Under the Pier Show – Southwold, England - Atlas Obscura
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Southwold, England

Under the Pier Show

A chaotic collection of coin-operated slot machines designed to delight and disturb in equal measure. 

Restored in 2002, Southwold Pier is home to the cafes, fish-and-chip shops, and gift shops beloved of English seaside-goers. Walk halfway along the genteel boardwalk, however, and things start to get more interesting.

The pier also houses an unusual collection of hand-built, coin-operated slot machines and automata. Built by Cambridge University graduate engineer Tim Hunkin, the surreal and anarchic assortment of off-the-wall machinery includes such games as the self-explanatory “Whack-a-Banker”; “Mobility Masterclass,” a game in which the object is to help a walker-wielding grandmother cross a busy road; and “Pet or Meat,” in which a machine decides, with your help, whether a cute cuddly lamb becomes a meal or a household member of a family of grinning wooden figures.

There’s also “Flydrive,” which is perhaps the worlds only housefly simulator and “My Nuke,” which allows you to experience the thrills of inserting plutonium rods into a nuclear reactor. The latter is particularly relevant, as Southwold is only a few miles up the coast from the Sizewell nuclear power plant.

That’s just a small sampling of the bizarre activities that await. Permanently installed outside the Under the Pier Show is another of Hunkin’s creations: a water clock in which a mechanical couple share a bath, and small boys attempt unsuccessfully to urinate into a toilet every hour to delight the crowds.

Know Before You Go

Southwold pier is found at the northern end of North parade at the junction of Pier Avenue. It is easy to find and free to enter. Southwold is a very popular seaside town, but doesn't have a train station. Car parking can be quite problematic, so at weekends in the summer, aim to get there early to avoid disappointment!