Brighton West Pier, East Sussex

Brighton West Pier, derelict and sadly neglected for many years, was a magnificent looking structure epitomising the gilded era of Edwardian Britain. Designed by the famous engineer Eugenius Birch work on construction commenced in 1863. Literally built out of the sea, it rose up on iron columns and finally opened three years later on 5th October 1866, having cost £30,000. Brighton West Pier is 1115ft (337.8m) long and originally consisted of only a wooden promenade deck where the Victorian middle classes could stroll at their leisure, to see and be seen. In 1875 a central bandstand was added, and in 1883 a pavilion was built at the pier head, being subsequently enlarged in 1885. 1886 saw the construction of landing stages that allowed paddle steamers carrying day-trippers to visit the town. The transformation from a promenade pier to a pleasure pier had begun.

In 1901 the landing stage was enlarged, and 1903 saw the conversion of the pavilion into a 1000 seater theatre. The last major building work was in 1916, with the removal of the central bandstand and the construction of a 1400 seater concert hall, having first widened the immediate decking area by 14ft (4.2m). This concert hall had survived intact until disaster struck in 2002/3. Brighton West Pier offered plenty of diverse activities, both inside and out. Plays, pantomimes and ballet were performed in the theatre, the pier's own band played in the concert hall, and swimming, diving and paddle steamer excursions took place around the pier head. In its heyday the pier was playing host to over 2,000,000 people every year.

Forced to close, and sectioned during the Second World War, Brighton West Pier had been completely transformed into the more familiar 'funfair' type pier when it eventually reopened. The theatre now had a restaurant on the first floor with a games hall beneath, the concert hall became a café, and the normal plethora of dodgems and ghost trains sprawled across the open decking. Brighton West Pier's popularity started to decline with the advent of the package holiday. Combined with mounting maintenance costs, the seaward end was eventually closed in 1970, and permission for demolition was granted by the state, subject to local council approval. A determined campaign by local residents ensured that this demolition order was never carried out, and in 1975 the owners closed Brighton West Pier.

Purchased for a conditional £100 in 1985 by Brighton West Pier Trust, work began on restoration of the structure but was forced to stop in 1989 after suffering additional damage in the great storms of 1987 and 1988. Finally receiving a lottery grant in 1996 and 1998 the Brighton West Pier now looked like it may be saved. Seeing this beautiful structure left to rot and decay aroused great emotion in me at a time when, as a young man I was working in Brighton. Since moving away, it was with great pleasure that I heard that the Brighton West Pier Trust has been campaigning tirelessly to secure the pier's future. Unfortunately their valiant efforts have been undermined by red tape and legal disputes.

On 29th December 2002 the inevitable eventually happened when, during a violent storm, a section of the sub structure collapsed from the area around the concert hall. Although not entirley lost to the sea, the 1916 structure suffered considerable damage as a result and, once again, its future was left hanging (literally) in the balance. Further tragedy struck in the first few weeks of 2003, this time in the form of two separate arson attacks. Consequently, Brighton West Pier's two unique pleasure buildings were severely damaged. More legal disputes ensued and subsequently the Heritage Lottery Fund decided to withdraw its support, despite a recommendation from English Heritage that the restoration should go ahead. The future of Brighton West Pier now hangs by a very slim thread, its only chance of survival depending upon English Heritage's alternative and less costly proposal to restore the pier back to its original 1860s appearance, without the theatre and concert hall.

Sadly, one of the countries most important seaside structures is now all but lost and quite frankly, the whole sorry fiasco, coupled with the narrow-mindedness of the Noble Organisation, should be considered nothing short of a national disgrace!


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