Piers of Sussex

What has St. Leonards lost which Brighton, Eastbourne, Worthing, Bognor, Hastings and Littlehampton each still has? Clue: Brighton had three and now has one and a bit. I’m talking about piers of course.

Sussex can’t claim to have had the first pier (that’s Ryde Pier on the Isle of Wight) but it probably did have the first to be used as a fashionable promenade (Brighton’s Royal Chain Pier). It shames to say that of the piers outside Brighton, I’m only familiar with Worthing’s just because it has a variety of Art Deco elements which I adore.

The Royal Chain Pier opened in 1823 as a landing stage but quickly became a popular place for the wealthy to stroll. What must have been an amazing spectacle, the Brighton & Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway, was completed in 1896 and soon afterwards used the Chain Pier as a terminus. Long legs raised its single car, Pioneer, high above the submerged track which led to the nickname ‘Daddy-long-legs’.  It was nearly finished off in 1896 by the same gale that destroyed the Chain Pier (and the Palace Pier during construction).

The West Pier was designed by Eugenius Birch, that famous pier engineer, and opened in 1866. It went downhill from 1975 and is now little more than a twisted wreck in the sea. Its fate apparently lies with the success of the i360 viewing tower which should have been built months ago. On the upside, the Birdcage Bandstand nearby is close to completion following, again, years of neglect. The Palace Pier (now quite ridiculously named the Brighton Pier by its current shady owners) will always have a special place in my heart as the pier on which I lost my money on school trips down from London.

Martin Easdown’s Piers of Sussex was recently published and is, as one would hope given the fascinating subject matter, an excellent read. The book reminded me just how impressive our local piers are and how important it is that something is done about the West Pier.

Incidentally, St Leonards’ Pier was destroyed by fire in 1944; a common end for piers. Along with tales of construction and destruction, the book contains many fascinating – almost unimaginable – photographs. One shows Brighton with three piers simultaneously. Another shows the Graf Zeppelin eerily hovering over the West Pier in 1936.

Piers of Sussex is available from City Books on Western Road.