As news spread across the country of the destruction of Eastbourne’s historic pier, photographer Simon Roberts was taking the sea air from one of Blackpool’s own coastal landmarks.
Simon has spent the past three years travelling the UK photographing the remaining pleasure piers, in a project inspired by an image of Central Pier he took for a previous publication.
When he realised the last photographic study of pleasure piers in the UK dated back to Victorian times, a ‘slightly weird obsession’ was triggered.
Launching one of 11 simultaneous exhibitions across the country, at the Grundy Art Gallery, Queen Street, Blackpool, Simon said Blackpool held a special place in the history and future of the structures.
“Blackpool piers have such an important role in the economy of the town, which is unique in having three piers all still in existence and operation,” he said.
The contrast between the buzzing fairground attractions of South and Central piers and North Pier’s walkway between its arcades and theatre is stark.
But it reveals some of the glory of the latter’s architectures, according to Simon.
“You do still get to see some of the grandeur at North Pier; the wrought iron, the steel work and the wood,” he said. “Probably one of my favourote photos in the collection is of South Pier, which I took from the roof of the Sandcastle.
“It’s an overcast day, and with the milky sky and sea against the weird and wonderful shapes of the fairground rides and the splashes of colour, it almost looks like it’s been created in a studio.”
Eastbourne, owned by Blackpool-based Crown Entertainment Centres – owners of South and Central Piers and the Winter Gardens – was one of the country’s most architecturally interesting piers, according to the Brighton-based photographer.
He was visibly shocked to see the photos which had spread on social media – as he took part, unaware of the south coast fire, in a walking tour from the Grundy to the end of North Pier.
“Economically, they are so difficult to maintain and to make work, so unfortunately that is why many are little more than giant slot machines,” he said.
“However, there are still glimmers of those eccentric pieces of architectural studies.
“That’s why the fire at Eastbourne is especially tragic. The architecture was incredible there; something like an Eastern pagoda.”
Simon’s Pierdom exhibition runs at the Grundy gallery until September 27.
An accompanying book is available, and he is seeking residents’ stories of the local piers on the website www.pierdom.com.