IT TOOK winds of 108mph to blow Shanklin Pier, on the Isle of Wight, into the sea. When morning came, the grand Victorian pier was little more than a pile of rubbish. Police spent the day clearing away the onlookers who had come to scavenge the beach for whisky bottles and bits of amusement machines.
Mike Hogarth, of the Osborne House Hotel opposite, watched it happen back in 1987. For the previous 25 years the old pier had been there to greet him each morning. Now the pier is being demolished. When Mr Hogarth gets up in the morning he sees barges collecting rubble and workmen steaming into the delicate Victorian structure with large excavators.
'I shall not miss it,' he said. 'It was dilapidated, run down. The days of families strolling down the length of it, watching puppet shows and going to the theatre have long gone. Amusement arcades are what piers are all about nowadays. We've got enough of those already.'
Seven years ago the 104-year-old pier was getting ready for a new lease of life. Fred Sage, the owner, had sold it to Leading Leisure, which intended to develop a leisure complex. Months later the storms blew the plans away. Leading Leisure went bankrupt and the skeleton of the pier was left to rot slowly, floorboards shrinking, salt corroding.
South Wight Borough Council bought it late last year for a rumoured pounds 25,000. Months later Graham Attrill, a local construction company, was paid pounds 250,000 to demolish it. 'It would have cost the council pounds 1.5m just to upgrade the structure,' Chris Olden, manager of Graham Attrill, said. 'Then there would have been the maintenance costs - pounds 20,000 just for paint.'
Mr Olden said he has been approached by local people who have known and loved the pier all their lives. They congratulate him and say they are pleased that the 'eyesore' has been taken away. They ask for souvenirs, he said, but he leaves the distribution of those to the council.
'Most of the pier is being recycled. The concrete will be used for road building, the hand rails will be used on peoples' homes. They have historic value, see? They look attractive.'
Barbara Rolfe, a homecare worker, lives in a cottage overlooking the pier. She says it feels strange to look out and see nothing there. 'It is the end of an era,' she said. 'People want package holidays abroad. It is hard for those who have lived here all their lives. They have taken great pride in this town.'
By the end of May - weather permitting - both Shanklin and Ventnor piers will no longer exist. They will have shared the fate of Colwyn Bay, Morecambe, Skegness, and Margate piers.
When piers in the small towns of Bangor in Gwynedd and Clevedon in Avon were threatened, local people banded together with keen town hall clerks and local companies. Together they collected the money needed and lovingly restored their fragile piers
But it was not to be on the Isle of Wight. There were no defiant 'Gone] But Not Forgotten' splashes in Shanklin this week as the excavators nibbled away.
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