West Pier

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This article is about the pier in Brighton, England. For the novel The West Pier by Patrick Hamilton, see Gorse Trilogy.
West Pier
Remains of the West Pier in 2007
Official name West Pier
Type Pleasure Pier
Locale Brighton
Design Eugenius Birch
Owner West Pier Trust
Opening date 6 October 1866
Destruction date 1975-present

Coordinates: 50°49′15″N 0°09′04″W / 50.82083°N 0.15111°W / 50.82083; -0.15111

The West Pier is a pier in Brighton, England. It was built in 1866 by Eugenius Birch and has been closed and deteriorating since 1975, awaiting renovation, although after two fires and several storms, little is left in situ. It was Brighton's second pier, joining The Royal Suspension Chain Pier of 1823, and it is one of only two Grade I listed piers in the UK, the other being Clevedon Pier.

There have been various plans to renovate the pier. Those of the West Pier Trust – the charity which owns the pier – were opposed by some local residents. Although supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, local media reported that a major concern was the impact of commercial operations on the shore which were apparently required to help fund the project. The Noble Organisation, owner of the Palace Pier, joined the objectors, despite having originally been supporters of the restoration scheme (the 1996 Year of the Pier was launched from the Palace Pier). Their reported point of view was that subsidised rebuilding, were it to happen, would represent unfair competition. The West Pier Trust said on 15 July 2008 that it was confident the West Pier would be rebuilt. Its long-term aim was to re-establish the structure as a major tourist attraction along with the i360, a futuristic observation tower. Further work on rebuilding the pier will begin when construction is "well under way" on the i360.


19th century[edit]

The opening of West Pier in 1866 from the Illustrated London News.

The West Pier was developed during a boom for pleasure pier building in the 1860s, which saw 22 new piers being erected across Britain.[1] It was designed by the architect Eugenius Birch as a place for seaside visitors to take in the fresh sea air.[2] Some wealthy residents in Regency Square, that lay adjacent to the proposed site of the pier, objected that the planned toll houses at the entrance would spoil the view of the sea from their properties, but it was ultimately felt that the pier would have a positive effect on property values in the town.[3] Construction began in 1863 and the pier was open to the public on 6 October 1866.[1]

West Pier circa 1900. By this time a central bandstand had been added and weather screens the full length of the pier. Steamer landing stages and a large pavilion at the end of the pier had also been constructed.

The pier had a length of 1115 feet, and built with cast iron threaded columns screwed into the seabed.[4] The superstructure's ironwork was manufactured by Robert Laidlaw and was the first structure of what was later described as an "oriental" style. Originally, the pier was fitted with gas lamps with ornamental serpent designs, which had been directly influenced by similar examples inside the nearby Royal Pavillion.[1] Originally the pier had ornamental houses, two toll houses and glass screens at the pier end to protect visitors from the weather.[5]

The pier did not have much of a superstructure until 1893 when a pier head was extended and a pavilion added.[4]

20th century[edit]

A concert hall was added to the pier in 1916 and a new top-deck entrance in 1932. In 1965 the pier was bought by a company that owned some seafront hotels and entertainment venues. They had ambitions for the pier but as maintenance costs increased the pier was closed in 1975 when Brighton Corporation declined to buy it and the pier passed into the hands of the Crown Estates Commissioners. A trust was formed to save the pier and in 1984 they bought it for a nominal sum.[4]


The West Pier on fire in March 2003.
Short video of the West Pier burning

The West Pier had been cut off from the shore (partly deliberately, for safety reasons) since the early 1990s. A break was also caused by high winds in 1987, but the West Pier trust offered regular tours of it until the structure suffered a serious partial collapse during a storm on 29 December 2002, when a walkway connecting the concert hall and pavilion fell into the sea. On 20 January 2003 a further collapse saw the destruction of the concert hall in the middle of the pier. On 28 March 2003 the pavilion at the end of the pier caught fire. Fire crews were unable to save the building from destruction because the collapsed walkway prevented them from reaching it. The cause of the fire remains unknown, since fire investigators were unable to access the site for safety reasons. On 11 May 2003, another fire broke out, consuming most of what was left of the concert hall. The fire re-ignited on 12 May. Arson was suspected: the West Pier Trust refers to the fires as the work of "professional arsonists". Suggested beneficiaries to ending any possible development of the West Pier either local residents who objected to a new development on the sea front, or the threat of competition to the lucrative Palace Pier's business.[6]

On 23 June 2004, high winds caused the middle of the pier to collapse completely. Despite all these setbacks, the West Pier Trust remained adamant that they would soon begin full restoration work. Finally, in December 2004, the Trust conceded defeat, after their plans were rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund, in part because of problems with achieving the required "matched funding" from outside sources. Subsequent plans to restore only the oldest, structural parts of the pier were eventually rejected by English Heritage. In September 2005, the Trust revealed in their newsletter that they were forming further plans to rebuild the original structure with help from private funding.

The pier was partially demolished in February 2010, in part to make way for the planned i360 observation tower, and also over safety concerns. In February 2014, due to stormy weather, the pier split in half and a large part of the centre fell into the sea.[7] Waves swept away the eastern side of the damaged metal skeleton, which remained after the 2003 fire.[8]

The Pier can be seen as it was in the early 1960s in Oh! What a Lovely War (1963) and then again in the 1970s in Carry On Girls which was filmed on the pier and in locations nearby in Brighton. It was also prominently featured in the French comedy La Course à l'échalote (fr) (1975), starring Pierre Richard and Jane Birkin.

There is a museum display of artefacts from the pier on the lower promenade as part of the Brighton Fishing Museum.


The i360 is an 162-metre (531 ft) observation tower being constructed on the seafront of Brighton, near to the West Pier.[2] The i360 is designed, engineered, manufactured and promoted by the team responsible for the London Eye. Dutch steelwork specialist Hollandia has prefabricated the tapering steel sections of the tower, known by the team as cans. It is estimated by the developers that the i360 will generate more than 440 permanent jobs, 169 at the attraction, plus additional jobs from the spin-off benefits to other businesses in the city. The projected cost of the tower is £46 million, with £36 million being funded the form of a loan from Brighton and Hove city council. In 2014, some local residents launched a petition to oppose the loan. The owners of the site, The West Pier Trust, hope that a successful i360 will lead to the rebuilding of the historic West Pier.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

In April 1900, seven sailors from HMS Desperate were drowned in bad weather as they approached the pier.[9][10]

On 26 November 1944 a Royal Air Force Hawker Typhoon single-engined monoplane fighter hit the pier and then crashed onto the beach. The pilot sustained head injuries. The Typhoon was part of a flight of four aircraft escorting a VIP flight.[11]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Dobraszczyk 2014, p. 143.
  2. ^ Arscott, David (2012). Brighton, A Very Peculiar History. Andrews UK Limited. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-908-75929-0. 
  3. ^ Dobraszczyk 2014, pp. 137,144.
  4. ^ a b c Bainbridge 1986, p. 188.
  5. ^ Dobraszczyk 2014, p. 144.
  6. ^ "Noble: Don't blame us for West pier's downfall". The Argus. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 
  7. ^ "Large chunk of Brighton's West Pier falls victim to the sea". The Argus. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  8. ^ "Brighton's ruined West Pier Pavilion split in two by storm". The BBC. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  9. ^ "Disaster to Bluejackets - Boat Swamped at Brighton - Seven Seamen Drowned.". News of the World. 15 April 1900. 
  10. ^ "HMS Bittern". Index of 19th Century Naval Vessels and a few of their movements. Retrieved January 13, 2014. 
  11. ^ Longstaff-Tyrell, Peter (1999). Destination Fowington – East Sussex military airfields & Allied aircraft incidents. Gote House Publishing Company. ISBN 0-9521297-4-4. 


  • Bainbridge, Cyril (1986). Pavilions on the Sea – A history of the seaside pleasure pier. Robert Hale, London. ISBN 0-7090-2790-7. 
  • Dobraszczyk, Paul (2014). Iron, Ornament and Architecture in Victorian Britain: Myth and Modernity, Excess and Enchantment. Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-1-472-41898-2. 

External links[edit]