The West Pier at Brighton was built between 1863 and 1866 at a cost of £28000 and was designed and engineered by the most acclaimed pier architect Eugenius Birch. At the time Brighton already had a simple pier called the Royal Suspension Chain Pier which was later replaced by the Palace Pier (Brighton Pier) after being washed away by a storm in 1823.
When the pier was first built it had two toll houses at the shore entrance, a pair of kiosks in the centre to provide some much needed shelter from the elements and finally there were ladies and gents retiring rooms at the head of the pier.
Through the last quarter of the 19th century the pier underwent a series of development to meet the needs of the visiting public. Between 1875 and 1877 the pier was widened and a covered bandstand was erected to provide protection for the musicians who had previously performed alfresco at the pier head.
From 1888 to 1901 various developments took place. An orchestra stand was constructed at the pier head to provide cover for the audiences and a central wind screen was erected along the pier neck to provide further shelter. A major redevelopment of the pier head was completed in 1893 with the pier head being enlarged and a spectacular 1400 capacity pavilion being constructed. To allow for steamer excursions a landing stage was built in 1896 which was later enlarged in 1901. The landing stage served steamboats that went to France, the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth, Weymouth as well as Dover.
The existing bandstand was demolished in 1914 and work began to widen the pier before the erection of a magnificent 1400 capacity concert hall was built.
The 1920’s saw the pier at her best as an “Edwardian Pleasure Palace”. She had her own orchestra and the theatre had many performances throughout the year. These included ballets, plays and the family favourite, pantomimes. During this boom the pier was pulling in 2 million visitors a year which was quite a feat!
With the ever increasing popularity of foreign holidays piers fell out of fashion and visitor numbers declined. The West Pier fell into disrepair and became derelict which lead to the pier being separated from the mainland in 1975 for safety reasons.
The ownership of the pier was transferred to the west pier trust and until 2002 they would offer tours of the pier to the general public. Unfortunately at the end of 2002 and despite attempts to strengthen her, the West Pier began to give in to Mother Nature. Storms began eroding parts of the pier structure, starting with the walkways and then the once magnificent concert hall collapsed.
In March 2003 the pavilion at the pier head was gutted by fire and because the walkways had previously collapsed the fire crews where unable to access the burning structure and so the fire just had to burn itself out, the cause of the fire has never been established. On 11th May 2003 another mysterious fire destroyed what was left of the now collapsed concert hall. The cause of the fire is rumoured to have been arson although nobody has been charged in relation to this matter.
Strong winds in June 2004 caused the middle of the pier to completely collapse and today the pier is but a mangled skeletal structure jutting from the English Channel. This is a real shame as the West Pier has a Grade 1 listed status and along with Clevedon Pier these are the only two piers in the UK to have such a status.
There have been many attempts to save and restore the West Pier but these have been hit by objections from local residents as well as the owners of the Brighton Pier who believe that the subsidised rebuilding of the pier would represent unfair competition.
In 2006 the West Pier Trust unveiled plans to erect a 183 metre observation tower on the West Pier promenade deck. The i360 will be capable of transporting 100 people up to a platform 150 metres above sea level. The Trust has initially estimated £15 to £20 million and is expected to take 2 to 3 years to construct. Provisional estimates show that the Trust expects to be able to attract 500,000 visitors per year at a cost of £8 per ticket. As of the June 2008 West Pier newsletter the proposal is that the i360 will be open to the public in Spring 2010..watch this space!
The future of what remains of the West Pier remains still undecided. In the June 2008 West Pier newsletter it has been identified that all plans for the sea based pier are on hold until the i360 finance is secured and the construction is underway.
West Pier Website
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