It is a pity that one can no longer use the word “gay” to describe a happy, light-hearted object or event. Because Brighton is very definitely gay (in both senses). The 19th century West Pier epitomised this air of frivolity: it had a concert hall and a ballroom, which seemed to float on the waves. When the sun shone, its multifaceted glass surfaces glistened and sparkled. It was a magical place. The pier was the visual focal point for those enjoying the beach and seafront west of the Main Pier.
But already the ravages of endless winters exposed to the North Sea and decades of neglect were evident: the pier was in a state of accelerating decay, its immense and impressive iron infrastructure visibly rusting away beneath the ballroom and concert , to such an extent that public access to the pier was already banned. The West Pier Trust, a charitable trust, had secured lottery funding. But it was not enough, and the owners of the Main Pier had successfully blocked its use to save the pier.
Then came the devastating gales of the winter of 2002/3, pushing a chunk in the middle down into the waves, and before any emergency work could be considered, there were at two devastating fires, in March and May 2003. The poor pier was reduced to a crumpled skeleton, and each time we go back, more of it seems to have slipped into the sea.
I have added two links to excellent sites giving more on the history of the pier and plans for its replacement by a tall observation mast (a project I don’t support, as it will provide yet another intrusive vertical line which jars with the horizontal line of the Regency seafront).