I’ve always had a soft spot for Withernsea. It really shouldn’t exist.
Most of the two villages of Withernsea and Owthorne had disappeared into the sea by the nineteenth century, when Anthony Bannister, a Hull fish-merchant and ship-owner with capital to spare, promoted the Hull & Holderness Railway and – to provide somewhere for visitors to stay when they got off the train – built what became the Queen’s Hotel at the Withernsea terminus in 1854-5. The railway was unsuccessful because it had only one track and was taken over by a larger company in 1862.
In 1870 Bannister tried again to generate income by founding the Withernsea Pier, Promenade, Gas & General Improvement Co. The pier was completed in 1877, the year before Bannister died, but in 1882 the Pier Company went bankrupt.
The pier was damaged by storms and collisions in 1880, 1882, 1890 and 1893. In 1903 the owners gave up and demolished what was left, leaving the twin castellated towers that remain as an ornament to the promenade. It’s now commemorated by a memorably original seat for weary passers-by.
The geology at Withernsea is so unstable that the lighthouse was built several hundred yards inland, where the bedrock could support a tall enough structure. Its light guided shipping from 1894 to 1976. Now it’s a charming little museum with an excellent cup of tea [http://www.withernsealighthouse.co.uk].
It contains a tribute to the actress Kay Kendall, who was born in Withernsea. Her famous trumpet-playing scene in Genevieve (1953) was dubbed by the jazz trumpeter Kenny Baker: at the time the film was made neither of them apparently realised that the other came from Withernsea, perhaps because of the five years’ difference in their ages.
It’s not a very big place.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all: the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside: the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage, please click here.