Construction of Hastings Pier started circa 1869; the first works commencing early in December and the first pile being driven on the 18th December at the 3 am low tide. The pier opened to the public in 1872 opposite the General Infirmary (now White Rock Pavilion) in White Rock and enjoyed its prime in the 1930s, later becoming a popular music venue in the 1960s. The structure suffered major storm damage in 1990, and was closed to the public for a time before closing completely in 2008, and being destroyed by a fire in 2010. A rebuilding project was then undertaken, with the pier reopening to the public on 27 April 2016.
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 pier had a landing stage around the seaward end said to be able to accommodate up to four paddle steamers at the same time.. This was originally accessed via a staircase in the centre of the pier's width, with walkways leading off to either side. At the time of opening, it was claimed that the landing stage could accept vessels at all states of the tide, with a minimum of 3-5 foot depth available.
The ballroom that was situated at the end of the pier had a capacity of 2000 people.
Shooting Gallery & Joy Wheel
In 1910, a pavilion for shooting and a joy-wheel were installed on the main promenade section of the pier
The original 2,000 seat pavilion was destroyed by a fire in 1917, being replaced in 1922.
Art Deco Frontage
In 1933 the old tea room and entrance front abutting onto the Parade Extension was replaced by a restaurant and Art Deco facade. This was followed in 1934 by the reconstruction of the shore-end pavilion, which resulted in the creation of theatre space. Further re-development followed in 1936 when the pier-end pavilion was rebuilt to incorporate a ballroom, lounge bar and cafe with open-air terraces on either side on the first floor - this floor being accessed via wide staircases on either side of the ballroom entrance, this final development of the 1930s requiring some reinforcement to the sub-structure at the sea end of the pier to support the additional loads.
Further, more minor renovations followed the pier's temporary closure and demolitions to the deck to prevent it from being used as a potential landing stage for any invasion during WWII.
Notable Artists 1960-circa 1980
The Pier played host in the 1960s, 70s and 80s to notable artists such as Tom Jones, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Genesis, Ten Years After, Motorhead, Status Quo, The Specials, Alvin Stardust, T-Rex and Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett played his last ever show with the band here on 20 January 1968.
A particularly memorable performance for some was that of Dexy's Midnight Runners around 1980, who left the stage after performing for around 20 minutes due to heckling from the, mainly skinhead, audience.
The Triodome, a white-domed structure was placed upon the pier in 1966 where the bandstand was originally situated and utilised initially to display the Hastings Embroidery for the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. It later housed a mini-zoo around the mid-1970s, then amusements before being sold for scrap, but turned up on Brighton Pier, re-assembled, some weeks later.
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 leading to considerable deterioration of the structures.
In February of 1980, rumours circulated that the pier was to be sold leading to the chairman of the pier company, John Lester, putting out a statement saying that this was untrue. The pier, however, was sold in April 1983.
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. A trust took over the running of the pier from the absentee owners, Ravenclaw, with the council planning to commence compulsory purchase order proceedings in July of 2010.
Sept. 2010 Inspection
On the 24th of September 2010, the members of Hastings Pier Trust hosted a visit by English Heritage to inspect the listed structure. This was the last sanctioned visit to the pier before almost all of the pier was destroyed by fire later that year.
A video of the inspection is below
Some stills from the video:
A fire, set deliberately in the Ballroom area, driven by strong winds, swept through the superstructure of the pier at 1 am on the 5th of October 2010. Two teenagers were arrested near the pier to face charges of arson, but the prosecution did not proceed, the youths being released.
East Sussex Fire and Rescue released the below video of the fire.
The Hastings Pier Charity oversaw a rebuilding project. In August 2013, a compulsory purchase order was enacted, returning the pier to local ownership allowing a £14m renovation project to commence.
This work was completed by early 2016 with the pier reopening on April 27, 2016, winning the 2017 Stirling Prize for architecture.
On May 21, 2016, the attraction was officially reopened and a ceremony was held with celebrations and a concert by Madness.
This company entered administration in November 2017, with the future of the pier uncertain.
Sheikh Abid Gulzar, who also owns Eastbourne Pier, purchased the pier in June 2018, with the pier reopening on July 25, 2018. A short closure occurred in December 2018 for repairs and reopened on April 1, 2019.
On the 24th of November 2018, a small fire broke out in the kitchen of the Pavilion Restaurant. Fortunately this was extinguished fairly quickly by a turnout of two pumps from Hastings Fire Brigade.
2020 - 2022
During July of 2020, the pier re-opened post Covid 19 with an announcement that a new company was taking over management of events; Music First Events. There was a delayed re-opening ceremony where the Mayor cut the ribbon to formally open the venue on the 6th of July 2020. As a rise of increased rental, the management company relinquished its tenancy on the pier, selling off the furnishings and other fixtures that it had installed. Gulzar hoped to re-open the pier under new management in 2023.
References & Notes
- British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 11 December 1869 Pg. 0003
- Ion Castro - Looking Back Column
- British Newspaper Archive Illustrated London News 10 August 1872 Pg. 0006
- British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 31 December 1910 Pg. 0007
- British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 25 June 1938 Pg. 0013
- The Hastings Chronicle: 1980 onwards – The Hastings Chronicle, accessdate: 25 January 2022
- Hastings Pier largely destroyed in a huge fire - BBC News, accessdate: 7 October 2020
- Two held after fire destroys Hastings pier | Reuters, accessdate: 7 October 2020