Hastings and Rother U3A

As Hastings Pier rises like a phoenix from the ashes, members of Hastings and Rother U3A were clearly interested to be shown images of this local landmark by two members of the Hastings Pier Trust.

The contract to build the first pier was won by a Glasgow company and Eugenius Birch was the architect and decided the White Rock area would provide the ideal foundation. It was started on December 18, 1869 using a screw pile construction, but there were delays caused by the prehistoric forest lying below the proposed pier. It was opened on August 5, 1872, in pouring rain, by The Earl of Granville, Warden of the Cinque Ports.

Hastings to Eastbourne boat trips from the end of the pier were popular and the Carrick Castle paddle-steamer which started running in 1855 particularly so. Variety acts, concerts and plays also proved to be a draw, but by the turn of the century funds were declining. Efforts were made to restore its popularity, with a bowling alley, a joy wheel at the front and a rifle range. In 1916 the bandstand opened, but in 1917, after a concert the pavilion was destroyed by a fire probably caused by a discarded cigarette.

The rather bland new pavilion opened in 1922, but was given an Art Deco revamp in its heyday in the 1930s when in one week in August 1931, 56,000 people visited the pier.

It closed during the Second World War, but in 1946 the theatre/ballroom and the rest opened. The 1960s saw some lively entertainment on the pier including the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Pink Floyd to name but a few. In 1976, it was given Grade II listed status. An emergency closure was made in 2006 and this became permanent in 2008. On April 1, 2008 the Hastings Pier Trust was set up to raise the money needed to repair it. But on October 5, 2010, there was the devastating fire which destroyed 90% of the pier.

Undeterred the trust has carried on with its dream having secured £11.4 million of the £14 million needed to restore the pier from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The trust has been encouraged by the way the local community has become engaged buying shares and running various fundraising schemes. When all the funding needed was secured, work began in December 2013. £7 million will be spent on the substructure. The wood costing half a million pounds will be a tropical hardwood ekki, which comes from a sustainable source in the Cameroons. 70 thousand metres of new decking and half a million screws will be used.

Except for special events, entry will be free. The plans include a visitor centre with shops a café and an educational centre and it will be making use of digital technology. Ideas for use of the pier include an Open Air Cinema, musical festivities, a circus, an ice rink, food and drink events and speciality markets. There are no plans, as yet, for a landing stage for boats at the end of the pier.

Members were encouraged to learn the pier will have a sprinkler system and hope smoking will be banned on the pier. They were surprised to learn, given fears about global warming, that the new pier will be at the same level above the sea as the original pier.

Cllr Jeremy Birch conceded recently that work was behind schedule, but residents should feel encouraged by the progress which is clearly being made. He hopes it will be open in the summer and as we all know hope springs eternal, but let us hope he is right and we see this phoenix rise from the ashes in full plumage.

The next talk will be on Monday, April 27 at St Peter’s Community Centre, Bexhill Old Town, when John Styles will be talking about My Life as a Punch and Judy Man. The meeting starts at 10.15am and coffee is served from 9.45am.

Visitors are welcome to attend two sessions before deciding whether to join. On arrival you will be met by branch greeters. It costs £17 to join for the year and then all the talks are free. You can find out further details about how to join by ringing Sian Trevellion on 07970 727180 or email initialenquiries.hru3a@gmail.com.