Hastings Pier was originally designed by renowned Victorian engineer Eugenius Birch and opened on a wet and windy August Bank Holiday Monday in 1872 by the Earl of Granville, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The opening was a very grand affair, complete with a celebratory banquet. During the Earl’s after-dinner speech he declared:
“This pier, if I may so use the phrase, appears to me to be a peerless pier – pier without a peer – except, perhaps, the unfortunate peer who is now addressing you”.
The Pier continued to inspire, entertain and thrill generations of visitors alike, many travelling from miles around to promenade among the waves and enjoy tremendous ocean views.
The early years
The new pier was very popular in its early years, with its permanent pavilion used for concerts and plays alike, and the pier’s landing stage enabled ferries to ship passengers to nearby piers on the South East coast and, on a few occasions, to Boulogne in northern France. The ‘American Bowling Alley’ building was erected roughly a third of the way down the pier in the autumn of 1910. A joy-wheel roundabout soon followed at the front of the pier.
The opening of Hastings Pier played an important part in the development of Hastings and St Leonards as a coastal resort, turning the town into a major attraction for south-east Londoners wanting a good day out beside-the-sea. The pier was an immediate success, attracting 482.000 people in its first 12 months and 584,000 in the second, much bigger numbers than had been expected. The beautiful groundbreaking pavilion was in almost constant use for entertainment and music for almost 40 years. Especially popular was the band, which played every day. Entry to the pier cost 2d, bringing £4,000 income – a sixth of the capital cost – in just 12 months.
The new pier was formally opened by Earl Granville, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, on 5 August 1872, a very wet and windy bank holiday Monday. The South Eastern Railway Company (SER) ran a special train from London to Hastings, bringing the Earl and some shareholders, plus other interested people. They were officially welcomed at 12.30 at Hastings Station by the mayor, Thomas Ross, plus the town’s two MPs Thomas Brassey and James Kay-Shuttleworth, and other dignitaries. About 60 coastguards, detachments of the artillery and rifle volunteer corps and the fire brigade provided a guard of honour.
1920s and 1930s
After a disastrous fire in severely damaged the seaward end of the Pier in 1917, a new pavilion building was constructed in 1922, then given an art deco re-vamp in the 1930s. That decade was the heyday of the traditional pier. In the first week of August 1931 56,000 people passed through the turnstiles (the population of the town at the time was 66,000).
1940s and 1950s
During World War II the Pier was temporarily closed and requisitioned for training. In 1943, a middle section of the decking was removed to deter the Pier being used as a landing platform for invading ships. Although the enemy never landed at Hastings, a large number of Belgian and French refugees did land on the pier in a tug boat – carrying with them 13 million Francs (about £208,000 at the time) in funds from the Belgian railways. In the 1940s and 1950s paddle catamarans were for hire on the beach below the Pier.
1960s and 1970s
The post-war pier propelled itself into the new era becoming a prominent centre of live music in the 1960s and 1970s. A number of famous names played on the pier including acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Hollies, The Clash and The Sex Pistols. In 1976 the Pier became a listed building with the hope of preserving the Birch-built substructure.
1980s, 1990s and 2000s
With the onset of the 1980s the Pier sadly fell into a state of disrepair. Piers became unfashionable and to try and counter the declining crowds the previous owners of the Pier built more on the superstructure, often neglecting the substructure itself. The Pier was closed in 2008. The local community passionately campaigned for the Grade II Listed pier to be saved, though restoration plans were put on hold when a devastating fire virtually destroyed the Pier in October 2010.
A new era
Reopened in April 2016, the new Pier has been designed by dRMM architects as a pier for the 21st century. It is a sustainable, flexible platform that is able to host a broad range of community uses for years to come.
The new visitor centre is inventively clad in timber salvaged from the limited decking that survived the 2010 fire. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the Pier has risen to embody a new identity – one which has history at its heart, whilst looking forward to a new era. Saving the Pier has achieved what was almost impossible, and now a new chapter in its story begins.