Britain’s Victorian pleasure piers are unique – and under threat

Eastbourne Pier, Sussex. Image: Getty.

A stroll along a pier remains the most popular activity for visitors to the British seaside, with 70 per cent of them enjoying a walk over the waves. And for many, the seaside pier is perhaps the most iconic symbol of the British seaside holiday and the epitome of excursions to the coast. Piers have always provided holidaymakers with entertainment, from the grand pavilions and theatres of the Victorian era, to the amusement arcades of the 1980s. For two centuries, piers have been the place to see and be seen at the seaside.

Victorian pleasure piers are unique to the UK, but they are under threat: in the early 20th century nearly 100 piers graced the UK coastline, but almost half of of these have now gone.

By their very nature, seaside piers are risky structures. When piers were constructed, British seaside resorts were at the height of their popularity. The Victorians wanted to demonstrate engineering prowess and their ability to master the force of the sea. Some lasted longer than others, with Aldeburgh pier in Suffolk lasting than a decade before it was swept away by a drifting vessel. At the other end of the spectrum is the Isle of Wight’s Ryde pier, which at over 200 years is the oldest pleasure pier in the UK.

Yet the longevity of such piers presents them with new risks: fire, maintenance issues, rising costs, and climate change. Piers face an uncertain future. The National Piers Society estimates that 20 per cent of today’s piers are at risk of being lost.

Piers at risk

Over the last 40 years, many notable piers have succumbed to time and tide. Perhaps the most iconic of these losses is Brighton West Pier, which has suffered multiple storms and fires since closure in 1975, leaving an isolated skeleton as a haunting reminder. Now there is growing recognition that seaside piers are vital to coastal communities in terms of resort identity, heritage, employment, community pride, and tourism. In fact, the UK government now offers funding to enable the revival of piers and other seaside heritage.

Brighton West Pier. Image: National Piers Society.

Despite the sea change in the perceived importance of seaside piers, many remain derelict and in a state of decay. One such pier is Weston-Super-Mare’s Birnbeck Pier, on the west coast, which has been closed for over three decades. Birnbeck Pier is unusual in that it is the only pier which links to an island, but as time has passed, parts of the structure have crumbled into the sea. Despite the endeavours of the local community and groups such as The Birnbeck Regeneration Trust, the owner of the pier refuses to sell or regenerate the pier.

This is in stark contrast to nearby Clevedon Pier, which was deemed “the most beautiful pier in England” by the poet Sir John Betjeman. After partial collapse and subsequent closure of the pier in 1970 there were calls for its demolition. Clevedon Pier was saved and reopened in 1998, and is now the UK’s only Grade I listed seaside pier. Today it stands as a testament to The Clevedon Pier Heritage Trust which continues to develop the pier with a new visitor centre, wedding venue, and conferencing space. Recently, the pier gained a new group of fans as it featured as a backdrop to a One Direction music video.

Thriving piers

Despite their advancing years, since the turn of the 21st century many piers have found a new lease of life. The high-profile regeneration of Hastings Pier, led by a local community trust and backed by Heritage Lottery Funding, has spearheaded the revitalisation of many seaside piers (although the pier, controversially, was recently sold to a commercial investor). Nevertheless, a number of coastal communities have successfully regenerated their piers through the formation of pier trusts, including those at Swanage and Herne Bay. Other seaside towns are being even more ambitious and hoping to rebuild their piers or to build brand new piers.

Swanage Pier. Image: National Piers Society.

Local authorities within seaside resorts are also promoting their piers as flagship tourist attractions and investing in their refurbishment and new facilities. Southport Pier, which narrowly escaped demolition during the 1990s, is now at the heart of the resort’s development strategy and is currently undergoing a £2.9m refurbishment which includes the addition of new catering and retail facilities.

The piers that are thriving in the 21st century are those that provide a unique selling point. Bournemouth Pier now features the only pier-to-beach zip line, and its former theatre now houses adrenaline-packed activities such as climbing walls, an aerial assault course, and a vertical drop slide. In Folkestone, the Harbour Arm, which was redeveloped as a pleasure pier in 2016, provides a range of pop-up bars and restaurants and its very own champagne bar. Weston’s Grand Pier offers family fun with a modern twist and even boasts an indoor suspended go-kart track. Southwold Pier boasts a novelty automaton arcade.

Weston-Super Mare Grand Pier. Image: National Piers Society.

By staying tuned to modern desires as well as a sense of nostalgia, piers will continue to adapt to changing tastes and provide entertainment and pleasure for seaside visitors.

The ConversationBut perhaps the biggest threat they face today is climate change, and the attendant rising sea levels and increasingly frequent storm surges. Cromer, Saltburn, and Blackpool North Pier have all recently been significantly damaged by storms. The World Monuments Fund has recognised the threat of extreme weather events to seaside piers by adding Blackpool’s three piers to their 2018 Watch List. With seaside piers regaining their popularity, their next big challenge will literally be finding a way to weather the storm.

Anya Chapman, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, Bournemouth University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


 

 
 
 
 

“You don’t look like a train buff”: on sexism in the trainspotting community

A female guard on London’s former Metropolitan Railway. Image: Getty.

I am a railway enthusiast. I like looking at trains, I like travelling by train and I like the quirks of the vast number of different train units, transit maps and train operating companies.

I get goosebumps standing on a platform watching my train approach, eyeballing the names of the destinations on the dot matrix display over and over again, straining to hear the tinny departure announcements on the tannoy.  I’m fortunate enough to work on the site of a former railway station that not only houses beautiful old goods sheds, but still has an active railway line running alongside it. You can imagine my colleagues’ elation as I exclaim: “Wow! Look at that one!” for the sixth time that day, as another brilliantly gaudy freight train trundles past.

I am also a woman in my twenties. A few weeks my request to join a railway-related Facebook group was declined because I – and I quote here – “don’t look like a train buff”.

After posting about this exchange on Twitter, my outrage was widely shared. “They should be thrilled to have you!” said one. “What does a train buff look like?!” many others asked.

The answer, of course, is a middle-aged white man with an anorak and notebook. Supposedly, anyway. That’s the ancient stereotype of a “trainspotter”, which sadly shows no sign of waning.

I’m not alone in feeling marginalised in the railway community. Sarah, a railway enthusiast from Bournemouth, says she is used to funny looks when she tells people that she is not only into trains, but an engineer.

She speaks of her annoyance at seeing a poster bearing the phrase: “Beware Rail Enthusiasts Disease: Highly Infectious To Males Of All Ages”. “That did bug me,” she says, “because women can enjoy trains just as much as men.”


Vicki Pipe is best known as being one half of the YouTube sensation All The Stations, which saw her and her partner Geoff Marshall spend 2017 visiting every railway station in Great Britain.

“During our 2017 adventure I was often asked ‘How did your boyfriend persuade you to come along?’” she says. “I think some found it unusual that a woman might be independently interested or excited enough about the railways to spend sixteen weeks travelling to every station on the network.”

Pipe, who earlier this year travelled to all the stations in Ireland and Northern Ireland, is passionate about changing the way in which people think of the railways, including the perception of women in the industry.

“For me it’s the people that make the railways such an exciting place to explore – and many of these are women,” she explains. “Women have historically and continue to play an important part in the railway industry – throughout our journey we met female train drivers, conductors, station staff, signallers and engineers. I feel it is important that more female voices are heard so that women of the future recognise the railways as a place they too can be part of.”

Despite the progress being made, it’s clear there is still a long way to go in challenging stereotypes and proving that girls can like trains, too.

I’m appalled that in 2019 our life choices are still subjected to critique. This is why I want to encourage women to embrace their interests and aspirations – however “nerdy”, or unusual, or untraditionally “female” they may be – and to speak up for things that I was worried to speak about for so long.

We might not change the world by doing so but, one by one, we’ll let others know that we’ll do what we want – because we can.