Celebrating 200 years of British Seaside Piers

Authors: Chapman, A.

Start date: 24 April 2017

Victorian seaside pleasure piers are unique to the British coast, but many are now over 150 years old. This important part of British heritage is under threat: in the early 20th century nearly 100 piers graced the UK coastline, but almost half have now gone. Piers face an uncertain future, with 20% of those surviving being deemed ‘at risk’. Moreover, Fothergill (cited in Steele 2013: 6) predicts that seaside piers are set to “lurch from crisis to successive crisis”.

This paper seeks to chart the historic development of British seaside pleasure piers, from their beginnings as humble landing stages, through to the 'golden age' of pier building. The loss of some of the most iconic piers in the context of seaside resort decline will be considered alongside some of the current challenges faced by many of Britain's piers. However, all is not lost for the seaside pier! Many seaside piers are overcoming the challenges that the 21st century brings (a deteriorating infrastructure that is increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain; changes in tourism lifestyles, trends, and tastes; and environmental pressures such as coastal erosion and the increased risk of storms and flooding). The paper draws on case studies of a number of piers (Bournemouth, Hastings, Penarth and Folkestone) which have rejuvenated and repositioned themselves to become seaside heritage assets that are truly embracing the future.

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