A Regency period painting of the original Suspension Chain Pier at Brighton in superb mahogany frame.
This fantastically rare and naïve painting gives a contemporary glimpse of Brighton seafront as it would have looked during the period when the future George IV was lavishing funds on the Brighton Pavilion.
Approval was given in 1822 by the Brighton Suspension Pier Company for the designs of Captain Samuel Brown of the Royal Navy 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 weather and sea conditions proved a constant concern for the owners of the Chain Pier. Disaster first struck a year after its opening in 1824 when a tempest engulfed the structure, carrying away some ornamental iron work and in 1833 and 1836, the third bridge was carried away by high seas.
Besides the occasional disaster, 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”.
This unsigned painting was executed during happier times and shows the original Regency Brighton seafront with shopfronts for Parnell and the Plume and Rottingdean Windmill visible in the background along the coast. The entrance to the pier is shown in its earliest form as it was made rather more extravagant as it grew in popularity, it also shows the wheel which was used for drawing seawater. The wheelhouse was originally used as a form of punishment for prisoners of the local jail but was later worked using animals. Beside it are pictured local fishermen and bathing machines to allow swimmers to be rolled out from shore. A wonderfully naïve and honest contemporary view of a long gone and somewhat forgotten structure that helped to secure Brighton’s future as an important seaside destination.
The Frame Measures: 51cms x 40cms