The seaside pier is perhaps the most iconic symbol of the British holiday resort.
Despite the massive losses in the 20th century – through the fire, the power of the sea and neglect – England still has more seaside piers around our coast than any other country in the world. Here is a selection of the best.
1. Blackpool North Pier, Lancashire
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 Palace Pier, East Sussex
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 unashamed ‘candyfloss’ – a typical Kiss-Me-Quick pier with many rides and amusement arcades.
3. Clevedon Pier, North Somerset
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, Norfolk
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, Norfolk
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, East Sussex
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, Essex
At well over a mile, Southend is the longest pier in the world, allowing boats to dock at its head at all tide stages.
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 is a lifeboat station and the Royal Pavilion, where there are art exhibitions and comedy nights.
8. Southwold Pier, Suffolk
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.
- Guide to the nation’s surviving piers: British Seaside Piers by Anthony Wills and Tim Phillips
- At the Seaside
- England’s Seaside Heritage from the Air
Birnbeck. Is it a pier or is it a bridge? Come to Weston super Mare to find the answers.
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.
Nope – Southport pier 1,000 metres (3,635ft) – Southend-on-Sea 2,158 metres (7,080ft)
Southend pier is actually the longest ‘pleasure’ pier in the world, not necessarily the longest pier
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.
Thanks Kath for letting us know – I’ve updated the post to reflect this.
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.
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.)
Agree but go to CADW 🏴
Beaumaris Pier a delight – and right by the castle. Saw an excellent ravelling flea circus there a year or two ago
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.
Saltburn Pier is personally one of my favourites
Worthing Pier is magical. The sunsets every evening are spectacular, the starling murmuration just before each sunset is worth it alone. There is now also a lovely restaurant/bar at the end of the pier where you can enjoy drinks outside with the starlings circling around you. No, I’m not on commission, I just love it. :0).
Very interesting read, thank you. Other suggestions are South Parade Pier, Southsea (famous for, amongst other things, catching fire during the filming of Ken Russell’s “Tommy”) and Ryde Pier, which claims to be the oldest pleasure pier).