Britain’s coast is dotted with piers stretching over the sea like unfinished bridges to nowhere. Along with people cracking their teeth on sugary rock and children making sandcastles with buckets and spades, they’re an iconic part of life at the seaside where people can walk over the waves. But how did piers become so popular?

In the 18th century wealthy people began to visit the coast for its reputed health benefits. The sea had been viewed as a frightening place, with good reason since storms wrecked many ships, sending those on board down to a watery death in Neptune’s domain. That sense of dread diminished as seawater and sea air were associated with good health and natural beauty. The sea still needed to be respected, but was also seen as a natural source of wellbeing.