The Seaside Piers of the British Isles, by Graeme Payne

Margate pier

There was a packed hall at the Mountford room in Emsworth Community Centre the evening of 14th January 2018 to hear Graeme Payne’s very informative talk on the piers of the British Isles, enhanced by an excellent digital image presentation. We are all familiar with piers as they are an integral part of the seaside, although there is only 53 remaining out of 85 built in the 19th century. The Victorians enjoyed walking on the piers in the fresh air with the sea underneath lapping against the pillars, so they could experience being near to the sea without necessarily having to bathe in it.

Despite suffering destructive fires, some piers appear to be having a renaissance in recent times. Eastbourne pier has become a popular place to visit having been restored in a very ornate manner after a fire in 2014. Hastings pier has also been restored after a fire in 2010 and was recently awarded a prestigious architectural prize, the Stirling Architecture Award, after a multi million renovation.

Queen Victoria liked both Bognor pier and the Royal Pier at Brighton and people generally loved Southend pier and the town’s sea-water swimming pool. However, Graeme reminded us that not all piers were built in the South of England. For instance there is Clacton pier, which was once a landing stage for boats but nowadays has many attractions and Blackpool that has three piers full of entertainment for visitors.


Very familiar to the local audience were the piers on the Isle of Wight at Ryde and Sandown. The trams that used to travel down Ryde’s long wooden pier built in 1814, have now been replaced by ex London Underground electric trains that are still very much in use, taking passengers to the Fastcats that frequently travel to Portsmouth from the pier head. Ryde was once a very prestigious town and visitors came to the Island to enjoy promenading down the pier’s wooden walkway. Having visited the Island frequently in the past, Graeme has very fond memories of Sandown where stars such as the comedian, Jimmy Tarbuck, performed in the theatre at the end of the pier.

Graeme kept us very entertained throughout the evening and gave considerable insight into the history and use of piers right up to our modern day.

Sue Young

Lower picture, Graeme with Margaret Rogers, Vice Chairman and Wendy Bright, Talks Organiser