Eastbourne Seaside Pier opened on 13th June 1870 and was designed by Eugenius Birch, the contractors Messrs Head, Wrighton and Co of Stockton on Tees. It was completed in 1872 and modified at the landward end following a storm of 1877. The seaward Pavilion theatre with ‘camera obscura’ and two games pavilions are of 1901 designed by Noel Ridley AMICE. The central windscreens were erected between 1902-03, and a music pavilion was added in 1925 designed by P D Stoneham. Further kiosks were added in 1971, and an entrance building in 1991 in matching style.
The pier is 1000 ft long and 52 ft wide on a substructure of iron screw piles. The first pile of Eastbourne Pier was screwed into the seabed on 18th April 1866, and the pier was officially opened on 13th June 1870 by Lord Edward Cavendish. The pier was one of 14 designed by Eugenius Birch (1818-1884). By the official opening date only half the projected 1000ft length had been constructed and it was not completed until 1872. It was originally 22ft wide with two projecting wings on each side and a small diamond-shaped pier head with two kiosks and a bandstand.

On New Year’s Day 1877 a violent storm washed away a large part of the shoreward end of the pier. To counteract the effect of waves surging over the shingle below the shoreward end was rebuilt 5ft higher. Also the pier was rebuilt to the width of the former projecting bays, from 22ft to 52ft. In 1888 a large building was constructed at a cost of £250 on the pier head to form a theatre, but was taken off ‘in one piece’ to Lewes for use as a cattle shed when it was proposed in 1899 to produce a grander building. The plans, drawn up by Noel Ridley, were for a new pavilion theatre housing a ‘camera obscura’ in the dome surmounting the structure. The building, completed in 1901, could accommodate 1000 people, it had no pillars to obstruct the view and the balconies were cantilevered. It contained a bar, a cafe and the pier offices. An open verandah just above ground level was later filled-in. The camera obscura was the largest in the country when constructed. Very few now remain and this is thought to be the only camera obscura on a pier in the world. Visitors could watch a moving coloured picture of the view outside on an emulsioned dish in a darkened room.

In 1901 the two games saloons were erected on either side of the central ramp. Between 1902 and 1903 the central windscreens were erected and a ten-sided bandstand which was removed in 1945.

In 1912 the original octagonal front entrance kiosks, together with the central octagonal pay kiosk, were removed. The central pay kiosk still survives in the middle of the Redoubt Pavilion Gardens.

In 1925 a section of the upper deck level was widened near the shore end and a new music pavilion with domed roof constructed which could seat 900. It was used for many years as a ballroom and later became an amusement arcade.

During World War II there was an order to blow up the pier but, luckily, it was spared; wooden decking was removed from the centre to prevent an enemy landing and gun platforms installed in the theatre to repel any attempted enemy landing. In 1945 the bandstand was removed and in 1951 the Edwardian entrance kiosks were replaced by a flat-roofed building.

In 1970 a pier employee set fire to the Pavilion Theatre and severe damage was caused to its shoreward end, including the destruction of the access staircase to the camera obscura. As a result the theatre was closed down and the remaining part of the building converted into a nightclub. In the 1970s two steel-framed glass fibre amusement arcade buildings were added between the ramp and the old theatre, followed by three kiosks between the ballroom and the ramp.

In 1991 the entrance building of 1951 was replaced by a new entrance, in a similar style to the original octagonal turrets, with shops and a weatherproof covered way. In 2003 the camera obscura was re-opened to the public.

Following the loss of a number of Eugenius Birch’s 14 seaside piers and most notably the almost complete destruction of Brighton West Pier by storm damage and fire, Eastbourne is now the finest of Birch’s surviving seaside piers.
Eastbourne and Brighton Palace Pier, by St John Moore, are now the best surviving Victorian seaside piers on the South Coast. Eastbourne Pier has a rare surviving example of a ‘camera obscura’; it was the largest example in Great Britain when built in 1901, and seems to be the only example of a camera obscura on a seaside pier in the world.
Eastbourne Pier is also a fine example of a promenade pier, later adapted into a full blown pleasure pier with good quality late Edwardian and 1920s structures. Later replacement buildings have imitated the style of the earlier structures, so that the pier retains a stylistic coherence.
Just one more reason to visit Eastbourne and stay in one of the oldest Hotels in Town, with 21st Century style and service.