Pier was pleasure palace 100 years ago

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This week, in his continuing series, Ion Castro takes a look at entertainment offered on the pier 100 years ago.

By 1916 Eugenius Birch’s 910 foot pier had already been open for over forty years.

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Its promenade deck had remained free of buildings for the first thirty of those years but things were changing. Buildings started to materialise in 1910/11 with the appearance of a small building housing a shooting gallery, ‘animated pictures’ and slot machines, followed in 1912, by a rifle range/bowling alley and not long after that the ‘Joy Wheel’ that seems to have only lasted a few years.

Joy Wheels were a popular, though short-lived novelty ride in the early part of the last century, - a polished conical disc in the centre of the enclosure revolved with increasing velocity until centrifugal force gradually threw all the riders off and the wheel would usually have tiered bench-type seats surrounding it with spectators outnumbering the participants. The focal pint of the pier, the magnificent 2000-seat pavilion at the seaward end was to burn down in 1917, the casualty of a cigarette carelessly discarded by one of the Canadian Troops being entertained there. The pavilion was rebuilt in a less ornate form in 1922.

All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk.

Captions:

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Hastings, Eversfield Place.

A view from the beach looking east with a fine view of the Joy Wheel. Bathing machines have been replaced with bathing tents, Bottle Alley is yet to be built and a tram passes on the promenade by the corner of the hospital.

Hole in Parade.

Hole in Parade, Hastings, 80 feet circumference and 20 feet deep, caused by the gale, Nov 1-2 1905 No 2 published as part of a series, a Judge’s photo showing one man working and 13 watching. The Pier can be seen in the background with the Grand Hotel and Hospital on the left.

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Hastings Pier from the Air.

Probably dating from 1920 this picture shows he centre section of the pier has been built on but hasn’t yet been widened - but it looks as if preparatory work is in process. The ‘Parade Extension’ with the bandstand is in place and White Rock Villa can still be seen behind the Grand Hotel and behind that the White Rock Bowling Greens with Falaise Road to the left.

Hastings Pier and Tram.

Hastings Council bought a quarter of Hastings Pier in September 1914 (the 220 feet nearest the land) and rebuilt it as a 220-feet square extension of the promenade. A bandstand and two curving large shelters were erected (the right hand shelter is all that remains of the pier pre-2010 fire) and the extension was officially opened on April 19 1916. The Pavilion on the end would burn down the following year. The first trams was to run in Hastings on July 31st 1905 and were phased out by the introduction of trolleybuses by 1929. The tramway operated on mostly single track with passing loops but the seafront was blessed with double track which can be seen in the picture, unfortunately both tracks were on the seaward side of the road which was to cause problems as the volume of motor traffic increased and with it driving on the left.

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Group photo on the pier.

Posted in Hastings on September 2 1914 to an address in Peckham, and it says on the back “we had it taken on the pier last week” The image is by an unnamed operator, possibly W J Wilmett, the pier photographer. Has this group just come back from a trip on a steamer?– Could that be the captain in the centre of the picture? – or did they all know each other before and come down on a group holiday, clearly they were not day tippers because of the delay in posting the card. Notice the magnificent gas lamps.

The Joy Wheel.

Notices read “Ladies and Gentlemen please remove your hats, eye glasses and spectacles. Your umbrellas canes etc are to be left at the Cloakroom without charge” and “it is strictly forbidden for visitors to mount the Wheel while it is in motion”

Another notice, in the centre can be switched between, ‘Ladies Only’ and ‘Gents Only’

Musique Municipale de Rouen.

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“Excursion a Hastings et a St.Leonards, les7 et 8 Juillet 1912”

This postcard by well-known Hastings Photographer Blomfield and posted from France shows the Rouen Municipal Orchestra apparently involved in a civic event outside the pier pavilion because the Mayor, George Hutchings, can be seen in the centre of the picture flanked by his macebearers and other dignitaries.

Professor Davenport.

This cheaply produced and rather worn card was posted to Beckenham September 22 1909 and features Professor Davenport, who operated between 1907 and 1914. He was the better-known of many stunt divers who performed on (or off!) the Pier at the beginning of the 20th century and his most spectacular stunt was to dive tied up in a sack covered in paraffin-soaked cotton wool which was set on fire before he dived into the sea. This photograph by an unknown photographer and publisher shows him preparing to ride a bicycle down a ramp into the sea.

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