Birnbeck Pier is on the north Somerset coast, at Weston Super Mare. Designed by Eugenius Birch and opened in 1867, a banquet was held in the Town Hall on the day of opening and many local people were given a holiday. It is the only pier in England to link the mainland to an island (Birnbeck Island).
Over time it has had rather more design changes than most piers: a 250 foot wooden north jetty was added in 1872, a lifeboat station in 1881, a boathouse in 1889 and a pavilion in 1884. As with many piers of this generation, a tramway transported baggage to and from the steamers that sailed up and down the Bristol Channel.
A new pavilion was added in 1898 and a new lifeboat station in 1902. In 1903, a gale damaged both jetties, closing the pier, but the north jetty was rebuilt and re-opened in 1904. In an effort to win back support from the public, after the opening of a new pier in Weston, they added a water chute, switchback railway and roller rink, all of which proved very popular.
During the Second World War the pier was commissioned as HMS Birnbeck for research into new weapons. The pier reopened after the war, but the number of visitors and steamer passengers were by then in decline. The final excursion visited the pier in 1979.
Since its closure, ownership has passed hands several times and it has not always been clear who owned parts of it, or strips of land adjoining it. It has been subject to a series of proposals for its redevelopment, which have all proved fruitless.
The history of the pier in the last twenty or so years has been the usual dreadful story of speculative redevelopment proposals by private companies, whose intentions were unclear, politicians dipping their toes in, crying crocodile tears and doing nothing. Plans and proposals from interested parties, such as the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust have been dismissed. The Royal Society of British Architects got involved, launching a campaign to redesign the buildings on the pier, but that came to nothing because of a so called lack of funding.
Birnbeck Pier is another where responsibility for its’ slow demise has been tossed between our elected representatives, private companies, accountants and planning agencies while the pier itself slowly falls apart.