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A pier is a raised walkway over water, supported by widely spread piles or pillars. The lighter structure of a pier allows tides and currents to flow almost unhindered, whereas the more solid foundations of a quay or the closely-spaced piles of a wharf can act as breakwaters, and are consequently more liable to silting. Piers can range in size and complexity from a simple lightweight wooden structure to major structures extended over a mile out to sea. In American English, pier may be synonymous with dock.

Piers have been built for several different purposes, and because these different purposes have distinct regional variances, the term pier tends to have different nuances of meaning in different parts of the world. Thus in North America and Australia, where many ports were, until recently, built on the multiple pier model, the term tends to imply a current or former cargo-handling facility. In Europe however, where ports have tended to use basins and river-side quays rather than piers, the term is principally associated with the image of a Victorian cast iron pleasure pier. However, the earliest piers such as Ryde and Brighton Chain pre-date the Victorian age.

Types of pier

Piers can be categorized into different groupings, depending on the principal purpose. It should be realized that there is, nonetheless, a significant amount of overlap. For example, pleasure piers often also allowed for the docking of pleasure steamers and other similar craft, whilst working piers have often been converted to leisure use after being rendered obsolete by advanced developments in cargo-handling technology.

Working piers

Working piers were built for the handling of passengers and cargo onto and off ships or (as at Wigan Piermarker) canal boats. Working piers themselves fall into two different groups. Longer individual piers are often found at ports with large tidal ranges, with the pier stretching far enough off shore to reach deep water at low tide. Such piers provided an economical alternative to impounded docks where cargo volumes were low, or where specialist bulk cargo was handled, such as at coal piers. The other form of working pier, often called the finger pier, was built at ports with smaller tidal ranges. Here the principal advantage was to give a greater available quay length for ships to berth against compared to a linear littoral quayside, and such piers are usually much shorter. Typically each pier would carry a single transit shed the length of the pier, with ships berthing bow or stern in to the shore. Some major ports consisted of large numbers of such piers lining the foreshore, classic examples being the Hudson River frontage of New Yorkmarker, or the Embarcaderomarker in San Franciscomarker.

The advent of container shipping, with its need for large container handling spaces adjacent to the shipping berths, has made working piers obsolete for the handling of general cargo, although some still survive for the handling of passenger ships or bulk cargos. Many working piers have been demolished, or remain derelict, but others have been recycled as pleasure piers. The best known example of this is Pier 39marker in San Francisco.

At Southport and the Tweed Rivermarker on the Gold Coast in Australia, there are piers that support equipment for a sand bypassing system that maintains the health of sandy beaches and navigation channels.

Pleasure piers

Victorian pier at Llandudno, North Wales
piers were first built in Englandmarker, during the 19th century. The earliest structures were those at Ryde, built 1813/4, Leith(Trinity Chain) 1821 and Brighton (Chain) 1823. Only the oldest of these piers still remains. At that time the introduction of the railways for the first time permitted mass tourism to dedicated seaside resorts. However, the large tidal ranges at many such resorts meant that for much of the day, the sea was not visible from dry land. The pleasure pier was the resorts' answer, permitting holiday makers to promenade over and alongside the sea at all times. The longest Pleasure pier in the worldmarker is at Southend-on-seamarker, Essex, and extends into the Thames estuarymarker. The longest pier on the West Coast of the United States is the Ocean Beach Piermarker.

Pleasure piers often include other amusements and theatres as part of the attraction. Such a pier may be open air, closed, or partly open, partly closed. Sometimes a pier has two decks.

Early pleasure piers were of wooden construction, with iron structures being introduced with the construction in 1855 of Margate Jetty, in Margatemarker, England. Margate was wrecked in storms in 1978 and was never repaired. The oldest iron pier still remaining is in Southportmarker, England, and dates from 1860.

Fishing piers

Many piers are built for the purpose of providing land locked anglers access to fishing grounds that are otherwise inaccessible.

Piers of the world

See the List of piers article for details of piers in countries across the world.

England and Wales

Victorian pier at Clevedon, Somerset, England
The first recorded pier in Englandmarker was Ryde Piermarker, opened in 1814 on the Isle of Wightmarker, as a landing stage to allow ferries to and from the mainland to berth. It is still used for this purpose today. However it has had a leisure function in the past, with the pier head once containing a pavilion. There are still refreshment facilities today. The oldest cast iron pier in the world is Gravesend Town Piermarker, in Kentmarker, which opened in 1834. However, it is not recognised by the National Piers Society as being a seaside pier.

In their heyday, there were many pleasure piers across England and Walesmarker. These were found in most fashionable seaside resorts during the Victorian era. There are still a significant number of piers of architectural merit still standing, although some have been lost. The most well known piers are perhaps the two at Brightonmarker in East Sussexmarker and the three at Blackpoolmarker in Lancashiremarker. Two piers, Brighton's now derelict West Piermarker and Clevedon Pier, were Grade 1 listed:Brighton West lost its status after a series of fires and storms. The Birnbeck Piermarker in Weston-super-Maremarker is the only pier in the world that is linked to an island.The National Piers Society gives a figure of 55 surviving seaside piers in England and Wales.

Netherlands

The Scheveningen pier, near The Hague
Scheveningen, the coastal resort town of The Haguemarker, boasts the largest pier in the Netherlandsmarker, it was completed in 1961. A crane, built on top of the pier's panorama tower, provides the opportunity to make a . high bungee jump over the North Sea waves. The present pier is a successor of an earlier pier, which was completed in 1901 but in 1943 destroyed by the German occupation forces.

Belgium

The pier of Blankenberge
In Blankenbergemarker a first pleasure pier was built in 1894. After its destruction in the first World War, a new pier was built in 1933. It remained till the present day, but was partially transformed and modernized in 1999-2004.

See also



References

  • Turner, K., (1999), Pier Railways and Tramways of the British Isles, The Oakwood Press, No. LP60, ISBN 0-85361-541-1


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