Piers are the grand dames of the great British seaside and they add a unique charm and nostalgia to our promenades and sea-fronts. The East Sussex coastline is fortunate enough to have three fine Victorian piers together with the remains of the infamous West Pier in Brighton. Let’s get acquainted with our East Sussex piers and their stories.
The Brighton Palace Pier
The Brighton Palace Pier, one of the country’s most recognised, is a grade II listed building which opened in 1899. It’s the only East Sussex pier not designed by Eugenius Birch. R.St.George Moore was the creator behind this one. Under the ownership of the Noble Group from 2000-2016 the pier was unofficially renamed Brighton Pier, to the disapproval of many residents, myself included. The pier is now under new ownership and from January this year the original name, Brighton Palace Pier, was reinstated
The pier’s theatre was once the venue for summer shows up until the 1970s. It’s been featured many times in film including Quadrophenia, The End of the Affair and Mona Lisa. It’s also featured in many TV shows.
Today Brighton Palace Pier is still one of the country’s most iconic piers and it’s all about fun. There are rides and attractions suitable for the whole family. Younger children might like the traditional carousel. For the fearless there’s the Horror Hotel Ghost Train or, if you want to speed things up a little the 125ft Super Booster which goes from 0-60mph in less than three seconds. You can even get your palm read. I’ll just stick with the fish and chips.
There’s a range of restaurants, bars and kiosks serving everything from fish and chips, burgers, shellfish to ice cream and frozen yoghurt.
Entrance to Brighton Palace Pier is free but for rides and attractions you’ll need to buy a wristband. These can be bought online for day or weekend passes. Children’s wristbands are based on height not age. Check Brighton Palace Pier website for opening times and more information.
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Eastbourne pier celebrated its 150th birthday in 2016 and controversially marked the occasion by painting the domes gold. Created by Victorian engineer Eugenius Birch the pier was opened by Lord Cavendish in June 1870. The pier is built on stilts, which rest in cups on the seabed. This allows the whole structure to move during rough weather.
Eastbourne Pier has recently undergone many renovations and the camera obscura, mounted on the pier in 1901, is also in the process of being restored. The pier played its part in WWII with machine guns and an anti-aircraft gun installed to help resist enemy landings.
Today, indulgent afternoon teas are served in the charming Victorian Tea Rooms, The Chippy’s the place to get your fish and chips and The Jazz Lounge and Blues Kitchen are due to open soon.
If you’d rather party on the pier then head to Atlantis Nightclub. There are food kiosks and gift shops
The pier is the perfect vantage point to take in Airbourne, Eastbourne’s annual air show, which takes place every August. Tickets are available to see the display from the Ocean Suite’s outdoor terrace.
Entry is free but your own food and drink must not be brought onto the pier. Dogs and cyclists are not allowed. Check the Eastbourne Pier website for opening times and more information.
Looking for a weekend with a difference? Read our article on Quirky places to stay in East Sussex
Hastings Pier during the restorations
All the East Sussex piers have been struck by fire and Hastings Pier is no exception. In 2010, most of the super structure was destroyed as fire swept through the pier after suspected arson. A Lottery Fund grant was awarded and together with other fund-raising enough money was raised to restore the pier. It reopened in April 2016 and this year was named Pier of the Year by the National Piers Society.
The Hastings Pier that once hosted bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Genesis and Pink Floyd in the 1960s is now hardly recognisable. Although there are reminders of its past glory the restoration has given the pier a new identity in keeping with the 21st century. The Deck is clad in reclaimed wood from the original structure but with a modern twist.
Today you can explore the pier’s heritage at The Deck’s visitor centre. The Birch Room is an educational hub which offers workshops for children and families and exhibitions on the pier’s history. There’s fishing off the end of the pier, an old-fashioned merry-go-round and a calendar of events.
The Upper Deck Café is great for checking out the views because it’s higher up and The Pavilion Café serves locally sourced, seasonal food. I enjoyed an excellent meal there recently. Food kiosks serve take-away fish and chips, coffee, free-range hot dogs, homemade waffles, pancakes and shakes.
Entry to the pier is free but check Hastings Pier website for opening times and further information.
The West Pier, Brighton
Little remains of Brighton’s iconic West Pier after a second fire all but destroyed it in 2003. You’d think that the rusting remains would no longer be an attraction but the atmospheric West pier is the most photographed structure in Brighton and Hove. This pier has a special place in my heart because I visited regularly with my grandparents as a child. I remember peering down at the sea through the gaps in the boardwalk, riding the carousel and devouring tea and cake in the pier’s restaurant. How things have changed, sadly, nowadays it’s just a rusty roost for the starlings.
The West Pier, designed by Eugenius Birch, opened in 1866 and is the oldest of the four piers. Sadly, it can’t be repaired and has been usurped by a new attraction, the BA i360. The i360 was built to reflect the spirit of the original pier in a new a modern way. Visitors are treated to a view of the city from above although nowadays they walk on air instead of on water. There is one surviving part of the original West Pier. One of the entrance kiosks has been restored to its former glory and now stands proudly at the entrance to the BA i360.
Our four remaining East Sussex piers are all very different. From the rusting remnants of the West Pier, the restored Victorian splendour of both Eastbourne and Brighton’s Palace Pier to the contemporary design of Hastings Pier, each of our East Sussex piers has a definite character of its own.