Fire rips throught the pier head 28th July 2008
A fire has devastated the pier head of the Grand Pier. At around 7am on the 28th July 2008 fire and smoke was seen rising from the pier head complex which includes arcades and playground rides. At it’s height 30 firefighters where tackling the fire which it is believed to have started in the west tower.
Being a wooden structure the fire quickly took hold and molten metal dripped from the pier into the sea.
Thankfully no injuries have been reported.
As the fire has been localised around the pier head there is every hope that it can be rebuilt.
The Grand Pier at Weston Super Mare is one of the last great ‘pleasure piers’ to be built, yet it still stands proud and imposing a real testament to Edwardian grandeur. When it was built, the town of Weston-Super-Mare already had a pier, named the Birnbeck Pier, but there was a strong body of opinion that it was too remote to be able to access the town and facilities on the beach. As more and more visitors were arriving into the town, the construction of a pier was seen to be a way of alleviating the problem of people not being able to enjoy the facilities of the beach and town: hence the need for a pier. Bimbeck Pier has not been in use for a considerable amount of time.
Originally the pier was built by subscription. Although efforts had been made since 1880 to try and have a pier erected, none of these had come to fruition. Then in 1893 an Act of Parliament was passed and the opportunity to subscribe to the building of the pier became a reality. As a result around £200,000 was raised, much of which came from private subscriptions, both from local residents and visitors from South Wales.
Work was undertaken in two phases, with the first deck and the theatre opening in 1904 and then the extension with a landing post opened in 1907. The extension was short lived however and work to demolish it began in 1916. Thus the Grand Pier at some 320 m length was left quite a short pier, which makes it smaller than say Southend or Brighton.
The Pier was always successful, despite the fact that boats and ships had enormous difficulty landing there and in effect only a handful ever did. One of the reasons for its success was that it moved with the times and always evolved to incorporate new facilities, which were the flavour of the day. This started as early as 1926, with the addition of some amusement facilities and the pier was proud to showcase plays, concerts, ballet and boxing in its theatre, a real eclectic range of shows, appealing to as wide an audience as possible.
However, in 1930, the pavilion was destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt. When it was, it had a slightly different atmosphere, with more rides such as dodgems being installed and no theatre. So when it opened in 1933, it was a different type of pier than had originally been designed.
Essentially, this caused the decline of Bimbeck Pier, which had always had funfair rides and the amusement arcade type facilities, but the Grand Pier simply went from strength to strength.
Architecturally the building is of interest as an example of an Edwardian Pier and it is slightly different from some of its Victorian counterparts, which makes it an interesting building just to visit. It is a Grade 2 Listed Building and internally there are some quirky Edwardian influences that are quite intriguing, so for anyone interested in the architecture of this period, it really is an enjoyable visit.
The facilities at the pier have constantly been updated and there is now an excellent range of things to do. The ownership of the pier has recently changed and with new owners there is usually some additional facilities installed. In 2008 the new owners announced that they would like to extend the facilities available to include some additional restaurants as well as a museum, so these would add a different touch to the pier and hopefully ensure its viability for the coming years. One option being explored is that the Pier could become licensed for weddings, so people could hold their wedding on the Pier and this may well breathe new life into it.
One of the most visited parts of the Pier is the all weather centre that is simply dedicated to entertainment. There are some fantastic views of the shoreline, the famous sandy beach and the town beyond and for the more adventurous in the family, there are lots of thrilling rides, including a ghost train and some white-knuckle rides. A Big Wheel is also in operation, which again gives some great views of the town and out to sea.
There are traditional amusement arcade games and some video games as well and for children there is a ball pool as well as an adventure playground. Free entertainment to entertain children (of any age) is also provided in the form of stilt-walkers, clowns and other circus type acts.
A shop is provided which sells some local produce and the traditional seaside fare of candyfloss and fudge. Needless to say there are also café facilities available, so no one has to go without fish and chips when strolling down the pier. Yet, you don’t have to walk, there is a train which takes people up and down, so after a stroll down anyone who has overdone the fish and chips can simply get the train back!
Overall the pier at Weston-Super-Mare has a slightly different feel to it than most other piers. It is certainly much more genteel than Blackpool and has less of a loud atmosphere and yet it is still very much a traditional seaside resort with the associated funfair atmosphere. The emphasis is very much on the family and there is lots for children to do but also rest stops for older visitors and those who simply like to live life at a leisurely pace!
One interesting aspect of the Pier is that it is frequented by around 96% of visitors who come to the town and yet it is estimated that very few locals actually use the pier and enjoy its facilities, so it has a transient air about it of people simply visiting. And yet there is no charge to simply visiting the pier itself! Whether this low local usage will change or is a permanent feature of pleasure piers in the 21st Century is yet to be demonstrated, but it would be nice to have both locals and visitors enjoying this glorious pier and all it has to offer.
If you want to visit other piers around the UK we recommend flying from Bristol Airport and taking advantage of Bristol Airport Parking, there are many other great piers around Britain so why not take advantage of the repairs at Weston Super Mare to see some of the other great piers the UK has to offer?
Grand Pier Website