Adam Trimingham reflects on the enduring battle for the West Pier. Adam is a board member of the West Pier Trust and a reporter who has covered the pier story since the Sixties.
Our campaign had a modest aim. All we wanted was to save the most beautiful pier in the world from demolition and restore it.
We had little money and less hope since the world was against us. The businessman who owned the forlorn structure wanted it closed and the council was about to agree.
But a shy shopkeeper in the old town of Brighton had other ideas. John Lloyd formed the We Want the West Pier campaign and expected a modest attendance for a march along the front. Hundreds arrived and many more soon joined the group.
John Lloyd (1923-1997) on the West Pier, circa 1983. John believed ‘The West Pier has a sort of magic quality to it. It’s all dead right. That’s what inspired me. That’s what made me fight.’ Image copyright Tom Martin.
At first all went well. The council delayed a decision on closing the pier. The businessman, Harold Poster, owner of the Metropole Hotel, offered a large sum to meet some of the restoration costs. But the council, to its eternal shame, rejected the rescue plan and the campaigners started to split. John Lloyd wanted to raise money through the great and good. But the abrasive Canadian Derek Burns, keeper of Brighton’s biggest beard, wanted a low-key campaign raising the millions needed locally.
The big names did come. Spike Milligan gave a one-man show at Hove Town Hall to pay for the campaign. Richard Attenborough, who had filmed Oh! What a Lovely War on the pier, started a long association with the campaign by making passionate pleas to his showbiz friends for funds.
Potential rescuers included diffident businessman Marc Turner and super confident entrepreneur Alan Hawes. They had ambitious plans but empty pockets.
The pattern was set for many years as the campaigners became the West Pier Trust with hopes lifted but often only to be dashed. The pier survived for almost thirty years before falling victim to arsonists and storms.
Many of the old campaigners have died including John Lloyd and have been replaced in the Trust by an impressive board. But a dwindling group of old timers remains. We can’t restore the pier because it now rusts in pieces, and nothing can quite bring back the heady optimism we all experienced in 1975.
But if we could see a 21st century masterpiece as a replacement, that would make us feel it was all worthwhile.
In April Len Goldman died at the age of 104. Len led a truly remarkable life with great passion. He was also a wonderful supporter of the West Pier, something we will say more about over the coming weeks.
Afzal Husain and Shop Number 4
Just as the 1950s turned into the 1960s, Afzal Husain rented shop number 4 at the side of the West Pier theatre. Afzal used the shop to sell Indian handicrafts and jewellery. Afzal’s son, Sohail Husain, who is writing is father’s biography, has contacted the trust asking if anyone remembers the shop or has a photograph of it. If you can help, please contact us and we will put you in touch with Sohail.
A Greek Connection
Effrosyni Moschoudi is a Greek writer and author of The Lady of the Pier trilogy, a ‘ghost romance’ that highlights the West Pier story, especially during WWII.
In March Effrosyni gave a live YouTube presentation about her writing with the Public Library of Corfu. She spoke about the history of the pier and showed photographs of the pier she has taken in 1997.
Effrosyni’s talk is still available, with the West Pier section beginning 44 minutes from the start.https://bit.ly/3lsy9bh
WEST PIER MATTERS
Brighton before the Pavilion with
Brighton before the Pavilion looks at aspects of the town that were important before the arrival of the grandees; the physical geography that ensured it was the largest town in Sussex, the social geography that gave it the liberal spirit and its radical edge and the psycho-geography that makes Brighton...Brighton!
Geoffrey Mead was born and raised in Brighton and educated at Brighton & Hove Grammar and the University of Sussex where he took a geography degree. He worked in adult education for Sussex from 1984 - 2010 and was awarded a PhD for his research on interwar suburban growth at Patcham. From 1997-2002 Geoffrey was a West Pier tour guide: 'One of the best jobs I have ever had!'
The West Pier Centre is open 11am - 5pm on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays and bank holiday Mondays, weather permitting.
Since mid-April the artist Alej ez has had a weekly residency at WPC. Every Thursday Alej ez works in the Centre creating prints and drawings with the theme of Brighton and Hove, the sea and the West Pier. Alej ez welcomes visitors and some of his prints are for sale in the Centre.
During his residency Alej ez has created a print of the West Pier in his 'Antique Ochre and Blue' colour palette.