Friday, 15 October 2010

Top 5 Seaside Piers

Hastings pier was almost completely destroyed by fire last week following an arson attack. It set me thinking about my favourite Piers, a distinctly British creation. The National Piers Society state that there are around 55 traditional Victorian piers still standing in the UK today. There used to be about 100 but they're tricky constructions to maintain, expensive to insure and vulnerable to the forces of nature, vandalism and under funded owners. In compiling this list I realise I've not visited very many. Mrs Chopper and the boys may find our holidays over the next few years revolving around fading seaside towns with a Victorian pier.

1. Eastbourne Pier - I spent most of my school summer holidays in Eastbourne and this was the first pier I visited. I can remember it being one of my holiday treats to be allowed a bit of money to use in the arcades, maybe buy a souvenir and usually have an ice-cream. It had been opened in 1870 designed by prolific pier architect Eugenius Birch. By my teens I was visiting Eastbourne with my mates, mainly because my best friend's parents owned a holiday flat in town, and we graduated to the pier nightclub.

2. Llandudno Pier - A big old pier that juts out into the Irish sea from the headland near Llandudno. It's a wide promenade that takes you out to the triangular platform at the end. There's a extension that runs back along the shore front, adding to the length and making it unlike any other pier I've seen.

3. Brighton Palace Pier - Brighton's only pier since the older, and Birch designed, West Pier was all but destroyed by two fires in 2003. The Palace Pier opened in 1899 and was the third pier to open in the town. It's probably the most profitable active pier in the country and is as well developed a pier as you're likely to find.

4. Blackpool North Pier - Blackpool still has three piers but the North pier is the oldest. The second of the fourteen piers designed by Eugenius Birch (the first being Margate Pier) was officially opened in 1863. I think it's the only Northern pier I've visited.

5. Aberystwyth Royal Pier - I spent a bit of time in Aber when one of my pals was at Uni there. The Royal Pier (another Birch design) is nothing special to look at and a good deal shorter that others of it's era having seen the seaward end swept away less than seven months after it opened in 1865. A subsequent replacement extension was eventually built but this was also swept away in 1938 and the Pier has since remained in stubby form. It does boast the benefit of a public house called the Inn on the Pier which is the only pub in the UK that remains open 24 hours a day.

A few famous piers that I've not visited yet. Southend Pier is very long but doesn't appear to offer a great deal other than the feeling of being a very long way out to sea on a rickety Victorian structure. Wigan Pier is not at the seaside and barely visible but of interest thanks to George Orwell and Paul Simon. Ryde Pier was the first pier built in England and remains the oldest timber planked pier still standing. I've been to Ryde but the pier is pretty dull and is there for the practical purposes of getting ferry passengers to and from the ferry. I also considered Piers outside of the UK but the only one I can remember visiting is Pier 39 in San Francisco which is so vast you wouldn't even know you were on a pier.


Lol said...

Ahem! Sorry Dave, I need to correct you. When it comes to piers, the greatest surviving pier (and I don't mean a large jetty like Llandudno) has to be Cromer pier on the North Norfolk coast. Not only is it the best preserved, it also boasts not only a theatre but also a lifeboat station. And yes, I am biased having been brought up in Cromer. Another pier which should unquestionably make it any top 5 is Southwold Pier. Not only is it a great pier in a great little seaside town (like Cromer) but also boasts proximity to one of the greatest breweries in the country... the infamous Adnams Brewery, with Broadside being (not probably but undoubtedly) the best ever beer in England, or even the world... probably! :)

Chopper said...

Ha ha - excellent stuff. Oddly, though I think I did visit Cromer briefly I don't think I ever made it onto the Pier. I'll add both to my list of piers to visit and let you know when I update the top 5!

Some links from Laurence about those piers.

Chopper said...

Another suggestion from Shuft is for Britain's shortest pier at Burnham-on-sea.

Chopper said...

Oops - here's the link.

Shuft said...

Don't know why I came back here, but since 2010 (!) I have visited Southwold in Suffolk a few times and agree wholeheartedly with Lol's comments about the pier and also the fact that Adnams Broadside is an awesome ale!!!