|Blackpool North Pier ca.1898|
The first opened in 1814 at Ryde on the Isle of Wight. It was mainly intended as a combined promenade and jetty. It proved to be the first of about a hundred constructed over the next century. Early piers were usually of wood construction, but by the 1850s, when the great boom in pier building was just beginning, iron became the preferred material.
One of the great Victorian pier designers was Eugenius Birch (1818-1884). Early in his career he was involved in building the Calcutta to Delhi of the East Indian Railway in India that clearly inspired the oriental designs that he often incorporated into his seaside structures. The pier at Margate in 1853 was the first of fourteen that Birch built in England and Wales: Aberystwyth, Blackpool (North), Bournemouth, Brighton West, Deal, Eastbourne, Hastings, Hornsea, Lytham, Margate, New Brighton, Plymouth, Scarborough and Weston-Super-Mare (Birnbeck). Birch was also a talented artist and a further legacy is the collection of fine water colours of scenes in Egypt and Italy.
A few of the great British piers remain, such as Blackpool's North Pier. Indeed Blackpool has managed to retain all three of its piers, though nearby Morecambe has seen two fall by the wayside and the total number surviving is thought to have fallen to around the fifty mark.