It was not until the late 19th century in the UK that it became fashionable to take a holiday. In those day the majority of the population lived and worked in the great industrial centres. A break away from the dirty smoke filled cities meant going to the seaside. And so all around the UK small sleepy fishing ports and villages gradually turned into holiday resorts. It became so popular that the railways built new lines to keep up with the growing demand. Along with the railway came other new ideas including piers.
Most seaside towns ended up having a pier, the one we shall look at in the article is the Grand Pier at Weston Super Mare.
People love piers, Weston Super Mare Grand Pier is larger than most and there something for everyone. Walking along the well trodden wooden boards towards the amusement arcade. The sun shining the sound of waves lapping below and the smell of the sea air. Fish and chips, candy floss, ice cream, its all here. Of course you will get a traditional cup of tea or coffee. And if your looking for something a little stronger there's always the bar. And when we get to the arcade your met with an array of gaming machines, slot machines and rides. Go-karts, bingo, win a prize, or just relax outside with a drink.
Back to the history of our pier. Plans for a second pier date back to 1880, But it was not until 1904 that work began on the new structure. In the beginning the original board of directors, which included representatives from the Cardiff Docks and the Railway Company, decided to create a promenade, pavilion and a landing stage for boats. The pier was designed by a Mr P. Munroe. It was positioned right in the middle of Weston promenade, main because its just a short walk from the railway station. Hundreds of day trippers would swarm off the trains and head straight to the pier.
It opened on 11th June 1904. It measured 1080 feet and had cost £120,000, and included a pavilion that housed a fine Edwardian theatre for 2,000 people, with an orchestra pit and dressing rooms. Entertainment included opera, music hall, comedy, Shakespeare, ballet and boxing.
By 1906, a 1500 foot low water extension with a timber landing stage had been completed. The idea being that boats from Cardiff and Newport would bring more people to the town from South Wales and the Welsh Valleys. But hazardous water conditions in the Bristol Channel soon put a stop to that, and only a handful of boats actually docked there. Between 1916 and 1918 this extension was demolished.
In 1927 a glass screen was erected down the centre walk way from the entrance to the pavilion, thus enabling visitors to shelter from the cold sea wind and the rain if they needed to. Unfortunately in 1930 the pavilion was completely destroyed by fire. The pier itself was largely intact but because it was not insured the sum of £36,000 had to be found if it was to be rebuilt.
Fortunately the money was found and in 1932/33 a new pavilion was built. In 1946 it changed hands and a new owner, Mr Brenner purchased it. Mr Brenner continued to add to, and improve the pier and in 1974 it gained 'Listed Building' status. Improvement works carried on over the years including £350,000 on re-decking the pier and other facilities. But in February 2008 the Brenner family sold the pier to a local business partnership of brother and sister, Michelle and Kerry Michael.
The new owners began an immediate revamp of the pier and pavilion constructing new attractions and updating the older ones. But five months later, and for a second time in its life, the pier caught fire again. The fire, probably caused by an electrical fault started somewhere deep in the pavilion, in the early hours of a Monday morning. With no staff on the premises and a faulty alarm system, by the time the fire services had been called it was too late. The pavilion was up in flames.
Plans were drawn up for a completely new pier complex and by the end of 2008 work began. The new pier was opened on October 2010 and on that first opening day over 52,000 people came to visit the pier. Some of the new attractions included a roller coaster, laser maze, 4D cinema and a completely new 'house of horrors' The new pier can accommodate 6,700 visitors and is now packed to the rafters with entertainment. Everything from traditional seaside rides such as dodgems and carousels to state-of-the art roller coasters.
The biggest ride is the 1,000ft Go Kart track split over two levels, which cost £1m to manufacture. It also boasts Britain's smallest roller coaster, the Robo-coaster, which cost £350,000. Other attractions include the £300,000 Sidewinder, a swinging pendulum ride, and two £335,000 Formula 1 Simulators. The five-storey landmark also features four round corner towers, an undercover walkway and extensive decking and restaurants.
Since those early days in 1904 this attraction has grown further to become the illuminated spectacle, which has become so renowned across the world. This year, 2012 marks the 108 years since the attraction opened. They certainly built things to last in those days.