EASTBOURNE PIER - EAST SUSSEX

 

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Eastbourne boasts a lovely pier, which although modernised many times still retains much of its Edwardian splendour.  The gift shops, sweet shops, bars and restaurants still make it a very pleasurable place to wander on a pleasant summer afternoon.  At night the splendid illuminations cannot fail to impress the visitor.

 

 

 

Eastbourne Pier - The East Side

 

 

The Eastbourne Pier Company was first formed in the year of 1865. After considerable debate a site was decided on at the junction of Marine Parade and Grand Parade. A special Act: The Eastbourne Pier Act 1865. was passed through Parliament and the land under the sea was purchased from the Crown. The limits then laid down still apply today; 'The Pier must not be expanded or extended". The land at the shoreward end was leased from the Local Board at the amount of five shillings a year for 99 years and this was paid through the years, until 1988, when the local 'County Council' finally decided it was no longer feasible to collect the 25 pence charge.


The Architect was Eugenius Birch, who also designed Margate, Deal and Brighton West Pier. The first pile was driven in on 18th April 1866, by the Marquis of Hartington and four years later, on 12th June 1870, the first part of the scheme was opened by Lord Edward Cavendish. A report in the Eastbourne Standard for 1870 gives the following details: The total length of the Pier will be about 1000 feet and will terminate with a spacious head, having landing stages on either side so that steamers can land passengers at any state of the tide. Since the death of J E Dowson, the former contractor, the works have been carried out by Messrs Head, Wrightson and Co. the present contractors, under the superintendence of Henry Matravers (the resident engineer), and the whole of the pier iron-work has been casted within their Teesdale Iron Works - at Stockton-on-Tees'.


 

The Pier at night

 

 

During the mid 1990's there were only about three spans of girders actually erected. However, since that period, four more spans have been added. The Pier now runs out at a distance of five hundred feet. The Pier has a clear deck width of twenty-two feet affording comfortable seating on either side, with the whole of its length being relieved by two recesses 68 feet wide. The body of Eastbourne Pier will eventually consist of twelve bays, or spans, of girders 60 feet long, which will be supported by cast iron columns let into very strong screw piles penetrating deep into the bed of the sea at a distance of seven feet. The sea bed consists of very hard blue clay. The columns are twelve inches in diameter and 25 feet in length fixed into screw piles eight feet long. The second recesses, when finished, will form a convenient space for refreshment stalls - whilst the band, throughout the summer months, will perform to the delight of the 
many Eastbourne visitors.


Work on the Pier, as originally designed, was completed in the year of 1872. At around this time, Eastbourne Pier was little more than a promenade and a landing stage. At the Pier Head, i.e. the seaward end, there were originally four individual kiosks accompanied by a windbreak. Over the following three years, however, it became so seriously damaged that the whole structure had to be materially strengthened. Unfortunately, this was to little avail, as in the severe storm that took place on the 1st January 1877, the whole of the shoreward end was sadly washed away. The seas had risen above the main deck and the breakers were too much for it. This portion was rebuilt considerably higher than the old level and was joined to the seaward end with a slope. The deck consisted of all wooden planks - supported on the iron framework; with heavy wooden joists.

 

 

 

The Camera Obscura Dome - now restored

 

 

The first theatre was built in the year of 1888 at the seaward end. It held three to four hundred people, had a flat floor and cost 250.00 to erect. The Pier Master and a Deck Hand ran it. When it was taken down, it was carted off to Lewes in one piece and used as a cattle shed. The second theatre was  built from 1899-1901. It had no pillars to obstruct the view and the balconies were built on the cantilever principle. Also, in this complex was a bar, the Camera Obscura, a Cafe and the Pier offices. There was no heating laid on until 1906, yet shows were laid on all year round. It was used every summer, except during the Second World War, until 1970. In January of that year, a Pier employee of three weeks standing, set fire to the theatre. As luck would have it, the safety curtain was down and special non-flammable paint was always used but it was so badly damaged that; it was closed down and converted into a nightclub - called the Dixieland Showbar.

 

The landing stage was built in the year of 1893. Before that, there was a very narrow monkey run. Three berths were built, one facing out to sea, one facing east and one west. It was a wooden structure and was extended in 1912. It was built of Greenheart and Jarrah. Greenheart comes from Guyana in South America, is very hard and is resistant to marine borers.It was widely used for dock piles and underwater work where long life and durability are necessary. Jarrah comes from Australia and is a species of Eucalyptus. It is a heavy hardwood with great strength. It is fire resistant and very durable. After the Second World War, a concrete landing stage was built with metal gratings. It is a yearly job to clear the honeycomb gratings of barnacles, which fill the holes and form a solid mass. When the waves collide, it lifts the gratings and can inflict severe damage.

 

In 1901, two games saloons, mid-way along the Pier were opened and in 1902 and 1903, heavy cast iron windscreens decorated with dolphins were installed. In 1925, the shoreward end was widened for the erection of a Music Pavilion seating 900 people. This was used for many years as a ballroom and later became an Amusement Arcade. There have been three different entrance buildings. The first remained until 1912 and the second was replaced in 1951, by the present kidney shaped flat roofed building. The Camera Obscura is still in the dome above the Atlantis (formerly called The Roxy) but no longer open to the public since the fire. It was run, before the outbreak of World War II, by a Mr Pelly, who also doubled as an agent for the Steamer Company.

 

 

 

Eastbourne Pier - view looking out to sea (starboard)

 

 

After the war the Camera Obscura was restored. The room is circular and windowless, and the whole of the roof revolves on huge ball bearings. The silver surfaced mirror and lenses are mounted at an angle of 45 degrees in the dome. As the roof is turned, the mirror reflects the image of the scene outside and projects it onto a white emulsioned bowl about six feet across. The picture is moving, and in colour, and shows up brilliantly in the darkened room. One evening in May, 1940, an Army Officer duly arrived at the Pier with orders to blow it up so that it could not be used by the enemy for invasion purposes. The army was persuaded to wait until the show finished, but as the audience left the Pier, sappers were placing explosive charges in place. In the end, it was decided not to blow it up, but to remove a large section of the deck. 

During the war a machine-gun crew was stationed on the Camera Obscura and a Bofors gun was at the shoreward end of the pier. A 10,000 gallon water tank near the Obscura was holed by aircraft fire and the water swamped the offices below. The Pier suffered badly from vandalism during the war - many things were stolen including the seats and curtains of the theatre for a garrison theatre at Newhaven. A mine exploded near the shoreward end pushing in the side of the ballroom and depositing ten tons of beach on the roof. The under structure was not damaged at all. After the war, thin concrete slabs were laid to join up the pier again, as a permit could not be obtained for wood. The slabs are only three-quarters of an inch thick in the middle. Since then, the whole of the pier has been slabbed except for the wide seaward end. Wooden planking has been retained in this area because of the movement of the pier in storms and rough weather.

 

The first entertainment was a band playing in the bandstand on the Pier head in the early 1870's. At first, concerts were given on Sundays, but local opinion was very much against this and the Duke of Devonshire, the chief shareholder in the Company, was called upon to stop them. They were allowed, after devine service and were supposed to be of a religious nature. Finally, they were withdrawn altogether. Even as late as 1926, no kiosks were allowed to open on a Sunday. Towards the end of the 1870's, the bandstand was moved to the middle deck and was removed altogether after the Second World War. Minstrels and other concert parties including the Knuts Kamp Komedy Kompany, from the Summerdown Convalescent Camp during the 1914-18 war, performed on the bandstand. It was stated that if you were good enough to get into the Blue Boy's Concert Party - then you ultimately enjoyed a far greater convalescence than was really required.

 

The concert parties developed into the popular Summer shows, which became bigger and better and were regularly performed in the theatre. Previous to this, plays and musicals were witnessed there and the first talking pictures in Eastbourne were actually shown there. The old projectors were sold after the Second World War. Sandy Powell and his 'Starlight' company did fifteen summer seasons in a row until the disastrous fire in January 1970 closed the theatre down. In the Dixieland Showbar there were modern pop groups at weekends, Cabaret shows during the week and dancing on Wednesdays. The Ballroom was used for dancing from the time it opened until recent years, when the public taste changed from ballroom dancing to discotheques. It was called the 'Blue Room' (later called Funtasia). A large number of automatic machines were also installed within the pier which provided alternative entertainment for 
visitors during wet weather.

 

 

 

Eastbourne Pier - view from Camera Obscura to seafront

 

 

Steamers: Paddle steamers used to call at the pier to pick up passengers. Often two would come from different directions and would race in to beat the other to get the passengers and their money. The Pier master would see to it that strong timbers were put out to protect the pier. Cambell's Steamers ran from  the pier between the wars but many of them were lost during the Second World War, especially at Dunkirk - and some were even blown up by mines at sea. The Empress Queen was on the stocks when war broke out. She was requisitioned by the Navy and used in Scotland as a troop carrier. She was 1,750 tons and a screw powered vessel. She hadn't much steerage in shallow water and would have to drift in to berth at the pier. She was really too large for the piers to handle and eventually Brighton, and Eastbourne, both refused to handle her.

In 1870, shortly after the official opening in June of that year, a Bandstand was built on the middle deck and, in addition to the Bands of the day, Concert Parties also performed there. The first steps, it appeared, had been taken along the entertainment highway. In 1888, the first Theatre was erected at the Pier Head - with level floor capacity reaching up to 400. In 1901, the Pier Head Theatre was removed and the new Pier Theatre was opened with a capacity of approximately 1100. Shows were presented there throughout the year and this, in spite of the fact that heating wasn't installed until five years later. The Theatre itself was an integral part of a complex, affording Restaurant and licensed bar facilities, along with the administrative offices and the Camera Obscura which was housed in the Dome. The same year saw the erection of the Games Saloons - sited half way along the pier - which today operate as Gift, and Souvenir, shops.

In 1902, the theatre, was home to traditional pier theatre shows including the late great Sandy Powell who was supported by Norman Meadow. Later on, Norman went on to be a General Manager of the Pier after the theatre was destroyed by fire. In 1906, an old Pier Theatre programme was to announce, amongst it's forthcoming attractions, another first. St.Louis Animated Pictures - in other words, films. In 1912, the kiosks at the entrance to the pier were enhanced by the building of new entrances, these in turn were demolished in 1951 and replaced by new buildings. Between World War I and World War II, therefore, the Theatre and the Music Pavilion irrefutably prospered. Star artistes of the day featured in both the Touring Productions and the resident Summer Shows - but the time for even further change, it appeared, was fast approaching.

 

 

 

Eastbourne's beaches are exceptionally well maintained

 


During 1925, at the Promenade entrance, the Music Pavilion was erected - with a capacity of 900. Evenings of concert music and Summer Shows were a feature until the introduction of Ballroom Dancing. A further change in the late 1960's announced the opening of The Blue Room Family Leisure Centre. The centre today is still a major feature of the pier's activities. In 1969, the Company and the Pier was taken over by Trusthouse Forte Leisure Ltd, a subsidiary of Trusthouse Forte Ltd, and in 1980 was registered as a private company. In 1970, the Pier Theatre was destroyed by fire. However, the remainder of the complex survived and, is still in evidence today.  

 

After the Theatre was destroyed by fire, the owners at that time decided to build a discotheque in order to move with the times. Over one million pounds later, Eastbourne Pier saw the completion of the fabulous nightspot known as the 'Atlantis Nightclub' - which comfortably holds 870 people. The new 'Copa Bar' holds up to 300 people and also presents a commanding panorama over the English Channel. At the front of the pier, the old 'Blue Room', originally a ballroom, later became the' "Funtasia Family Entertainment Centre', boasting some of the latest technological advances in amusements - in a surrounding enhanced by the preservation of its original Victorian opulence.  On the 29th May 1996, Eastbourne Pier was refurbished - recreating its Victorian splendour. 

 

In celebrating the climax of its half million pound refurbishment, the pier was lit up for the first time in it's 124-year history - an event that was accompanied by a major firework display. The pier's traditional Gift shops, Lace shop, Palmist, Glass Blower and Jewellery Maker were joined by a new pier-end Waterfront Inn with a pub-style food menu - along with Eastbourne's first Burger King." On the 1st September 1998: First Leisure Corporation Resorts Division sold to Leisure Parcs Limited. In addition to Eastbourne Pier, Leisure Parcs Ltd also own Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens, along with Southsea Pier, Llandudno Pier and all three Blackpool piers.

 

For centuries, the sea has held a certain fascination and people have been drawn to coastal resorts. The British seaside appears to have retained a special magnetism, and this may have something to do with the fascinating structures made fashionable by the Victorians. Piers were designed to be as individual as the character of the particular resort where they were placed, but the primary function of most of them was to provide an area for 'promenading' or 'taking the air'. Later they were adapted to incorporate landing stages for the increasing paddle steamer trade. At the beginning of the 20th century there were some 100 piers dotted around our coastline, but the number surviving today has dwindled to 54, and the condition of these varies enormously. During the last 10 years some have been splendidly restored, others are awaiting funds for restoration work, and some are sadly disappearing slowly with dereliction. The framework of many piers show incredible engineering skills, and this was coupled with a certain panache that the 19th century entreprenurs had for embellishing and ornamenting the structures. These are a unique legacy, quintessentially British, and oozing with nostalgia.

 

 

 

Sunshine Girls: Chrissy and Hana

 

 

 

SUSSEX INDEX A - Z

 

ALFRISTON

ARUNDEL CASTLE

BATTLE

BATTLE ABBEY

BATTLE OF HASTINGS

BEACHY HEAD - BELL TOOT (BELLE TOUT) LIGHTHOUSE

BEXHILL

BIRLING GAP

BODIAM CASTLE

BRIGHTON

CHICHESTER

CHIDDINGLY - HORSE SHOW and GYMKHANA

CROWBOROUGH

CUCKMERE VALLEY - EXCEAT

DISTRICT AND BOROUGH COUNCILS

EAST SUSSEX
EASTBOURNE - EASTBOURNE PIER

FIRLE

FIRLE BONFIRE SOCIETY

GLYNDE

GUY FAWKES

HAILSHAM

HASTINGS

HEATHFIELD

HERSTMONCEUX - CASTLE - CE SCHOOL - LINKS - FESTIVAL

LEWES

LEWES DISTRICT COUNCIL

NEWHAVEN

PEVENSEY CASTLE

RYE

SEAFORD

SEVEN SISTERS

SUSSEX

SUSSEX THINGS TO DO GUIDE

THE BATTLE OF HASTINGS

TRUGS

TWISSELLS MILL, OLD HEATHFIELD

UCKFIELD

WEALD

 

 

 

PIER LINKS:

 

 

ABERYSTWYTH PIER
BANGOR PIER
BEAUMARIS PIER
BIRNBECK PIER
BLACKPOOL CENTRAL PIER
BLACKPOOL NORTH PIER
BLACKPOOL SOUTH PIER
BOGNOR PIER
BOSCOMBE PIER
BOURNEMOUTH PIER
BRIGHTON PALACE PIER
BRIGHTON WEST PIER
BRITANNIA PIER
BURNHAM PIER
CLACTON PIER
CLEETHORPES PIER
CLEVEDON PIER
COLWYN BAY PIER
CROMER PIER
DEAL PIER
EASTBOURNE PIER
FELIXSTOWE PIER
FLEETWOOD PIER
HASTINGS PIER
HERNE BAY PIER
HYTHE PIER
LLANDUDNO PIER
LOWESTOFT PIER
MUMBLES PIER
PAIGNTON PIER
PENARTH PIER
RAMSEY QUEENS PIER
RYDE PIER
SALTBURN PIER
SANDOWN CULVER PIER
SKEGNESS PIER
SOUTHAMPTON ROYAL PIER
SOUTHEND PIER
SOUTHPORT PIER
SOUTHSEA CLARENCE PIER
SOUTHSEA PARADE PIER
SOUTHWOLD PIER
ST ANNES PIER
SWANAGE PIER
TEIGNMOUTH PIER
TORQUAY PIER
TOTLAND BAY PIER
WALTON ON THE NAZE PIER
WELLINGTON PIER
WESTON SUPER MARE PIER
WEYMOUTH PIER
WEYMOUTH BANDSTAND
WORTHING PIER
YARMOUTH PIER


 

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