Birnbeck Pier
Birnbeck Pier is a pier in Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset, England. It is situated on the Bristol Channel approximately 18 miles (29 km) south west of Bristol. It links the mainland with Birnbeck Island, a 1.2 hectares (12,000 m 2) rocky island just to the west of Worlebury Hill, and is the only pier in the country which links the mainland to an island. The grade II* listed pier was designed by Eugenius Birch and opened in 1867. The gothic toll house and pierhead buildings were designed by local architect Hans Price. The pier has been closed to the public since 1994.


A proposal in 1845 to link Birnbeck Island to the mainland at the western end of Worlebury Hill saw work start on a suspension bridge two years later. A strike by stone masons during which a storm damaged the little that had been built saw an end to that scheme. A new proposal came in 1864 to form a company to build a pier across to the island. This was funded by 2,000 shares which raised £20,000. Cecil Hugh Smyth-Pigott, the four year old son of the lord of the manor, laid the foundation stone on 28 October 1864 when a public holiday was declared in the town and a celebratory dinner was held in the Town Hall. The main pier is 1,150 feet (351 m) long and 20 feet (6 m) wide. As it has abutments at either end"one on the mainland and one on Birnbeck Island"its construction is more like a bridge than other pleasure piers. Fifteen groups of piles support a continuous lattice girder, each set comprising four piles screwed into the river bed at an angle with an X-brace between each adjacent pair. There were problems with oscillations in the structure when bands marched on the pier, both on the opening day and again in 1886, and so further horizontal cross braces were added to the piles. A bye-law also banned marching in the future. A landing jetty extended on the west side of the island to allow steamers to bring day trippers to Weston-super-Mare from ports on both the English and Welsh side of the Bristol Channel.

The pier opened on 6 June 1867, Cecil Hugh Pigot-Smyth again being the host of the ceremony, the town taking a holiday and holding a banquet in the Town Hall. The toll to walk on the pier was 1d, but this was quickly raised to 2d ”“ the maximum allowed by Act of Parliament; 120,000 people paid the toll in the first three months. A new wooden northern jetty was added in 1872 which allowed the removal of the original western landing place. Another jetty was added on the south west corner in 1898 which reached deep water even at low tide, thus allowing steamers to use the pier at all states of the tide. This was damaged in a gale in 1903, rebuilt in 1909 but closed in 1916. It was finally removed in 1923. The northern jetty had also been damaged in the 1903 storm but was replaced by the present steel structure in 1905. A second pier, the " Grand Pier", was opened in the centre of Weston-super-Mare in 1904. Although it was provided with a steamer landing it was seldom used due to difficult currents around the structure. Visitors to the town were able to catch an electric tram from the pier approach road at Birnbeck. Many visitors arriving on the steamers never left the pier, instead they made use of the cafe, pavilion, amusements and funfair on Birnbeck Island. These were destroyed by fire on 26 December 1897 and replaced by the present buildings, although these have been altered over the years. An extension on iron supports along the south side of the island was opened in 1909 which allowed a larger area for the amusements. This was not built to the proper specifications so was demolished in 1912 but a larger concrete platform was constructed in 1932. In 1941 the pier was taken over by the Admiralty as an outpost of the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (DMWD). It was commissioned as HMS Birnbeck and was used for secret weapons testing including the " Bouncing bomb". In 1962 the Birnbeck Pier Company sold the pier to P & A Campbell, the steamer operators. After the withdrawal of their ships it was sold to John Critchley who redeveloped it as a " Victorian pleasure centre" which even had special permission to issue its own currency to visitors. There have since been several proposals to make the pier a commercial success again, including converting it into a hotel, casino, residential use, or the centre of a marina. The most successful steamer company serving the Bristol Channel was P & A Campbell's "White Funnel" fleet. Their operations were suspended during the Second World War but afterwards the number of passengers carried decreased with the availability of cheap foreign holidays and the opening on the Severn Bridge in the 1960s. Regular ferries ceased serving Birnbeck in 1971 and the final excursion called on 19 October 1979. The pleasure "steamers" PS Waverley and MV Balmoral still operate in the Bristol Channel, but any calls at Weston are made by a connecting tender from Knightstone Harbour.

The pier was damaged by drifting equipment from engineering work in Sand Bay, to the north of the pier, in February 1984. The £1,000,000 of damage was quickly repaired, despite fears that Birnbeck might become like nearby Clevedon Pier, which at the time was severed by a collapsed span. The pier was again badly damaged by storms in 1990 and was closed for safety reasons in 1994, with daily summer sailings to and from Cardiff Clevedon and Penarth suspended indefinitely. It continues to decline and as a consequence English Heritage have placed it on the Buildings at Risk Register. In 1999, the lifeboat station installed a walkway across the pier to allow them safe access to the island, at a cost of £20,000. In 2006 the pier was sold to new owners, Manchester company Urban Splash. As of 2010 the people of Weston-super-Mare are waiting to see the company's plans for the future of the pier, the island and its buildings. In 2007 the repair work required was estimated at £4 million. A competition was launched in August 2007 by new owners Urban Splash, inviting people to submit ideas for the regeneration of the pier and island. In March 2008 the winners of the design competition were announced. There were 95 entries for the competition from around the world and from these, a shortlist of six was chosen with Levitate Architecture and Design Studio Ltd emerging as the eventual winners, who won £25,000 and will be paid a commission fee for their work. The winning design included a dozen luxury apartments and a 50-room hotel. In August 2008, the Royal Institute of British Architects (abbreviated RIBA) announced a campaign to redesign the buildings on the island, and six designs were submitted. One of the designs removed the existing buildings and piers to replace them with walking paths, and added a large, curvilinear, concrete building to the island. The design calls for many windows in the building to create a large panorama of the surrounding seascape. In September 2010 Urban Splash placed the pier up for sale as they are no longer in a position to redevelop the pier due to a downfall in business caused by the recession.

Weston lifeboat
The extreme tidal range in the Bristol Channel made it difficult to find a site from which a lifeboat could be easily launched at all states of the tide. In 1882 davits were installed on the pier which allowed the town's first Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeboat to be launched like a ship's lifeboat into the water below, even at low tide. This lifeboat was only involved in two rescues, although one involved taking 40 passengers off the SS Welsh Prince which got into difficulties after leaving Birnbeck Pier on 22 September 1884. In 1889 it was replaced by a larger lifeboat for which was built a new lifeboat house with a 100 feet (30 m) slipway on the north east side of the island. The present lifeboat house was built on the south east side of the island in 1902 and has the longest lifeboat slipway in England, measuring 368 feet (112 m). Boats are launched from trolleys moved up and down the old northern slipway by tractors.

Birnbeck Pier was used as a night club in Find the Lady, a 1979 episode of the television detective series Shoestring . Trevor Eve, who played Eddie Shoestring, was supported by guest star Toyah Willcox who played the singer of a punk rock band.

Building Activity

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