“Some day, perhaps, all piers will be like this”– Kathryn Flett, The Observer, 2002.
You put a coin in the slot, and two gloved hands appear from nowhere to rub you up and down. No, this isn’t Soho, folks, or Paris – it’s Southwold Pier, and they do things a little differently in East Anglia.
The ‘hands’ belong to the ‘Frisk-o-matic’ or ‘Autofrisker’, just one of braniac Tim Hunkin’s glorious self-made amusement machines. Tim has created what is probably the most unique amusement arcade in the world, and it’s right here inside the pier’s celebrated ‘middle shed’. Professor Tim’s other inventions include simulators such as ‘Microbreak’, which lets you sit in a moving armchair and experience a virtual holiday, and the ‘Bathyscape’, which seals up to five people inside a simulated deep sea diving tank to witness, amongst other things, ‘nuclear waste mating’ and ‘raw sewage’. Full of imagination and a genuine delight, Hunkin’s machines are impossible to do justice to with the written word. An undisputed success with the public, they are just one of the many reasons the totally rebuilt Southwold Pier was voted ‘Pier of the Year’ in 2002.
Originally opened back in 1900, Southwold Pier picked up a good steamer trade off the back of nearby Great Yarmouth, as holidaymakers would stop off here en route. Its early history was uneventful, although it suffered from the kind of storm damage that east coast piers are prone to: in 1934, the landing stage was swept away. Further disaster was to follow during World War II, when an unexploded sea mine drifted into it and took out a section. This was repaired, but two further storms in 1955 and 1979 reduced to the pier to a fraction of its original length.
Things were turned around in ’87, when the Iredale family took things over. They did a first-class job of fixing-up what was left at the shore-end, restoring the original pavilion theatre and function rooms, and introducing ‘Flipper’s Diner’, and a fitness studio. Better yet, they raised the funds to restore the pier to its former length – which in this is case amounted to much the same thing as building a new pier. On the 3rd of July 2001, the fully-restored pier was opened by the Duke of Gloucester, and blessed by Southwold’s team vicar, the Reverend Jane Wilson. Congratulations to all concerned, for Southwold Pier is now truly a pier to celebrate.
In the summer of 2002, the Xenis Emputae Travelling Band recorded part of their second album, ‘The Suffolk Workings’, right here on the pier.