Discovering Norfolk and Suffolk's wonderful piers

Cromer Pier

Cromer Pier features in the new book about British piers and pier railways. - Credit: Archant

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside - and if there is a pier that is an added bonus. Derek James heads for our east coast.

Join the tour and recall the sea air, candy floss, music, the sounds of a holiday, that day trip, an encounter,  a rendezvous or special memory.

This book is a joy to read, informative, sometimes sad, discovering the history of our piers.  Many of them have been lost over the years, but in Norfolk and Suffolk we still can enjoy a stroll above the sea where there are so many different attractions.

British Piers and Pier Railways takes us on a journey around the coastline of Great Britain, north, south, east and west, and author Anthony Poulton-Smith has uncovered some fascinating stories. And as he says, the book is not just a history of these metal and wood constructions.

“While such information is not ignored, here we focus on that found on and alongside the boards; moored vessels, some as iconic as the landing stages, supporting all manner of games and activities.

“Brightly coloured kiosks with memorabilia, trinkets, foods and pastimes; some of the memorable characters who staff piers, and others who worked outside,” says Anthony.

But we are also introduced to those who leapt from the pier – divers, swimmers and would-be aviators – all of whom ended up in the water, intentionally or otherwise. Then were the terrible accidents.

Front cover of British Piers and Pier Railways by Anthony Poulton-Smith.

British Piers and Pier Railways by Anthony Poulton-Smith. - Credit: Whittles Publishing

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No less than 60 piers  are covered and their stories are supported by more than 100 images, old and new.

Anthony writes: “Britain’s piers are in danger of  disappearing. Remember, these structures we see today are relics of the 19th Century. That century of frantic pier construction and reconstruction is all that we have: not a single application has been made for a new pier in the last 100 years.”

Let’s head for the seaside and take a look at what we had, and are fortunate to still have:

Hunstanton

Built in 1870 by J W Wilson, the iron piles topped with timber originally reached out 830ft into the North Sea. Fire in 1939 destroyed the pier head and pavilion. Post-war it was a great place with roller-skating. As time passed it fell into disuse but an amusement arcade opened in 1964.

A storm and then a fire finished it off but a new bowling alley and entertainment opened and there are still moves to rebuild the pier.

Cromer

Cromer’s first pleasure pier appeared in 1846, although earlier ones date from the 14th Century. The structure forming the basis of the present pier opened in 1902. At 450ft in length, it cost £17,000 and boasted glass screens on the shelters and a bandstand.

It has had some tough times with storms and accidents but has emerged to become a major and much-loved attraction. There was a grand re-opening in 2004 with broadcaster, actor and writer Stephen Fry, from Norfolk, performing the honours.

More storms and gales caused damage but the much-loved pier, thanks to the wonderful shows, continues to play a leading role on the entertainment scene. Summer and Christmas shows plus the one-night era are a blast of sunshine whatever the weather.

Great Yarmouth Britannia

When it was a new resort, Great Yarmouth wanted to attract as many visitors as possible and work on its pier began in 1857. It opened the following year and cost £6,000.

Damaged by storms the Grand Pavilion was destroyed by fire in 1909, rebuilt, only to be set on fire by Suffragettes after being refused permission to meet there.

More blazes followed but the Britannia was a survivor and continues to have a great story and continues to play a leading role in the entertainment scene.

Repairs to Britannia Pier at Great Yarmouth in 1954.

Repairs to Britannia Pier at Great Yarmouth in 1954. - Credit: Archant

Great Yarmouth Wellington Pier

The original pier was planned in 1843 to be a memorial to the Duke of Wellington. It cost £6,776 and was an instant hit making a profit of £581 in its first year.

Generations of holidaymakers and have loved the wonderful shows and today the attractions include a bowling alley, an arcade and more.

Lowestoft Claremont Pier

Built in 1902/3, the 715-foot pier has seen several changes in its comparatively short life.

During the Second World War it was used as a training centre by the Army. It re-opened in the 1950s. Damaged in a 1962 storm, the shoreward end still provides entertainment and facilities.

Lowestoft South Pier

This has quite a story to tell. The 1831 construction was of two piers, part of the harbour development. Over the years there have been reading rooms, a bandstand jetty and much more. Once again fires took their toll and it was damaged in the war.

Attractions came and went and finally in 2008 a big refurbishment saw new amusements in place on the pier but the closure of the seaward end angered fishermen who were forced to cast their lines from the beach.

South Pier, Lowestoft

South Pier at Lowestoft has a tale to tell. - Credit: Whittles Publishing

Southwold Pier

To bring visitors by steamship to the fledging resort, the pier, planned as a landing stage, opened in 1900. Admission was one penny, with a weekly pass for one shilling.

Various changes and renovations took place over the decades and for the past 20 years the fantastic Under the Pier Show has attracted worldwide fame. This is an astonishing and unique collection of automata, machines and games by designer Tim Hunkin, combining  the old and the new. There is also a Hall of Mirrors and a water-powered clock, performing half-hourly.

As Anthony writes: “Southwold may never have the grandest pier in the country but it seems destined to remain the most attractive.”

The entrance to Southwold Pier.

Southwold Pier is the country's most attractive piers, says Anthony Poulton-Smith. - Credit: Picture: Nick Butcher

Felixstowe

The line was opened in 1877 by the Felixstowe Railway and Pier Company. The railway came to serve the pier, not the town. That arrived some years later.

This pier has a long and fascinating story to tell, very different from the others. Author Anthony follows its progress over the decades, tell us about some tragic accidents – along with the joy it brought. Today is it looking good.

“With a Family Entertainment Centre, Boardwalk Bar and much more, plus public access to part of the original pier, this is at the time of writing officially the newest pier in Britain,” writes Anthony.

Felixstowe Pier.

Felixstowe Pier shows our love of these coastal attractions is still alive today. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Aldeburgh

Work began on building a pier in this lovely Suffolk resort in 1878. It was planned to be 567ft long. Two years later when it had reached 250ft, a drifting vessel collided with it and the project was abandoned.


British Piers and Pier Railways by Anthony Poulton-Smith is published by Whittles Publishing at £18.99 and is available via their website: https://www.whittlespublishing.com/  or by calling: 01593 731333.