Passers-by alerted Coastguard officials at around 4.30 pm about the destruction. © 24 Hour Museum
Summer storms along the English south coast have left the remaining steel stumps and girders of the West Pier in Brighton in ruins.
Afternoon visitors to Brighton seafront were shocked to see the concert hall, in the centre of the Grade One listed pier, slipping beneath the waves as a result of storm force winds.
Small groups of bystanders and officials witnessed the damage from the shore. According to one local, the starlings resident on the concert hall roof were still hanging on to other parts of the wrecked pier, which has suffered two serious fires in the last three years.
The West Pier Trust have been fighting to rebuild or restore Eugenius Birch's 1866 structure - the Trust were recently disappointed when a major Heritage Lottery Fund grant was withdrawn after earlier storm damage.
The pier has been off limits to the public since 1975 - now it's off limits even to the starlings who made their home on the concert hall roof. © 24 Hour Museum
"There's no danger to shipping," explained Ross Greenhill of Her Majesty's Coastguard, "but we're keeping people off the beach until we've collected any debris which may be of use to the West Pier Trust."
Coastguards and police were called to keep onlookers off the beach after the concert hall disappeared under mountainous seas at around 4.30 pm on June 23, 2004.
West Pier Trust staff were in attendance but were unable to comment at length about the destruction, though it was said by one Trust spokesperson that the storm would not change the Trust's plans to fight for restoration or rebuild of the pier.
Coastguards sealed off the beach to try to collect parts of the pier for the West Pier Trust. © 24 Hour Museum
Before this most recent storm damage, English Heritage experts restated their interest in seeing the West Pier restored. "We cannot turn our backs on this internationally famous Grade I listed building," said Dr Simon Thurley of English Heritage, after the HLF funds were withdrawn.
"The West Pier is more than just a tourist attraction. It is an enduring symbol of Brighton and an intrinsic part of the nation’s mental image of the seafront there."
"We all know it," he added, "whether as the spectacular backdrop to broadcasts from innumerable party conferences, or as the setting for a first seaside holiday or even a first kiss. Purely in design and engineering terms, we believe it is the most important pleasure pier ever built."