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A Wheel Of Change And A Pier We Still Call ‘Palace’

In the autumn of 2011, on a clearly riveting morning, I found myself staring out of the office window at a view of the east side of the town- a view that I never tire of. The morning afforded good visibility, and I could see the Sussex County straight ahead, the White Vans Of Kingswood Street (see a previous article), and the Bear Road Cemetery beyond the spires of St Peter’s. Splendid, well briefly…

As I gazed towards the silvery sun kissed sea (well I can’t actually remember if the sun was out-but you didn’t know that anyway) I recoiled in horror at a monstrosity that had seemingly sprung up overnight at the west end of Madeira Drive.

The Brighton Wheel had arrived.

How I honestly thought I was in a scene from War of the Worlds. A gigantic spherical alien, of impregnable metallic proportion, had risen from the pebbles. A wave of petrified locals running every which way, The Steine alive with the screams of folks squashing onto buses fleeing in the direction of Hove. Ok, in fairness, Woking 1896 it wasn’t, but nonetheless my horror was unabated. The wheel dominated, to use an understated word, the seaside skyline. I made enquiries as to its purpose and was given all the relevant detail. In as quick time as it had been assembled I wished they would remove it. The sight of this horrid alteration to my beautiful view has filled me with uncontrollable annoyance. And they hadn’t even asked me first.

I vowed never to set foot on this impostor, which I haven’t, but really because I can’t see that the view offers anything more than our office window, and I’d sooner spend the money in the pub opposite. Yet the truth is I have often found myself walking up St James’s Street and staring in awe at the site of this creature at the end of Madeira Place. It was this view that moved me from antipathy to indifference, then to grudging admiration. I haven’t stopped taking pictures since. For me it is now an integral part of the town’s landscape. My life has moved on, there are other things to worry about.

Now we are two years on, and it seems longer. The whole building of the wheel episode has shown me how I am a progressive really, and has got me thinking about the way a fear of change, and the holding onto tradition, is often really a desire to secure the status quo through an inbuilt need to be in control of our own surroundings. This is manifested by a desire to see society develop on our own terms and this extends to, and is best shown with, our relationship to physical structures. I guess that’s why we are all different and argue over the slightest things on occasions. The Wheel was a fine example, but not many folk talk about it now, and if they do, not often in a negative sense.

Speaking to a resident of Madeira Place recently, it is clear that I wasn’t the only one that had issues at the time though. It seems that a number of residents in the East Cliff(e) area felt that their concerns hadn’t been listened to. Although this view wasn’t representative of a town united by a common denominator of umbrage that is reserved for the other seafront tourist attraction, namely the re-named Brighton Pier.

In the year 2000, the Noble Group, in a highly sensitive understanding of Brighton history and culture, decided to re-name the Palace Pier the ‘Brighton Pier’. This suggested that it was the towns only such attraction although there were plans afoot to restore the West Pier-later destroyed by fire.

I’ve never spoken to a local who approved of this move, although the comments column is for any unedited re-buffing of this assertion. Even the local Evening Argus, not my favourite paper, has a knack of using the former name- again a reflection of popular thought.

What has happened with our beloved attraction is not an example of progress, the bettering of an environment for the common good and peaceful enjoyment; it is example of crass marketing without social consideration. This is where I believe, to use a biblical description, ‘keeping the good tradition’ is important.

As much as a self titled ‘progressive’ like me wants to see our town move with the times, there are certain generational associations that will serve to enhance this development. It keeps the necessary part of our identity in place, that of our historic and often family roots, strong. The name ‘Palace Pier’, its featuring in popular entertainment, its very image, is something that cannot be swept away by a Marketing Executive in a northern outpost. That was genuinely outrageous.

So the Wheel is with us, and as my other half has promised his relations that we are taking them on it, so when they next come I may be forced to venture forth.

But as for the Palace Pier, I’ll be buying the ice creams from Morrisons thanks…



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