Grand Pier at Western-Super-Mare, Somerset, England, UK
The Grand Pier is a pier in Western-Super-Mare, North Somerset, England, UK. It is situated on the Bristol Channel approximately 18 miles south west of Bristol. It achieved a Grade II listed status on the 19th May 1983. The pier was brought by a Mr A Brenner in 1946, and in 1970 the entrance hall was redeveloped to provide shops and amusements. The pier was again brought by a Kerry Michael in February 2008 who spent £1 million revamping the attraction, but in 90 minutes on the 28th July 2008 it was destroyed in a fire.
The family-owned Grand Pier is one of three piers in the town. Birnbeck Pier now stands derelict awaiting possible restoration, with the third being the Sealife Aquarium built towards the south end of the seafront.
The Pavilion at the end of the Grand Pier has been destroyed by two fires on two occasions, 13th January 1930 and 28th July 2008.
Although one of the last piers to be built, just after the death of Queen Victoria, the Grand Pier has been described as a large elaborate structure carrying a Theatre and Pavilion plus kiosks and shops. The pier is over 1,000 feet long and is well placed in the centre of the town, close to the railway station and the main road system.
The building of the Pier started in November 1903 and opened in June 1904. 600 iron piles had to be driven into the clay at the rate of 8 to 10 per day. A quarter of a mile of wooden decking was laid and the theatre 150 feet by 90 feet was constructed with seating fro 2,000 people. The theatre had a similar capacity to the Bristol Hippodrome and was by all accounts well used.
One of the intentions of the company was to build a low water jetty to rival the Birnbeck Pier and have a share in the steamer trade. A low water extension was finished three years later from the back of the theatre that made the structure 6,600 feet long. To carry boat passengers to the of this jetty, an electric train was planned which ran from the tollgates, along the deck skirting the theatre and on to the boat jetty.
Unfortunately Weston has such a large rise and fall of tide, the second greatest in the world, this jetty still did not reach the sea at low water and the landing stage was subject to strong currents in the unsheltered middle of the bay which made landing by the steamers a very tricky operation. Mr Campbell the owner of the White funnel fleet and a shareholder said that “It was difficult, unsatisfactory and dangerous to use”. The low water extension which cost £20,000 was only used two days in September 1907 and 6,538 passengers passed over it raising only £117 in fees.
The theatre along with a large amount of decking was destroyed by fire on 13th January 1930. Just as darkness was falling, flames were seen under the pavilion and soon huge flames, which were visible for miles around, were leaping into the sky. The first fire engine soon arrived but had to send for more hose pipe. Crowds of people gathered to watch the spectacle from the seafront.
In the Odeon cinema a hand written slide interrupted the performance giving the news that the pier was on fire and most of the cinema-goers rushed out to watch. On the beach vivid explosions came from the burning theatre as oxygen cylinders exploded sending showers of sparks over the beach. One explosion lifted the front turret at the northern side of the pier high into the air, landing on the wet beach where the tide had just gone out.
Sparks and burning debris were carried by the gale force wind and were landing in the South Road area of the town making it uncomfortable for the onlookers on the promenade. After a while the wind veered and the flames and smoke were carried safely out to sea. This enabled the fire fighters to save a large part of the deck and the wind break screen that is still in use today. This was to date the largest fire in the area and special editions of the local papers were published with spectacular photographs of the fire and the twisted wreckage the next morning.
The loss of the pier as an attraction was a blow to the rest of the town”s trade. Hotel and shop owners pleaded with the Council to speed its replacement as visitor figures for the 1930 season were down by 500,000. The former operation as a theatre had not been profitable in recent years. Expenses and costs of the theatre were about £100 per year in deficit. The bandstand and related tolls were in a similar state due to the high cost of the large number of musicians.
The only previously paying part of the undertaking was the light amusements, therefore it was decided, as there had never been any objection to this side of the business, that this should be the nature of the replacement pavilion. It was also proposed that if subsequent income would allow, a new 2,000 seat theatre could be built at the shore end. The Urban District Council, who in 1893 had opposed the original act of Parliament at a cost to the ratepayers of £5,000 were now enthusiastic for its replacement.
The Pier was under-insured by a sum of £36,000 therefore immediate replacement was not possible. The pier stood unused for two seasons until a new company was formed who provided the extra capital and rebuilding work was started. The newly repaired and enlarged deck section but without any buildings, was opened for the season of 1932 with fun fair equipment and travelling acts such as One legged Peggy the high diver. During the next winter the present pavilion was erected.
Pictures and video footage of the fire at the iconic south west landmark were first shown on the national Good Morning TV (GMTV). The iconic landmark had only just celebrated it”s 100th birthday in 2004. The main ITV West news followed the story throughout the day with exclusive viewer pictures of the start of the fire.
Within two hours the Grand Pier had been reduced to rubble. Despite warnings from the police, hundreds gathered along the seafront and on the beach to get a view of the structure, so synonymous with the summer, lying in ruins on the first day of the summer holidays. Fire officers were first notified of a blaze at 0645 BST on 28 July 2008 and was first reported on the national BBC News at about 0745 BST. Initially there was some confusion as to exactly which part of the pier had caught fire.
It was confirmed that around seven fire engines were fighting a fire which broke out at the foot of the north-west tower. Early indications from eyewitnesses reporting on a local BBC news bulletin at 0757 BST state that much of the roof had been damaged and that the smoke can be seen for up to ten miles.
By 0840 BST it was noted that smoke from the fire could be seen as far away as Cardiff. Although there is currently no definitive answer, Avon Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer, Kevin Pearson, told BBC News there were deep-fat fryers found in the area of the superstructure, where they believe the fire started, and reported bangs at the start of the blaze may be due to LPG canisters exploding.
The first BBC representatives reported at 0805 BST and stated that flames were reaching 100 feet in the air, with the column of smoke reaching hundreds of feet higher still. It was apparent that the pier was collapsing in on itself and in the reporter”s opinion, the pier would be completely destroyed especially as there were reports of several small explosions.
There was no reports of any casualties. The fire service had difficulty getting enough water to the fire to dampen the flames as the pier is a quarter of a mile out to sea and the tide was out at the time the pier caught fire. A water barrier between the structure and the esplanade was later established to prevent the fire spreading. The fire eventually burnt itself out.