It was the jewel in Hasting’s crown, but after a devastating fire several days ago the historic pier is now little more than a skeletal wreck. In this article, sadly adding one more to our previous post about Three Peeling Pleasure Piers, we take a look at Hastings Pier during better times, and the financial troubles that led to its abandonment and ultimate destruction.
Modelled on Brighton’s West Pier (also gutted by fire) by designer Eugenius Birch, Hastings Pier was considered a modern engineering marvel when it opened on August 5, 1872. 1917 brought an ominous sign of things to come as fire swept through the original 2,000 seat pavilion (above). But its 1922 replacement (plus theatre) made Hastings a Victorian pier with an Art Deco twist in time for its 1930s boom years.
(Image via Hastings Today)
Post War decline in the popularity of theatres and ballrooms saw the pier and its pavilion reinvented as a live music venue. The swinging ’60s and 1970s brought a host of big names including The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Genesis, Tom Jones and Pink Floyd. The Pier also housed the famous Hastings Embroidery commemorating great events in British history during the 900 years spanning 1066 to 1966.
Storm damage sustained in 1990 cost £1 million to fix and marked the beginning of the end for Hastings Pier. Put up for sale in 1996, it was eventually sold to Panamanian-registered company Raven’s Claw Investments in 2004 due to a lack of domestic interest, but the offshore enterprise – despite its name – failed to invest in the pier’s upkeep and allowed it to fall into disrepair.
Beset by financial problems and safety concerns, the abandoned Hastings Pier closed to the beach-going public in 2006 (despite briefly reopening a year later). Thanks to the efforts of local campaigners, including the Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust and the Hastings Observer’s Save the Pier petition, the council pledged to buy the ailing attraction by compulsory purchase after a study showed it could be made safe for £3 million.
But the move to restore the pier to its former glory was thwarted during the early hours of October 5, when an inferno destroyed an estimated 95 per cent of the superstructure. Simon Rose of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said: “It’s a very historic building and landmark for Hastings. The priority for the firefighters is to preserve as much of the structure as they can to see if something can be done with it in the future.”
Prior to its destruction, Hastings was deemed to be the most at risk pier in the UK. Campaigners remain positive the structure can be salvaged, but Tim Phillips of the National Piers Society is not so confident. Members of the “Save Hastings Pier!” Facebook page reacted with shock to the blaze, while local businessman Dale Turner said: “This is the sort of thing people were worried about. The pier had been allowed to fall into ruin and now we may never get it back.”
Two teenagers have been arrested for suspected arson and released on bail. But this will provide little comfort to those who have spent years trying to save their historic pier from disrepair, destruction and modern disinterest. For many, the pleasure pier is – or more accurately was – the beating heart of Britain’s Victorian resorts, and custodian of memories of days when their ballrooms and theatres came alive with music and laughter.
And with a worrying trend in torched pavilions marking another chapter in the decline of Britain’s seaside towns, their preferred replacement seems to be the tall observation tower. At the turn of the twentieth century almost 100 piers existed around Britain’s coastline. Only half that number exists today, with ongoing battles fought against local councils to prevent demolition.
The National Piers Society states that seaside piers stand as a powerful reminder of the achievements of Victorian engineers and entrepreneurs. Surely that’s a good enough reason to protect them, and adapt their historic buildings to the needs of the modern seaside experience… For more nostalgic pier memories, don’t miss this page.
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