New book published to celebrate 200th birthday of Britain’s seaside piers

Britain’s oldest pier, at Ryde on the Isle of WIght, celebrated its 200th birthday on July 26th.

To mark the anniversary English Heritage and the National Piers Society have teamed together to publish the definitive illustrated companion to the 61 piers remaining around our coast, British Seaside Piers.

From the haunted pier at Skegness, to piers cut in half during WW2 to prevent enemy entry, to those that inspired countless writers and producers, from Agatha Christie (Paignton) to EastEnders (Southend), and played host to the Rolling Stones (Hastings), British Seaside Piers narrates the fortunes, history and lore of each.

Co-authors Wills and Phillips brilliantly chronicle the changing face of piers from their functional beginnings as a landing stage for boats; (Queen Victoria herself alighted onto Ryde Pier in 1843, no longer inhibited by the previous practice of wading through water to arrive on dry land). Early popularity among ‘promenaders’ hastened the heyday of the flamboyant Victorian pleasure pier, epitomised at Hastings, which at its zenith housed a 2,000 seat oriental-style pavilion, and could boast its own orchestra, four daily concert parties, diving demonstrations, animated pictures, open-air dancing, a shooting gallery, and a joy ride.

Funfair and arcade piers emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century, as holiday-makers changed their patterns of behaviour. Bognor Regis Pier, for example, saw the famous Roof Garden Theatre converted into a bingo hall after the opening of Butlins in 1959. However, piers have seen a renaissance of late due to increased public and Lottery funding, the rise of ‘staycationing’, the pull of birdman rallies, and enthusiasm for vintage penny arcades and slot machines.