28th July 2008 started with a glorious sunny day and clear blue skies. I had a meeting with some of my staff in the training centre at 11 am and so was up early to walk the dogs. At the time I lived on the same street as the fire station and unusually at 06:48 there wasn’t one tender in the station. Strange to say the least but I didn’t give it another thought, especially as there had been no sirens……until I turned round and spotted the column of dirty black smoke rising into the sky.
My immediate thought was “something big” and from the location, near the sea-front. Maybe one of the big hotels or perhaps a night-club.
Well the photographer in me couldn’t resist it. So the dogs were given the shortest walk ever and I was in my car and on the sea-front within minutes. I was wrong, it wasn’t a hotel or a night-club. it was the iconic Grand Pier and it was totally engulfed.
It has been reported that at 01:35 on 28 July 2008, a fire at the foot of the north tower on the shoreward (eastern) end of the pavilion triggered a privately monitored fire alarm, but the alarm monitoring company were unable to contact the key-holder by mobile phone and therefore no further action was taken. It was not until 06:46 that the Avon Fire and Rescue Service was notified. They deployed 13 fire engines, special appliances, and more than 85 fire-fighters to tackle the blaze, but the building was soon destroyed
If you look closely at this photograph you can see in the bottom left hand side of the pier a jet of water. This was from the fire-fighters attempting to fight the fire.
As observers we couldn’t get any closer but fortunately I had grabbed one of my telephoto lenses so was able to get some close-up photographs of the intense fire.
The Grand Pier had four towers, one at each corner. this was all that was left of one of them.
By now it’s 7:24 and we were asked to move from our view-point as the emergency services wanted unrestricted access to that part of the sea-front.
This is the front of the pier. from this point to where the fire was blazing is probably about 300 metres.
It’s now 8:24. The main structure of the pavilion is totally destroyed, all that remains is the charred skeleton. The police move to close the beach area to the public. For one the pier is unsafe and secondly there’s money underneath the pier. The pavilion housed loads of slot machines, need I say more.
That’s it the pavilion was gone and it had to be a big loss for Weston-super-Mare as it’s a big tourist attraction. Preliminary investigations suggested that the fire started due to a number of deep fat fryers which had been located within the pavilion area, however after further investigation this was later ruled out, as was arson. On 22 October 2008 at a news conference held by the fire service, it was announced that the cause of the fire would be recorded as unknown, but that the most likely cause was electrical.
Work began dismantling the wreckage on 12 September 2008 and the Bristol architects Angus Meek won the contract to design the new pavilion on 15 October. North Somerset Council approved the plans, which also included a rotating observation tower 91 metres (299 ft) in height, on 12 March 2009. Contractors John Sisk and Son were selected to construct the new pavilion, which was expected to be completed by June 2010, but was delayed following several setbacks and instead re-opened in time for half-term break on 23 October 2010. The opening day attracted more than 52,000 visitors, and an estimated 100,000 for the whole weekend.
I never got to see the completed new pier, except in photographs. In March 2010 I left Weston-super-Mare to live in North Wales. Maybe I’ll go back, who knows.