Maintaining the Pier

As many of our regular visitors know, repairing and maintaining the pier is an ongoing task. Indeed, it is where much of the money we receive from our visitors is spent. As custodians of this beautiful structure, we have to stay on the front foot through careful inspection, assessment and planned maintenance, taking pre-emptive steps to undertake timely work rather than waiting to fix it when it breaks. We use the skill and experience of our engineers to prioritise repairs, so that our trading surplus is used to maximum effect each year.

Building an iron structure in saltwater isn’t the best way to guarantee long life, but at 154 years old, the pier promenade remains as uniquely elegant and slender as the day it was built. A couple of years ago we identified some deterioration in the slender, wrought iron trestle legs, and determined that that their repair would be the next significant maintenance project. After a period of planning, design and costing, the work is now due to take place between May and September 2023, starting after the Coronation weekend. The contractor undertaking the works is Centregreat – who have been our partners in works of this nature for more than 25 years now, following their first project to reinstate the pier head decking and landing stage.

The promenade legs are made of Barlow Rails – surplus railway tracks from the Great Western Railway. If you look down over the side of the promenade seating at the positions of the lamps, you’ll see the unusual profile of the rails – like a wide-brimmed hat. The rails are strong and slender – thus presenting the minimum of area to the waves and the tide. This combination of strength, slenderness and good quality wrought iron has allowed the trestles to last well but, as you’ll be able to see if you look over the seats, they have a central junction at the bottom of the arched section in which water and dirt can get trapped, and so rust can start here. They also have essential diagonal cross-bracing to stabilise the legs against the sideways forces of waves and wind – and some of these had broken or come loose.

We had initially planned to undertake these repair works in 2022. But circumstances were such that the programme slipped until this year. We wanted to protect the cross-bracing through the winter storms, and so in the autumn of 2022 we added temporary, red bracing straps to give some additional support to the legs. These can be seen in the adjacent photograph, which also shows how tall the trestles are compared to the two people working on the foundations.

This summer’s works will see the temporary straps replaced with new permanent steel braces, along with miscellaneous repairs to the tops of the concrete footings, repairs to corroded or missing sections of metalwork, and then the complete repainting of the trestles whilst we have access.
The most noticeable feature of the works for visitors will be the scaffolding required to access the trestles (see image below). This will be visible along the promenade and visitors will pass underneath it at the trestle positions. We want our visitors to see the works progressing, and will maintain safe access through the works throughout the summer. 

Working over water, and with such a high tidal range, the scaffolding is itself a major piece of engineering. The scaffolding has to be strong enough to withstand being submerged twice a day without being washed away, light enough that the pier can support it, and sufficiently versatile so that the workers can access safely all the areas required. When we are preparing the metal surfaces for the re-painting, the scaffolding also will have to be sheeted so that the old paint doesn’t fall into the water.

In many ways, this image illustrates one of the biggest difficulties of maintaining the pier. The scale and cost of access for a large structure over water can be greater than the cost of the repair materials. The contractor will also have a safety boat on standby during some of the work operations.

It is our duty to use the funding we receive from visitors and donors wisely, and we will specify as many repairs to as high a standard as we can afford so that we safeguard this historic structure for the benefit of the community in the future.

We welcome our questions, interest and support throughout the summer and look forward to the promenade returning to its former glory in the autumn.

If you would like to help to preserve the pier for future generations then you can do so by joining our Supporters Club (here) or making a donation (here).

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