Let me tell you the story of a Pier. Not the one you think I’m going to talk about. Another one. And one that needs your help. Stick with me to the end and then follow the links and help to make a difference…….
At the Northern end of Weston-s-Mare, the end that hardly any casual visitor gets to these days, is the town’s other, forgotten Pier.
This isn’t the famous Grand Pier, burned spectacularly in 2008, speedily rebuilt and the subject of other Blog Posts of mine. This is something altogether different, more historic, more interesting and certainly more threatened. This, dear reader, is Birnbeck, or the “Old” Pier.
Birnbeck Pier was designed by a man called Eugenius Birch, the IK Brunel of pier-building who is said to have designed no fewer than 14 around the British coast. None of his designs is what you might call “ordinary” but Birnbeck is even more unusual, for rather than being a simple pier, it is in fact a pier-cum-bridge, linking the mainland with the rocky islet of Birnbeck.
It’s hard for us to imagine now what a major event this was. Flags flew, holidays were proclaimed and Weston took its place among those seaside resorts which “had arrived”.
We tend nowadays to think of piers as pleasure places, for promenading and for amusements and Birnbeck came to have all this. It shouldn’t be forgotten though that they originally had a practical purpose as landing places and in the pre-Severn Bridge Bristol Channel this passenger steamer traffic was significant. The relatively wealthy mining population of
For those venturing further afield, horse drawn carriages met the ferries at the Pier and from
1902 Weston’s electric trams arrived. By then, though, railway excursion traffic was becoming important, too and the focus of the town moved ever more Southward, prompting the opening of the Grand Pier in 1904. (The Grand Pier has managed to burn down twice; Birnbeck has managed it only once, on Boxing Day 1897.)
During WWII, Birnbeck was requisitioned by the Admiralty for weapons testing, receiving the designation “HMS Birnbeck”. Their “Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development” carried out some work here concerning the famous “Bouncing Bomb”. As I'm always telling sceptics, there's real history in that mud. (And by the way, it's not mud at all. It's ozone-rich sand. So there.)
After the War it was quickly business as usual and the steamer services of P&A Campbell continued to bring visitors over from
Perhaps the biggest single factor was the opening of the
New owners, promising much from hotels to apartments on the island have come and gone and competitions for new designs have seen some suggestions which might be charitably described as “different”.
But what actually stands there, albeit crumbling, is a beautiful, elegant Victorian pleasure palace. For the past couple of years or so the wonderful vintage Carters Steam Fair has come to Weston with its brilliant period fairground equipment. And you know what? People, even the iPhone X-Box generation, love the simple old-fashioned stuff, so there’s certainly a market for it. A period looking hotel on the island would seem to have some possibilities, too. After all, it works at
So where are we? Well the Pier has now been sold (again) to two local businessmen, so let’s await the next plans.
But I told you this long story to try to get you interested in this fabulous bit of surviving (albeit dilapidated) Victorian social history. There is a body of people, interested, caring people, called The Friends of the Old Pier Society. You can check out their new website at
The Grand Pier came back from disaster and a generation ago so did Clevedon Pier, just up the coast (possibly the most beautiful in
Let’s get the Old Pier back, too and put some life into this lovely bit of Weston.