By Richard Holdsworth
It was a bright and sunny morning when the esteemed Lord Granville, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, announced, “I declare this pier open for all good citizens to enjoy.” It was 5 August, 1872, and thus started 134 years of pure joy and merriment for Hastings holidaymakers until that sorrowful day in 2006 when it all came to a juddering halt.
What “did” for the pride of Hastings? Was it an Act of God? A fiery inferno from a discarded cigarette butt? Perhaps one of Hitler’s infamous Buzz Bombs?
Unfortunately, as any keen observer of the South Coast’s foremost holiday resort will tell, it was no such event that “did” for the proud Pier of Hastings.
No, it was apathy… nothing more, nothing less. Apathy on the part of successive Hastings’ councillors as our sea-side resort slipped from top of the popularity stakes to second-class citizen. From a time when pretty girls in their ankle length crinoline skirts and men in their smart boaters and striped blazers were displaced by bovver boys, motor bikes and girls with buns in ovens (unmarried, of course).
At its peak the Pier played host to world famous brass bands, the best that money could buy. “It’s the Coldstream Guards this year,” Father would declare as we de-trained from the Southern Railway at St Leonards for our annual hols. The bandstand rollicked to the sound of oompah-pah-pahs while cymbals crashed and trombones blew. Was there ever such a wondrous sight, a most uplifting sound, as on Hastings Pier in that far-off time? Today it scarcely seems possible that Hastings Pier witnessed jostling for deck chairs as Father fought to secure the most advantageous spot, the very best views, to catch sight of a resplendent band master weighed down by medals and a desire to entertain. “Now, steady on Sir, there’s plenty for all,” the attendant would implore. But there wasn’t – a place around the band-stand was never a forgone conclusion in those heady days on Hastings Pier. And in the interval, while the bandsmen took their repast, it was a dash to the penny-in-the-slot machines. You’d never guess what the butler saw once you’d deposited your coin and feverishly wound the handle. Sometimes your lucky butler caught sight of the lady of the house casting aside an outer layer… even an under-garment.
You were still fumbling for the next penny when the band struck up again. Coitus interruptuous? That’s what it seemed for a lad who’d just grasped biology and an insight into what happens when bird meets bee… boy meets girl.
And when boy did meet girl and resistance melted over a Sherbet Dab, Hastings Pier took on a totally new meaning. Hands touched and lips brushed beneath the Fairy Floss sign and Hastings Pier played Cupid to a whole generation of lovers with a lot more than a lick of Sherbet Dab in mind. How many romances started under the moonlight next to the Penny Arcade as they swooned in each others’ arms. Hastings Pier was the place to be, not Benidorm nor Costa Brava.
I know, I stole my first kiss pressed against the hoola-hoop machine and earned a second go as my bulls-eye rang her bell and she declared her un-dieing love.
Next day I invested a shiny sixpence and my future to Madame Zara, the mystic with a plunging neckline and far-seeing properties. I should have known my new found girlfriend with bobby socks and big boobs would never return my advances once back in the security of Greater Manchester and the boy next door. In truth, it was a big let-off for the lad from Berkshire with the Eleven Plu sunder his belt and trouble in the trouser department.
Madam Zara was just about right in everything else too. For my sixpence (old money) she stated categorically this lad would never be a brain surgeon nor space scientist… not even a train driver.
But she did say he would be a writer some day.
And here I am… a writer some day. Not that everyone would agree. Do I hear you cry, “You was robbed… go back to Hastings Pier and demand a refund.”
Oh that I could….
But I can’t. They won’t let me tread the boards. They say the Pier’s gone weak at the knees.
Don’t I know the feeling!!
Author Richard Holdsworth has just published ‘Six Spoons of Sugar’ – an evacuee story with a difference, available from him direct at £8.95 plus post and packing. For how to order and to read extracts see www.holdsworthwrites.co.uk The Rise and Fall of Hastings Pier’ is from ‘Strandline Volume 7′ an anthology of work by members of Hastings Writers’ Group. It is available at £7.50 post free from HWG, 39 Emmanuel Road, Hastings TN34 3LB. See www.hastingswriters.co.uk
“Hastings Town” May 2008
All articles, photographs and drawings on this web site are World Copyright Protected. No reproduction for publication without prior arrangement.