winter michelle

splendourific


Isn't that just the most?

(To say the least.)


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Brighton's West Pier
winter michelle
splendourific
So I was just idly flipping through the nonsense that is ONTD, when I stumbled upon a post on Sweeney Todd. I know absolutely nothing about this musical other than it's with Johnny Depp and there's murdering... or... something. And such. Rather. Quite. ANYWAY, I was looking at the pictures when I saw one that looked quite a lot like the West Pier in Brighton.

This one:


If you go back to 2003 in this journal, you can find the (horribly written) entries where I discuss my English lifestyle living in Brighton and Hove and how much I loved it and how much booze I consumed and how much I hated my roommates and so on and so forth. It's really not that entertaining so I don't suggest you do it. IN ANY CASE, I lived there for six months and I adored it. Like, I adored it so much I was seriously considering moving back there and going to grad school. That idea still has not escaped me completely, but I digress. Brighton was great. It started to develop back in the 19th century as a seaside resort when the prince whatshisface decided that he needed a seaside resort because some doctor said that sea air was good for you and... Things. I don't remember. Anyway, there is (understandably) a shitton of history there: lots of statues of Victoria and olde English lanes dating back to when Brighton was a fishing village and blah blah blah. It's a beautiful city and I suggest you go there if you ever have the chance.

Anyway, there were two piers when I first arrived there in January 2003. The Brighton Pier:



And the West Pier:




Guess which one is still open for business?

But back in the day, the West Pier was quite the to-do, as you can read here.

It was the second leisure pier to be built in Britain and one of only two to be Grade I listed. It was originally built as a simple promenade, but eventually acquired a bandstand, a theatre a 1400-seat concert hall. The addition of new landing stages in 1894 made it possible for steamboats to use the pier as a terminus for travel to France, the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth, Weymouth and Dover.

In the Edwardian era novelties and shows took place on the end of the pier. A manacled strongman used to dive into the sea on a bicycle with his clothes aflame. These shows were stopped when a crowd of hundreds saw him drown one day.

In its 1920s the pier had its own resident orchestra - Elgar conducted it. The theatre presented plays, pantomimes and ballets all year round. In its heyday, it attracted 2 million visitors a year.


The entrance to the West Pier


Brighton back in the day.


The dude with the bicycle.


The West Pier in its heyday.

After that, the West Pier's career seems to have been one of gentle decline. It is hard to find out much about its later history, but you can see it in the films Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) and Carry on Girls (1973).



The decline.





The pier closed in 1975 and there have been plans to restore and reopen it ever since, even thought the sea was systematically reclaiming it. But it became an inconvenient building and, as inconvenient buildings have a way of doing, it burnt down.
The pier was located right down the street from where my townhome was. I shared it with about 12 other people, mostly international graduate students. I would periodically walk down to the shore and the pebbly beach and look at the West Pier and just think, "What the heck is that? What happened to it?" I didn't really have any way of knowing because Brighton is the anti-Disneyland. You don't discover things unless you really look for them. No plaques, just a decaying reminder for the town to remember its former glory.

Well, unless you count the Brighton Pier, but nobody ever does. It's still a tourist destination to this day. Helter Skelter by the Beatles was written about the roller coaster on the end of the Brighton Pier. All games and kiddie stuff. The West Pier was more adult, more sophisticated. Was. That's the operative word there.

On the boardwalk in Brighton, there are candy shops and lots of pedestrians, and nightclubs along the way on King's Street. My friend Lara and I would figure out which club wasn't charging cover and systematically work our way through the clubs. One night we were having a kebab at three or four in the morning and we smelled smoke. We had to either cab back or walk back, so, although it was freezing outside (after all, it was March and we were right on the ocean), we walked the way back to Hove, following our noses and the smoke, to the West Pier, where it was aflame.





It was quite strange to see a building in the middle of the ocean on fire. One would think the water would put it out. Nope!

But the building continued burn. For a few days, in fact. There were firefighters on the scene for a while, but they didn't do much good as they couldn't access the fire, seeing the bridge had collapsed. Then, one day, the fire stopped.

...And it started up again a couple months later, in May.

Nobody really knows what started those fires to this day. There were thoughts of reconstructing the West Pier, plans here and there, but nothing materialized until it was too late.

I think that kind of says something about the British spirit. Instead of demolishing their mistakes or their guilt or their history, they let it die naturally. It's a reminder of what was, of the past. I think it's both a good thing and a bad thing--there is certainly something to be said for so-called "fresh starts." But I didn't realize how much it had had an impact on me, and how much I remember about it until now.

So, thanks Johnny Depp.

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Re: From a former anglophile and history geek-o -

Thank you! I am glad somebody appreciated it. I just saw that picture and it all flooded back and I had to get all of that experience out of me. :) Thanks for the comment, sweetpea.

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