Gone but not forgotten – our lost Sussex piers

Taking a trip through time, Away Resorts has teamed up with the National Piers Society to showcase the past, present and potential future of what it says are the UK’s most talked-about piers.

Of the 17 piers chosen, three are from Sussex – Brighton Palace as a popular pier, St Leonards and West Pier in Brighton as lost piers.

The Evolution of Great British Seaside Piers allows people to take a trip through time, using photograph sliders to show how piers have changed and the potential future for piers.

Dr Anya Chapman, secretary of the National Piers Society, said: “Seaside piers are an important part of coastal communities. They are iconic structures that are the focal points for visitors and residents alike.

St Leonards Pier opened in 1891 and was renamed New Palace Pier in the 1930s

“People living, working and visiting coastal destinations value their piers as visitor attractions, community leisure facilities, and iconic heritage assets.

“In recent years, when piers have been under threat, local communities such as those in Hastings, Colwyn Bay, Swanage, and Ramsey in the Isle of Man have come together to rescue, repair and reopen their piers. They are part of the identity of British seaside resorts and are loved and cherished by coastal communities.”

The UK has lost 42 piers since the 1800s but 61 piers are still standing.

St Leonards Pier opened in October 1891 and cost £30,000 to build. The pavilion seated 600 to 700 visitors and offered a variety of entertainment.

St Leonards Pier was once a popular destination for visitors

However, the departure of the orchestra in 1920 affected business and the pier went into decline until it was bought by The Lannon Brothers from London.

The pier was then closed and sectioned during the Second World War for defence purposes. It suffered bomb damage in October 1940 and remained closed after the war.

Hastings Council bought the ruins in 1951 and began removing everything still standing. By late 1953, all that was left were some pieces of ironwork under the sand.

But visitors can still catch a glimpse of what the pier was like, as in October 2017, Hastings mayor Judy Rogers and local historian Steve Peak unveiled a display board on the promenade, telling its story in words and pictures.

Site of St Leonards Pier. Picture: Historical Piers Society

Designer Eugenius Birch had high hopes for West Pier, Brighton, when he designed it in 1863 and it did see some success, with a record 2,074,000 paying visitors recorded in 1919.

The entire pier was closed for safety reasons in 1975 and despite ongoing attempts to save the structure, storms in late 2002 and early 2003 caused part of the pier and concert hall to collapse.

Then in March 2003, the pavilion and further sections of the pier were destroyed by a huge fire. Later that year, the concert hall collapsed into the sea during a storm, and in October 2016 Brighton West Pier Trust announced there was no possibility of saving the skeletal remains of the pier as the project would be too expensive.

Dr Chapman said: “As most seaside piers are around 150 years old, you would expect the rate of loss and decline to increase but in fact the reverse is true.

Judy Rogers and local historian Steve Peak unveiling the display board in October 2017

“As piers are increasingly recognised as important heritage structures, more piers have been saved than have been lost in the last 10 years.”

Brighton Palace Pier has been pumped with investment, Brighton Palace is officially the UK’s most visited pier, seeing more than three million annual visitors every year. It was opened in 1899 and cost £27,000 to build – however it almost did not exist.

During the construction phase in 1896, there was a large storm which battered the new structure, causing significant damage. Today, Brighton Palace Pier is famous for guest appearances in many hit TV shows, including Doctor Who, Sweeney Todd, MirrorMask and the Carry On films.

This year, Brighton Palace Pier came third in the National Piers Society’s pier of the year awards.

To see the Evolution of Great British Seaside Piers, visit www.awayresorts.co.uk/seaside-piers

A message from the Editor, Gary Shipton:

West Pier, Brighton, before. Picture: National Piers Society

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West Pier, Brighton, now
Brighton Palace Pier before. Picture: National Piers Society
Brighton Palace Pier now