THE NEW PIER AT BRIGHTON.
On Saturday last “London-super-Mare” was crowded to excess, the attraction being the interest in the public ceremony of the opening the new pier. Even without the additional hundreds of holiday-makers who poured into the place by several excursion-trains, Brighton might have been pronounced tolerably full. There was a time when people used to talk slightingly of Brighton out of season, but Brighton is now coming more and more to resemble a tropical tree which knows no season, which flourishes perennially, and bears bud, and blossom, and ripe fruit together in clustering magnificence, all the same in January as in June. The glare, the bustle, the gaily thronged footpaths, the wheel-worn carriage-ways, the tempting shops, the handsome terraces and squares, the bracing sea breeze, the excellent fruit, the delicious prawns, the fashion, the bow-windows, the beauty, the nags cantering under the light weight of their side saddles and golden-ringleted riders, the sparkling ocean, with a hundred bathing-machines kissing the hem of his blue raiment, a quote, perhaps imperfectly, by the author of Vanity Fair. These are a few of the local traits that go to make up a bewitching ensemble which Brighton still may boast above all her fair sister-scenes by the sea. A cloud of modern tradition, the gossip of our grandmothers’ and our grandfathers’ juvenile days, a history which is half fictitious and half real, hangs over this gleaming town, so that we somehow look at every object through a pleasant medium, which refracts it fancifully. In this respect Brighton excels all rival watering-places; for since the days of “George the Magnificent” there has been always more of a settled, homely, determinate association about the place than is by any means a common quality with the countless resorts of the health-seeker. Everybody knows heaps of people who live at Brighton, not pitching metaphorical tents there, but paying rent and taxes for regular residences, built of bricks and furnished with tangible cabinetwork and upholstery and the shadowy forms of the novelist’s brain, the puppets of his intellectual raree-show, wave and mingle in one’s recollection of Brighton like a faded tapestry. It is almost as natural, in passing the comfortable entrance of the Old Ship, to think of Rawdon and Becky, and George and Amelia, and their friend Captain Dobbin, as it is to give ear and attention to some inhabitant of the place who tells you his having seen poor Mrs. Fitzherbert’s* coffin hoisted out of the first-floor window of that stucco-fronted house with the plain pillars, hiding back in a comer of the Old Steyne. The sun shines with a commendable frequency at Brighton; and very dazzling are the town and the sea when the full flood of light trembles over them both. Even last Saturday, when it was a drawn battle between sun and fog, and the blue raiment of the ocean looked as if the colour had gone out of it with constant wear in all weathers, there was a pervading and perfect exemption from that triste heaviness of atmosphere which fastens upon some English spots whenever the sky is overcast and the horizon is dim. Indeed, a proof that the weather was not so very deplorable may be adduced in merely mentioning the fact that photographic pictures, by the instantaneous process, were taken, from one of the towers of the new pier, by Mr. W. H. Mason and his assistants, while the procession was moving, and that these attempts to record the features and incidents of the scene were completely successful.
The structure itself is a great ornamental improvement to the town, the lightness and grace of the ironwork showing the full capability of such designs, both as to beauty and use. It is approached from the shore by a noble abutment, from which level to the second portion, the descent is by a broad flight of steps with incline on each side for bath chairs, perambulators and wheeled vehicles of any kind admitted to the pier. A fine promenade of gravel laid upon bitumen leads to the pier-head, or seaward end, which is remarkable for a new and admirably convenient device. Along the backs of the seats are roofed weather-screens of plate glass in light iron frames, affording perfect shelter from the wind and spray. The pier-bead has at each of its four comers an ornamental tower, two similar edifices adorning the abutment also. These structures—six in all-assist in giving the pier an imposing aspect, and they will doubtless be found of practical service besides, though the main advantages of construction, for which the engineer, Mr. Eugene Birch, will have earned the gratitude of every frequenter of this marine promenade are in the glass wind-screens already noticed. Heedless of sudden gust and shrill, sleety squall, the lounger has only to choose his screen and sit under its protection, while the view remains uninterruptedly open to him on all sides.
The inaugural ceremony on Saturday last was attended by large crowds of spectators, whose gaze was directed from the decks of yachts and pleasure-boats, as well as from every standpoint which neighbouring balconies, windows, and terraces could afford. The vast front of the Grand Hotel was especially observable for its number of observers, who gaily peopled the many galleries. From end to end the pier was decorated with flags of all nations. At ten minutes past two the procession, which had been formed at the pier-head, began to march towards the abutment. First walked in a line the chief constable and the inspectors of police. The band of the 68th Light Infantry, discoursing brazen music, came next; and quite a little Birnam Wood* of banners hid the guard of honour which followed. The coastguard, with muskets in hand and cutlasses by side, marched sturdily after, making the suspended floor tremble with their tramp-tramp, which marked excellent time, albeit the inveterate careless sailors with respect to the military rule of ‘‘left foot first” led to a very curious indiscrepancy of step. The band of the 1st Sussex Rifle Volunteers, little too distinctly within hearing of the band of the 68th Regiment, then came playing a quick march, with spirited determination not to sink in the sea of sound. The workmen, carrying banners, made a properly conspicuous show in advance of the municipal body, foremost whom was the Mayor of Brighton in his scarlet robe, gold chain, and insignia of office. From the centre of the raised platform of the abutment addresses were delivered by the Mayor and by other gentlemen of prominent position in the neighbourhood of Brighton. A banquet brought to satisfactory close the ceremonial proceedings; and in the toasts and speeches of the evening due honour was paid to all who have had hand in the erection of the new pier among these being Mr. Laidlaw, one of the contractors’, Mr. Birch, the engineer and Mr. W. H. Simpson, the solicitor and secretary, whose energetic and indefatigable labours have helped much to bring the undertaking to an efficiently practical result. As matter of course, the banquet was given in the famous Pavilion, at whose grotesquely-solemn violations of architectural taste and the general fitness of things, people in these days of popular enlightenment are agreed to grin. When, late in the evening, the new and graceful iron pier, with no affectation of recondite style about it, was illumined by many lamps and port fires of different hues, a very pleasing contrast was afforded to the extravagant gimcrackery of Kubla Khan’s mistaken imitator, Georgina Rex.
- Long time companion of George IV before he became king. Secretly married, but ruled invalid under English civil law because she was Catholic.
- In Shakespeare’s Macbeth soldiers hold and hide behind branches cut from Birnam Wood, so that it appears that the wood is moving.