BRIGHTON CHAIN PIER.
Brighton residents and the innumerable visitors to that metropolis by the sea are about to lose an old and much tried friend. The Chain Pier can no longer sustain with safety even its attenuated burden in more recent years; and its destruction, long talked of, has now, alas! been definitely decided upon.
Brighton Chain Pier has an interest all its own. It was built in the year of grace 1823, a period when the “First Gentleman of Europe” graced the fast-developing Brighthelmstone* with his favour, his presence, and his Pavilion, and it was actually the first important venture of its kind in England. When we say of its kind, we mean the first great pier erected upon piles. Piers constructed in this manner had been dreamed of before 1823, but a doubt as to their stability appears to have prevented any practical fulfilment of the vision. Then someone quoted the batteries which Peter the Great had built upon piles at Cronstadt, menacing structures which still survived, their constitution unimpaired, and this survival encouraged the promoters of the Brighton pier to give it an existence.
A certain Captain Brown, R.N., was the inventor and architect of what was to become a characteristic feature of the most popular watering-place in England, and the precautions the Captain took to secure the stability of his venture were beyond reproach. Four groups of piles, some 80 yards dividing each group, were driven many feet into the chalky bottom of old ocean, and on them a solid structure was arranged, which terminated in that wide T-shaped pierhead dear in these later years to the hearts of nursery-maids and their charges, to the patient angler, or the reader who longs for sea air combined with a certain peaceful calm denied to the frequenters of the newer pier erected further west. The towers over which the sustaining chains of the old pier were stretched were sturdy structures of cast-iron, each weighing 15 tons, while those delicate, fairy-like cables themselves were formed of iron links that would each have turned the scale to the handsome weight of 1121bs. When we add that at the shore end these chains were embedded 54 feet in the solid cliff, bolted to vast steel plates, and the excavations closed with bricks and cement, while at the seaward extremity they were plunged into ocean’s depths ballasted with some 60 tons of Purbeck stone, we think our readers will admit that it is not surprising that the gallant Captain Brown’s creation has lasted some three-quarters of a century. That T-shaped pierhead, acquired extra solidity pavement of 200 tons of Purbeck stone, on which the pretty feet of our grandmothers doubtless made fainter impression than they did on the brass-buttoned bucks and beaux who ogled them, while listening to “a military band of refinement” (to quote an author contemporary with the early days the pier) which played “at least once a week” for the benefit of those far-off promenades, who at other times had to solace themselves with the more solid but less exhilarating attractions of various shops and booths, two cannons, and “a most excellent view of passing craft.”
The cost of this undertaking was some £30,000; but we gather from a writer in the thirties that it was then financially a failure, notwithstanding all those attractions whose existence we have called to mind. The strength of the new pier was tested by a terrific storm that swept over it in November, 1824, “when again and again it was hidden in mountainous waves.” This was its first experience of storms and gales of the Southern Coasts, its latest, the disastrous hurricane of few weeks since, appears has sealed its fate. Brighton without its old familiar pier will surely look as one may imagine Mr. Gladstone minus the historic collars.
- Brighthelmstone was the name recorded in the Domesday Book of what is now Brighton