The end of another pier show: Tears have dried over the blaze in Eastbourne, but why was the pride of the town allowed to decay?

It looked magnificent in blue and white for the film Last Orders in 2001, but, after that, most of it was apparently left to rot

People were crying as we watched our pier burn. Fierce flames leapt up from within the domed arcade of a Victorian structure that has often been voted the nation's favourite pier.

Many were weeping for their childhoods, having grown up with the pier as a place to go for treats or to wander hand-in-hand with a first love. Can I make a confession, though? Part of me is glad the place burned down. I hope it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

The skill and bravery of the firefighters saved the iron skeleton of the pier and the best buildings on it, which are at either end. If it can be restored – as seems likely – Eastbourne may once again have a beautiful pier … without that eyesore in the middle.

The large, domed arcade that burned down was lovely in its day but had been unloved for years, a tatty, shabby shame on the town.

15-eastbourne-getty.jpg
East Bourne pier before the fire

We knew it in our family as the Game Shed, where you could go and race tin horses for tuppences. But, like most families, we stopped going there when game consoles at home took away the need. It became a place for the dead-eyed to spoon coins into what used to be called one-armed bandits before they took away the arms.

On the outside, the paint was blistering, the bird crap dappled the roof and the sea salt was burning holes in the ironwork. The whole pier looked magnificent in blue and white for the film Last Orders in 2001, but, after that, most of it was apparently left to rot.

The owners clearly did not to care how it looked and Eastbourne council seemed to do nothing about the decline of our most famous landmark. That was no surprise. Conservative and Liberal Democrat councils have successively mismanaged the prominent features of this lovely town.

15-southend-js.jpg
Southend pier

Neglect is what happens when the best assets of a community are left to the care of private operators. We used to promenade visitors to the end of the pier, which opened in 1870, but stopped when its condition became a bit of an embarrassment. Still, there is a lot of sympathy in the town for those who work on the pier, and also relief that nobody was hurt.

As we watched the fire, many of us assumed it must have been caused by an electrical fault; but the police have since said they have information to suggest it was "started by someone".

David Cameron and George Osborne both visited on Friday and promised extra money for the town. This was, of course, in no way a cynical response to Eastbourne being a key marginal. It will be a close, two‑way race between the Conservative candidate and the current MP, Stephen Lloyd, who seeks to overcome the liability of being a Lib Dem by working very hard indeed locally. It was unfortunate that he chose to post a selfie on Wednesday with the burning pier in the background.

15-yarmouth-rec.jpg
Great Yarmouth pier

Many of us went down to the seafront that day or saw the thick black and grey clouds towering over the town. Now that the tears have dried, it is time to ask how one of the best-loved structures in Britain was allowed to get in such a state. There's no use crying over burnt piers if you didn't care for them properly before the flames.

colemoreton.com

Piers of the realm

Eastbourne

As fire tore through the pier on Wednesday, reducing its white, domed roof to a charred skeleton, 144 years of history were stripped from the Victorian boardwalk. But the borough council hopes the pier can be salvaged. This is not the first time it has faced a rebuild – half of it was swept away in a storm in 1877

Great Yarmouth

Britannia Pier has a dark history. In 1900, Mary Jane Bennett was strangled with a bootlace by her husband after he fell in love with another woman. Eleven years later, another young woman was found hanging by a bootlace – whether this was suicide or a copycat murder is still a mystery

15-blackpool-getty.jpg
Blackpool pier

Blackpool

Times are tough for boardwalks in the only British town with three piers. This year the council's £8m plans for its historic South Pier were labelled 'uninspiring' by its planning boss. And last year's winter storms caused £1m of damage to the listed North Pier, on whose restoration the council had already spent close to £2m

Rhos-on-Sea

The pier in North Wales was once thought to have been transported from a beach on the Isle of Man, until it was proved that the story had been invented. It was pulled down after a fire in 1954. A surviving tollbooth, now a souvenir shop, calls itself 'the smallest museum in Wales'

Southend

One of the longest pleasure piers in the world, stretching more than 2km into the Thames estuary. The pier has survived eight fires, two depressions and the bombardments of two world wars. During the Second World War it served as the Royal Navy's first line of defence on the east coast

Comments