The Birnbeck Regeneration Trust
The Society’s 4 February meeting featured Peter Lander of the Birnbeck Regeneration Trust on Weston-super-Mare’s historic Birnbeck Pier, and the work of the Trust in preserving it.
He described his introduction to the Trust, and being given, as an ‘incomer’ welder from Derbyshire, the task of researching the Pier’s history, not just via documents and artefacts, but also through oral history, talking to those who had lived, worked or visited the Pier, and giving regular talks about it. His presentation was largely a display of old photographs gleaned from these people he met and from other sources.
The Pier, designed by a prolific pier architect called Eugenius Birch (1818-1884) and built between 1864 and 1867, is unique as being actually a bridge from the mainland to an island, the small Birnbeck Island. Given its location and structure, it suffered much damage over the years due to storms, fires and erosion. It was closed to the public in 1994, and though it and its associated buildings and structures are listed, a lack of maintenance by successive owners has led to its deterioration.
During its active life, the Pier operated as the key link for the Island, which maintained a lifeboat station – originally in 1881, then a new one in 1902 – ferry services and a wide range of public amusements common to holiday piers of the last 150 years, all of which Peter illustrated through old photos and postcards. In the Second World War, it was taken over by the Admiralty and designated ‘HMS Birnbeck, and was a base for the invention of many novel weapons of war.
The Regeneration Trust was originally formed in 2004, encouraged by the local councils and groups keen to restore and regenerate the area with the Pier at its heart. However, practical work was limited because of the site being sold to various private owners, until the Trust was revived in 2015, and Peter described its many activities and plans to achieve proper restoration and use of the historic Pier.