West Pier, Brighton

Coordinates: 50°49′15″N 0°09′04″W / 50.82083°N 0.15111°W / 50.82083; -0.15111

The West Pier is a pier in Brighton, England. It was built in 1866 by Eugenius Birch and has been closed and deteriorating since 1975, awaiting renovation. It was Brighton's second pier, joining The Royal Suspension Chain Pier of 1823, and it is one of only two Grade I listed piers in the UK, the other being Clevedon Pier.

Plans by the charity the West Pier Trust, which now owns the pier, to renovate it with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, were opposed by some local residents. The local media reported that a major concern was the impact of commercial operations on the shore that were apparently required to help fund the project. The Noble brothers, owners of the Palace Pier, joined the objectors, having originally been supporters of the restoration scheme (the 1996 Year of the Pier was launched from the Palace Pier). Their reported point of view was that subsidised rebuilding, were it to happen, would represent unfair competition. The West Pier Trust said on 15 July 2008 that it was confident the West Pier would be rebuilt. Its long-term aim is to re-establish the structure, which has been destroyed by two fires, as a major tourist attraction along with the "Brighton Eye (i360)" a futuristic observation tower. Further work on rebuilding the pier will not begin until construction is "well under way" on the i360.

History

The West Pier was opened in 1866 with a length of 1115 feet, and built with cast iron threaded columns screwed into the seabed. The pier did not have much of a superstructure until 1893 when a pier head was extended and a pavilion added. A concert hall was added in 1916 and a new top-deck entrance in 1932. In 1965 the pier was bought by a company that owned some seafront hotels and entertainment venues. They had ambitions for the pier but as maintenance costs increased the pier was closed in 1975 when Brighton Corporation declined to buy it and the pier passed into the hands of the Crown Estates Commissioners. A trust was formed to save the pier and in 1984 they bought it for a nominal sum.

The West Pier had been cut off from the shore (partly deliberately, for safety reasons) since 1975, but the West Pier trust offered regular tours of it until the structure suffered a serious partial collapse during a storm on 29 December 2002, when a walkway connecting the concert hall and pavilion fell into the sea. On 20 January 2003 a further collapse saw the destruction of the concert hall in the middle of the pier. On 28 March 2003 the pavilion at the end of the pier caught fire. Firefighters were unable to save the building from destruction because the collapsed walkway prevented them from reaching it. The cause of the fire remains unknown. On 11 May 2003, another fire broke out, consuming most of what was left of the concert hall. The Fire re-ignited on 12 May. Arson was suspected: the West Pier Trust refers to the fires as the work of "professional arsonists". Suggested beneficiaries to ending any possible development of the West Pier either local residents who objected to a new development on the sea front, or the threat of competition to the lucrative Palace Pier's business.

On 23 June 2004 high winds caused the middle of the pier to collapse completely.Despite all these setbacks, the West Pier Trust remained adamant that they would soon begin full restoration work. Finally, in December 2004, the Trust conceded defeat, after their plans were rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund, in part because of problems with achieving the required "matched funding" from outside sources. Subsequent plans to restore only the oldest, structural parts of the pier were eventually rejected by English Heritage. However, in September 2005 the Trust revealed in their newsletter that they were forming further plans to rebuild the original structure with help from private funding.

In December 2005 the last remaining physical structure, the "little white hut", was lost when strong winds broke it away into the sea. Ironically, when the rest of pier had been intact, the hut had been said to be in serious threat of falling into the sea; yet it was the last piece to remain.

i360

In Spring 2006, the West Pier Trust announced a new plan to fund the restoration of the pier: a 183-metre observation tower, the i360, to be built on the West Pier promenade deck. The tower is planned to carry 100 visitors at a time to a viewing platform 150 metres above sea level. The projected cost of the tower is £15 to £20 million and it would take two to three years to build. A ticket would cost around £8 and the Trust expects around half a million paying visitors each year. The i360 attraction was due to start construction in July 2007; ; as of April 2008 no obvious construction work was actually visible, but according to the November 2007 newsletter of the West Pier Trust, work had begun in the form of a detailed engineering appraisal of the base of the site, including drilling boreholes, inspecting the sewers and studying chalk and rock samples. The Trust has also stated that on their website in September 2010 that the i360 is "planned to be up and running for the summer of 2012". Some demolition and removal of part of the iron debris of the West Pier accessible at low tide took place early in 2010. The construction of the metal tubes for the tower is already in progress in Holland.

There is a museum display of artefacts from the pier on the lower promenade as part of the Brighton Fishing Museum.

Cultural references

The pier features prominently in the 1969 Richard Attenborough film, Oh! What a Lovely War.

In Nick Cave's second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, the eponymous character watches the pier burn down in the opening sequence of the book. The majority of the novel is set in and around Brighton.

Accidents and incidents

On the 26 November 1944 a Royal Air Force Hawker Typhoon single-engined monoplane fighter hit the pier and then crashed onto the beach. The pilot sustained head injuries. The Typhoon was part of a flight of four aircraft escorting a VIP flight.

Development of West Pier

The following photos show the major structural developments of West Pier from its opening in 1866 until 1920. After this the pier was essentially unchanged.

  • The opening of West Pier in 1866 from the Illustrated London News. Originally the pier had only six rather small ornamental houses, two toll houses and glass screens at the pier end to protect visitors from the elements.

  • West Pier circa 1900. By this time a central bandstand had been added and weather screens the full length of the pier. Steamer landing stages and a large pavillion at the end of the pier had also been constructed.

  • West Pier circa 1920. In 1916 a large concert hall was erected in the central part of the pier. After this the pier was essentially unchanged.

Building Activity

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