Built around 2560BC for the Pharaoh Khufu’s burial place, the Great Pyramid of Ghiza was at 481 feet the tallest structure on earth for more than 43 centuries. The pyramid represented the best engineering of its time, as does Cromer Pier. The pier, which likewise is a great survivor, is an enduring example of Victorian building methods, having withstood storm and an attempt to blow it up!
At the beginning of the second world war, the government decreed that its middle section should be destroyed, to prevent the pier being used as a landing stage by invading forces. A massive charge of dynamite was expected to do the deed.
But the first blast, big enough to blow out all the seafront windows in the town, merely left the pier buckled. No wonder… the pier’s deck sat on steel girders pinned to wrought iron piles that had been driven 20 feet into the seabed! Fortunately for the authorities, a second, bigger detonation did the trick.
This area had an earlier pier, but for that we have to go back 600 years, when Cromer was three quarters of a mile back from the coast, with a fishing village called Shipden between it and the sea. In 1390 the folk of Shipden petitioned the King for power to charge port duties to help towards the cost of a pier: ‘Concessimus vobis in auxilium constructionis cuiusdam pere’.
So the first pier was built, but by 1550 Shipden had given up its unequal struggle with the North Sea and Cromer became the front line. The town built its own pier, but that disappeared in a great storm in 1611. In the late 18th century the Gurney and Barclays families ‘discovered’ Cromer as a bracing place to sea-bathe. A new wooden jetty was built. That was washed away in 1837. A sea wall, promenade and new jetty were then built, but the paint was barely dry before a bad winter took it all away. The next one lasted longer, until 1897, when it was lashed by a storm and torpedoed amidships by a coal boat.
So they tried again, and in 1901 constructed a pleasure pier – the one we see today. Despite the military blowing a hole in it in 1939; despite the damage wrought by the 1953 flood surges; despite a bulk barge called the Tayjack slicing through it in 1993, it is still there today – a testament to Victorian engineering.