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The sad end of Hunstanton's pier pavilion, 85 years ago today

In his weekly Turnstone column, Hunstanton writer John Maiden talks about a disaster that occurred in 1939…

On this very day, 85 years ago, a fire marked the end of an era for my home town. A large crowd of locals and holidaymakers gathered on The Green around tea time on Saturday, June 11 to witness the sad end of Hunstanton's pier pavilion.

It could have been much worse, because the flames trapped two ladies and, to escape, they had to leap into the sea, which photographs suggest was only about four feet deep at the time.

Hunstanton Pier in August 1937
Hunstanton Pier in August 1937

Although I was present and had a very good view of the events as they unfolded, it seems likely that most of my childhood memories of the fire were obtained by listening to older family members, because I was only 20 months old at the time.

It must have been as recent as Hunstanton's150th birthday in 1996 before I came across a comprehensive newspaper report in the magnificent Lynn Library.

According to this report in the Lynn Advertiser dated June 16, 1939: “The pavilion on Hunstanton's 800-foot pier, which was destroyed by fire late on Saturday afternoon, is to be rebuilt, most probably at the promenade end of the pier instead of at the sea end."

Hunstanton Pier - late 19th or early 20th century
Hunstanton Pier - late 19th or early 20th century

After describing in detail how two ladies, both aged about 35, had to jump into the sea to save themselves from the fire, the article then lists the directors of the Hunstanton Pier Company as follows:

Messrs WR Coe, FA Bush, SH Markham and WH Brooke, with Mr FGW Hayes (secretary). Directors of the Pier Company visited the scene during and after the fire, and consultations about the future were carried out on the Sunday and again on the Monday. The pier and pavilion were insured and it was understood that the insurance covered loss of takings for the coming season.

Needless to say, the plans of these directors had to be put on hold for the duration of World War II. In fact, it was not until February 1955 that Hunstanton Urban District Councillors approved plans submitted by one of their own, Mr JW Harris, to extend the width of the pier from 16 feet to 76 feet where it would overfly the new north promenade, which was under construction from December 1954 until May 1956.

Hunstanton Pier Pavilion Fire - June 1939
Hunstanton Pier Pavilion Fire - June 1939

Adding this tasteless structure to the original Victorian pier entrance buildings was bad enough, but worse was to follow. However, enough has been said on that subject. My fear now is for the town's very first building, the Golden Lion. Will the proposed addition to this Grade II Listed Building, extending over its west-facing gardens, protect and enhance its appearance; or is there a risk that it could resemble yet another monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved friend?

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