There isn’t a great deal to do at Grimsby railway station whilst waiting for a train to arrive except keep the children from the edge of the platform, there is no book shop and the modest café is almost permanently closed so we waited as patiently as we could until the purple liveried train finally arrived, climbed on board and set off for nearby Cleethorpes.
Cleethorpes is a seaside town that is attached to Grimsby like a barnacle to a rock. This is unfortunate for the residents of Cleethorpes because they consider themselves to be superior to Grimbarians in all respects and snootily resent the association with its grubby neighbour.
The short train journey took only ten minutes or so as it passed through the site of old fishing docks, past the Grimsby Town Football Club ground (which is actually in Cleethorpes) and then alongside the muddy estuary before arriving at the station which really is the end of the line for this particular route.
The railway terminates here but is the starting point of many seaside holidays because this is where visitors to the resort arrive from towns and cities of Humberside and South Yorkshire because while people from Leicester and Nottingham go to Skegness in the south of Lincolnshire, Cleethorpes is the seaside of choice for people from Sheffield, Doncaster and Scunthorpe.
The station is situated at the western end of the promenade right in the middle of the tacky funfair and associated attractions. The sort of place that children are drawn to like bees to nectar but which I cannot wait to pass through as quickly as possible. I especially dislike those pointless children’s rides that do nothing in particular and seem to me to cost a disproportionate amount of money to the pleasure they provide. I hate them outside supermarkets and in shopping malls and if I were Prime Minister the first thing that I would do is pass a law to make them illegal.
I hurried the children through this part of the visit with a promise that I would think about paying for a pointless ride on the way back later.
Next we came to the pier. The pleasure pier is quintessentially British, a genuine icon and one that I have never really understood. No one in England lives more than seventy miles* or so from the sea but when they get to the coast they have a curious compulsion to get even closer to the water and as far away from the shore as possible without taking to a boat. The Victorians especially liked piers and by time of the First-World-War there were nearly two hundred sticking out all around the coastline as though the country was a giant pin-cushion.
The shortest pier in England is that at Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset (so they claim) but this one must be a true contender for the title. It was opened in 1873 (financed by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway) and was originally nearly a quarter of a mile long but over its lifetime it has been severely shortened.
English piers you see are rather fragile structures and over the years have had an alarming tendency to catch fire – Weston-Super-Mare, Brighton, Blackpool, Eastbourne, and Great Yarmouth have all suffered this fate but Southend-on-Sea is probably the most unfortunate of all because it has burned down four times which seems rather careless.
The problem with a pier of course is that they are generally constructed of wood and are highly combustible and a quarter of a mile or so out to sea they are also rather inaccessible to the fire service so once they go up in flames little can be done but to watch the blazing inferno from the safety of the promenade until the fire goes out by itself and all that is left is a tangle of twisted metal girders and beams.
Fire isn’t the only danger of course because the coast can be a rough old place to be in bad weather and severe storms and gales have accounted over the years for Aberystwyth, Cromer, Saltburn, Southwold and Brighton. Reaching far out to sea also makes them rather vulnerable to passing ships and the aforementioned unfortunate Southend-on-Sea was sliced in half in 1986 by a tanker that had lost its navigational bearings. One unfortunate man was in the pier toilets at the time and only just made it out in time before they tipped over the edge!
Cleethorpes pier is no exception to disaster and it burnt down in 1905. It was rebuilt but was shortened again in 1940 and this is my favourite Cleethorpes Pier story. It was demolished to prevent it being of any use to the German army in the event of an invasion of England via the Humber estuary. Quite honestly I don’t understand why the German army would need the pier to offload their tanks and equipment when they could simply have driven it up the muddy beach but that is not the point of my story.
The dismantled iron sections were sold after the war and they were bought by Leicester City Football Club who used them in the construction of the main stand at their ground at Filbert Street. From about the age of ten my dad used to take me to watch Leicester City and we used to sit in that stand every home match and so although I didn’t know it I had actually been on Cleethorpes pier fifty years before I ever visited the place.
* Based on a direct line drawn on an Ordnance Survey map from location to the first coast with tidal water. The village that is further from the sea than any other human settlement in the UK is Coton in the Elms in Derbyshire at exactly seventy miles in all directions.