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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea