Happy 200th birthday to the seaside pier – Telegraph Blogs

End of the pier show (Getty)

In autumn evenings, at dusk, Brighton’s starlings put on a unique show for free, as they swirl in huge flocks around the ruined West Pier.

For all the tragedy of the 2003 fire that wrecked the building, the starling murmuration is a sight that sums up the bittersweet charms of the British seaside pier: the nostalgic mourning for those that have been lost, mixed with the joy in those that remain. There is nothing in the world to match their madcap, seaside architectural style.

The West Pier was the second British pier, built in 1866 by the marvellously-named Eugenius Birch, who built 14 piers altogether. This Saturday, the oldest of them all, Ryde Pier on the Isle of Wight, celebrates its 200th anniversary.

Those that survive deserve three cheers – and a surprising amount are still around. Of the 100 built in the peak years of the British seaside holiday, between 1814 and 1905, 60 remain; Blackpool alone has three of them.

That’s a pretty high survival rate, given their predators: storms, fires and the most lethal – the decline of the British seaside over the last half-century, thanks to the popularity of foreign holidays.

Piers began life for pragmatic reasons. With the vast extent of British tidal ranges, the earliest piers were built as landing stages, which meant passengers and fishermen could make their way along a horizontal walkway into town, rather than negotiating their way up the beach.

From the early 19th century, these pragmatic structures were kitted out for the most innocent of seaside fun – with theatres, funfairs and some of the first amusement arcades.

With the rise of cheap foreign holidays from the 1960s, the end-of-the-pier show has been preserved in nostalgic aspic. Southwold Pier makes a conscious virtue out of seaside nostalgia with its Under the Pier Show – a charming collection of olden days arcade games and handmade inventions, with not a single fruit machine among them.

There was always a slight melancholy undercurrent running through the British seaside holiday. You can catch it in Walter Sickert’s picture in the Tate of gloomy, arthritic pierrots doing their act on the Brighton seashore in 1915.

There’s a sadness, and a seediness, too, in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock; even more so in the 1948 film, written by Greene and Terence Rattigan, where the ending is transferred to Brighton’s Palace Pier. It’s on the pier that the evil Pinkie records his spine-chillingly nasty message to his girlfriend.

But when all those piers were built, there was none of that sad nostalgia we now load them with. They were at the craziest, most over-the-top end of the playful glories of British seaside architecture. It’s no coincidence that the founder of the National Piers Society in 1979 was the patron saint of quirky British buildings, John Betjeman.

Nowhere else in the world has our wonderfully nonsensical combination of seaside buildings: the bandstands, pavilions, floral clocks, beach huts and the monumental hotels, as well as the piers.

And that’s not forgetting the loopy fripperies that go with the buildings, frozen in 1950s innocence: the Blackpool Rock, the kiss-me-quick hats, the illuminations, the Wurlitzer organs and the not-very-dirty postcards.

If you think about all these things, none of them is a logical progression from a seaside holiday, except for the beach huts. They show how we free ourselves up a bit by the sea, and strip away our inhibitions.

That includes architects. In London, John Nash built carefully-considered, restrained classical buildings; at Brighton, he produced the freest, funniest, heart-lifting version of Indian architecture in the country.

And the same goes for the seaside piers. If you want the complete opposite of minimalist architecture, visit a pier, encrusted with onion domes, porthole windows, helter skelters and big wheels. And all this is thrown together with a joyous disregard for architectural rules, classical, Islamic or otherwise.

The sad truth is that we haven’t been very kind to these exceptional buildings over the years. The First World War largely brought an end to pier-building. And, in the Second World War, lots of them were sliced in half to halt the Nazi invasion. Since the war, many of those that survive have slipped into decay.

The Victoria Pier at Colwyn Bay is in a very rundown state, and has been closed since 2008. And Birnbeck Pier at Weston-Super-Mare – a unique pier in being partially constructed on an island – is in danger of extinction. There were once six Yorkshire piers; only one remains, at Saltburn, savaged by storms on six different occasions.

Other piers have very nearly been lost for good. Hastings Pier was struck by an overwhelming fire in 2010, but is on the road to recovery thanks to the local heroes of the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust. Blackpool North Pier and Cromer Pier were both badly damaged by the winter’s terrible storms – but they’re now back on their feet and open to the public.

The best thing you can do to save our piers is to visit them – and see how British architecture really does love to be beside the seaside.




If the article suppose to have a video or a photo gallery and it does not appear on your screen, please Click Here

Source: telegraph.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.