So August has ended, the kids have dragged their feet back to school, commuter trains are once again standing room only, and people are beginning to post ‘jokes’ about how many sleeps it is ’til Christmas. But let’s not give in so easily – if it’s only early September and it’s 19° outside, then it’s still a British summer, right?! So Travel in Pictures Brighton Summer Season is extended for a couple of weeks longer, and today invites you for a stroll along the promenade to take in the beach and seafront, and the wonderfully iconic, mesmerising and desolately beautiful West Pier.
And since it’s now late summer, to trade-in the in-your-face colour and raucousness of Brighton Pride and the Palace Pier – which I wrote about a few weeks ago – for an altogether more wistful experience, seems completely befitting to mark the advent of autumn.
There’s just no doubt that the seafront is one of the top 10 reasons to visit Brighton. It is flanked by a long and glorious promenade, leading – in the opposite direction from the Palace Pier – to Hove (arguably the more sedate bit of what makes up the city of Brighton and Hove). It is yet another place where Brighton’s iconography allows your imagination to immerse itself in history and nostalgia.
The West Pier
There’s a lot to see and do along your bracing seafront stroll. But my – and many other people’s – absolute favourite pastime, is to gaze, lost in my own little world, at the visual poetry of the West Pier’s eerie skeleton sitting poignantly out to sea. It gives just a whisper on the wind of the fun that must have been had there, which accentuates the sense of tragedy at the pier’s subsequent demise.
According to the West Pier Trust, it is the most photographed building in Brighton. Opened in 1866, its evolution mirrors the rise and fall of seaside holiday resorts across England. The West Pier has changed over time from a place for the Victorian middle classes to promenade and gather around the bandstand – to a site of attractions and spectacle in its heyday in the 1920s, with a concert hall, orchestra, and theatre putting on plays and other shows. It then transmuted into a funfair pier after World War II, with the addition of dodgems and a helter-skelter, among other things. And in 1968 it was used as a film location in Richard Attenborough’s film “Oh, What a Lovely War!”.
The pier was made robustly of cast-iron threaded columns screwed into the seabed, but it has been battered and ravaged over time. It was granted Grade II listing protection in 1969, and in 1998 the Heritage Lottery Fund approved a £14.2m grant for its restoration. But after delays caused by legal challenge, significant storm damage, and then two arson attacks in 2003, despite English Heritage concluding that restoration was still viable, that tragically became impossible when HLF decided to withdraw lottery funding.
So now totally beyond repair, the eventual fate is sealed of what remains of the pier, and it will decay to be reclaimed by the sea. But until it does, its evocative skeleton has been left purposely as a hauntingly beautiful feature dominating Brighton’s seafront.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The West Pier Trust hopes that the success of Brighton’s latest big attraction, the British Airways i360, will eventually stimulate the building of a new contemporary West Pier.
The fabulously futuristic i360 opened in August 2016. Conceived and designed by Marks Barfield Architects, who also designed the London Eye, this 170m viewing tower is the tallest in the UK outside London, and the world’s tallest moving observation tower.
A trip 138m upwards in the i360’s glass viewing pod – effectively a vertical cable car which travels up and down its central column – allows 360° views across Brighton and Hove, and, among others, the South Downs National Park and, on a very clear day, the Isle of Wight, some 49 miles away.
For fans, like me, of good-quality locally sourced food and drink – there is also the fab opportunity to have a drink in the i360 pod’s Nyetimber Sky Bar. It sells drinks which have all been made locally in the county of Sussex, including Nyetimber sparkling wine, Brighton Gin, Wobblegate apple juice, South Downs Natural Mineral Water, and Harvey Brewery’s Gold Bier.
Back on the ground in the i360 complex, the West Beach Bar and Kitchen also offers all these local drinks, plus a reasonably priced global wine list and many more global drinks besides. Much of its trendy food – what I’m choosing to describe as ‘gastro-café’ – is also locally sourced. And the i360 site also has conferencing and exhibition space for hire, and a souvenir shop.
In a deal with Brighton & Hove council, a proportion of profit from the i360 complex is being used to maintain and develop the surrounding lower promenade seafront. Already funded by the council’s i360 income and open to the public is the Piazza – a large space to the east of the i360, dedicated to the West Pier’s heritage, and incorporating some of its original materials into its design. Within the Piazza, 24 cast-iron columns which were originally part of the West Pier’s substructure now form what is known as the Golden Spiral.
The King’s Road Arches
The King’s Road Arches along the lower seafront promenade are 59 former fishermen’s arches dating from the 1880s. Having been completely rebuilt to ensure they remained structurally sound enough to support the busy A259 King’s Road and upper promenade overhead, they have now been let to businesses and converted mainly into cafés, restaurants and – for the section known as the West Pier Arches – independent art and gift shops. Much nearer Brighton Place Pier – in the section known as the Fishing Quarter – the Arches also house Brighton Fishing Museum, and the Brighton Fisherman’s Society established in 1813.
The gallery below includes some pictures of the redeveloped Arches, as well as other aspects of Brighton’s seafront. It just remains for me to say that I do hope they will inspire you to visit this wonderful fun and evocative place.
Click individual photos to enlarge & scroll
Visiting Brighton Seafront & West Pier: Basic Information
Where is Brighton?: The City of Brighton & Hove is in East Sussex, in South-East England, UK.
Getting There: See the bottom of my post on the Top 10 Reasons to Visit Brighton for directions about how to get to Brighton from elsewhere in Britain and abroad.
Locating Brighton Seafront & West Pier: This walking map shows Brighton seafront and train station.