The Chain Pier
Historically, Brighton was a port - and I'm not talking about the marina that was built in the 1970s. In the days when sea transport was more efficient than road, it made sense to land cargo on the beach rather than try to haul it over the South Downs and from further afield. But it was still back breaking work to take cargo, including coal, off ships and on to rowing boats to take them ashore. For customs purposes the port of Brighton was a 600 feet length of the seafront, roughly between East Street and West Street.
In the days before the train Brighton was also the shortest route between London and Paris - shorter in time than Dover. So when the Chain Pier was opened in 1823 its primary function was as a landing stage for sailing ships between Brighton and Dieppe. But from the start it also functioned as a popular promenade with a few attractions. It even had a camera obscura.
The Chain Pier was 1,154 feet long, and cost £30,000 pounds to build. It was a kind of one-ended suspension bridge. Its formal name was The Royal Suspension Chain Pier. It consisted of four cast-iron towers, spaced 260 feet apart, standing on wooden piles. The shape of the towers was inspired by the Egyptian pylon, which also was the inspiration for the doorways of the pentecostal church in the Lanes - now the Font and Firkin pub! (Have a closer look next time you're passing.) The chains suspended from the towers supported the weight of the pier's deck, and on the shore end the chains were buried 54 feet into the face of the East Cliff (or King's Cliff), attached to 3 ton steel plates which were set in concrete.
So, so long as horse and carriage was the only available means of transport on land, Brighton did a busy ferry trade to France. As many as 9 sailing ships plied the the route, but in 1822 the first steamship, the Swift, entered service, and gradually steam replaced sail.
In 1841 the train arrived in Brighton in the shape of the London to Brighton railway line, and when the extension to the deep water port of Newhaven was opened in 1847 Brighton's days as a cross-channel ferry port were numbered. However, coastal day trips were a popular attraction right into the twentieth century, and in the inter-war period day trips to France ran from the West Pier.
While the Chain Pier's role in cross-channel transport disappeared, the idea of the pleasure pier was firmly established.