On the third day the rain had stopped but had been replaced by very strong winds. I had considered visiting nearby Boulby cliffs, the highest in the north-east of England but with responsibility for an adventurous grandson who cannot stop climbing I thought this may not be especially wise so we visited nearby Saltburn-by-the Sea instead.
Saltburn is an interesting place, a Victorian new town developed to provide seaside facilities to the emergng iron town of Middlesborough, it was designed and built in the space of only a few years in the 1850s and 60s.
After parking the car we made directly for the promenade and to the pier. The pleasure pier is characteristically English, 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. If there had been satellite photography a hundred years ago then England would have looked like a giant pin-cushion.
Construction of Saltburn pier began in 1867 with a traditional design of a metal frame (piles) and a wooden deck, designed principally to get people to Saltburn by paddle steamers from the nearby industrial towns along the River Tees.
The one thousand, five hundred foot pier opened in May 1869 with a steamer landing stage at the head of the pier and two circular kiosks at the entrance. The first steamers left the pier on 14 May 1870, with a service to Middlesbrough. In the first six months of operation, there were fifty-thousand toll-paying visitors. Steamer excursions added to the company’s revenue with new seasonal trips to Hartlepool and Scarborough.
But stuck out at sea as they are English piers are rather precarious structures and constantly exposed to danger and one night in October 1875 a gale struck the pier removing three hundred feet of the structure at the seaward end, including the pier head, landing stage and part of the pier deck. In the middle of an iron trade slump, it was decided not to replace the missing section or reconstruct a landing stage, leaving a redeveloped pier two hundred and fifty foot shorter.
In the 1880s there was further development but after suffering slight storm damage in 1900, the pier was struck by a china clay ship in May 1924. The collision left a two hundred foot gap in the promenade leaving the bandstand inaccessible. The gap was replaced in March 1929, with a new theatre, completed in 1930 enabling the full length of the pier to open.
When my granddaughter was born in October 2008 it didn’t occur to me that twelve years later she would be taller than me…
It seems that Saltburn Pier was destined for perpetual misfortune. Purchased by the council in 1938, the pier was sectioned during World War II by having part of the deck removed to guard against Nazi invasion. Due to its poor post war condition, repairs were not granted planning permission until 1949 and due to a shortage of steel not completed until 1952.
That didn’t last long. In 1953 gales did more serious damage which took a further five years to complete but soon after in 1958 two piles were lost in a storm. In 1961 another twenty piles were twisted in storms. After severe gales in 1971 and 1972, piles were lost at the seaward end leaving the pier in a perilous condition. Further damage in 1974 culminated in October when the pier head was lost and the deck damaged, leaving a length of only one thousand feet.
In 1975 the council had had enough of the pier and proposed to have the structure demolished but a “Save the Pier” campaign led to a public enquiry which concluded that only the final thirteen piers could be removed and it should remain. This left a seven hundred foot length of refurbished pier, less than half the original length of 1869 which reopened in June 1978.
In 2009, the National Piers Society awarded it with the title of pier of the year. Other finalists must have been seriously disappointed I imagine.
This is the pier that in a howling gale we walked today over a turbulent sea and into a misty gloom. It was cold at the pier head so we didn’t stay long and after successfully directing the children away from the amusement arcade we resumed our walk along the sea front. William inevitably found things to climb on.
In the afternoon the wind dropped, the sun made a belated appearance and we managed an unexpected hour at the beach.