This was the title of a fascinating talk recently given by Cllr. John Hodges to the Friends at the History House in Hastings Old Town. The talk centred on the somewhat troubled histories of our two local piers – Hastings Pier and St. Leonard’s Pier – and was accompanied by illustrations of original documents, postcards, programmes and other ephemeral items.
Our much-loved Hastings Pier first opened in 1872 and quickly became a popular tourist attraction. It boasted a beautifully ornate Indian-style pavilion for musical and theatrical entertainment but this was sadly destroyed in a disastrous fire in 1917. The replacement shed-like structure was to prove popular in later years as a venue for rock concerts where many well-known artists such as the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Jones and Cilla Black performed in front of huge audiences. I think one or two of our own audience may have had fond recollections of those heady days! However the decline set in shortly after and, as we all know, culminated in the terrible blaze of 2010.
St. Leonard’s Pier, despite offering some novel attractions such as a maple-floored roller skating rink (1909) and Kursaal pavilion for taking high tea in Palm Court-like surroundings suffered a gradual decline in popularity and after a serious fire in 1944 was finally closed and demolished several years later. Nothing now remains of this pier at all but its vibrant history could certainly be re-lived through the wonderful postcard images we were shown by Cllr. Hodges. I was particularly taken with the postcard showing graceful skaters on the roller skating rink, the women looking particularly elegant in their long, flowing dresses and wide-brimmed hats.
We also learned of all the efforts made by both Hastings Council and the Hastings Pier Trust to save Hastings Pier and transform it once more into a valuable local resource to be enjoyed by both local people and visitors. The first major step towards this goal was announced only last week with news of a successful Heritage Lottery Fund grant which will enable vital restoration work to begin on the pier’s below-deck structure.
So a hopefully happy ending to a somewhat turbulent history. Cllr. Hodges received a well-deserved round of applause for his captivating and extremely informative talk.
If any readers would like to learn more about the history of the two piers I can highly recommend a book written by Friends’ committee member, Steve Peak: “Peerless Piers: The Story of the Hastings and St. Leonards Piers” (pub.2011) available from the History House and other local venues.