West Pier, Brighton

Bridge to Nowhere


There are two amusement piers in Brighton.

The Palace Pier is the popular pier and this is still open to the public.

The West Pier is an ugly heap of metal and presents a danger to the public.

Traditionally, the Palace Pier has already been the popular pier. It is situated where Madeira Drive meets Marine Parade, adjacent to Brighton Aquarium, now Brighton Sea Life Centre, and its entrance is crowned by the old Aquarium clock.

In contrast, the West Pier is further to the west and opposite Regency Square. Regency Square contains may Grade II  Listed Buildings. This part of Brighton is architecturally and aesthetically important to the town. The West Pier is a Grade I  Listed Building, the only British pier to have this listing, which is reserved for important historic or architectural buildings.

The West Pier was designed by Eugenius Birch. Construction began in March 1864 and was opened in October 1866. Unlike the Palace Pier which was erected on a firm base of chalk rock, the West Pier had a layer of sand covering the bedrock.
(Construction pre-dated the use of concrete).

The West Pier, when in good order, was 1,115 feet (340 metres) long. The first construction used wrought iron screw piles (screwed into the base chalk) and wrought iron columns. The girderwork that supported the wooden decking was also in wrought iron. Unfortunately, the original design proved unsatisfactory as the abrasive action of the sand particles in the sea quickly eroded away the original columns. The pier had a tendency to wobble. The original supports had to be replaced by larger hollow cast iron columns with holes in so that sea water could enter with the rising tide and keep the pier stable.

The Landing Stages were made of steel and these were added in 1901. The Concert Hall, in the central area of the pier, was erected in 1916. Repairs were undertaken as required, which including replacing much of the wrought iron girderwork with steel.

During the 1960s concern was expressed about the condition of the West Pier. However, at this time, it appeared that the essential maintenance was being neglected. Even the barnacles and mussels were not being scraped off the iron columns so the original structure was not working as it should. The Prince Littler Consortium owned the West Pier and they were legally obliged by law to maintain the structure. However, in 1965, they sold out to A.V.P. for a notional sum, a limited company that did not have the capital in the holding company to carry out the repairs. They did, however, own the Bedford Hotel which burnt down in mysterious circumstances.

In 1970 the main pierhead was closed to the public as it was too dangerous. There were then plans to demolish the West Pier, an expensive task, but reckoned to be a much cheaper option than restoring it (if this is possible?). However, this was disputed and an Enquiry took place in 1971. The West Pier Trust contended that the preservation of the West Pier could actually be undertaken more cheaply than the original estimates.  In September 1975 the remainder of the West Pier was closed to the public.

It is now December 1998 and some of the decking has fallen into the sea after some moderate winds. A National Lottery Grant of £10 million has been earmarked for restoration, but the work will not start until the autumn of 1999 at the earliest.

Below the decking it remains to be published whether the original construction can actually be restored in its original design. By modern standards the original design might not even be considered safe enough.

Eugenius Birch designed other Amusement Piers at Deal, Blackpool (North), Eastbourne, Hastings, Weston-super-Mare, Scarborough, Margate and other locations. At the time of writing I do not know whether these piers remain intact, or in anything like their original construction. Altogether about 50 Amusement Piers remain around the British coast.

The depth of water at the lowest spring tides is about 8 foot (2.44 metre) at the pierhead where the ruins of the Rotunda gave attractive sea views.


The Chain Pier (on the Palace Pier site) was constructed in 1823 before the arrival of the railways.
The current Palace Pier was started in 1891. It took 8 years to build. It was designed by R St.George Moore and built by James and Arthur Mayoh Brothers.
The Palace Pier Theatre opened in 1901 and closed in 1964 and in 1973 the Palace Pier was hit by a large barge. The Pier was repaired but not theatre.
(The designer, builders and barge incident was sourced from "Brighton Discovery Trail" by Dr Malcolm Cornwall, and published by Brighton University.)

The heyday of the piers was up to the 1930s. In the 1920s the West Pier was immensely popular with 2 million visitors every year and a Concert Hall that supported a full time orchestra. During World War II the pier was left to the elements, and afterwards the income was not great enough to ensure adequate maintenance.  This was compounded by the dramatic change of holidaying that saw English seaside tourism fall into decline from the 1960s, as increasing numbers of people took their holidays abroad.

The West Pier did not replace its 1920's buildings and the pier remains essentially like a decayed version of the pier in its heyday.

The Athina B beached on the Brighton foreshore in 1979, with the Palace Pier in the background.
The Palace Pier now looks different with numerous additional rides added.

The Palace Pier has enjoyed a remarkable improvement with new amusements and rides, introduced by the Noble Organisation since the rundown days of the 1970s, despite the recession.

by Andy Horton

Latest Photographs of the Ruin (January 2003)
West Pier on Fire Photographs  (April 2003)
West Pier on Fire Second Time Photographs  (May 2003)

History of the West Pier   http://www.mmhistory.org.uk/students/samglen/!past.htm
Brighton Information  http://www.brighton.co.uk/tourist/seafront.htm
Piers around Britain  http:/www.piers.co.uk/Index.html
Athina B photograph

Shoreham-by-Sea Page