THE RISE AND FALL OF St LEONARDS PIER

These pieces found in local and national newspapers of the time outlined the rise and fall of St Leonards (Palace Pier).

American Palace pier 1909

On this day 1st April 1909 – The American Syndicate took possession of the Palace Pier. The transformed American Palace Pier was to be reopened in May. The Mail of 10th April reported that the American Syndicate and the Council’s Electricity Committee expected that the whole of the illuminations would be of electric light. Mr. F.H. Blackwell, on behalf of the Syndicate, was highly indignant at the way he had been treated by the Electricity Committee, wanting to charge between 4d and 5d per unit for “the juice” – “an exceedingly abnormal charge compared with Brighton”. The Gas Company will benefit from the use of gas for lighting, with electricity just for other uses. The Mail of 1st May said that there were then 120 men engaged in painting and decorating the whole pier, preparing the deck for the new roller skating rink and erecting six ornamental kiosks, each accommodating three shops.

In April 1909 the ‘American Syndicate’, also known as the Rinkeries, took possession of the St Leonards Pier and carried out big improvements. The whole pier was painted and decorated and six ornamental kiosks erected, each accommodating three shops. It reopened on 23rd May as the ‘American Palace Pier’ (often called just the Palace Pier). In July that year a new pavilion was built as a roller skating rink at the seaward end of the pier. It had a steel frame, with the top half of its walls being glass that could be pulled up all around to admit the air. Its flooring was maple.

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Entrance to the New Palace Pier – Marina – St. Leonards on Sea 1930s

In August 1917 a Mr. John Henry Gardner moved to St. Leonards and took over the pier. He became well known for his generous support for local charities and his attempts to make the pier a success.

But although the St. Leonards Pier was an important attraction, it was an ongoing financial failure. Gardner effectively went bust in 1927 and offered the pier to Hastings Council for a mere £9,000. But the Council refused because of the high cost of reconditioning the structure, estimated at £21,000. Supporters of the pier disputed this cost, pointing out that over the previous two years the pavilion had been reroofed and repainted inside, a large sum had been spent on the substructure and the skating rink had been repainted.

The 1920s
Gardner, heavily in debt, continued running the pier until July 1933, when the denture holders gave up and sold their shares to London brothers David and Philip Lannon. They appointed a man named Arthur Collins as the ‘lessee’, on behalf of a company called Southern Piers Ltd. He renamed the pier as the New Palace Pier in March 1934 and promised it would be reconstructed and brought up-to-date.

Then on 7th July 1934 the lively national magazine ‘John Bull’ exposed all the Lannon purchase as an “Astounding Seaside Pier Scandal”. It revealed that all these “notorious people” were shady characters with dubious pasts. Mr. Collins, whose real name was Arthur Cohen, was the sole owner and director of Southern Piers, which had only been formed in December 1933, with just £1,000 capital. The Lannons, along with another man and their brother-in-law Cohen, had been involved in setting up a £250,000 business for the purchase of an American talking machine. This deal collapsed, but the Lannon group walked away with large sums of money. They also set up many highly criticised money-lending schemes, one of which had bought the pier.

The 1933 rebuild
John Bull concluded: “To give a full list of the ventures which the Lannon Brothers have been associated with would be impossible. Time and again their tangled affairs have been thrashed out in the bankruptcy courts, and hard things have been said of their conduct by officials. … In these circumstances we shall watch the developments of Southern Piers Ltd and the New Palace Pier with interest.”

Despite the scepticism of the John Bull, extensive changes and improvements were made, reflecting the changing trends in holiday making. Numerous well-known dance bands were engaged, and the new attractions ranged from a bridge congress to all-in wrestling. But the Lannons had soon had enough, and in September 1938 their solicitor placed an advertisement in the Hastings Observer saying that the pier was up for auction in London. But it failed to reach its reserve price, with the the highest bid being £34,750.

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The auction for St Leonards Pier 1938

It was September 28th 1938, but it was never re sold because it didn’t reach it’s reserve price, and the highest bid was £34,750 and after that it was requisitioned by the M.O.D and sectioned, bringing the St Leonards Pier Company to an end.  After the war Hastings Pier Company brought it with one thing on their mind, demolition, because they didn’t want another pier to compeat with, as times were hard after the war.

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