Welcome to the pleasure dome

Brighton's two piers tell the story of Britain's seaside architecture: one a crumbled ruin, the other a neon palace of fun. Suzanna Drew-Edwards celebrates Sunday's National Piers Day
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The Independent Online
The sweet stench of candyfloss and doughnuts. The electronic din from the Palace of Fun. Tasteless novelty pens, sticks of rock, flashing lights and fortune-tellers. That's Brighton's Palace Pier (below right) for you. The epitome of the seaside: tacky entertainment.

In contrast, take a walk along the seafront promenade to the West Pier (right). Forlorn and ghostlike, cut off from the shore like a cast-iron island and crumbling into the sea, it is a diminishing vestige of past glories. A sad reminder of what's happened to half of Britain's seaside pleasure piers.

There are high hopes however, that the Grade I listed West Pier won't end its days as a victim to the mercies of weather, rust and time. The Brighton West Pier Trust is waiting on the Heritage Lottery Fund to decide whether a pounds 15m grant will be forthcoming. Although around pounds 35m is needed to restore the pier to full working order, this initial sum of money would enable emergency restoration work to be carried out to the substructure and the deck, and for further plans to be made for the future.

Closed to the public since 1975 and isolated in 1987 when a length was demolished for safety reasons, the West Pier was built by Eugenius Birch (he also designed Eastbourne Pier) in 1866, the heyday of Victorian pier design. Influenced by the Indian architecture of Brighton's Royal Pavilion, the fairytale turrets, minarets and kiosks mix mock-grandeur and elegance. Restored and working in the present day, it would add grace and polish to a town well-known for its faded glamour.

"The personality of the West Pier is completely different to that of the Palace Pier,"says Rachel Clark of the West Pier Trust. "It has to be so they can complement each other. Plans are to keep the West Pier a bit more upmarket and culturally oriented so the two piers don't compete. In the past it's always been that style of pier. And because we have to have at least one major money-generating activity, the concert ball, half- way down the pier, may be turned into an upmarket casino."

The Trust, formed with the express purpose of returning the pier to use, is hopeful about its bid. "We feel very optimistic," says Rachel Clark. "There's been a lot of attention focused on us and our case is strong. That said, we can't be too sure until it happens."

PIERS OF THE REALM The Royal Pier, Aberystwyth

Boasts bingo, amusements, a video club, an ice-cream parlour, snooker and a Tandoori restaurant. The "largest nightclub in West Wales" will open in September.

Blackpool North Pier

The oldest and grandest (it was the first Blackpool pier to be built in 1863) still retaining the atmosphere of a traditional Promenading Pier. Now a Grade II listed structure. Steamer jetty, theatre, tram-ride down the pier, a Venetian carousel ride and a sun lounge.

National Piers Day: aerobatic display; a band and majorettes and Birdseye Wall sponsored National Balloon Race.

Blackpool Central Pier

Famous in the 1960s for open-air dancing and children's talent shows, it is now a young "fun" pier (left) with Ferris wheel, funfair, Mega-Motion, disco and Maggie May's Show Bar cabaret which opens on 1 July.

Blackpool South Pier

Family venue. Juvenile rides, live entertainment every night, theatre, arcades, shops and diners. Go there for your traditional summer show.

Bournemouth Pier

Live entertainment in the Pier Showbar, a restaurant, late licensed bar and Pier Cafe. Children's amusements at the end of the pier. Friday Night Fireworks from 26 Jul-30 Aug.

National Piers Day: National Balloon Race, children's entertainers and various live bands.

Brighton Palace Pier

Winner of awards and ranked as fifth top free tourist attraction in the UK (just under 4m visitors). Free entrance, entertainment and deckchairs, plus fish 'n' chips, three bars and a funfair.

National Piers Day: a photographic exhibition charting the history of the pier, the annual Pier to Pier swim and International Birdman competition.

Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth

Family pier with working theatre (featuring the likes of Joe Pasquale, Bobby Davro, Frankie Vaughan, Freddie Starr). Children's play area, a maze, dodgems and slides.

National Piers Day: aerobatic display and a fireworks extravaganza.

Clacton Pier, Clacton-on-Sea

Six and a half acres of traditional family entertainment - Morecambe and Wise used to be a regular act. Attractions include fairgrounds, pub, restaurants and arcades.

National Piers Day: Dixieland jazz, Punch and Judy show, air display and fireworks.

Cromer Pier, Norfolk

The epitome of the traditional British pier, Cromer Pier hasn't altered much this century. The Pier Pavilion hosts the only genuine end-of-the- pier show in Britain - Seaside Special (music, dance and laffs) is performed for 15 weeks of the year. Also a lifeboat house and a Pavilion cafe/bar. Popular for crabbing.

National Piers Day: various Edwardian-style activities taking place on the Pier and forecourt.

Eastbourne Pier, Sussex

Claimed to be one of the best examples of Victorian seaside architecture in the world. Host to a theatre and music pavilion, a nightclub and tenpin bowling - by night this is where the young discoholics hang out.

National Piers Day: Mad Hatters Tea Party, Eastbourne to France no passport sailing, aerobatic display, National Balloon Race, Balmoral steamship.

Felixstowe Pier, Suffolk

Bingo, amusement arcades, children's rides, fishing and a cafe.

National Piers Day: fireworks, children's activities, majorettes and acrobatics.

Fleetwood Pier, Lancs

Popular with local fishermen, the Pier has a cafe and a large bingo hall.

National Piers Day: National Balloon Race, Seacadets and Scouts, stone painting and sandcastle competitions, costume characters and bands, plus bar entertainment.

Garth Pier, Bangor

Traditional Victorian pier. Fishing, children's rides, kiosks, food and play.

National Piers Day: a family gala day with a vintage car rally, RAF and coastguard displays, side-shows.

Grand Pier, Teignmouth, Torbay

All the traditional family ingredients. Coffee, ice cream, a Fun Deck with kiddies' rides and an arcade with traditional fruit machines. Latest video games and simulators.

National Piers Day: Happy Hour on the Fun Deck.

Grand Pier, Weston-Super-Mare

Amusement machines and rides, crazy house, big wheel, dodgems and a ghost train. Celebrating the Year of the Pier with fireworks on 27 July.

Hastings Pier, Sussex

Cut in half during World War II to stop enemy landings, Hastings Pier now caters with "fairground-style" amusements for the family trade. The ballroom is available for hire.

National Piers Day: performances by a Pier Orchestra featuring barber shop singers, jazz concerts, Sixties music and a George Formby lookalike entertainer.

Mumbles Pier, Swansea

A lovely example of Victorian pier architecture. Visitors can try sea- fishing and sample the arcade, cafe, bar and ballroom/disco.

National Piers Day: clowns and carnival bands with fireworks and aerobatic display to finish.

Paignton Pier, Devon

Free entrance, deckchairs and fishing facilities. Also, a working museum with pier photography exhibition.

National Piers Day: National Balloon Race and a colouring competition.

Sandown Pier, Isle of Wight

The theatre is one of the main attractions, along with all the normal pier fare. Anglers can fish from the pier too.

National Piers Day: radio road show, an aerobatic display and fireworks in the evening.

Skegness Pier, Lincolnshire

The early stage of Norman Wisdom is one claim to fame. Being cut in two by a ship is another. Tenpin bowling, food and drink, laser quests, kids' play areas and craft fairs.

National Piers Day: early photographic display, National Balloon Race and a working museum of old amusement machines.

Clarence Pier, Southsea

The last pier to be built in this country, this is where Lord Nelson set forth for Trafalgar. Now famous for its attractions - Monster Express and the Ultimate Wave ride are new. Also a roller-coaster and dodgems.

South Parade Pier, Southsea

Despite being ravaged by fire three times, this is a popular place to hold dinner dances. Also host to the South of England Talent Show. Not to be missed - tea dances in the Gaiety Bar.

Southend Pier

Opened in 1889 and the longest pier in the world at 1.3 miles (left, and front cover). Known for open-air band concerts and tea dances.

National Piers Day: Big Band Concert and an exhibition in the Pier Museum. A Thames Sailing Barge race takes place on 17 Aug along with switching on the illuminations and a fireworks display.

Southport Pier, Mersey

Second longest pier (1,211 yards). Boasts an impressive entrance, an entertainment complex and a Carousel Cafe. Boating and Pier Angling Matches throughout the year.

National Piers Day: outdoor street theatre, firework displays and antique market. The grand finale is an American-style drive-in movie on the beach.

Victoria Pier, Llandudno, Gwynedd

Striking pier which retains 19th-century atmosphere with tea rooms and cafes.

National Piers Day: the Llandudno Pier orchestra, Ladies barber shops singers, the burying of a time capsule and an appearance by Miss Llandudno Pier 1995.

Walton Pier, Wilton on the Naze, Essex

Set in pretty Essex seaside town with tenpin bowling, rides (including the new Blizzard Roller-coaster) and fishing boat trips on the Waverly Paddle Steamer (an ocean-going steamer).

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