Eugenius Birch

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Eastbourne Pier, Grand Parade, Eastbourne, East Sussex, England. Designed in 1870 by Eugenius Birch. Listed at Grade II* by English Heritage (NHLE Code 1353116)

Eugenius Birch (June 20, 1818 – 1884) was a 19th-century English naval architect, engineer and noted pier builder.


Both Eugenius and his brother were born in Gloucester Terrace, Shoreditch, to grain dealer John and wife Susanne. Fascinated by engineering from a young age, while still a boy he submitted a design for a passenger carriage to the London and Greenwich Railway company. Innovatively, he had against the then convention placed the wheels beneath the carriage as opposed to the side, freeing more room for the passengers.[1]


As a result, aged 16 he joined Bligh’s engineering works in Limehouse as an apprentice, and then studied at the Mechanics' Institute. Showing a gift for draftsmanship, aged 19 in 1837 he received a silver Isis Medal from the Society of Arts for his drawing of a marine steam engine, and a second silver medal the following year for his drawings and description of Huddert’s rope machinery.[1] Later in his life, particularly during his travels, Birch produced beautiful watercolour paintings, particularly those of Italy, Egypt and Nubia during his winter of 1874–75 tour.[2]

In 1845 he formed a general design engineering partnership with his brother, which worked across various projects including railways, viaducts and bridges, including the Kelham and Stockwith bridges in Nottinghamshire. He also undertook various projects within the British Empire, travelling to India to advise on the design and construction of the Calcutta to Delhi railway of the East Indian Railway Company.[1]

He also designed the Devon and Somerset Railway, Exmouth docks, Ilfracombe harbour, and West Surrey waterworks.[1]


On his return to England, Eugenius brought his global experiences to bear on the developing English fascination with seaside holidays, specifically the construction of piers. With the railways now allowing easy and cheap access to the seaside, and the known health benefits of clean air, businessmen in coastal towns were competing against each other to create the longest and most ornate piers to attract the greatest number of tourists.[1]

In 1853, a group of Margate businessmen approach Birch to build a pier. In its design and construction, he brought two innovations:[1]

  • His time spent in India brought about style innovations which were directly influenced from the continent
  • As opposed to the then accepted wooden pile hammering to create the pier, Birch fitted screw blades to his iron piles, to create a deeper and far more resilient base support

The result was a stylish and resilient Margate Pier, which survived storms and two world wars until a storm in January 1978, while its foundations survive today despite direct attempts at demolition.[1]

The result was a series of new commissions, which eventually ran to 14 piers in total, the most famous of which is the West Pier, Brighton.[2][3] His effect on pier construction techniques can be measured in the fact that, from 1862 to 1872, 18 new pleasure piers were built, the majority using screw piling.[1] His last pier was Plymouth, opened in the year he died, 1884.[2]

List of piers[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Eugenius Birch" (PDF). 2008-06-28. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  2. ^ a b c Jonathan Glancey (2002-03-11). "A blot on the seascape". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  3. ^ "West Pier, Brighton". Arthur Lloyd. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  4. ^ "Eastbourne Pier". Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2009-05-08. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  5. ^ "Hastings Pier" (PDF). Hastings Council/Giffod. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 

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