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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Inside the West Pier had once been an amusement arcade, Laughterland, some of which was still visible amongst the seagull excrement!
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.
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.
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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!
Sad as it is, the derelict ruins which we now see are so iconic, and can look beautiful at sunset.
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.
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.
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.
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 :
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