EASTBOURNE PIER - EAST SUSSEX
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 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
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.
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
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.
Eastbourne's beaches are exceptionally well maintained
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.
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