Hastings' 'peerless pier' destroyed by fire goes up in smoke

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Two men held after blaze wrecks the 138-year-old structure

Since it opened on Britain's first ever bank holiday in 1872, Hastings Pier has hosted everyone from perambulating Victorian holidaymakers to the Rolling Stones, and survived fires, storms and battles between mods and rockers. But yesterday the historic landmark was a smouldering skeleton after a fire ripped through its once glitzy ballroom.

A banner proclaiming "You can save me", placed there by campaigners who had hoped to restore the pier, added poignancy to scene of blackened wreckage and dismayed onlookers.

Last night Sussex police said two men, aged 18 and 19, both from nearby St Leonards, were arrested on the seafront shortly after the fire broke out and were being questioned.

Designed by Eugenius Birch, the 910ft long structure was opened in the summer of 1872, when the Earl of Granville called the structure "a peerless pier – a pier without a peer". It served as a promenade for Victorian holidaymakers who flocked to its wooden deck to take the air or to be entertained under the dome of its grand ballroom.

Its design was inspired by the West Pier at Brighton, which suffered a similarly fiery fate in 2003. It later offered slot machines and and funfair rides, while the ballroom became a popular venue for acts including The Who, Suzi Quatro and The Hollies.

Simon Rose, spokesman for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, which was alerted around 1am yesterday, said: " At the moment about 95 per cent of the structure has been destroyed. It's quite significant.

"It's a very historic building and landmark for Hastings. The priority for the firefighters is to preserve as much of the structure as they can to see if something can be done with it in the future," Mr Rose added. Dale Turner, who runs the Seaspray bed and breakfast opposite the pier, said he and his wife Jo heard a series of four loud bangs just after 1.15am.

"I did not see anything in the night as we hear a lot of noises – my wife just assumed the explosions were the lifeboats going out to sea," said the 55-year-old. "The pier had been allowed to fall into ruin and now we may never get it back."

The pier closed in 2006 after fears it would collapse but campaigners had hoped to raise money to restore it. It was thought £8m would be required for the first phase. In July this year Hastings Borough Council agreed to go ahead with the compulsory purchase of the pier from its absent owners, a Panamanian-registered company called Ravenclaw.

"It was the heart of the town. I'm totally gutted," said a local, Tim Hall, 45. "I've lived here all my life and used to go on the penny slot machines on there when I was a kid. I was really looking forward to it reopening."

Pier review

* Brighton West Pier closed in 1975 and steadily deteriorated before suffering two major blazes within two months in 2003. One of only two Grade I listed piers in Britain, its carcass now stands cut off from the Sussex seafront.

* In July 2008, the Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare was destroyed in a massive blaze, but it reopened in June this year as a hi-tech entertainment complex with a cinema and indoor theme park after a multi-million pound restoration project.

* Problems have dogged the world's longest pier in Southend, Essex. Its grand pavilion was burned to a crisp in 1959, as was its bowling alley in 1995, while a third blaze in 2005 severly damaged its railway station, pub, snack bar and ice-cream stall.

* Boscombe's 121-year-old pier, however, appears to be booming after redevelopment and was named Pier of the Year in 2010.

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Company decides to go for simply scary after criticising other sites for 'creepy and targeted' advertising

Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past