Brighton Chain Pier
The Royal Suspension Chain Pier, Brighton was Brighton’s first pier, opening in 1823. At the time its primarily function was as a landing stage for sailing ships between Brighton and Dieppe, but it also served as a popular place to promenade and had a camera obscura.
Unfortunately, it was built at a time when its useful life was already going to be short. The first steamship, the Swift, entered service in 1822, and gradually steam replaced sail. In 1841 the train arrived in Brighton, and when the extension to the deep water port of Newhaven was opened in 1847 Brighton’s days as a cross-channel ferry port were numbered. This was also a time of change on land with trains reaching out across the country.
Nothing shows this with more emotion than Turner’s painting of The Fighting Temeraire being tugged to her last berth to be broken up, although the reality of the Temeraire being towed back would not have looked as romantic as Turner depicted it. It would be a mistake to take any Turner painting as necessarily being geographically or historically accurate. The painting was one of Turner’s favorites, a vignette of the changes that Turner witnessed in those times.
The Tate has a Turner painting of Brighton Chain Pier painted in 1828 and there is a smaller version in Petworth House painted the following year, one of four landscapes Turner painted for the Carved Room. He also produced several watercolours and sketches of the pier.
Constable first went to Brighton in 1824, at the age of 48, a year after the opening of the pier. He took his wife, Maria there hopping the sea air would restore her failing health. He visited her often in the mid-1820s and made many drawings and sketches while there. He only made one painting featuring the pier, entitled Chain Pier, Brighton, which hangs in the Tate. It is 6 foot wide and very typically Constable.
The pier was wrecked by a storm in 1896 and a notice in the local paper at the time read as below.
WRECKAGE FROM CHAIN PIER, BRIGHTON, ON THE BEACH, opposite Albion Hotel.
TO TIMBER & FIREWOOD DEALERS & OTHERS. Mr. THOMAS CHAPMAN will Sell by Auction, on MONDAY, December 14th, 1896, at Twelve, 150 LOTS of USEFUL TIMBER, relics of the late-lamented Pier.