Following the passing of the Bank Holidays Act the previous year, the first ever August Bank Holiday took place on 5th August, 1872. And this was the date chosen by Hastings Council to open its first-ever pier. Designed by Eugenius Birch, who had previously designed piers at Margate, Brighton, and Blackpool, the new pier was 910 feet long, and consisted of a wooden boardwalk supported by 14 iron supports.
The building of a pier at Hastings was to be expected, and a fairly typical example of this largely Victorian phenomena. One of the earliest pleasure piers was built just along the coast from Hastings, at Brighton, in 1823. Other early piers were built at Ryde and Gravesenr; however, it was in the second half of the century that most pleasure piers were built. The massive expansion in the rail network in the 1840s and 1850s brought many more people to the coast, and these people wanted to walk next to the sea. Tides often meant that promenades were far from the water’s edge for much of the day. The solution, made possible by Victorian engineering prowess, was to build promenades that went out to meet the sea. Every popular resort needed a pier, and by the end of the century, almost a hundred had been built.
Hastings Pier was one of the first pleasure piers to have a large pavilion built upon it, an impressive oriental-style structure at the seaward end.
Sadly, the original Pavilion was destroyed by fire in 1917, and replaced by a much less ornate structure in 1922. The new structure became known as “the aircraft hangar”.
The pier was given a facelift, in art deco style, in the early 1930s, and the photo below shows the shoreward entrance to the pier.
The pier was closed during World War II, and was given a further facelift after the war. The structure then remained largely unchanged for the next 60 years. The pavilion became a popular venue for bands, and many top performers appeared on Hastings Pier.
Sadly, storms caused damage to the pier in 1993, and its popularity declined. It fell into disrepair, and a closure notice was served by Hastings Council in 2006. Although part of the pier re-opened in 2007, this was to be shortlived, as the pier was struck by lightning a few weeks later.
On October 5th, 2010, the pier was largely destroyed by fire. Although two men were subsequently arrested for arson, the case against them was eventually dropped by the CPS because of a lack of evidence.
When Midge and I visited last week, there were signs of re-building. The pier was cordoned off, but the extent of the damage was clear.
The building work we saw is the start of an ambitious plan to rebuild a People’s Pier, which aims to show that the Victorian structure can be a viable attraction in the twenty-first century. Having secured £11.4m of Lottery funding, the developers are in the process of completing the funding package through a community share ownership scheme. We wish them well, and will be back to see it in 2015.
Although the pier itself is currently closed, the area has much to offer. As one of the medieval Cinque Ports, Hastings has much of historical interest. The Norman Castle was ordered to be built by William th Conqueror just prior to the Battle of Hastings. Originally a wooden structure, it was rebuilt in stone four years later.
Contrary to what may be supposed, William neither landed at Hastings nor fought the famous battle here. The landing took place at nearby Pevensey, while the Battle of Hastings took place six miles to the north, possibly on the site of Battle Abbey (below).
The beach at Hastings, like most other beaches in Sussex, is made of pebbles. Dogs are banned from certain areas, but are allowed in others, throughout the year.
Hastings is easy to get to, only about an hour from the M25 (Junction 5). There is plenty of parking adjacent to the beach.