Boscombe Pier, Bournemouth

Boscombe Pier, Dorset

Piers are remarkable things. Remnants of a former era when British seaside resorts were thriving places, they stick their necks out against the tide in more ways than one. And they are all remarkable in different ways. It’s not the longest, shortest or oldest, but Boscombe Pier, near Bournemouth in Dorset has come to be known as Britain’s coolest.

In contrast to the delicate wrought-iron and ornate detail of Britain’s Victorian piers, Boscombe Pier is a modern streamlined affair. It has an audacious, almost Googie-style entrance with a geometric cantilevered roof, for all intents and purposes like the wings of a jet. The message is clear – Boscombe Pier has landed.

Like many of its peers (sorry) Boscombe Pier has not had its troubles to seek. Originally built in 1888, it had no head until 1926. It was partly demolished for security reasons during the Second World War and lay in a sorry state until the 1950s. Opinion was divided on what to do next. A war of words broke out in the Beaches and Pavilion Committee with one councillor proclaiming “Piers are really redundant” and another that “A seaside without a pier is like a pig without ears”.

The consensus was that Boscombe needed a lift and the pier was rebuilt. The borough architect, John Burton, designed the terribly modish entrance building in line with the Modernist style of the late-1950s. The pier neck was rebuilt in reinforced and pre-stressed concrete (so this one shouldn’t burn down) and The Mermaid Theatre at the head was opened in 1962 with the ultimate in modern entertainment – a roller rink.

Over time its popularity faded and The Mermaid Theatre closed in 1989. It was later demolished, and as the entrance building was also closed for health and safety reasons the future of the pier looked bleak once again. A council survey in 2003 showed overwhelming support for the pier’s regeneration, and Grade II listing ensured that its character was kept intact. Plans were drawn up for some big names to put Boscombe back on the map.

Boscombe Pier

Thoroughly modern couple Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway, founders of Red or Dead, now more famous for their work in regeneration rose to the challenge. Beside the pier, the Overstrand building, a distinctive double-decker block of beach huts has been given a new lease of life by Hemingway Development. The huts have now become “surf pods” in single, double and “pentapod” varieties and are kitted out with all mod cons including modern retro seaside decor unique to each pod. It’s tempting to move in but they are strictly for daytime use only. At £64,995 for a single, they’re not cheap but with plans to create Europe’s first artificial surf reef they’re a must for upmarket beach bums.

We visited last year when it was still a bit of a building site, but everything was scrubbing up nicely. A walk along the pier provides a perfect photo opportunity as the minimalist windbreak running along its length is a treat for the eye, its canopies mirroring the ‘wings’ of the pier entrance.

British seaside resorts have been in decline since the 1960s but developments at Boscombe, along with others such as the new pier at Deal and Thomas Heatherwick’s East Beach Cafe in Littlehampton suggest there is a growing band of modern Brits who do want to be beside the seaside.

How to get there

Boscombe Pier is a few miles east of Bournemouth town centre. There is a pay and display car park beside the pier entrance.

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