Hastings Pier is a pleasure pier in Hastings, East Sussex, England. Built in 1872 and enjoying its prime in the 1930s, though becoming a popular music venue in the 1960s, it received major storm damage in 1990, closed to the public between 1999 and 2002, partially closed in 2006, and closed completely in 2008. Efforts continued to save the pier, which was in need of much investment. In the early hours of 5 October 2010 the pier suffered from a devastating fire (the second in its history) that destroyed 95% of its superstructure. The Hastings Borough Council had structural surveys conducted in 2007 & 2010, which concluded that the cast iron Victorian-era sub-structure was salvageable, both before and after the fire. Hastings Pier Charity oversaw a reconstruction project, with the pier reopening on 27 April 2016.
The pier has featured in many films and TV series, such as the The Dark Man (1951), ITV wartime drama Foyle’s War, Kingmaker’s “Queen Jane” music video (1993), Ash’s “Tracers” music video (2009), and the film Byzantium (2012). In 2016 a feature-length documentary about Hastings Pier (titled Re: A Pier) was completed by BAFTA Award winning filmmaker Archie Lauchlan.
The pier was opened on 5 August 1872 by the then Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Earl of Granville. It was designed by Eugenius Birch, who also designed the West Pier, Brighton and Eastbourne Pier, both west of Hastings, and it is often seen as an innovative design considering the technical constraints of the late Victorian period. The pier was “constructed by a local company”, while the contractors were the firm R Laidlaw & Son, Glasgow. 600 guests sat down to lunch on the pier immediately following the opening ceremony, and included the local member of parliament Thomas Brassey and Egyptian princes.
The original 2,000 seater pavilion was destroyed by fire in 1917. This was eventually replaced in 1922 and played host in the 1960s and the 1970s to notable artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Genesis, Tom Jones, Ten Years After, and Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett played his last ever show with the band here on 20 January 1968.
During the 1930s, the pavilion extension buildings received an art deco facelift and a theatre rebuild. This was to be its prime era. More renovation followed its temporary closure during WWII and it housed the famous Hastings embroidery during the 1066 celebrations in 1966. Elements of the pier became listed in 1976 and subsequently changed hands on a regular basis with erratic structural renovation input from its subsequent owners.
In 1990 it suffered considerable storm damage, requiring a £1 million refurbishment. In 1996 it was put up for sale, but the future of the pier was put in grave doubt as interested buyers were reluctant to invest due to the serious amount of capital needed to improve the unstable structural supports. Financial losses led to the appointment of liquidators Leonard Curtis who closed the pier in 1999.
The pier was eventually sold in 2000 and reopened under new ownership in 2002. It was passed to Ravenclaw, an offshore enterprise in 2004.
Pier access withdrawn
In July 2006, Hastings Borough Council, upon discovering that part of the pier’s structure was unsafe, promptly closed the pier to the general public. Protracted legal wranglings between the pier’s owners, Ravenclaw Investments, and Hastings Borough Council followed. Finally, Stylus Sports, a pier tenant who operated the gaming attractions, in conjunction with Hastings Borough Council, funded much of the needed £300,000 of repairs, which enabled the court order closing the pier to be lifted. This financial infusion enabled the majority of the pier to reopen on 4 July 2007.
However, on 12 March 2008 the local newspaper Hastings Observer reported to concerned readers how storm damage had caused considerable damage and that two support columns were in imminent danger of collapse. To prevent public access and any resulting injuries, stronger barriers restricting public access to the damaged areas were put in place and repairs to the bracing fixtures prevented any disaster from occurring. Nevertheless, when the remaining major tenant closed for business, access to the pier was restricted. The failure of the owners to respond to appeals from the Council to repair the areas and the continual deterioration of the structure led to its long-term future becoming uncertain.
Efforts to save the pier
The Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust was established to raise funds through various means to renovate the pier, ranging from community fund raising (cup collecting, raffles and quiz nights etc.) to larger scale grant applications. Their long-term goal is to acquire the pier and form a not-for-profit company to renovate, reopen and revitalise the pier as a community owned asset. The Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust (HPWRT) strongly oppose to any decision to demolish and clear the site of the structure, which would cost an estimated £4 million of local money.
In August 2009, the Hastings Observer launched a campaign petition to Save the Pier, which is available for anyone interested in signing via an online website. More than 3,000 people have so far signed up. On Saturday 17 October 2009 more than 1,000 disgruntled residents marched along Hastings seafront to the Town Hall in protest of the Hastings Borough Councils’ alleged lack of impetus with regard to dealing with the pier as an eyesore and its alleged unlawful sale to a foreign business, although there was no domestic interest. The march concluded with members of the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust (HPWRT) handing a Compulsory Purchase Order pack, to the Council. It was hoped by many individuals and local small businesses that a decisive outcome would err in favour of promoting the seafront as a picturesque tourist attraction once again.
In November 2009 Kerry and Michelle Michael, along with a team of engineers, examined the possibility of purchasing Hastings Pier and restoring it to its former glory. These siblings also own The Grand Pier in Weston-super-Mare, which caught fire in 2008 and destroyed the pavilion, but they rebuilt it at a cost of more than £50million. However, after a structural assessment of the Hastings Pier, it was estimated that repairs would cost in excess of £24million, with a similar amount needed to restore attractions to the pier head. The engineers dismally commented that the pier is “one good storm away from collapse”.
October 2010 fire
The pier suffered extensive fire damage during the early hours of Tuesday 5 October 2010. Although the fire brigade arrived shortly after being alerted (at approximately 0100 BST), the fire had quickly spread causing severe damage to the wooden buildings. Estimates indicate that 95% of the superstructure of the pier was subsequently destroyed in the fire. Two people were arrested on suspicion of arson, but, despite numerous bail hearings, no charges were made.
Prior to its destruction in a fire on 5 October 2010, Hastings Pier was deemed to be the pier most at risk in the UK by the National Piers Society. Despite funding set-backs in 2009, such as the withdrawal of Capacity Builders grants, the Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust had made efforts to revitalise the pier. On 1 February 2010, Hastings Borough Council finally resolved to develop an approval in principle to compulsorily purchase the Pier on the agreement of a business plan and suitable funding source. The decision followed a study which showed the pier could be made safe for public use for £3million. On 16 March, Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust successfully obtained a £75k Feasibility grant to fund the completion of necessary engineering surveys and architectural plans for their overall business plan of securing capital funding. “BBC South East News Report”. October 2010.
Following the fire in October that year, an English Heritage assessment confirmed that the previously noted heritage value of the substructure remained so the Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust submitted an application for £8.75m to the Heritage Lottery at the end of November 2010 to restore the substructure of the Pier and renovate the remaining building. Heritage Lottery trustees visited the project and pier on 16 March 2011 to assess the application. Hastings Borough Council were granted £100k toward emergency works by English Heritage in April 2011. This funding was intended to pay for structural supports to be applied to the central section which was weakened by the loss of the deck in the fire.
In May 2011, it was announced by Heritage Lottery Fund that a Stage 1 development grant, releasing the first £357,400 of a total £8.75m grant was awarded by Heritage Lottery. This development grant was intended to complete the business plan, develop the heritage learning and activities programme and raise the £1m funding match. In the meantime, Hastings Borough Council intended to progress the CPO. The remaining award (Stage 2) was subject to the funding match being raised, the authorisation of the business plan by the HLF and the successful completion of the CPO.
In August 2013, a Compulsory Purchase Order was enacted and the pier was returned to local ownership which enabled a £14m renovation project to go forward. The work was completed in early 2016, and the pier was reopened to the public on 27 April 2016.
Since re-opening, the pier has won the National Piers Society’s “Pier of the Year” award in 2017, with Worthing Pier and Llandudno Pier in second and third place.