The evolution of the great British pier

The UK is a country of seaside lovers. From ice creams and deck chairs on sunny days to blustery walks along the promenade wrapped in scarves and woolly hats, we can’t get enough of our coastline! One of the most popular attractions in seaside towns is often the famous Victorian pier, which has a long and impressive history. Learn more about it here.

The First Pier Built in Britain

In the early 19th century, John Kent of Southampton began to build the first ever pier in Ryde, a small town on the Isle of Wight.

The pier was built as a way to attract wealthy holiday makers from around the country, bringing tourism to the town to boost the economy. It also made it easier for people travelling to Ryde, who before had had to walk half a mile across the beach at low tide just to access the town. The pier was a practical solution to a very sandy and wet problem!

Interestingly, the structure was originally made entirely of timber. This isn’t quite so typical of the later Victorian piers, but it certainly makes our timber experts at EcoChoice very happy. 

John Kent and his crew of engineers laid the first stone for Ryde Pier on 29 June 1813. These days, over 200 years later, the pier still stands as a mighty example of engineering skills in pre-Victorian times, with a timber-planked promenade just as it was when it opened in 1814.

The Victorian Piers

After Ryde Pier, the next pier was Southend Pier in Southend-on-Sea, which was built in 1833. From here on, piers began to pop up all across the British coastline and were built in the elaborate Victorian style of timber planks and exquisite ironmongery, designed for the pleasure of their visitors. 

At their peak, there were over 100 piers dotted along seasides around the country. Nowadays this figure has dropped to somewhere in the mid-50s, but those that remain are a reminder of how British people have always loved the seaside. 

EcoChoice’s Part in the History of Piers

Of course, the history of piers is an ongoing story! With many still open to visitors every year, shielding them from rain when the heavens open, offering rides for little ones and filling the air with the sweet smells of doughnuts and ice cream, the story isn’t done yet.

Now, rather than building new piers, most of the work is around the maintenance of those we have left. There have been a few tragic incidents of fires burning down piers, such as Hastings Pier on the South East coast of England, which is where our team at EcoChoice comes in.

In 2014, we were selected to be the timber supplier for the new Hastings pier. We worked with dRMM architects, delivering gorgeous Ekki timber to create decking, as well as custom made joists, handrails and steps, all of which were made for the specifications requested. Most of the 11,000m² pier is built from FSC certified Ekki planks, all of which were supplied by us. In 2017, Hastings pier won the RIBA Stirling Prize, something which we will be forever proud to have been a part of.

We have also worked on a restoration project on the Victorian pier in Colwyn Bay, an historic pier that was first constructed in 1900! Unfortunately, due to many issues, the pier fell into a poor state and was dismantled in 2018. It wasn’t until 2020 that it was brought to life again, and this time with a sustainable focus. When selecting materials, the Colwyn Bay Victoria Pier Trust chose our EcoChoice team to provide them with sustainable Red Angelim, a durable, strong timber that is ideal for marine projects. All the wood we provided was sourced from FSC certified forests.

Work With EcoChoice

Whether you are looking to restore a Victorian pier or install decking in your back garden, we can help. At EcoChoice we have a wide range of sustainable timber which is perfect for many applications, and can advise you on the right species for your project. Simply get in touch with us today and we will do the rest!

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