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The History of Brighton's West Pier

Brighton's Theatres Index

The West Pier and Parade, Brighton in 1912 - From a Postcard

Above - The West Pier and Parade, Brighton in 1912 - From a Postcard

 

The West Pier, Brighton in 1936 - From a Postcard.Brighton's West Pier was designed and engineered by Eugenius Birch to attract visitors and survive in the hostile environment of the seashore.

Right - The West Pier, Brighton in 1936 - From a Postcard.

Built in 1866, it was a simple and functional structure built out from the sea using dozens of cast iron threaded columns screwed into the seabed and strengthened by a lattice of ties and girders that provide the necessary strength to support the promenade deck whilst allowing seas to pass harmlessly through.

Looking through the decking of Brighton's West Pier in the early 1960s was clearly fascinating for a younger version of myself, here snapped with a patient mum in tow.Originally the West Pier had an open deck with only six small ornamental houses of oriental design, two toll houses and glass screens at the pier head to protect visitors from the wind and sun. In 1875 a central bandstand was added.

Left - Looking through the decking of Brighton's West Pier in the early 1960s was clearly fascinating for a younger version of myself, here snapped with a patient mum in tow.

Programme for 'Bluebell in Fairyland' at Brighton's West Pier Theatre - Click for detailsIn the 1880's weather screens the full length of the pier, steamer landing stages and a large pier head pavilion were constructed.

Right - Programme for 'Bluebell in Fairyland' at Brighton's West Pier Theatre - Click for details

The final building, completed in 1916, was a graceful concert hall. The result is seaside architecture at its finest, designed to attract and entertain holiday makers with all the pomp and frippery that is the essence of the English seaside resort. The pier is unique in being largely unaltered since that time, its proportions and style are unrivaled and its concert hall and theatre are two of the best surviving Victorian and Edwardian seaside entertainment buildings.

Foe the latest news on the West Pier and Links Click here.

 

A Seating Plan for the West Pier Theatre, Brighton from a Kelley's Directory of 1934 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen who says: 'on the West Pier plan the archaic term Balcony Stalls for what became the Dress Circle. By all accounts this was a far prettier theatre than that on the Palace Pier.'

Above - A Seating Plan for the West Pier Theatre, Brighton from a Kelley's Directory of 1934 - Courtesy Stephen Wischhusen who says: 'on the West Pier plan the archaic term Balcony Stalls for what became the Dress Circle. By all accounts this was a far prettier theatre than that on the Palace Pier.'

 

The following is an Article on Brighton's West Pier Courtesy The Brighton West Pier Trust in 2002.

The West Pier, Brighton - From a postcard published in 2002

The West Pier is Britain's only Grade 1 listed pier and was built between 1863-1866, to the designs of Eugenius Birch, the most celebrated of all pier architects. The pier is shown above as originally built with two toll houses at the landward end, twin kiosks for shelter in the centre and ladie's and gentlemen's retiring rooms at the pier head. It was only later that the landing stage and theatre pavilion were added. The pier closed to the public in 1975 and has been the subject of a long-running, but ultimately successful, campaign to restore it to its full glory.

West Pier Image - Courtesy the Brighton West Pier Trust.1875 - 77 the central section of the pier was widened and a covered bandstand built, providing shelter for the previously exposed musicians who had performed at the pier head.

1888 a covered orchestra stand with moveable awnings to shelter the audience was constructed on the pier head.

1890 a central windscreen was built the length of the pier neck.

1893 the pier head was widened and a large pavilion built with seating for 1400 people. R W Peregrine Birch, a nephew of ugenius, was the civil engineer in charge of the building. The reconstructed pier head included bathing accommodation for visitors.

 

West Pier Image - Courtesy the Brighton West Pier Trust.1896 a landing stage of mild steel was constructed to cater for steamer excursions.

1901 the landing stage was enlarged.

1903 the pavilion was converted into a theatre with seating for 1000 people.

1914 - 16 the covered bandstand was demolished, the pier widened and a low eight sided oval concert hall seating 1400 was built around a skeleton of iron arches. The completion of the Concert Hall marked the end of the half century of building the West Pier.

There were no other significant additions and the structure that exists today, less the decay of the post war years, is essentially that which existed in 1916.


West Pier Pavilion


The restoration of the West Pier has been the dream of the few and the wish of the many for a quarter of a century. It is about to happen.'


After four years, in which approximately £1.5m has been expended on strengthening the pier and conducting works necessary to plan the restoration, the Trust and its private sector partner, St Modwen Properties plc, have been undertaking the physical, financial, technical and business plans for the full restoration of the West Pier.

West Pier Image - Courtesy the Brighton West Pier Trust.Those detailed plans were considered by the other three partners in the project (the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, Brighton & Hove Council) with a view to the final preparatory works happening throughout summer and autumn 2002 order that the main restoration can begin by early summer 2003.

The aim is for the restoration to be completed during 2005.

The pier will be restored to its appearance in the 1920s and its full length will be accessible to the public. The interiors of the buildings on the pier will be adapted to modern leisure requirements but the appeal of the restored pier will be as a heritage attraction with appropriate cultural, social, entertainment and leisure activities.

West Pier Image - Courtesy the Brighton West Pier Trust.On the lower esplanade, either side of the pier and fully integrated with it, there will be an exciting new complementary retail/leisure development. This will secure the Trust’s objective of a faithfully restored pier with ongoing funding contributions for its long-term maintenance. All five parties to the restoration project are agreed on the need for that extra commercial space, and Brighton & Hove Council is providing the land to facilitate the new structures.

Architects have been appointed to produce designs for the new development with the aim of the structures being a 21st century addition to the seafront.

Dr Geoff Lockwood. Chief Executive Brighton West Pier Trust.

West Pier Images and text above - courtesy Brighton West Pier Trust.

 

Picture Archive of the West Pier

Brighton West Pier in 1990 - Photo M.L.

Above - Brighton West Pier in 1990 - Photo M.L.

Brighton West Pier in 1990 - Photo M.L.

Above - Brighton West Pier in 1990 - Photo M.L.

The West Pier on a very stormy day in 1992 Click to see more pictures of the West Pier from this series.

Above - The West Pier on a very stormy day in 1992
Click to see more pictures of the West Pier from this series.

West Pier Spring 2002 - M.L.

Above - West Pier - Spring 2002

West Pier - Spring 2002

Above - West Pier - Spring 2002

West Pier Collapse - December 2002 - This is Brighton and Hove

Above - Part of the pier collapses - Sunday 29th December 2002

Pavilion catches fire - 28th March 2003 - Image from the BBC's Brighton webcam

Above - Pavilion catches fire - 28th March 2003 - Image from the BBC's Brighton webcam

West Pier April 2003 - ML.

Above - West Pier April 2003 - ML.

West Pier December 2004 - ML.

Above - Remains of the West Pier in December 2004 - ML.

Detail of the only surviving peace of the West Pier standing in a roughly intact state in December 2004. Ironically, a tour of the pier I went on in 2002 mentioned that this hut was likely to fall into the sea if urgent work wasn't carried out immediately, now most of the pier has been destroyed by fire and neglect and the hut remains.. Picture - December 2004 - ML.

Above - Detail of the only surviving peace of the West Pier standing in a roughly intact state in December 2004. Ironically, a tour of the pier I went on in 2002 mentioned that this hut was likely to fall into the sea if urgent work wasn't carried out immediately, now most of the pier has been destroyed by fire and neglect and the hut remains. Picture - December 2004 - ML.

The remains of the West pier in the foreground and Brighton Pier, formerly the Palace Pier in the background. - December 2004 - M.L.

Above - The remains of the West pier in the foreground and Brighton Pier, formerly the Palace Pier, in the background. - December 2004 - M.L.

 

The West Pier in ruin - Photo M.L. June 2005

Above - The West Pier in ruin - Photo M.L. June 2005

The remains of the West Pier in August 2007 - Photo M.L.

Above - The remains of the West Pier in August 2007 - Photo M.L.

West Pier News and Links

Latest news on the West Pier from The Brighton West Pier Trust

More pictures and info on the West Pier at 'My Brighton and Hove' Here...

West Pier Pavilion catches fire and is almost completely destroyed 28th March 2003

West Pier's collapsed ballroom catches fire under suspicious circumstances 11 May 2003

Interview with Dr. Fred Gray, Official Historian for the West Pier Trust, 20th January 1998.