It was 2008 and the family were up early to catch a flight to the Netherlands to visit our friends there. We hurried round to the newspaper shop to pick up some last-minute things and as we came out a man said that Weston-super-Mare Grand Pier was on fire – and looking north we could see a plume of smoke. we hurried home and the family jumped in the car and drove into town.
We stood on Weston seafront and watched as flames leapt into the air and smoke swirled; we were well away from it but even so we could hear the roar and explosions and other strange and rather frightening noises. The pier had only recently been refurbished, and now all the effort and hard work was literally going up in smoke.
The pier was originally built in 1903 and was enormously popular, not just with all the visitors and holiday makers but with local people too. However, nearly thirty years later, the pier suffered a fire for the first time but was soon rebuilt. Now in 2008 the devastation was complete…but fortunately only the buildings at the end… the substructure and the walkway out to the end were saved. Due to an extraordinary effort and support from the public, the pier was soon rebuilt and opened again in 2010 and is now more popular than ever.
When we visited Brighton this week, we saw the sad skeletal remains of Brighton pier; Brighton West Pier was considerably older than Weston Grand Pier, built in 1866. It closed in 1975 but has gradually fallen to pieces ever since; parts of it collapsed in 2002, and then two fires in March and May 2003 reduced it to a blackened skeleton. In some ways it is beautiful, but it still has a sadness about it. For those who are residents of seaside towns they are in many ways strange places to live, different from other towns and cities… and this ruin ads an air of mystery, even on a lovely sunny day.