Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,352 pages of information and 245,904 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Old Chain Pier, Brighton

From Graces Guide
c.1828 painting by J. M. W. Turner at Petworth House
1839 print
Components and souvenirs from the pier, on display at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery

The Royal Suspension Chain Pier was the first major pier built in Brighton. Opened in 1823, it was destroyed during a storm in 1896.

Designed by Captain S. Brown.

Brighton, that region of fashion and pleasure, is, in consequence of the favourable change in the state of the weather, filling rapidly. Amongst the arrivals of last week we noticed Lord Sefton and family, Lord Petre and family, Lord Egremont arid family, and several other fashionables.
The Chain Pier, which is an object of universal attraction, is proceeding rapidly; indeed it now appears to be nearly completed. The Esplanade leading from the foot of the old Steyne to the Pier, is 1250 feet in length, and contains a carriage road 24 feet wide, and a foot path, paved in a similar manner to the Steyne, upwards of 10 feet wide.
The Pier is erected opposite the new Steyne ; its foundation is formed of four clusters of piles, driven at the distance of 260 feet one cluster from the other. The three first clusters consist of twenty piles driven perpendicularly, and several braces are laid horizontally from pile to pile for further security. These piles are driven from seven to ten feet each into chalky bottom, and are thirteen feet above high water mark. The cluster at the extremity of the Pier consists of 100 piles, driven perpendicularly, and several driven diagonally. From this part of the building flights of steps are led to the water's edge, to afford convenience for persons embarking or landing on the pier. Upon each cluster of piles on each side the platform, and at a distance of ten feet from each other, are erected two iron towers, of pyramidical form, twenty feet high. These are to be fitted up as reading rooms, and as shops for the sale of refreshments. The platform is twelve feet wide, and formed of planks three inches thick. These planks rest on rafters which are sustained by a strong iron bar running beneath each extremity of the platform. The whole pier is sustained by immense iron chains, four in number on each side. These chains are formed of iron rods, or links, 104 in number, each ten feel long, and 5 1/2 inches in circumference, and each weighing 112 lbs. These rods or links are connected by moveable joints, each joint being covered by what is denominated a saddle - from each of which passes an iron suspending rod, as it is called, which is connected with the iron bar on which the platform rests, and thus the whole is supported. The chains which support this enormous weight are led through the cliff across the Marine Parade, and into the new Steyne, where, at a depth of 50 feet from the surface, they are secured by a large iron plate weighing 25 cwt. and bedded in strong cement. The chains are then carried across the iron towers, and at the extremity of the pier they are carried to the bottom of the sea, and there bedded with a weight of sixty tons of Purbeck stone laid upon them for a security. A handsome iron railing runs runs along each side of the pier, in height three feet two inches, and the flooring is somewhat raised in the centre, to cause the water in case of rain to run off with greater celerity. This is the general outline of the plan upon which Captain Brown has constructed this ingenious specimen of mechanism. Some persons pretend to entertain apprehensions of its solidity, and of its capability to sustain the heavy seas which will be thrown upon it the South West gales; but whoever will look at Yarmouth Jetty, or the pier at Ostend, and several other works of a similar description, will no longer doubt of the capability of piles to resist and to sustain heavy seas and severe gales. Should the Chain Pier succeed as to durability, it will unquestionably prove a work both of utility and of ornament to this favourite place of fashionable resort. The work has been carried on under the direction and superintendance of Captain Brown, of the Royal Navy, and does him infinite credit as an architect and a mechanist. '[1]

1824 The pier withstood a 'tremendous gale', sustaining damage only to the wooden decking and to items of ornamentation.[2]

Mr. EDITOR,— In case I should not have been anticipated by another, and more able correspondent, relative to the recent casualty to the above, I beg to furnish you with the following particulars, the result of an examination of the construction and present condition of the work. Although the chain pier resisted the hurricane in Nov. 1825, and has weathered many a severe gale since that period (nine years wear and tear), the furious storm on Tuesday, the 15th instant, at its height about half-past seven in the evening, most seriously affected the stability of the whole structure, and I have no doubt that (with the exception of two of the four platforms) a re-construction is absolutely necessary. The second division of the platform (which is 12 feet wide) being now deficient 20 of the suspending rods on the eastern side, and some others bent, has consequently sunk nearly six feet on that side, about the middle of the whole line, producing a very curious curve, and at a short distance therefrom (on the Marine Parade) has the effect of an inclined plane, the west side maintaining its original level ; and the second cast-iron pier, also on the east side, which carries the main chains, is bedded (as are the others) on two iron cills, or plates, longitudinally two feet wide, and only one and a half inch in thickness over the pile heads ; these irons are split, and the piles and superstructure incline over to the eastward. The latter is in the most hazardous condition.
The third division presents a complete ruin, as 40 suspending rods on the east are destroyed, and thereby produced an elevation of the chains, part in a cord line, and on the opposite side about half that number of rods have disappeared, and therefore it is not surprising that three-fourths of the platform and heavy iron railirg should have fallen, and the remainder is now removing.
The south end has a very singular effect, dipping down at a sharp angle, and the wrought-iron bearing-bar, on either side, which passed through the stirrup of the suspending rods, and carried the timber framing, still holds together, proving the excellent quality of the material, but instead of a cord-line, form inverted curves (and at the time of high water dip into the sea) to which are attached fragments of the rods.
It is but too manifest, that a prodigious exfoliation of the wrought-iron work has taken place, as large flakes readily separate, from one eight to a quarter of an inch thick, and when it is considered that the bearing-irons above mentioned are only four inches by one, it becomes a serious matter.
With respect to the probable origin of the damage to the chain pier, I must state that it is strongly maintained here, that lightning was the primary cause, but I can safely assert, the mischief cannot be traced, or attributed to that powerful agent (however attractive the work!) but as it was low water at the time the damage was sustained, thereby giving an altitude of about 50 feet for an extraordinary violent wind from the westward to act upon, upwards as well as laterally, and in either case the deep fascia and cornice three feet high increased the action, and produced a rapid undulation, and ever and anon, a springing in the middle, forming an arc, which dropping, and the extremities being fixed, the latter were acted upon as by a lever, and burst up; the suspending rods were also lifted up, and thus displaced the heavy saddles (to which the rods are connected by a T socket inside), the chains then separated and partly twisted: hence the rapid destruction of the work. I am assured that the funds are at a very "low ebb," and consequently a restoration not very likely to be carried into effect, without a general subscription by the inhabitants, and doubtless the visitors will readily aid them, to support so delightful a perambulation and agreeable promenade.— I remain, Mr. Editor, your constant reader,
Marine Parade, Oct. 17. JAMES NOBLE.
P. S. A barricade was erected across the north end, or entrance to the chain pier early on the 16th, and I am indebted to Mr. Haslet, the Superintendent, for admission, who with Mr. Mathews, the Paymaster, have been actively employed in securing the works, and the men under them have had a very hazardous occupation.'[3]

Note: A more detailed account was reported in the Hampshire Telegraph, Monday 21 October 1833.

From The Engineer, 4 March 1892: Brighton Chain Pier, opened in November, 1823, was designed by Captain S. Brown, R.N., who first suggested that the chains should be made of straight wrought iron rods or bars, from 5ft. to 15ft. in length, with either welded eyes or holes drilled at their ends, by which they might be connected either by short links or pins. This invention be patented in 1817. The Brighton Pier extends into the sea 1014ft. from the face of the esplanade wall, and its entire length is 1136ft., formed with four openings, each spanning 255ft., with a deflection of 18ft. The extreme breadth of the platform is 13ft., and in the clear width 12ft. 8in. The pyramidal suspension towers are made of cast iron, united by an arch at the top ; they are l0ft. apart and 25ft. high, and each weighs about 15 tons. They are placed on piles driven firmly into the chalk, which stand out about 13ft. above high-water; these groups of piles are 256ft. distant from each other, leave a clear opening of 227ft. The pier-head has the form of a T, and 150 piles were used, besides braces and diagonals; over them the platform is 80ft. by 40ft., which is paved with granite 12in. thick, the weight of which is upwards of 200 tons. Each of the ordinary groups of piles consists of twenty. The four main chains on each side which carry the platform are formed of wrought iron, round-eye bolts about 2in. in diameter, 10ft. long, and weighing 112lb. each ; they are united by open coupling links 1 1/2in. deep and lin. thick, with the bolt pins 2in. in diameter. The total area of the section of the iron in the chains is 25 square inches. The platform is suspended by vertical rods 1in. in diameter and 5ft. apart."

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Morning Advertiser, 5 September 1823
  2. Imperial Weekly Gazette - Saturday 4 December 1824
  3. English Chronicle and Whitehall Evening Post - Saturday 19 October 1833