Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Grand Old Lady

During my twenties I lived in Brighton for 10 years. I have lots of fond memories of the City as it was such a vibrant place with a real buzz about it. There was always something interesting to see there whether it was people watching or taking a stroll along the seafront or the Lanes. Brighton has two piers - The Palace Pier which I always considered to be the garish loud one and The West Pier - the more ornate sedate one otherwise known as 'The Grand Old Lady'. When I lived there it was in a major state of disrepair but there was still hope that one day it would be restored to its former glory. One of the best things about the pier was at certain times of year if you went to the beach at sunset you would see hundreds of starlings performing a murmeration before they roosted down for the evening. One of natures truly amazing sights seeing all the different patterns they made. Here are some videos about it.

At one point when I lived there Chris Eubank ( a former boxer who bought the title 'Lord Brighton'!) planned to buy the West Pier to live on it! But there is a trust which cares for the pier called 'The Brighton West Pier Trust' . This trust planned to restore the pier and wanted it to be designed so it would be true to its tradition. It wasn't going to be commercial (like the Palace Pier) but it was to be used for strolling, fishing, art, education and cultural activities. Work began in the late 1990s where they built a bridge so the pier was once again attached to land. They also put up illuminated lights where the name 'West Pier' shone boldly to show people it was coming back. In 1998 they won lottery funding and things were looking promising. In 2000, the year before I left Brighton I was lucky enough to go on a tour of the West Pier. A small group of us donned our hard hats and were led by a tour guide. It was really in a poor state - it looked just like these photos (from the book - 'Walking on Water - The West Pier Story by Fred Gray).

Rather eerily there were quite a few dead pigeons scattered around which the guide informed us were due to the peregrine falcons visiting. The guide also informed us that the work progress was very slow due to lots of legal wrangles, some of it due to objection from the neighbouring Palace Pier. So even though the money was there they were unable to progress. After I left Brighton I moved to Australia and it was in 2003 that I was really saddened to hear on the news over there that the pier was all but destroyed by fire. I have visited Brighton since and it is heartbreaking to see just a shell of the once fine pier. The latest plans are to build an entirely new pier with an observation tower. Apparently just this week the remains of the concert hall have been removed from the beach. Also there are plans for a French company to illuminate it using lasers which will make it glow to look like how it once was ( only for one night though - this Wednesday between 6-10pm.) Here is a video of one of their test runs.

I miss you Brighton and look forward to seeing you this summer to do a vintage fair!


  1. I love Brighton.

    Was lucky enough to stay in a hotel on the seafront a couple of years ago AND we had a seaview room. We were almost opposite the remains of the West Pier - it seemed so sad to leave it like that.

  2. Loved your post, I worked there for seven years not too long ago, took me a while to adjust, not too many similarities with where I live in Suffolk, but once i settled in I adored it and still miss it, two years on.
    I saw some vintage swimming costumes today at Snape, funny how I would not have given them a second glance if it had not been for what I have read on your blog!

  3. Finally getting my bum into gear and visiting everyone again Julie. Still need to read back through your other posts yet. Thanks for posting this, really interesting. Not heard of the book, Mr Bun being a Brighton lad will want to read that. We miss Brighton badly and would go back like a shot. Moved here for the usual grandparents and our children thing.

    I always loved the West Pier, never found it sad. I always felt as if a moment in time had been frozen by it's decay and it sat there in memorium to that. The dreamer in me loved to picture Edwardian couples strolling arm in arm. A beautiful pier.

    Lisa x

  4. Sitka has an award for you at All Gods Creatures.
    Hugs, andrea

  5. Hi - and thanks so much for coming over! Having recently visited Disneyland I still have the lyrics from 'It's a small world' circulating my brain. So true!xx

  6. Gosh what an interesting post. Like you I was very sad to read of the demise of the pier. The amazing projection is so clever!I really love the book too, will definately hunt that out, the photographs look so evocative,

    Sarah x

  7. What a brilliant post. That top film was particularly haunting with its incredible music. I have only been to Brighton once, a week after the bombing of the hotel, but I loved it.......