Troubled history of Southport Pier also shows its ability to survive

Damage to Southport Pier. 17th January 1974
-Credit: (Image: Mirrorpix)

Southport Pier is one of Britain's longest standing pleasure piers and stretches out over the town's iconic beach front.

It is also the second longest pier in the UK and is a place fondly remembered by multiple generations. Southport relies on seasonal visitors coming to enjoy the attractions of a traditional seaside town and the pier is one its main draws.

After a period of extreme weather in 2022, it was closed by Sefton Council on the advice of structural engineers.

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However, Southport Pier has endured a turbulent history and the latest closure is not the first time it's safety has been called into question. Indeed, the pier has suffered a number of closures since it first opened 164 years ago.

The decision to close Southport Pier in 2022 continues to have a profound impact on the town's social, cultural and economic life. During this period, local residents and visitors have been eager for the pier to reopen while many local business owners are depending on it for survival.

Colin Jamieson is the owner of Southport Pier Pavilion and he is very clear on how the closure has 'devastated' his business. Colin said: "The town is suffering without the pier being open and all the other businesses say so.

"All we can hope for is they get the money as soon as possible and get the pier reopened by next April."

There is no set date for the re-opening and no practical timescale to repair the pier. Sefton Council says its desire to get Southport Pier back up and running has been frustrated by a lack resources, particularly the financial costs of fixing the structural problems.

The local authority said they are actively looking for the investment needed to fund the repairs which they estimate to cost around £13m. Until the money is found, Southport Pier will remain closed , unused and exposed to the elements which continue to erode it.

It is a sad state of affairs for people like Colin, but there is also upset among those used to visit the pier and who hold special memories of the place. Over the course of 162 years, Southport Pier was a thriving destination which attracted thousands of visitors and has hosted countless historical events - including a performance by Charlie Chaplin.

The idea to build a pleasure pier in Southport first came in the 1840s. After many years of deliberation a committee was formed in the spring of 1852 to promote plans to create a pier and in March 1958 an agreement was made.

The committee then approved a design from James Brunlees at a cost of £8,700 - just short of £1m in today's money. The completion of the pier was celebrated with a lavish opening, and guests enjoyed processions, banquets, illuminations and fireworks.

However, it was not long before disaster struck after two people were killed in a tram accident just five years after the pier opened. The incident occurred in 1865 when Mrs Frances Bateman and her brother-in-law were thrown from one of the tram cars. Mrs Bateman was killed and the Pier Company was sued for £650.

The first official closure of Southport Pier happened during the Second World War. The pier was also a vital part of the war effort and was closed so searchlights could be installed. These lights would allow coastal defence systems to destroy Nazi bombers on their way to Liverpool and other industrial towns of the north.

Measuring over 3,6600ft, Southport Pier remains the second longest pier in Britain - a popular joke in the local area was you could almost walk to Ireland on it. In the 19th century it was extended to a massive 4,380ft and also included a pier train to travel up and down. Unfortunately, the pier's length was reduced after a blaze in the 1950s.

On the evening of June 2 1959, a 30-strong fire crew battled massive flames and billowing black smoke after a fire broke out on the pier. The flames destroyed an area of 5,000 square feet of wooden decking, and reduced the pier's length by almost 20%.

In 1975, Southport Pier was granted Grade A Listed status but had deteriorated badly over the decades. A storm in 1989 caused such severe damage, Sefton Council applied to have the pier demolished due to escalating repair costs. The motion was subsequently defeated by a single vote.

The pier was again closed for safety reasons in 1998. The full length of the pier underwent a multi-million pound restoration thanks to funding provided by the Heritage Lottery, European Regional Development Funding, the Southport Pier Trust and Sefton Council. Work began in 1999 and the Pier was opened again to the public on May 4, 2002.

Nonetheless, subsequent analysis conducted after the pier's 2022 closure, suggests the 2002 refurb is a leading cause of the existing problems, with numerous defects to the way work was carried out and materials used.

Sefton Council recently commissioned AE Yates to conduct an investigation into the pier's structural integrity at a cost of £400,000 - this work was later subcontracted to Thomason Partnership Limited. The report is critical of previous attempts at maintaining the pier, the historical failure to implement effective repairs and presents photographic evidence of the disrepair and erosion to the pier’s foundations.

Thomason's state: "The current condition of the pier has been impacted by various issues since the significant multimillion pound refurbishment works carried out in 1998-2002 which left Sefton Council with inherent latent defects."

In Section 5, the report adds: "The extent of the deck deterioration and numerous areas of the structure have reached a point where the pier is now deemed unsafe for the public to be allowed access."

Southport Pier has dominated the town's waterfront spanning three different centuries and has survived two world wars. Sadly, a combination of economic decline, poor management and structural erosion means the pier's continued survival is very much in doubt.

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