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Brighton Chain Pier, site of
Brighton, East Sussex, UK
Brighton Chain Pier, site of
associated engineer
Captain Sir Samuel Brown
date  1822 - November 1823
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Pier, seaside  |  reference  TQ315037
ICE reference number  HEW 428
photo  Stephen K. Jones collection
The present famous Brighton Pier (Palace Pier) was preceeded by Brighton Chain Pier, only the second seaside pleasure pier to be built in this country. The Chain Pier's mock ancient Egyptian style was seminal in setting the trend for exotic escapist architectural designs for piers. It was also one of only three suspension piers constructed in Britain, none of which survive.
The pier was designed by Captain Sir Samuel Brown (1776-1852), who had established chainworks for the manufacture of wrought iron chains, first in London, then in Pontypridd, Wales. The chainworks supplied chains to the Royal Navy right into the 20th century. Brown was also the engineer for the first road iron chain suspension bridge in the country, Union Bridge (1820).
Brown had completed an earler iron chain suspension pier at Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1821 (destroyed by a storm in 1898). The third suspension pier used wire rather than iron bar. It was designed by Frank Caws for Seaview on the Isle of Wight, and was built somewhat later (1877).
The pier at Brighton was 345.6m long and 4m wide. It featured four spans of 77.7m. Four pairs of cast iron towers, each 7.6m high, with 3m wide openings for traffic, carried the eight suspension chains, four on each side. Check chains were added at a later date to try and reduce sway.
The chains were made up of 50mm diameter wrought iron rods, 3m long, with 25mm diameter vertical ties set at 1.5m centres. The chains were anchored to the shore in the cliff face, and at sea in a massive pile of tipped rock.
The deck of the pier was carried by vertical iron suspension rods, also at 1.5m centres. It was made of timber, resting on timber beams. The deck narrowed to 2.75m wide at the towers.
The pier terminated in a 64m wide by 24.4m T-shaped pierhead carried on 150 piles. The three pairs of towers closest to the shore stood in chalk-filled coffer dams, 11.3m by 7.3m in plan, and supported on 20 piles.
Originally built for steamer embarkation, the was a great success as a public promenade. It featured a camera obscura, a bandstand, shower baths and kiosks.
One of the spans of the pier was damaged by a storm in 1833, and again in 1836. But its final downfall came in 1896, when it was totally destroyed by a storm. At the time, it was waiting for demolition in favour of Palace Pier, which was already partly constructed. Flotsam from the Chain Pier damaged the new works.
There is a painting of the pier by J.M.W. Turner in London's Tate Britain gallery. Brighton Chain Pier seems to have been the only subject painted by both Turner and John Constable.
Contractor: MacIntosh (replaced during construction) / direct labour
Research: PD, JJ
reference sources   CEH southSPSPd

Brighton Chain Pier, site of