A George IV period aquatint print of the original Suspension Chain Pier at Brighton during the Tempest of 1824 by John Bruce of Brighton.
The engraved print interprets the first of the great storms that the Brighton Suspension Chain Pier was to encounter during its life. Happening a year after its completion in 1823, the ‘tempest’ engulfed the pier but thankfully withstood the battering, only losing some of its ornamental ironwork to the seas. It is entitled and dedicated at the bottom with the following.
‘To Captain S. Brown. RN. This plate representing the situation of the Chain Pier at Brighton during the late tempest is with your permission respectfully dedicated by his obliged servant, J. Bruce. November 23rd 1824’.
Captain Samuel Brown of the Royal Navy, to whom Bruce dedicates the print was given approval in 1822 by the Brighton Suspension Pier Company for his designs to be constructed on a site not far from the existing Palace pier. Captain (eventually Commander Brown) had gained significant notoriety in the early nineteenth century for his experiments in chain design for use on ship’s rigging. His designs led to a number of patents and following his retirement from the Royal Navy in 1812, he formed a company for the manufacture and installation of his invention. Having had initial success in Scotland with the Trinity Chain Pier and the Union Bridge his plans were submitted to Brighton for the formation of a landing stage for shipping as the town lacked a natural harbour.
Built upon wooden piles of Norwegian fir, the towers for the pier were constructed from cast iron with Brown’s patent wrought iron chains connecting them. Wooden platforms were then hung from the chains to create the connecting walkways. The sources differ slightly in their estimations but it is considered to have been built at a cost of between £22,000 & £30,000 and was finally opened to the public in July 1823.
Although primarily used as a landing stage for pleasure cruises and packet ships making to the journey to and from Dieppe, the pier gained huge popularity as an attraction for residents and visitors to Brighton. There were shops situated at the base of each tower where gifts and confectionary were sold to those willing to pay the 2d entrance fee.
The pier was visited and painted by many of the famous and influential and numerous written accounts and pictures remain. During it existence it was painted by JMW Turner, Constable and William Earp. Queen Victoria’s landing at Brighton in 1843 was also famously depicted by Richard Henry Nibbs.
A French aristocrat, Auguste de la Garde described his own landing at Brighton in 1827 after travelling from Dieppe. “And so it was, as my delighted gaze lingered on the long lines of an elegant picturesque palace, itself the epitome of Brighton as I am told, that a cannon signal greeted our arrival on what had, for so long been enemy territory. We came ashore on the Pier, which is a sort of bridge suspended on chains and which juts out nearly 1200 feet into the sea. It is the very model of elegance and solidity, so very worthy of acting as the bridgehead to the graceful amphitheatre before which it stands.”
With the construction of the West Pier in 1866 and the Aquarium in 1871, the Chain Pier gradually fell into decline and in 1891, the Palace Pier was given permission to be built on agreement that the Chain Pier should be demolished beforehand. Sadly, on the 4th of December 1896, the weather took matters into its own hands and engulfed the pier for the last time. All that remained on the following morning was the broken structure of the first tower nearest to the shore.
An onlooker described the scene, “At about 10.30pm, suddenly, amid the roaring waves and the howling of the wind, the pier shivered convulsively from end to end; and in a few moments the entire structure had collapsed. Nothing remained standing but the vestiges of the first piles of timbers. The light at the pier-head remained until the last”.
John Bruce was a renowned local artist, engraver and publisher in Brighton during the period and this print was sold both singularly or as a grouping in his “Select Views of Brighton”, an extremely rare grouping of prints which focussed on Regency/George IV period Brighton. Bruce was obviously a canny businessman as his advertising states that the prints were available for sale at the first tower on the Chain pier. This dramatic scene must surely have been a good source of income from the pier’s visitors.
This particular version of the tempest at the Chain pier differs from other versions when given close comparison. There are a greater number of figures at the shoreline, along the street and at the entrance gates to the pier, giving the scene a greater sense of drama. It has been professionally cleaned by a qualified paper conservator and reframed using conservation grade materials.