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Brighton Pier (Palace Pier)
Madeira Drive, Brighton, East Sussex, UK
Brighton Pier (Palace Pier)
associated engineer
Richard St.George Moore
date  7th November 1891 - 20th May 1899
era  Victorian  |  category  Pier, seaside  |  reference  TQ312035
ICE reference number  HEW 429
photo  Jane Joyce
The English south-coast town of Brighton has one of the most famous seaside piers — a late Victorian structure of considerable visual charm. The pier is founded on screw piles, and its original buildings were constructed to echo the architecture of the nearby Royal Pavilion. The structure is Grade II* listed and is a hugely popular attraction.
In 1888, the Brighton Marine Palace & Pier Company was formed to construct a new pier some 200m to the west of the then-standing Chain Pier, built in 1822-3 by Captain Samuel Brown (1776-1852). Consent for the new pier was conditional upon demolition of the existing Brighton Pier, which the company purchased for £15,000 in 1889.
Engineer and architect Richard St George Moore (1858-1926) designed the new structure, which was soon known as the Palace Pier. Its construction follows the well-tried methods used on many seaside pleasure piers of the Victorian era, including Brighton's West Pier (Eugenius Birch, opened 1866).
A major development in overcoming the challenge of making sound foundations on a shifting foreshore was the screw pile, patented in 1833 by the blind Irish engineer Alexander Mitchell (1780-1868). Each pile is usually a cast iron hollow column with screw shaped wings around the toe, driven into the ground by rotation. The technique works well for most soil types.
The Palace Pier foundations have 330 cast iron screw piles, the first of which was driven on 7th November 1891. Each pile is 762mm in diameter supporting 305mm diameter cast iron columns. The columns are set in clusters of six — two rows of three at 5.5m centres — braced diagonally by wrought tie iron rods with turnbuckles. The columns are also braced horizontally by cross heads, which support open lattice longitudinal girders and 203mm by 102mm transverse rolled steel joists. The timber deck planking is carried on the transverse beams.
On 4th December 1896, a storm destroyed the Chain Pier, which had been closed since October that year. Timber debris from the structure was swept by the tides into the new pier, still under construction, causing considerable damage.
On 20th May 1899, the Palace Pier opened to the public — for a fee of 2d (0.8p) per person. Two octagonal kiosks rescued from the Chain Pier are situated at the northern end of the deck, which contains 137km of timber planks. The neck of the pier is a minimum of 13.7m wide, with three broader stretches. At the time of opening, the pierhead was not complete. Original features included entrance toll booths, rows of filigree iron arches at intervals across the pier to support electric illuminations and ornate cast iron handrailing around the deck.
The pierhead, an elongated octagon 57.6m wide, was finished in 1901. The pier was then 524.9m long. On 3rd April 1901, the pierhead pavilion opened, completing the pier for a total cost of £137,000. It had a concert hall with seating and standing space for 1,500 people, and smoking and reading rooms. The exterior, furnished with minaret corner towers and Moorish arches, was designed to evoke the Royal Pavilion (John Nash, 1823).
In 1906, a glazed screen was installed on the pier to provide shelter from the wind. It forms a central spine along its length, running between the buildings, with its own pitched roof supported by pairs of cast iron columns. Bench seating is fixed to the deck on both sides.
In 1910, a pavilion and a winter garden were constructed on two of the wider areas of the neck. The winter garden, at the northern (shore) end, features a central rotunda with rectangular north and south wings. The building’s curved roof is supported by cast iron columns and segmental arch open web trusses. The pavilion is located near the centre of the pier. It consists of a square central section with narrower north and south wings, and a hipped and stepped roof.
In 1911, a steamer landing stage was constructed at the pierhead. The pavilion on it was remodelled into a proper theatre with seating for 1,300 people.
From about 1927, the pier entrance at the shore was rebuilt and widened, replacing the three original arches. The new entrance structure, unveiled on 27th June 1930, includes a flat-ceilinged mansard roof and a central clock tower with four faces.
The pierhead was extended in 1938, to give the pier its present overall length of 536.4m. A big wheel and other fairground rides were added at about this time.
In 1940, the pier was breached for wartime defensive purposes, and the pierhead landing stage and theatre closed. The structure was reinstated and re-opened on 6th June 1946, with the theatre opening on 15th July that year. Until about 1960, day trips by boat could be taken from the landing stage. In August 1971, the pier was given Grade II* listing.
On 19th October 1973, the pierhead was damaged when a 70 tonne barge being used for the demolition of the disused landing stage collided it and the pier. The theatre was damaged and had to be closed, though was later repaired. The landing stage was demolished in 1975, and the repair works completed in 1976. However, the pierhead was not restored to its former opulence.
In March 1984, the Palace Pier was acquired by the Noble Organisation. Two years of refurbishment were undertaken by the company. Free admission and free deck chairs were introduced, together with new food outlets constructed in red brick. The former winter garden, now the Palace of Fun, was clad with vinyl and aluminium sheeting.
In 1986, the pierhead theatre was dismantled and put into storage. Its present whereabouts are unknown. It was replaced by the current Pleasure Dome (not part of the listed building citation) supported by a tubular steel geodesic grid.
In August 1995, an explosion and fire in an electricity sub-station below the decking at the seaward end of the pier caused damage.
In 1998, the Palace Pier was designated Pier of the Year by the National Piers Society. In 2000, its name was changed to Brighton Pier, to widespread dismay. Fire broke out on the night of 4th February 2003, destroying the ghost train and damaging the helter skelter. Some of the timber decking was affected but no serious structural damage was sustained.
In June 2011, the pier was put up for sale but taken off the market in October 2012. Its owners, the Noble Group, announced that "a change in strategy led us to conclude the pier will now form part of the longer term group plans".
Brighton Pier is the most visited pier in the UK, and ranks among Britain's top 10 visitor attractions.
Contractor: Arthur Mayoh of Manchester
Research: ECPK, PD
bibliography
http://news.bbc.co.uk
www.arthurlloyd.co.uk
www.gracesguide.co.uk
www.historyireland.com
www.ice.org
www.nce.co.uk
www.piers.org.uk
reference sources   CEH SouthSPSPdSurv
Location

Brighton Pier (Palace Pier)