on SOUTHSEA SOUTH PARADE pier from August 28-31. Meanwhile the Wimpy restaurant on neighbouring CLARENCE pier has been declared top Wimpy in south east England!
Almost one-sixth of the beaches in the Good Beach Guide last year have lost their commendation for excellent water quality. BLACKPOOL, WESTON-SUPER-MARE, TEIGNMOUTH, SOUTHWOLD, FELIXSTOWE and EASTBOURNE now achieve only a basic pass. This is put down to the heavy rains of last year which increased the pollution in coastal waters. SKEGNESS and LLANDUDNO are highly commended.
Reconditioned 1962 beach huts (“pods”) in BOSCOMBE’s Overstrand complex are fetching £65,000 (single) and £90,000 (double). And work on the artificial surfing reef to the east of the newly restored pier should be completed very soon.
The Museum of Childhood in London recently staged a small exhibition of photographs taken in GREAT YARMOUTH and CROMER by Paul Martin in 1892 (yes, 1892!). Martin cunningly disguised his camera as a leather box, enabling him to record holidaymakers on the beach completely unnoticed.
BOURNEMOUTH pier theatre is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a small exhibition in the foyer featuring a splendid collection of old programmes. The first professional summer season in 1960 starred the late Ted Rogers and for many years the theatre was home to long running farces playing throughout the season. The exhibition was opened by actor Brian Murphy (George & Mildred) on 11 July and runs until 30 September.
Look out for a piers feature on the Society in the Daily Telegraph in August and the current edition of Coast magazine, which is devoted to piers. Beautiful Britain will also run a 5 page piers photo spread in its autumn issue.
Beside The Seaside is the title of an exhibition at EASTBOURNE’s Heritage Centre, running until 4 October. It looks at the enduring appeal of the resort and contains many fine views of the pier.
Don’t miss the Picture Postcard Fair at the Royal Agricultural Halls, London SW1 on 3-5 September. It will have a Great British Seaside theme.
Martin Easdown has stepped down from the Committee after 18 years of loyal service. His interest in piers began when he read Seaside Piers by Simon Adamson in his local library. As a result he began to collect piers postcards and joined the National Piers Society in 1988. Prompted by the late Robert Eastleigh Martin wrote a number of items for the Piers Information Bureau. He had no attention of joining the Committee but was prompted to do so after being nominated by Daphne Leach at the 1991 AGM in Hastings. Martin takes up the story: “My first Committee meeting was very daunting! I was twenty minutes late arriving at Mary Mason’s plush home in Wimbledon and the table was already full with twelve other members. I don’t think anybody really knew who I was! The meeting lasted for four hours and most of the discussion went over my head. I wasn’t put off however and in 1994 became the Society’s Treasurer; a non-job as I never saw a single invoice in four months! Thankfully the post of Archivist (the job I wanted all along as my main interest in piers is historical) became vacant. I have enjoyed my 18 years on the Committee but current job commitments mean I can no longer attend meetings, and it will be good to have fresh blood. I am however happy to remain as archivist.” Martin also acted for a time as liaison between the Committee and the East Sussex branch. He is the author of several scholarly books on piers (the latest being Piers of Sussex and Yorkshire’s Seaside Piers) which can be purchased from the Society’s Sales Department. We thank Martin for his immense contribution to the Society’s development and expansion.
(Thanks to Margaret Burgoine, Debbie Fox, Tim Mickleburgh, Violet Salter, Ken Wisdom and members of the Executive Committee for their contributions)