RESIDENTS and visitors now have a new public amenity on the seaside, but how exactly was the new 132ft truncated pier reconstructed and what did it take to re-construct?

Following a comprehensive three year project, Donald Insall Associates, one of the UK’s leading conservation architects, have completed work on Colwyn Bay’s historic Grade II listed pier.

The pier has had a 121 year turbulent history. Three pier complexes have been built and destroyed three times by fire and, eventually, the elements.

Although the most recent structure was dismantled in 2018 for safety reasons – leaving only nine standing columns and the stone seawall remaining – salvaged elements of previous piers have been retained and cleverly reimagined in a way that pays tribute to the pier’s historic fabric, setting and social significance.

Colwyn Bay Pier Completion. Picture: Andy Marshall taken July 2021

Colwyn Bay Pier Completion. Picture: Andy Marshall taken July 2021

A Challenging brief

Upon winning a competitive tender for the project in 2018, the architects were faced with a structure that had severely dilapidated since its closure in 2008; it had been ravaged by Storm Doris in 2017 and was subsequently primarily dismantled to ensure public safety and safeguard what was left of the pier.

The architects inherited a project comprising nine standing columns, a stone seawall and numerous fragments of the previous structures which had been removed for safekeeping.

With Planning and Listed Building Consents already in place to reinstate the initial three bays of the pier, the challenge was to develop technical designs.

Given the scale of the restoration and renewal of missing elements, architects needed to establish a strategic approach that would protect the pier's structural integrity and architectural heritage.

Colwyn Bay Pier Completion. Picture: Andy Marshall taken July 2021

Colwyn Bay Pier Completion. Picture: Andy Marshall taken July 2021

Creative solutions

As the harsh coastal environment had hastened the demise of previous piers, the architects undertook technical investigations into the remaining cast-iron fragments. This enabled them to understand what went wrong and to ‘design out’ inherent defects – creating a structure which was both more robust and easier to maintain, whilst importantly retaining as much of the original historic fabric as possible.

In order to combat the salt-water damage which had ravaged the ironwork and timbers of previous piers, the architects improved the detailing to encourage water away from the structure and chose a coating system for the original Moorish Revival cast-iron balustrades that better protects them.

The architects’ research into the pier’s architectural history and social significance, as well as expert paint analysis of the 1934 structure, influenced the choice of salmon pink and cream for the decorative scheme. These colours bear a striking resemblance to colours in the interiors of the Art Deco pavilion, as well as Ravilious and Adshead’s murals, which had previously been removed for safekeeping. Almost poetically, whilst the future and conservation of the Ravilous murals remain uncertain, their spirit has been recaptured in the decorative scheme of the pier.

Armed with an understanding of the pier’s historic fabric, setting and social significance, along with a philosophy that emphasises repair over restoration, the project – led by the architects in partnership with Conwy County Borough Council – has achieved the reinstatement by retaining and repairing the pier’s nine remaining columns and the decorative cast-ironwork, and reinterpreting the lighting based on the original designs.

The result is described as a truncated, yet elegant, pier.

Elgan Jones, Senior Architect, Donald Insall Associates, told the Pioneer: “Victoria Pier is an important local landmark that symbolises the development of Colwyn Bay from a seaside hamlet to a Victorian tourist destination. Having walked along the promenade and seen the pier fall into disrepair I feel privileged to have been part of a dedicated and knowledgeable team its restoration and conservation.

"When I initially saw the plans for the truncated pier and compared it to its former length I, as I’m sure many, wondered and imagined how it would sit within the wider context of the bay. As the designs developed we were confident in its detailing, proportions and scale but one aspect which exceeded expectations was the impact of the colour scheme for the decorative cast iron which defined its hierarchy from the contrasting darker colour of the structure below.

"The practice specialises in conservation and work within the historic environment.

"I’ve been fortunate to work on a diverse range of historic sites from chapels, farmsteads, country houses, museums, castles, aqueducts and now a pier. On this project, as the structure had been dismantled prior to our involvement, there was a greater reliance on research, trials, testing and design workshops with the engineers to inform the proposals."

The decorative railings awaiting restoration

The decorative railings awaiting restoration

A new future for Colwyn Bay

The new pier, sea wall and adjacent landscaping form a crucial element in the regeneration of the town’s waterfront and town centre.

Mr Jones, who qualified as an architect in 2013 and was awarded the prestigious SPAB Lethaby Scholarship to focus my understanding on working with historic buildings, said he feels "privileged" and very fortunate to spend time working with such fantastic and interesting buildings.

"When we started the project nine columns stood on the beach and a labyrinth of heavily corroded cast iron sections, panels and posts had been dismantled and stored in the yard," he explained.

"I was thrilled with the decorative detail which survived beneath the corrosion, its repair and reuse were important to the integrity of the pier.

"I’m incredibly pleased how the new and old have come together, the detail reinstated and the character retained.

"The pier seems to evoke fond memories from all who visited – myself included.

"It has certainly been one of my favourite and the most technically challenging projects.

"The environmental conditions and the risk of corrosion to the metalwork made it critical that the structure was suitably detailed and protected. Where possible, we also introduced subtle changes to help improve the longevity of the fabric."

Victoria Pier, Colwyn Bay during works

Victoria Pier, Colwyn Bay during works