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Shanklin is one of the oldest towns on the Isle of Wight, and lies on the southern end of Sandown Bay. It was hard to access by land and lay undiscovered until 1817, when Keats enjoyed the town and wrote several poems there. The first hotels opened in the 1820s, but it wasn't until the Ryde-Shanklin railway opened in 1864 that Shanklin became a popular watering hole. The population increased twenty-fold in the next decade.
By the early 1870s Shanklin boasted over 40 hotels, and the Shanklin Esplanade and Pier company was formed and applied for permission to build a pier. In 1874 the Shanklin Pier Act was passed, and in 1878 the company issued a prospectus and advertised shares for sale. The plans for the pier were drawn up in 1880, but the funds necessary to build the pier were not raised until 1888, by which time it was necessary for Parliament to approve a second Shanklin Pier Act in 1886.
In August 1888 work on building the pier started, and when finished the pier was 1200 feet long. It was raised from the esplanade to allow bathing machines to pass beneath, and had pagoda-style toll booths at the entrance. The pier opened on August 18, 1890, and the first steamer to visit was the Flying Falcon. In 1891 the pier was even more popular when the Shanklin lift - a hydraulic lift to the esplanade from the cliff top above - was opened, making access to the esplanade easier from the town. By 1893 a bandstand-like pavilion had been built, and water polo was often played at the pier head.
In 1899 Shanklin Urban District Council bought the pier, and in 1909 built the Grand Pavilion in the centre of the pier at a cost of £4000 - it was the largest pier pavilion on the island. The original pavilion continued to be used as a bandstand.
The World War Years
During the Great War cruises to the pier ceased as the Admiralty commandeered the steamers. In 1915 the pier's landing stage was damaged and removed, and the pavilion was sadly destroyed in 1918. After the war the pier was bought from the council by Mr Terry Wood. A new centre pavilion, called the Casino Theatre, was built and opened in June 1927, followed by a new landing stage in 1931, allowing steamers to call once again. Cruises around the island, and to Brighton, Eastbourne and Cherbourg in France were available.
The small pavilion on the pier head was re-built as the 'Dancing over the Sea' dance hall in 1932, and in the 1930s regattas and water carnivals were popular. The pier was used for a number of activities, including fishing and clay-pigeon shooting, and there was always entertainment from local stunt men such as 'Professor Wesley', a one-legged man who dived into the sea from a flaming tower on the pier.
In World War II the pier again suffered damage. It was bombed by German aircraft, and was sectioned to prevent it being used as a landing stage.
The pier was also used as part of the PLUTO1 project.
By the 1970s, though, it was getting hard for the shows at the pier's theatre to compete with Sandown Pavilion, and attendance levels at the theatre's shows dropped. By 1974 the pier was owned by Haven, and had dodgems, an 'astroglide' ride, a disco and bar. The Casino Theatre was renamed the Showboat Theatre, and in 1976 the pier was bought by a local businessman, Fred Sage, who was one of the founder members of the National Piers Society, dedicated to saving seaside piers from decay and demolition. Shanklin Pier's Theatre and two original ticket booths were listed as Grade II buildings.
In 1980 the television series The End of the Pier Show was filmed at Shanklin Pier, in which the plot centred around the fictional pier of 'Smallhaven'. By 1986 plans to transform the pier into a multi-million pound leisure and conference complex were underway.
However, at 2am on October 16, 1987, the worst storm for almost 200 years swept across southern England, and hurricane force winds ripped into Shanklin Pier. The pier was ripped into three parts, with large sections torn away by the winds. South Wight Borough Council authorised the demolition of the remains of the pier, and much of the remains of the pier was recycled to make sea defences.