Sussex Life April 2015 Poetry + solution
PUBLISHED: 15:34 20 March 2015 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 March 2015
Solution for the ‘Peerless’ piece by Tony Ward in the Sussex Life April issue
A bride in the moonlight, dressed all in white,
of dancers in the ballroom,
of laughter from the stalls.
Another dawn, another generation,
gamers replace dancers,
clubbers replace players.
Sunshine drives away memories –
a New Year’s Day storm,
a wartime threat,
guns the new stage set.
A theatre lost to fire,
but always unbowed.
Sunshine, a cooling breeze,
Tea in the Victorian tea-room,
the unwelcome guest.
In the ballroom, dancers of a different hue,
dancing flames, a whirl of fire,
the bridal dress alight.
And now, not paddle-steamers at the pier end,
not landing craft hiding beneath her skirts,
but lifeboats now dance attendance, urgent,
firefighters keeping hopes alive.
Saved, bedraggled but unbowed.
A town united.
Willing to rise anew a bride again,
again the star of films, of happy snaps,
a Phoenix from the ashes,
an icon to be restored.
Pierless no more.
Solution - Eastbourne Pier, East Sussex
Explanation of embedded clues
The poem recalls events in the life of the iconic Eastbourne Pier, culminating in the widely reported fire of Wednesday 30th July 2014. This destroyed a large part of the shoreward end of the pier. Thankfully this is being restored.
‘Pleasure Piers’ were first built in England in the 19th Century. The Victorian Cast Iron structures became the standard model for any enterprising seaside resort. Most were painted white - as in the opening line – “a bride in the moonlight, dressed all in white, dreaming –“. A proposal for an Eastbourne pier was first raised in 1863 with the approval of the 7th Duke of Devonshire. Two years later The Eastbourne Pier Company was registered and in April 1866 work began. The designer was Eugenius Birch, who also designed Brighton’s West Pier. The pier was officially opened on 13th June 1870 by the Duke’s youngest son, Lord Edward Cavendish, however it was another two years before it was completed.
“Dancers in the ballroom” refers to an earlier use of what became the amusement arcade, the main building lost in the 2014 fire. The large domed structure was built in 1925, but in Victorian style in keeping with the rest of the pier. Originally intended as a 900 seat music pavilion it became a ballroom (The Blue Room) until converted into the amusement arcade in 1985 – “gamers replace dancers”.
“Laughter from the stalls” refers to the other main building, at the seaward end of the pier, originally a traditional Pier Theatre. This has also undergone transformations, from a 400 seat theatre in 1888, to a 1000 seat theatre, bar, camera obscura and offices in 1901, and then after an earlier fire in 1970 – “ a theatre lost to fire” -it was replaced by a nightclub and bar (the ‘Dixieland Showbar’ – forerunner to the present ‘Atlantis’ nightclub and the ‘Ocean Suite’) – “clubbers replace players”.
Fire has not been the only threat to Eastbourne Pier. There has been Storm damage. On New Year’s Day 1877 the landward half was swept away and in 1987 The Great Storm damaged the pier’s landing stage.
“A wartime threat” refers to an order during World War 2 to blow up the pier to prevent Germans landing on it. Instead, decking was removed, an anti-aircraft gun was sited halfway along and machine guns installed in the theatre – “guns the new stage set.”
Another aspect of the life of piers is their association with sea-craft. “Paddle-steamers at the pier end” ran trips along the coast and across the Channel to Boulogne, apart from during World War 2, from 1906 into the 1950’s. “Landing craft hiding beneath her skirts” were made possible in 1943 by the attachment of camouflage netting to the pier stanchions. The most recent sea-craft to play a vital role in the life of the pier were the fire-fighting lifeboats attending the 2014 fire, co-ordinating with the land-based firefighters. Up to 80 firefighters and three lifeboats were involved. Remarkably, working day and night they saved two thirds of the pier – “lifeboats now dance attendance, urgent, concerned,/ firefighters keeping hopes alive./ Saved, bedraggled but unbowed.”
At the time that the fire broke out, around 3pm, the pier was busy as normal – “Sunshine, a cooling breeze,/ Tea in the Victorian tea-room,/ but suddenly/ the unwelcome guest./ In the ballroom, dancers of a different hue,/ dancing flames, a whirl of fire,/ the bridal dress alight.” The pier staff swung into their evacuation procedures very calmly and professionally and the pier was cleared without incident in a matter of minutes.
“A town united./ Willing to rise anew a bride again”. “The star of films, of happy snaps” - as well as family holiday photos this refers to the pier’s appearance in several feature films, including being used as a ‘double’ for Brighton pier (‘Brighton Rock’, ‘Poirot Investigates The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan’).
There was no question but that the pier would be restored as soon as possible - “a Phoenix from the ashes”. “An icon to be restored” refers to the pier’s Grade 2* listed status (upgraded in May 2009) and “Peerless again” refers to it being voted ‘Pier of the Year’ in 1997 by members of the National Piers Society.
Access to the undamaged parts was regained in less than 2 months after the fire, marked by a weekend of celebrations. A bouquet of sunflowers was placed at the front of the pier in memory of Stephen Penrice who tragically fell to his death during the rebuilding.
Plans are under way by the owners, Cuerden Leisure, to fully restore the pier hopefully within the year – “Pierless no more”.
Eastbourne Herald Newspaper reports from Friday 1st August 2014 onwards.