Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hastings, East Sussex


The fire on Hastings Pier

This post is to offer my condolences to my friends in Hastings for the damage caused to Hastings Pier in this week’s fire.

Hastings Pier, designed by Eugenius Birch, the doyen of British pier engineers, was opened on 5 August 1872, which was Britain’s first-ever bank holiday. It is one of seven remaining piers designed by Birch, and its cast-iron columns and wooden deck sit on screw piles, patented by Birch, which anchor the structure in place. Much of this basic substructure remains. The buildings on top have been much altered over the years, both because of damage caused by an earlier fire (in 1917) and to reflect the changing uses of the pier – from a combination of promenade and landing stage for paddle steamers to the home for a host of entertainments (music hall, theatre, slot machines, bingo, rock concerts, and so on and on).

The pier’s recent history has been troubled. Storm damage has led to periodic closures and there has been widespread concern about the neglect of the structure by its offshore owners. The Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust (HP&WRT) was formed to raise money to restore the pier and to return it to community ownership. Huge progress had been made, including an agreement by the local council to use compulsory purchase powers to buy back the pier, when this tragedy struck.

The people of Hastings are right to care about their pier. It is a wonderful Victorian structure of enormous historical interest, evoking the brilliance of Victorian engineering and the verve with which the Victorians embraced the English saeaside. It also represents the memories of countless locals and visitors who have enjoyed variety performances, plays, rock concerts, winnings, strolls, and views of the sea here for more than 130 years. Assessment of the damage is now underway and, with the HP&WRT still working to raise funds, there’s a chance people will continue to enjoy the pier. Go to their website to check out their progress and donate.

Thanks to Ann Kramer for the photograph.

14 comments:

Hels said...

I suppose, if you take a very long historical perspective, you could say that pleasure piers have been damaged before - by storm, fire or vandalism. And some of them came back bigger and better than ever.

But the truth is that many did not. A person could just weep, looking at that picture :(

Jon Dudley said...

Thanks for posting this...let's hope the good folk of Hastings don't end up with a gradually decomposing piece of 'installation art' like the West Pier in Brighton.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Absolutely - a number of piers have bounced back after fires and other disasters. These structures are prone to damage - from storms, obviously, and from fires, because they incorporate a lot of wood and, once it has started, a fire is difficult to put out because firefighters find it difficult to get near the blaze. But piers also have enthusiastic backers, and Hastings itself was restored after a fire in the early-20th century. While there's a substructure, there's hope.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jon: Amen to that. There are many good folk in Hastings who will fight to repair the pier, so let's hope.

annkramer said...

Thank you for this Phil; beautifully written as usual. Nothing to report as yet on future developments, although local photographers, artists and interested folks are currently putting together a book of pier-related memorabilia - quick work.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Ann, for your appreciative comment. I'll keep checking the HP&WRT website for news.

It's amazing how fast one can put a book together when one has to...

Peter Ashley said...

May I echo Mr.Dudley's sentiments about the West Pier in Brighton. The difference would appear to be that Hastings has got its act together and actually really cares to do something positive about their pier. The appalling demise of the West Pier was a national disgrace.

martin said...

It's very,very sad.
Hopefully there will be enough public support and funding to push forward some form of restoration.Whether or not it will be in any way sympathetic to what existed before is open to question.I'm very confident of the public support,but other areas give me cause for concern.

Charlie Hill said...

I'm about to become Priest of Christ Church, Blacklands in Hastings - a wonderful Victorian building with a coherent decorative scheme of stained glass, wall paintings and mosaics. Is it a building you know?
Charlie Hill
charles.hill14@tiscali.co.uk

Philip Wilkinson said...

Charlie: Thank you for your comment. I don't know Christ Church, Blacklands, so many thanks for telling me about it. I googled it and it looks very interesting. I occasionally visit friends in Hastings so hope one day to take a look. Best wishes.

Charlie Hill said...

Philip, or anyone else interested - if you are coming to Hastings at any point get in touch as at the moment the Church is not always open. emial charles.hill14@tiscali.co.uk (that's a number 14 in the middle!)

Charlie Hill said...

Work has commenced and the public shareholding is oversubscribed, so all go for Hastings restored Pier.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Charlie: Many thanks – I'm not sure when I'll next be in Hastings, but will bear this in mind. Thank you also for the update on the Pier: encouraging news.

Charlie Hill said...

Work underway on pier, check webcam:
http://www.hpcharity.co.uk/media-centre/pier-webcam/