Architecture Conservation

8 Beautiful Piers to Promenade

The seaside pier is perhaps the most iconic symbol of the British holiday resort. Despite the massive losses in the 20th century – through fire, the power of the sea and neglect – we still have more seaside piers around our coast than any other country in the world.

Piers continue to enthral and entertain visitors in resorts up and down the land; you can try angling, catch a steamer, take in a show, feast on fish ‘n’ chips, play the slot machines, experience the thrill of fairground rides or simply relax in a deckchair and watch the world go by.

Here are some of our favourites.

1. North Pier, Blackpool, Grade II

exterior view from the north east north pier lancashire blackpool blackpool
North Pier, Blackpool, Lancashire © Historic England Archive

In the 1920s and 30s thousands of factory workers used to arrive on special excursion trains and head for Blackpool’s piers. They offered every kind of attraction including open-air dancing, roller skating, speedboats, diving displays, hypnotists and even a boxing kangaroo.

North Pier, the oldest, still has a theatre where entertainers such as Frankie Vaughan, Morecambe & Wise and Des O’Connor used to appear twice nightly throughout the summer. It was the birthplace of Sooty the Bear, whom Harry Corbett bought from a stall in 1947 for just 7/- (35p).

2. Brighton Pier, Grade II*

Buildings of England, Brighton and Hove. Palace Pier, Brighton, East Sussex. General view of Palace Pier.
Palace Pier, Brighton, East Sussex © Historic England Archive

Brighton used to have two piers but all that remains of the West Pier is a steel cage in the sea, much loved by nesting starlings. Brighton Pier, formerly Palace Pier, opened in 1899 and is the most popular in the country.

Many films have been shot there including Brighton Rock, Quadrophenia and Carry On At Your Convenience. This Grade II* pier is unashamedly ‘candyfloss’ – a typical Kiss-Me-Quick pier with lots of rides and amusement arcades.

3. Clevedon Pier, Grade I

exterior oblique view - sunset clevedon pier avon north somerset clevedon
Clevedon Pier, North Somerset © Historic England Archive

Built using an openwork wrought iron structure with discarded rails originally from Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway, Clevedon Pier opened amid much fanfare on Easter Monday in 1869 and cost £12,000 to build. Much later John Betjeman was moved to describe the pier as: “like an insect in the sunlight.”

In 1970 disaster struck when two of the arch spans collapsed into the sea. The Clevedon Pier Preservation Trust spearheaded a rescue campaign and the partially restored pier reopened in 1989. Today this elegant pier stands as a testament to what can be achieved by a dedicated and determined local community.

4. Cromer Pier, Grade II

Cromer Pier, Norfolk
Cromer Pier, Norfolk © Historic England Archive

Beautifully situated below the Hotel de Paris, where Oscar Wilde stayed in 1892, and is the launchpad for the RNLI lifeboat – you can visit the boathouse and view its historical exhibition for free.

Cromer’s Pier boasts the only remaining traditional end-of-the-pier show; Seaside Special runs twice daily from mid-June to late September and attracts coach parties from far and wide. The cast includes comedians, singers, instrumentalists and glamorous dancers. One of its recent stars, ventriloquist Steve Hewlett, came 4th in Britain’s Got Talent in 2013.

5. Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth

Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth.
Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk © Historic England Archive

The Britannia was badly damaged by fire in 1909, 1914 (allegedly caused by suffragettes after they were refused permission to hold a meeting on it), 1932 and 1954. Despite these setbacks the pier still stands today and its 1,200 seat theatre, which opened in 1958, entertains thousands of holidaymakers every summer.

Today the incoming tide barely reaches the pier but gift shops, penny-in-the-slot machines and candy floss stalls abound, and there’s live music during the summer season.

6. Hastings Pier, Grade II

Hastings Pier.
Hastings Pier, East Sussex © Historic England Archive

It was the first true pleasure pier, sporting a 2,000 seat oriental style pavilion when it opened in August 1872. In common with many South Coast piers it was sliced in half during the Second World War II to prevent the Germans from landing.

In the 60s its ballroom played host to Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and The Who – tickets cost 15/- (75p).

7. Southend Pier, Grade II

from north west pier essex southend on sea southend on sea
Southend Pier, Essex (1983) © Historic England Archive

At well over a mile Southend is the longest pier in the world, which allows boats to dock at its head at all stages of the tide. The pier has had a passenger train service ever since it opened in 1890 and underneath the entrance, there’s a fascinating museum.

At the end of the pier, there are a lifeboat station and the Royal Pavilion, where there are art exhibitions and comedy nights.

8. Southwold Pier

Southwold Pier, Suffolk
Southwold Pier, Suffolk © Historic England Archive

Southwold is a remarkable pier survivor on the Suffolk coast which opened without fanfare in June 1900. Originally 810ft long, it was cut in half during the Second World War to prevent invading forces from landing.

By 1960 it had shrunk to about 150 ft. A new owner almost single-handedly rebuilt it so that steamers could call in at the pier head. This is a beautiful pier with Punch and Judy shows and wonderfully quirky amusement machines.

Did we miss any? Let us know your favourite piers and promenades in the comments.

Further reading

11 comments on “8 Beautiful Piers to Promenade

  1. Birnbeck. Is it a pier or is it a bridge? Come to Weston super Mare to find the answers.

  2. simon gray

    Interestingly South*port* pier also claims to be the longest in the world. There seems to be a lot of longest in the world’s about.

  3. Clevedon pier is actually in North Somerset, not Somerset. During the summer the Balmoral and the Waverly dock there. It’s one of the most beautiful places to visit and now also has claim to fame as this is where One Direction filmed one of their videos.

  4. I’m a Southport person myself, and I agree with the comment from Simon above. I didn’t live in Southport nowadays, but when I visited recently, I noticed its claim to having the longest pier. Having been left to fall into great disrepair, it has now been repaired/refurbished and is looking good.
    All piers are wonderful places and I’ve visited a few in my time. On the photos above, I’d say that Brighton Pier looks very impressive but that could be because of the number of buildings shown from the angle of the photograph.

  5. Dave Beeby

    Llandudno and Bangor deserve a mention. But there agin all piers deserve one, a dare interesting places to visit

    • Llandudno is such a special place. The pier, the tramway, the cable cars, the Great Orme… plus really friendly people and excellent quality B&Bs.

      (Now live in Kent and really miss it.)

  6. Mike shaw

    Beaumaris Pier a delight – and right by the castle. Saw an excellent ravelling flea circus there a year or two ago

  7. I think it’s a shame you didn’t include Herne Bay pier and the story around the old pier head that’s marooned out at sea.

  8. Maria-Elena Calderon

    Saltburn Pier is personally one of my favourites

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