Last man off the Pier

A sturdy but forlorn figure, December 1896.
Photo from Brighton History Centre
Newspaper cutting 5 December 1896
Tricia Leonard

In 1896, Brighton’s very first pier – the Chain Pier – was destroyed by a great winter storm. The last man off the pier, according to a book by Ernest Ryman*, was Edward Fogden, a shipwright and watchman, who had worked on the Chain Pier for forty years. He was my great-great-grandfather. His last job each night was to walk to the end and light the lamp. He struggled off the pier a few hours before it was destroyed and watched it disappear.

A forlorn figure
Next morning, newspaper photographers recorded the scene. One of these pictures included Edward, who was described as ‘a sturdy but forlorn figure’. We can’t be sure that the photo on this page is the one in question, but the description of the solitary figure seems to fit.

Obituary for Fodgen in 1918
There was an obituary for Edward Fogden in the Brighton Herald on Saturday 26 Jan 1918 supporting this story. The Brighton Herald mentions that he was, at that time, the oldest person to be awarded the Brighton Magistrates ten shillings, which he received the previous Christmas. Can anyone tell me what this was?

Comments about this page

  • What an emotive piece. The destructioin of the Chain Pier is something all Brightonians hear about from an early age, but to have a personal insight brings it all to life. One can imagine Edward Fogden’s feelings having tended the light for forty years. Many thanks to the contributor – hope to hear more about the award.

    By Rita Denman (30/09/2004)
  • My father (great grandson of Edmund) has now viewed the picture and states he can see his own father’s facial features in the subjects. Albeit the subject is stockier than his father.

    By Bob Fogden (30/12/2004)
  • My grandfather, Harry Thurston was working as a zinc worker on a pier in Brighton. He died on 10th Feb 1897 of acute bronchitis. The family story was that he died from pneumonia after being stranded up a ‘telegraph pole’ during some very cold weather. Could this be the explanation of our story. Many thanks for any relevant information that you may be able to give.

    By Vic Page (28/01/2006)
  • I have in my possession a walking cane – the story is that my great grandfather made the cane from part of the Chain Pier. It is written on around the ebony handle, although this is fading over the years.

    By Pat Mckenna (25/04/2007)
  • Fascinating details. I too am related to Edward (my paternal grandmother was a Fogden). Is it possible to get a copy of the photograph?

    By Diane Reynolds (20/08/2007)
  • Diane – I discovered the picture at, and got my copy from, the Brighton Library. Who was your paternal grandmother?

    By Bob Fogden (10/09/2007)
  • My Great Great Grandfather was a certain Thomas Chapman, the auctioneer, who sold off the remains of the Chain Pier. Amongst early prints by well renowned national artists (Turner) and local artists, the family possess the gavel used at the auction. This is a gavel made from the timbers of the ‘Old Chain Pier and what I suspect may be the only copy in existence of the Notice of Auction for the ‘Old Chain Pier’. These notices which were 36″ x24″ were for bill boards and hoardings and would have been papered over with other notices after the auction so it is only the family connection that has allowed this sole notice to survive. The notice of auction is wonderfully poetic, referring to the baulks of timber for sale as being as sound as the British Constitution and as long lasting as Imperial Taxation. It goes on to refer to the secrets witnessed and retained by these timbers and what a wonderful opportunity was then presented to purchase these dumb witnesses. It is wonderful in it’s political incorrectness referring also to the ‘clack of a womens tongue’ and would make a superb tea towel if properly reproduced as such.

    By Hamish Osborn (04/02/2008)
  • Sorry to trouble you. I am doing my family tree and can recall hearing some stories about the pier and Edward Fogden. I am wondering if this is the same person?  Did he marry a Mary Bridger?

    By Andrew Downes (19/10/2008)
  • Andrew – no he didn’t marry a Mary Bridger – interestingly though I do have an Edward Fogden that married a Sarah Bridger at Bosham in 1864.

    By Bob Fogden (31/10/2008)
  • My father, an old Brightonian, recalled the storm that destroyed the chain pier. Pieces were collected and his father had them made into a ship which was placed into a glass case with a picture of the pier at the back panel. My grandfather gave it to my father and I remember seeing it. My sister Ethel Powell presented it to the Birghton Museum in the 1950s/60s. I wonder whether they still have it?

    By Elizabeth Wickstead (27/11/2009)
  • My two aunties were registered as living in Chain Pier Lodge in 1911 census. Anyone have any idea where it actually was please or a photo? Thanks Ivor

    By ivor body (21/04/2012)
  • Hi, my paternal grandmother was Maud Fogden. Her father was Henry Fogden and her grandfather was Thomas Fogden. Sorry for the delay in replying. Diane Reynolds.

    By Diane Reynolds (26/10/2012)

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