Eastbourne Pier

Year:1872

Duration:6 years

Cost:£13,400 (£1.5m today)

Country: Eastbourne, UK

Build a tourist attraction for Eastbourne

Eastbourne Pier opened to the public in 1866 after four years’ construction work, although it wasn’t fully completed until 1872.

At 1,000ft (305m) long, the finished structure had a neck width of 27ft (8.9m).

The pier was one of 14 designed by architect and civil engineer Eugenius Birch. Others included Hastings, Bournemouth, and the West Pier in Brighton.

When it opened, the pier’s attractions included a café and resident brass band. There were also trips along the Eastbourne shoreline in steamers – the structure had a landing stage for the boats to pick up passengers.

A storm washed away the shoreward end on New Year’s Day 1877 – this part of the pier was rebuilt slightly higher up the beach.

Later additions to the structure saw a 400-seat theatre built at the seaward end in 1888, as well as offices and a bar. The theatre was replaced with a larger auditorium that could hold 1,000 people in 1901.

Other new attractions included a camera obscura. A camera obscura – also known as a magic lantern - was a type of pinhole camera that projected images onto a wall or screen. The devices were popular attractions at the time.

Further developments saw a 900-seat concert hall constructed at the shoreward end. The hall was later used as a ballroom before being turned into an amusement arcade.

The structure was made a Grade II listed building in 1971 and upgraded to Grade II* in 2009.

Difference the project has made

Eastbourne Pier has been a successful tourist attraction since it opened in 1866.

Despite a fire in 2014 destroying some of the structure’s attractions, the pier’s still open for business and continues to generate income for the local economy.

How the work was done

Engineers working on Eastbourne Pier built the structure on cast iron screw piles with 12-inch (30.5cm) diameter cast iron columns.

First used in the 1800s as foundations for lighthouses, screw piles were a ground anchoring system used for constructing deep foundations.

Often made from cast or wrought iron, they were wound into the ground in the same way as a screw goes into wood.

The project team used lattice girders – an iron structure of two horizontal beams connected by diagonal struts – to support the pier’s timber deck.

Workers used specially made iron cups to support the screw piles. The cups rested on the bedrock below the sand on the seabed. The devices allowed some movement of the structure during bad weather.

With a particularly high standard of finish to its ironwork, Eastbourne is often considered as Eugenius Birch’s finest work after his design for the West Pier in Brighton.

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Eastbourne Pier is one of the finest along the south coast.

Anthony Willis

Author, ‘British Seaside Piers’

Fascinating facts

Eastbourne Pier was used as a location for the 2010 film ‘Brighton Rock’ based on the novel by Graham Greene. The structure stands in for the Palace Pier in Brighton.

The structure also substituted for the Palace Pier in the ITV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan’, starring David Suchet as detective Hercule Poirot.

Eastbourne won the National Pier Society’s first ‘Pier of the year award’ in 1997.

People who made it happen

  • Designer: Eugenius Birch
  • Contractor: Head Wrightson and Co

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