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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

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East Sussex
Eastbourne (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
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Seaside pier. It opened on 13th June 1870 and was designed by Eugenius Birch, the contractors Messrs Head, Wrighton and Co of Stockton on Tees. It was completed in 1872 and modified at the landward end following a storm of 1877. The seaward Pavilion theatre with 'camera obscura' and two games pavilions are of 1901 designed by Noel Ridley AMICE. The central windscreens were erected betweeen 1902-03, and a music pavilion was added in 1925 designed by P D Stoneham. Further kiosks were added in 1971, and an entrance building in 1991 in matching style.

MATERIALS: Substructure of cast iron screwpiles with some surviving combined cast iron side railings and seating. Wooden decking except for the centre which was replaced in concrete slabs after the Second World War. The pier buildings are constructed of wood with some structural cast iron and zinc roofs.

PLAN: As originally built in 1872 it was 1000ft long by 22ft wide, with two projecting bays on each side increasing the width to 68ft at the shore end and 52ft halfway along. The pier head had a diamond-shaped end approximately 115ft wide. After the storm of 1877 the shoreward end was rebuilt 5ft higher and the width of the pier increased to 52ft. By 1901 the pier end was much enlarged to accommodate the Pavilion theatre and in 1925 a section near the shore end was widened for a new music pavilion.

DESCRIPTION: The pier is 1000ft long and 52ft wide on a substructure of iron screw piles. Some original combined cast iron side railings and seating survives in the central section of the pier, the top railing tube originally doubling as a gas pipe to provide lanterns with gas lighting. There is wooden decking, except for the central section, removed during World War II to prevent an enemy landing, and replaced in concrete slabs after World War II. The entrance building is of 1991 in matching style to the earlier buildings on the pier. It is constructed of wood with metal supports, and is of one storey with a central open passageway with metal columns supporting a large square rooflight of five arches on each side, surmounted by clock faces on all sides with a hipped zinc roof. The front has octagonal pavilions with hipped roofs with small cupola, which merge into larger shops.

To the south west is the music pavilion of 1925, currently an amusement arcade, which has an oval domed zinc roof with a large iron-crested central roof-light and walls with diagonally placed weatherboarding with reeded pilasters and blocked multi-paned sash windows. The north west end has a wide central entrance with round-headed window and cornice and pilasters flanked by smaller entrances with cornices and brackets. The south east end has a tall central entrance with pilasters and oculus. The interior has large segmental arches and Art Deco decoration of floral swags, urns and Vitruvian scrolls. There is a proscenium arch at the south east end with Art Deco motifs, but the stage has been removed and there is a later C20 staircase.

To the south east are three 1970s cruciform-shaped wooden central kiosks.

Further to the south east, on either side of the pier, are two 1901 games pavilions. These are single-storeyed of wooden construction with zinc roofs with three pediments. Over the central pediments there are elaborate cupolas with fishscale domes and bases and decorative metal finials. Over the end pediments there are tapering roof features with ogee roofs with metal finials.

Further south east are an oval and circular 1970s building, originally amusement arcade buildings. Next to these are 1902-03 cast iron and glazed central screens acting as shelters and windbreaks with entwined dolphin emblems. At the end of the pier is the 1901 wooden theatre building which has a large domed roof with a smaller domed cupola containing the 'camera obscura'. The south east side has a projecting two-storey central bay either side of staircases with continuous glazing to the top floor bar. The north west side has a rebuilt wooden staircase to the camera obscura. The interior of the camera obscura has an octagonal lower waiting room, leading by means of a narrow curved wooden staircase into the boarded cupola. This contains a concave, emulsioned circular raised surface for showing the images and an iron wheel fixed to the ground, which can be moved by hand to open the roof light by means of a gear wheel connected to the larger wheel by a leather fanbelt. The theatre below was damaged by fire in 1970, but retains the domed wooden roof with large metal arched ribs, steps for gallery seating and panelling to the walls. The landing stage at the end of the pier was damaged during the 1987 hurricane.

HISTORY: The first pile of Eastbourne Pier was screwed into the seabed on 18th April 1866, and the pier was officially opened on 13th June 1870 by Lord Edward Cavendish. The pier was one of 14 designed by Eugenius Birch (1818-1884). By the official opening date only half the projected 1000ft length had been constructed and it was not completed until 1872. It was originally 22ft wide with two projecting wings on each side and a small diamond-shaped pier head with two kiosks and a bandstand.

On New Year's Day 1877 a violent storm washed away a large part of the shoreward end of the pier. To counteract the effect of waves surging over the shingle below the shoreward end was rebuilt 5ft higher. Also the pier was rebuilt to the width of the former projecting bays, from 22ft to 52ft. In 1888 a large building was constructed at a cost of £250 on the pier head to form a theatre, but was taken off 'in one piece' to Lewes for use as a cattle shed when it was proposed in 1899 to produce a grander building. The plans, drawn up by Noel Ridley, were for a new pavilion theatre housing a 'camera obscura' in the dome surmounting the structure. The building, completed in 1901, could accommodate 1000 people, it had no pillars to obstruct the view and the balconies were cantilevered. It contained a bar, a cafe and the pier offices. An open verandah just above ground level was later filled-in. The camera obscura was the largest in the country when constructed. Very few now remain and this is thought to be the only camera obscura on a pier in the world. Visitors could watch a moving coloured picture of the view outside on an emulsioned dish in a darkened room.

In 1901 the two games saloons were erected on either side of the central ramp. Between 1902 and 1903 the central windscreens were erected and a ten-sided bandstand which was removed in 1945.

In 1912 the original octagonal front entrance kiosks, together with the central octagonal pay kiosk, were removed. The central pay kiosk still survives in the middle of the Redoubt Pavilion Gardens.

In 1925 a section of the upper deck level was widened near the shore end and a new music pavilion with domed roof constructed which could seat 900. It was used for many years as a ballroom and later became an amusement arcade.

During World War II there was an order to blow up the pier but, luckily, it was spared; wooden decking was removed from the centre to prevent an enemy landing and gun platforms installed in the theatre to repel any attempted enemy landing. In 1945 the bandstand was removed and in 1951 the Edwardian entrance kiosks were replaced by a flat-roofed building.

In 1970 a pier employee set fire to the Pavilion Theatre and severe damage was caused to its shoreward end, including the destruction of the access staircase to the camera obscura. As a result the theatre was closed down and the remaining part of the building converted into a nightclub. In the 1970s two steel-framed glass fibre amusement arcade buildings were added betweeen the ramp and the old theatre, followed by three kiosks between the ballroom and the ramp.

In 1991 the entrance building of 1951 was replaced by a new entrance, in a similar style to the original octagonal turrets, with shops and a weatherproof covered way. In 2003 the camera obscura was re-opened to the public.

SOURCES: Supplement to "The Illustrated London News", June 25, 1870. Print of original pier. "The British Builder", July 1925, pp.281-283 for the musuc pavilion. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for Eugenius Birch. Simon H Adamson, "Seaside Piers", 1977. "Eastbourne Argus", 14/06/1982. John D Clarke and Partners, "Eastbourne Pier Conservation Strategy". Report of December 2007. Arthur J Gill, "Camera Obscura", April 1976. James Fenton, "Journal of Photography and Motiuon Picture Photography of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, New York, USA". Vol 27, No 4, Dec 1984, pp.9-15 for surviving 'camera obscura' in Great Britain.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: * Following the loss of a number of Eugenius Birch's 14 seaside piers and most notably the almost complete destruction of Brighton West Pier by storm damage and fire, Eastbourne is now the finest of Birch's surviving seaside piers. * Eastbourne and Brighton Palace Pier, by St John Moore, are now the best surviving Victorian seaside piers on the South Coast for the number of remaining Victorian and Edwardian structures. * Eastbourne Pier has a rare surviving example of a 'camera obscura'; it was the largest example in Great Britain when built in 1901, and seems to be the only example of a camera obscura on a seaside pier in the world. * Eastbourne Pier is a good example of a promenade pier, later adapted into a full blown pleasure pier with good quality late C19, Edwardian and 1920s structrues. Later replacement buildings have imitated the style of the earlier structures, so that the pier retains a stylistic coherence.


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This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 04 Oct 1999
Reference: IOE01/01401/05
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Michael Nash. Source Historic England Archive
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