Anthony Wills reports on a highly successful weekend of pier events

After months of planning Party On The Pier kicked off British Tourism Week 2011 with nationwide celebrations around the coast on 12/13 March. The weather across the country was mild for the time of year, with some sunshine and very little rain. Some 25 seaside piers took part, plus a host of harbour jetties and inland river piers. The official press launch was held on Weston-super-Mare Grand in the presence of Heritage Minister John Penrose, who is also the town’s MP. He was joined by NPS Patron and actor Timothy West, chairman Tim Phillips and pier owners Kerry and Michelle Michael, buoyed by their recent success in winning the Pier Of The Year award for 2011.

The Grand was one of several piers that took part in a Congathon competition; others included Bournemouth, Brighton Palace, Cromer and Worthing, which also had a Conger Eel sculpture! The Friends of Boscombe pier organised silly games and Keep Fit sessions while Swanage held a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party complete with Alice In Wonderland characters. The Boardwalk restaurant at Southwold served up classic local dishes such as Southwold Marsh Shin of Beef cooked in Adnams Broadside Bitter gravy, followed by Bread & Butter pudding and a free drink, all for a tenner! The shortest piers in the UK all made a big effort: Burnham-on-Sea offered fish ‘n’ chips cooked in local cider, while Kuti’s Restaurant at Southampton Royal arranged an open-topped bus tour of the port followed by a special Thai meal in their Gateway building, and Riva’s restaurant at Gravesend Town held a Shrimpers’ Tea; elsewhere in Kent Jasin’s café offered “Meal Deals” at Deal! Down in Cornwall Falmouth Prince of Wales had a historical photo exhibition with locals dressed in Victorian costume. On the other hand nothing was organised on Blackpool’s three piers or in Devon.

The Hastings & White Rock Pier Trust really went to town with a seafront market along the prom selling calendars, badges, fridge magnets and key rings, as well as recruiting new members. At midday precisely the hundreds present in front of the locked pier gates were invited to “Make a noise for the pier”, which was the cue for a deafening 10-minute racket of kazoos, whistles, rattles and bells. Assessors from the Heritage Lottery Fund were due to visit Hastings the following week.

Elsewhere, all kinds of live music including brass bands, jazz, Gilbert & Sullivan, Morris dancing, Elvis impressionists and drum majorettes could be heard on the piers at Brighton, Great Yarmouth Wellington, Llandudno, Penarth, Skegness and Southend, where the entertainment also included Polish artists, jugglers and stunt fighting, plus reduced price admission to the pier museum and the RNLI exhibition. The fun continued well into the night at Aberystwyth with a fancy dress disco in the Pier Pressure nightclub. There were free funfair rides at Walton-on-the-Naze, free roller skating in the gym at Herne Bay and a “Slotathon” (slot machine challenge) in the pier head museum at Southport. Saltburn had a display of 54 panoramic images of different piers taken by Lawrence George Giles and Clacton catered for the kids with shows by Zuttini the magician. At Clevedon pier manageress Linda Strong invited the town’s Pilot Gig Club to show off their newly delivered 32 ft. boat (built at the Underfall Yard in Bristol) in its glorious yellow livery, together with all its rowing paraphernalia.

Finally, across the water at Blankenberge on the Belgian coast, the fabulous World Piers Exhibition was opened specially for the day.

Altogether, despite the early March date, it was a memorable day much enjoyed by all, thanks to the efforts of the participating piers. Party On The Pier was organised by the National Piers Society in conjunction with VisitBritain to promote tourism in the UK.