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Head of the West Pier, late 1890s / early 1900s

Picture 1/3 - from the private collection of Sam Flowers
Picture 2/3 - from the private collection of Sam Flowers
Picture 3/3 - from the private collection of Sam Flowers

I particularly appreciate these photographs because they clearly show how very active the scene typically was on a fine summer’s day. The pictures seem to have been taken — wonderfully — from a rowing boat.
I hope you enjoy them.

The volume of crowds shown clearly

The first shows the bathing station close at hand : a standard pier-end facility of the era, often forgotten about these days. That of the West Pier was at the N.E. corner of the pier head. The second photo shows the landing stage which is followed on south of the bathing station. The tide is high. Noticeable is the ornate roof of one of the kiosks. There’s the distant glimpse of a paddle steamer perhaps being prepared to transfer passengers. In both of these pictures, the beautiful line of serpent lamps and the sheer volume of crowds feature rather nicely.

A sight long consigned to the past

There is something magnificent and evocative about the third view.  This is the western side of the pier head, the turrets of the beautiful pavilion being to the left ; the flag of the United States flies alongside our own. People view the paddle steamer from the balcony of the pavilion, possibly suggesting this picture was taken a little before the building’s conversion to a theatre. Just visible is Maynard’s kiosk.

Can you help?

If you can help with identification, your comments are welcomed. Features of the paddle steamer are discernible. Can anyone name it? Possibly a vessel of the Brighton, Worthing & South Coast Steamship Company, P. & A. Campbell or some other — many steamers having visited Brighton’s piers — I realise this might be asking too much !


Comments about this page

  • I can’t help with the identity of the steamer but there are lots of period photos on the internet which might help. I think I am correct in saying that you could go to France from Brighton in those days.
    What did take my interest was the reference to ‘Maynards’. They had sweet shops in the South East and up as far as Tunbridge Wells where they were in Mount Pleasant in the same block as the now demolished Essoldo cinema.

    By Tim Sargeant (03/08/2022)
  • Thanks, Tim. Yes, I read that trips could be made to France, even without passports at one time ! I think that kiosk existed for Maynard’s throughout most of the pier’s life.

    By Sam Flowers (03/08/2022)
  • For the five years before total closure in 2002, just before the fires, I was a tour guide on the West Pier, a long time after these wonderful images. The 3rd picture is showing the west side of the theatre building and the people on the first floor balcony are outside the Pier Master’s office, which I believe was also the Customs office for the steamer trips which went to Boulogne. Those foreign trips are noted in the novel Brighton Rock. When we started the guided tours in 1997 it was still then possible to go right through the Pier to the sea-end of the pier head[where Brighton’s most southerly tree was growing!] and also up onto that balcony; the views westward along the shoreline to Worthing were wonderful, especially late on a summer evening.

    By Dr Geoffrey Mead (12/08/2022)
  • Thank you for your reply, Geoffrey. I’m really pleased to learn of the location of the Pier Master’s/Customs office.
    I think the earlier bathing station and landing stage is shown here, being mainly of wooden construction.
    I was among those grateful late-1990s visitors to the pier. It was of course a fascinating experience, but also an intensely sad and shocking one : something I won’t ever forget.

    By Sam Flowers (12/08/2022)
  • As a child, I seem to remember an orchestra ensemble playing in the pavilion / ballroom in the centre of the West pier. Does anyone have such memories that they can share?

    By John Snelling (18/10/2022)
  • The West Pier was much more ‘up-market’ than the Palace Pier so you are probably right about the orchestra. What I remember was the miniature cars powered by a petrol engine which ran on a little circuit on the right-hand side just inside the entrance. Unfortunately I wasn’t old enough to drive them.

    By Tim Sargeant (18/10/2022)
  • Hi Tim,
    I was born in ’38, so am well able to remember the little racetrack at the shore end of the West pier.
    In fact, I’ve had a few
    goes on the mini racers where you could get quite a nasty bump should you stop. re above – I definitely recall a small string ensemble playing in the ballroom although I was a bit young to dance.
    I think it was at the sea end of the Palace pier where there was a diving board at the seaward end of the “Pool” and he used to make quite high dives when it was low tide.

    By John Snelling (09/11/2022)

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