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West Pier 1904

These are two beautiful snapshots of the pier head.  These capture something of the grandeur of the West Pier in its heyday.

Interesting details

Lots of detail upon close examination:  the original 1866 Birch kiosks and curved seaward-facing wind shield;  the 1893 pavilion, converted to a theatre only within a year of this photo being taken; the mast; and the bathing station.  The tide is high.  It can be seen how close to sea level the extensive landing stage stood.  There people crowd, looking into the ‘lagoon’.  I wouldn’t mind guessing Professor Reddish is doing some cycle dives.

Brewer’s advertising?

Also of interest, only just visible in the second photograph, is the board over the S.E. kiosk bearing the name “Allsopp’s” … possibly for the West Street brewers of that name?  Concerning the first photo again, I like the distant view of the Metropole, complete with its original spire.  Lastly, I cannot but wonder if a porpoise has caused the strange, darkened area of water?

West Pier, Brighton, 1904
From the private collection of Sam Flowers
West Pier, Brighton, 1904
From the private collection of Sam Flowers

Comments about this page

  • Thank you for these beautiful photos and for your commentary. You have brought these pictures to life. As is the case with many old photos, these don’t seem so much different to more recent ones. I remember the West Pier very well. A ‘Hove’ to Brighton’s ‘Palace Pier’, perhaps! Either way, a fabulous pier.

    By Philip Burnard (21/05/2019)
  • Hello and thanks again, Philip. I’m sure you are really grateful for your memories of times spent on the West Pier … with very good reason. As a ’70s/’80s child I was too late, but from what I’ve heard and learnt, no doubt I would have enjoyed the pier greatly.

    By Sam Flowers (28/05/2019)
  • My father was born in Brighton in the year 1904. He told us children many stories of his youth in Brighton and of swimming at the beach. The picture of this pier expands my imagination of his youthful memories. I have had one opportunity to visit Brighton with my sister, in the late 1990’s. My father, before he died recounted memories of his life and these memories that I have on my computer. His story is a treasure.

    By Irene Vaughan (26/07/2020)
  • Hello, Irene. Thank you very much for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the photographs and am pleased of their significance to you.
    I’m sure your father’s recollections are of real interest ; you’re always welcome share any of them with us.
    Aquatic spectacle was a real part of West Pier life in first few decades of the twentieth century. The amount of activity that once occurred on the pier – the sheer variety and scale of entertainment the West Pier provided – never ceases to amaze me ! With best wishes, Sam.

    By Sam Flowers (27/07/2020)
  • An excerpt of recollections of life in Brighton by James DeGras b. 1904, Written in 1996:
    My earliest recollection was probably sometime between 1908-1914, of the Balkan Wars, the start of the Great War of 1914. My father would send me for the newspaper. On the way home I would sit on the curb and read the head lines and what ever else I was able to read. I enjoyed reading and read everything that I could. I read detective stories of Sexton Blake and the Funny Wonder, a comic book. I remember reading about the Serbian militia taking the guns up to the mountains on the backs of mules to fire down on the Montenegro’s, the same thing that is going on today. I also remember the start of the first World War. Mostly I remember them mobilizing the volunteer men from 18 year old on. The Germans called them the Contemptibles, because there was only 600,000 of them at first and they thought that they would beat them and be inside of England in a month. The English and French thought that they would be in Germany in six months. I also remember the sinking of the RMS Lusitania which brought the Americans into the war. Many people fleeing to the new world perished off the coast of Ireland. Several rescue attempts were made from Cork, Ireland but most of them drowned. I also remember when I was younger people whispering that the Titanic sunk.

    I worked at a poultry supplier that supplied poultry to hotels etc. The place was named Hundson’s Poultry. I was thirteen and it was during the first world war. We were only attending school half day’s since most of the teachers had gone to the war effort and the schools were being used for hospitals. When I applied for a job one time I went into a room where I picked up a book from the floor and placed it on the desk. Consequently I got the job because the owner’s son recognized that I paid attention to details. I only worked there for three or four months. I quit because I got a better paying job in the butcher shop and didn’t have as far to travel. We would go early in the morning to the abattoir to get the meat for the butcher shop and we were told we could take a steak and go home and have breakfast. We also were given a roast on Saturday, all part of the perks. My salary for the job was three shillings plus sixpence. That was good pay since journeyman butchers received four pound five to four pound ten a week. A pint of beer cost 3 half pence then.
    When I was ten to fourteen I raised rabbits in my back yard and had to threaten my sisters to keep away from them because they would eat their young if they were disturbed. Neighbours supplied me with all the cabbage leaves to feed them. I sold them to neighbours and a couple through the butcher shop. People bought them for food and pelts. I think I got about two or three shillings for one rabbit.
    My sisters and I enjoyed playing on the surf on Brighton Beach. How we didn’t get drowned I don’t know. We would watch for the crest of the wave to curl and we would jump onto the crest and get thrown on the beach and scramble up before the undertow pulled us back into the sea. One time while playing on the beach, Stella, my sister, stepped on a broken bottle in the water and cut her foot badly. It was bleeding severely so I took off my shirt and wrapped her foot up. She was bigger than me, since she was four years older, but I got her leg over my shoulder and carried her on my back up to the coast guards. My chest fairly burst with pride when they told me I was a brave boy. I was only about ten at the time.

    My father was a journey man tailor and worked out of the home. He would sit up on a bench crossed legged and sew. He also had a Singer treadle sewing machine. I remember having an overcoat made for me out of the same cloth as a coat was made for the Crown Prince of Germany. He also made me a velvet suit with a lace collar, a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, that got me into a lot of scrapes. I was very small at that time. That is how I learned to fight.

    My dad used to play the organ in the Aquarium in Brighton every Sunday, and when he didn’t have the regular person to pump the organ he would take me and have me pump it. We weren’t church people, however, I did sing in the school choir.

    My father died of pleurisy and pneumonia. He came home one Saturday night not feeling well and laid down. The next day Stella, Lillian, and I went for a walk down to the beach and when we came back a neighbour told me that my father was dead. I was taken back, shocked and couldn’t believe it. I was only twelve at the time. I can remember my mother telling Stella to stop crying because she was only crying crocodile tears, that she never liked him anyway. This was in a horse drawn rig on the way to the funeral. Gradually the numbness wore off. I Remember my father as a severe, strict person.
    I was a stubborn boy and had difficulty getting along with my mother. I realize now that she was worried about how she was to get along raising four children and she took out her anguish on us. She would threaten to put me into Dr. Bernardo’s home at times. I couldn’t take the pressure and my friend Billy Carter told me how he knew we could get a job on a ship and travel the world over. We applied for the job and got it and I never went home again. I was fourteen and sailed a couple of days later to Spitzbergen, Norway, on a four masted, steel hull Barkentine called, the Bearoo\\ , with a load of coal. I wrote my mother a note from there to tell her I was aboard a ship and I was doing alright. I was on that ship for about four or five months.

    My duties as deck boy was to do everything I was told to do. Deck boys were apprentice seaman in those days. We chipped the old paint off with a chipping hammer, and then painted with a red lead paint first, which helped stop the rust on the plates of the ship. Afterwards we painted it over with a coat of paint, the colour of the ship. We helped reef sails. My first experience with that in a storm was when the Chief Mate told me to go up on the rattling and the spar and help pull the sails in. I was scared stiff, and frozen too. While I was up there an old sailor, Jergen, asked me if I was scared and I answered yes. He told me to hang on to the sail until he tied it. When I looked down, the deck was really small and I felt there was no way I would hit the deck if I fell. When I did climb back down onto the deck a seaman handed me a cup of rum and told me to drink it. I grabbed it and swallowed it, it ran down my throat like fire and I took off to the galley to get some water and put out the fire. It sure did work though; it warmed me up.

    I learned to speak Norwegian through the help of a Norwegian deck boy, Oscar Dahl, from Trondheim, about my age. We made an agreement that we would teach each other our language. He was one smart person because he learned English a lot faster and better than I learned Norwegian.
    (James eventually made his was to Canada, married and had six children. He died in September 1997. )

    By Irene Vaughan nee DeGras (27/07/2020)
  • I think James not only wrote well ; they are stories of great interest in themselves. The authenticity of them shines through in his writing, leavIng vivid impressions. “Treasure” indeed !
    From the excerpts, I can believe James’s life was a remarkable one, his story well worth publication. Valuable historical details too, of a world long passed. Thank you.

    By Sam Flowers (28/07/2020)

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