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David Hubbard, Crane Operator with Fugro Seacore © John Cole

David Hubbard, Crane Operator with Fugro Seacore © John Cole

Pier heroes

Unsung Heroes of Hastings Pier, an exhibition of photographs by local photographer John Cole, is a celebration of the men and women working on Hastings Pier to restore it to its original glory. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths asked him about the project and his memories of the Pier. 

“Shortly after we moved to Hastings in 2000, I remember walking down to the ballroom at the end of the pier to see Steve Pyke’s exhibition Life in Art. It was a beautiful, clear evening and I recall being mesmerized by the stunning soft evening light streaking through the tall windows bathing the ballroom in a golden glow.”

Now Cole has now seen the pier at all times of day, in all weathers, in all seasons. He has been commissioned to document – and celebrate – the workers and tradespeople restoring the Pier back to a state where it can be reused and celebrated once again.

Cole started photographing the tradespeople in May 2014 and will stay with the project until it is completed. “So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph a huge variety of workers: carpenters, steel erectors, engineers, project managers, barge workers, crane operators, contracts managers, coppersmiths, and apprentice workers, to name but a few. All heroes in my book for the work they’re doing.”

It is specialist work and tradespeople have come from outside the Hastings area, however, several of the firms are local, such as TimberCraft in Bexhill, which supplies carpenters and wood workers. There is also an apprentice scheme for local young people to learn a variety of trades.

Callum Wood, Apprentice Carpenter with TimberCraft UK, © John Cole

Callum Wood, Apprentice Carpenter with TimberCraft UK, © John Cole

Jo McLaughlan, Education and Volunteer Co-ordinator, explains “Hastings Pier Charity is offering the largest work placement programme on a construction site in the UK – which is being offered by TimberCraft UK to students from Sussex Coast College, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Construction Industry Training Board.”

Besides the privilege of working with these talented, committed poeple – the Pier’s Unsung Heroes – Cole has also been fortunate in gleaning valuable history lessons, everything from Victorian engineering to WWII defence strategy.

Project Engineer Peter Wheeler told him “that the cast iron screw piles which the Victorian engineer Eugenius Birch put into the ground in 1869 are still generally in good shape. They are resisting corrosion by the salt water and it will only be the abrasion by the beach shingle that will prevent them being there for another 150 years.”

On the main area on the Pier some of the piles do need to be replaced. And that is where sections were taken out at the beginning of the Second World War to thwart any attempts by the Germans to use the Pier as a landing stage for their invasion barges.

The photographs will be exhibited at the Pier HUB.  They will be printed on metre-high sheets of plywood, which will give them a rough, unfinished look, reflecting the fact that this is a work in progress. Later, when the Pier is open, there will be a comprehensive exhibition of the Unsung Heroes.

The exhibition runs from 17 February until 21 March 2015 at the Pier HUB,  situated in the entrance to the Old White Rocks Baths on the promenade just east of the Pier. The private view is on Tuesday 17 February at 3–4pm.

The Pier HUB is open Wednesday & Thursday, 1-4pm, and Friday & Saturday, 11am–4pm. 

Entrance is FREE.

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Posted 17:11 Tuesday, Feb 10, 2015 In: Photography

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