Secrets of Brighton’s West Pier

To many people, Brighton’s West Pier probably looks like a ruin; a sad and sorry-looking reminder of a bygone age.  However, it’s by far my favourite pier in the world, and I’ve visited some in California, Florida and a fair few of the UK’s seaside resorts.  Here I’ll try to explain why I have a crazy passion for this 150 year old ruin!

Secrets of Brighton’s West Pier

Brighton’s West Pier is iconic and mysterious, having been devastated by fire and the crashing waves of the English Channel which have washed most of it away.  Here are some of my favourite photos of the pier, which were taken over a period of more than 20 years.  They demonstrate how the structure has changed over time and where the best spots are to see this classic seaside landmark.

View of Brighton's West Pier from the shore on a sunny day with clouds and blue sky above

Brighton’s West Pier was first erected in 1866 and the final building was completed in 1916.    There are so many angles and other structures to frame the remaining cast ironwork and provide lovely images.

View of Brighton's West Pier from a promenade bandstand

It may not be accepting visitors these days, but there is something beautiful, eerie and iconic about the West Pier’s decayed ruins which stand defiant, in the English Channel.

View of the West Pier nestled between steel walkway supports

I’m a massive fan of Brighton, having lived in Hove for a few years and worked in the city for over 20 years.   What’s more, I’m so grateful that I’ve actually walked on the pier, and taken a peek into the secrets within, learning about its history before the various disasters which claimed most of the structure, leaving what we see now.

Shop for West Pier goodies!

West Pier t-shirt
West Pier t-shirt
Greetings card
Greetings card
Handmade coaster
Handmade coaster
Poster
Poster
Sunset photo
Sunset photo
West Pier t-shirt
West Pier t-shirt
Greetings card
Greetings card
Handmade coaster
Handmade coaster
Poster
Poster
Sunset photo
Sunset photo
West Pier t-shirt
West Pier t-shirt
Greetings card
Greetings card
Handmade coaster
Handmade coaster
Poster
Poster
Sunset photo
Sunset photo

The West Pier before the fire

Here is what the pier looked like in 2000.  Having fallen into a derelict state, it was cordoned off from the general public but the two main buildings were still intact.

The West Pier in Brighton taken in 2000 before the fires and collapse

From the mid 90s I worked in West Street and as chief organiser of sports & social events I arranged various trips for my colleagues.   We went on ghost tours, theatre tours, quiz adventures and, in this case, a nose around a derelict local landmark!   On a dull, grey spring morning we were treated to breakfast in the Grand Hotel followed by a tour of the pier.   These were run by the West Pier Trust, starting on the prom at the trust’s HQ, and moving down underneath where many reclaimed parts of the pier were stored, with a view to using them for a restoration.

Brighton West Pier Tours building in the early 2000s

The MSG team visiting the West Pier in 2000

Equipped with hard hats, a volunteer took us across the walkway onto the pier itself.  A lottery grant had provided the walkway, not only for the tours which raised much-needed cash for the restoration, but also for a team to make essential repairs to keep the pier as safe as possible.  At the time it was hoped that if enough money was raised that the pier could be restored to its former glory.

Walkway leading to the secrets of Brighton's West Pier in 2000

Much of the pier was covered in seagull poo, and ravaged by the weather and waves.  This view of the concert hall from the far pavilion shows the holes in the roof, broken windows and general disrepair.

The dilapidated West Pier in Brighton taken on a tour in 2000

Inside the West Pier had once been an amusement arcade, Laughterland, some of which was still visible amongst the seagull excrement!

The inside of Laughterland amusement arcade on Brighton's West Pier

I feel so privileged to have walked on the pier, even though it was way past its best.  It was closed to the public in 1975 having become too dangerous.

Small toll booth remaining on Brighton's West Pier in 2000


Booking.com

Walkway leading from Brighton's West Pier back to the shore in 2000

The West Pier trust continued to offer tours and raised money towards the restoration project.  Chris Eubank was a major supporter, and even offered to pay for the work himself.

However, in March 2003 disaster struck.  We saw wisps of smoke from our 7th floor desks in West Street and one of my colleagues found a seafront webcam online which broadcasted the smoke and fire on the pier.  It was devastating to watch it go up in flames before our eyes and you can see photos of the fire in this news report.

Shop for West Pier goodies!

Handmade coaster
Handmade coaster
Poster
Poster
Sunset photo
Sunset photo
Greetings card
Greetings card
West Pier t-shirt
West Pier t-shirt
Handmade coaster
Handmade coaster
Poster
Poster
Sunset photo
Sunset photo
Greetings card
Greetings card
West Pier t-shirt
West Pier t-shirt
Handmade coaster
Handmade coaster
Poster
Poster
Sunset photo
Sunset photo
Greetings card
Greetings card
West Pier t-shirt
West Pier t-shirt

The cause was never found, with stories ranging from a suspicious speedboat in the area to spontaneous combustion of the bird poo!  What is really odd is that there was another fire two months later, leaving the concert hall half collapsed in the sea. The timing couldn’t have been worse, with the promised lottery funding withdrawn as a result, cancelling the planned restoration due to start later that year.

When I moved back to Bognor I drove into Brighton every day and would park on the seafront and walk along the lower prom to work, which made a lovely start to the day!

View of the West Pier on a hazy morning in the mid 2000s

Sad as it is, the derelict ruins which we now see are so iconic, and can look beautiful at sunset.

View of Brighton's West Pier from the shore with cast iron supports on the beach

The Passacaglia sculpture, by Charles Hadcock, is made from cast iron and stands 3 metres high.  When I took this photo in the mid 2000s it framed the remains of the pier beautifully.  The concert hall section, on the right, was removed in 2010 as it was so dangerous.

Charles Hadcock sculpture Passacaglia, framing Brighton's West Pier perfectly

Fast forward to 2018, and you can’t avoid images of the West Pier around the city, whether on postcards, photographs, paintings and t-shirts.  It is captured in mural form on the hoardings at the end of North Street by street artist Glimmertwin 32, aka Sean Lyons.

Brighton-West-Pier-mural-Glimmertwin

Now that the i360 is open, it seems that a new West Pier construction could be built in due course.  The i360 is well worth a visit, and the views are spectatular, particularly on a clear, sunny day.

A panoramic view of Brighton seafront and the Palace Pier from the top of the i360

View east from the top of the i360 in Brighton

I hope you have enjoyed reading about the history of Brighton’s West Pier.

If you are visiting the area then you may enjoy more of my posts about Brighton :

If you are planning a visit to see Brighton’s West Pier and the rest of the city then check out the latest deals on Booking.com here, or click on the link below.


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4 Comments

  1. Tea and Cake for the Soul
    September 30, 2018 / 11:22 am

    Piers make for such great photos don’t they? Fascinating article.

    • AliRichards
      Author
      September 30, 2018 / 8:22 pm

      Yes they do! I am somewhat obsessed…

  2. Suzy
    October 13, 2018 / 8:38 am

    Great post Ali x

    • AliRichards
      Author
      October 13, 2018 / 6:04 pm

      Thank you Suzy! x

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