The logical next step after Southwold seemed to be Felixstowe. We arrived, had fish and chips (to be covered later), visited Landguard Point, photographed a Martello Tower and, finally, parked by the pier. This was not because I had a plan to accommodate a lot of sight-seeing in one trip, but because I couldn’t remember how to get to the pier.
I don’t have overly fond memories of Felixstowe Pier. We used to go there when visiting Julia’s parents in Suffolk and my clearest memories are a stony beach and architecture that always makes me think of a barrack block in the 1950’s.
It’s all changed now. Apart from the beach – that’s still stony. I don’t mind stony beaches myself but they are cheerless places when you have kids, and I did ache a bit the morning after I threw myself full length on Hastings beach to stop a shot on goal from one of the kids. Competitive? Me?
The new pier has been open less than a year and cost £3 million. It seems like a bargain for a lovely new amusement arcade, which includes a new carpet, with appropriate logo. Compared to the old Felixstowe Pier this is a magical place, but compared to Southwold it’s a bit basic. An Arcade, some food, a carpet and some railings cannot compete. Even the gulls on the fenced-off section aren’t enough to raise the game – without people to walk the boards a pier is merely a method to collect guano.
It was once 2,640 feet long, one of the longest piers in the country. It had an electric tramway and a pleasure steamer service operated from the end of the pier, with services to Yarmouth and London.
All went well until 1939, when the Army took a section out of the pier to stop it being used by invading Germans. I’m not really clear why piers were seen as such an important factor in the German invasion. It was probably like the metal collections that resulted in the loss of my grandparents’ garden railings. Rumour has it that we didn’t need all that ironwork, but that it was a way of bringing the reality of war home to the population. The breaching of the piers on the east coast was probably similar, being a propaganda measure rather than a serious military necessity.
After the war the pier was never repaired.
The tramway never ran again and the detached seaward end was eventually demolished. The only reason there is anything running out to sea is because it is too expensive to demolish. Eventually I suppose the whole lot will fall apart, which will be a shame, but despite all the regeneration of the seafront Felixstowe seems destined to be more famous as a container port rather than a holiday destination.
There’s a picture on the internet showing a Short 184 seaplane on the pier after crashing in 1920. Having been a seaplane base in the war Felixstowe was no stranger to aircraft accidents.Though it’s virtually unknown these days the Short was a notable aircraft in its day, with a number of records to its credit.
Felixstowe also saw the crash of the Felixstowe Fury. Having missed the chance to fly the Atlantic non-stop when the Air Ministry decided to leave the attempt to commercial interests, the Fury was being prepared for a record-breaking flight to South Africa when it crashed in the sea off Felixstowe, killing the radio operator. At the time it was the largest seaplane in the world and the largest ever British aircraft. With a wingspan of 123 feet it was 21 feet wider than an Avro Lancaster.
I’ll leave it there because, although I’m fascinated by early aviation, it’s not really anything to do with the pier.