British seaside piers through the ages

seaside piers

The UK has lost 42 piers since the 1800s but 61 iconic designs remain.


Between 1814 and 1905, as Britain’s railway network expanded rapidly and Victorians fell in love with the seaside, more than 100 piers were built in the UK.

Although first designed to allow ships to moor and passengers to walk to land, they soon became attractions in the own right.

Eugenius Birch, a naval architect and engineer, who designed Margate Pier in 1853 (and 13 others) took inspiration from his time in India – adding a splash of colour to the British coast.

According to research by Away Resorts, piers remain a crucial part of the British holiday experience, with 70 per cent of all visits to the seaside including a walk down one. It found that 94 per cent of Brits think piers bring life and atmosphere to seaside resorts.

The company teamed up with Dr Anya Chapman from the National Piers Society to produce sliders that show the evolution of British seaside piers here: awayresorts.co.uk/seaside-piers.

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More: our guide to Margate

The collection includes Clevedon, the only surviving Grade I-listed pier in the UK. Sadly, however, the UK has lost 42 piers since the 1800s.

Piers are particularly susceptible to fires, with Brighton West Pier (2003); Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare (2008); Hastings Pier (2010); Southend (1976) among those to have gone up in flames.

The remains of Brighton West (left) and in its heyday

Some of these, including Brighton West, above, couldn’t be saved, with the likes of St Leonards; Margate Jetty; Morecambe Central; and Shanklin among others that were lost.

But the likes of neighbouring Brighton Palace; Blackpool Central; Clacton Cromer; Llandudno and Weston’s Grand remain, while there are recently regenerated piers at Bournemouth; Clevedon; Southwold; Swanage; Bangor and Felixstowe.

The National Piers Society was founded in 1979 under Sir John Betjeman, at a time when some of the finest piers were threatened with demolition.

Dr Anya Chapman said: “Seaside piers are an important part of coastal communities. They are iconic structures that are the focal points for visitors and residents alike. People living, working and visiting coastal destinations value their piers as visitor attractions, community leisure facilities, and iconic heritage assets.

“In recent years, when piers have been under threat, local communities such as those as Hastings, Colwyn Bay, Swanage, and Ramsey in the Isle of Man have come together to rescue, repair, and reopen their piers. They are part of the identity of British seaside resorts and are loved and cherished by coastal communities.”

She added: “The future is bright for resorts and their piers as holidaymakers are increasingly returning to the delights and simple pleasures of the British seaside. Holidays at the coast provide family fun, outdoor activities and water sports, great views, an opportunity to unwind and enjoy a relaxed pace of life, and of course piers are an important part of this experience.”

You can browse the UK’s piers here and see the sliders here.


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