Piers of East and West Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK
Created | Updated Dec 13, 2012
Piers of the West Wight | Piers of the East Wight | Piers of East and West Cowes
Sandown Pier | Shanklin Pier | Ryde Piers | Ventnor Piers
On either side of the wide River Medina, in the middle of the north side of the Isle of Wight, lie the twin towns of Cowes1 and East Cowes. As the home of international sailing2, Cowes has always had plenty of pontoons, wharves, jetties and so on, especially since the first Cowes Regatta in 1812. However, it was not until 1841 that the first pier was built.
In 1823 George Ward, co-owner of the Isle of Wight Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, bought the Dolphin and Fountain Inns, which were next to each other, planning on building a public quay. This quay extended to only 56 feet, but allowed paddle-steamers to dock.
After George Ward's death in 1829, his son George Henry Ward took over the business, and in 1839 started work on building a pier on the end of the quay. This, together with the quay, extended to 100 feet, and was well built of stone - the quay even contained cellars in which coal to fuel the steamers could be stored. George Henry Ward died in 1849, and his nephew, William George Ward, took over the pier. At that time, the Isle of Wight Steam Packet Company owned the Prince Of Coburg, Medina, Earl Of Malmsbury, George IV, Ruby, Pearl and Queen.
In the early 1860s, planning permission had been granted to enlarge Fountain Pier and build covered waiting rooms as well as enlarging access to the pier. Also in the 1860s, the Isle of Wight Steam Packet Company merged with two rival steam companies - the Isle of Wight Steam Packet Company of Southampton and the Isle of Wight and Portsmouth Improved Steamboat Company, to form, in 1861, the Southampton, Isle of Wight and South England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited. By 1874, the improvements were finished.
Passenger trade to the Isle of Wight increased when on June 16, 1862 the first railway on the Isle of Wight, the Cowes and Newport line, opened. Because of this, in June 1873 a new pontoon was built to replace the original pier. This made the pier 120 feet long.
Around 30 different paddlesteamers travelled regularly between Cowes and Southampton, until in the 1930s they were gradually replaced by diesel-powered ships, such as the MV Vecta which, when it was launched in 1939, was one of the first craft to have Voith-Schneider propellers, and so was capable of moving sideways.
Although Fountain Pier is no longer, strictly speaking, a public promenade pier, it remains an important part of Cowes. Today the same company - the Southampton, Isle of Wight and South England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, or Red Funnel for short - still operates ferries from the pier almost 200 years after George Ward constructed the original quay.
Although the inhabitants of Cowes considered Fountain Pier to be useful when travelling to the mainland, it was not a true promenade pier, so the locals of Cowes wanted a proper pier. When in 1858 the Royal Yacht Squadron moved into Cowes Castle, which has been its headquarters ever since, a petition demanding permission to build a public promenade pier was launched. This was at first rejected, as the Admiralty refused to allow anything to be built beyond the Admiralty Line that could obstruct the shipping channel. However in 1860 approval was given to build a pontoon pier, with bridge and gates, but as public opinion was divided over where this pier should be built, the project was delayed.
In 1861, under the General Pier and Harbour Act, the West Cowes Pier Company received authorisation to build a pier. The Company was owned by Charles Noyce Kernott, and the pier was locally known as Kernott's Pier. The pier was 250 feet long with a 60-foot landing stage, pagoda, refreshment bar and stage from which the Cowes Regatta could be watched. The pier was extremely popular, and was the ideal promenade pier, immediately raising Cowes' status as a town. The one drawback of the pier was that it was not accessible to steamships at the lowest tides.
Sadly, on September 28 1876, a tornado struck town, destroying boats, houses, two seafront hotels and the Royal Pier.
After the destruction of the Royal Pier, the people of Cowes were still determined that their town should have a pier. Not only would it increase the status of Cowes, but pleasure steamers were taking tourists elsewhere - only the regular ferries docked at Fountain Pier, and so most pleasure steamers travelled to Bournemouth, Swanage and Poole, but not Cowes. The Southampton, Isle of Wight and South England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company charged excessive tolls for any other ferry wishing to use their pier, and so the tourists went elsewhere at the expense of Cowes.
In 1897 there were proposals to convert Watch House Slip into a pier, but that was abandoned when an idea to build a pier at the Zig Zag emerged, although this was considered too far away from the town. Finally in October 1899 a proposal for a pier on The Parade3 near Bath Road was approved, and the Cowes Pier Act was passed in the summer of 1900.
In 1902 the 170-foot-long pier opened, after costing £12,801 14s 7d to build. The entrance to the pier was via two elegant pagoda-like toll booths, with an incline up to the pier head which allowed people and bathing machines to pass beneath. Several seats allowed people to stop and admire the view, especially taking the Cowes Regatta into consideration. Even the promenade was re-built with stone balustrades.
The first steamer to call at the pier was the Monarch, on April 1, 1902. The pier proved so successful that after the first season two shelters were built, with a pavilion soon after. The highlights of Cowes Week all centred around the pier, and from that point on the pier was in almost continuous use, until the Great War.
During the Great War, most of the paddle-steamers that called at the pier were used for war work, and the pier itself was used by troops departing to France and Gallipoli. Between the wars the pier became popular again, but at the outbreak of the World War II the pier was taken over by the Royal Navy. It was at this time that the pier was damaged by fire, and the pavilion was demolished in 1951. Despite attempts to restore the pier, it was finally demolished in 1962.
Victoria Pier may not be the last pier to grace Cowes. In 2000, plans to build a new pier on the site of Victoria pier were considered, and the harbour commissioners approved the building of a new pier, to cost between £400,000 and £1 million. They also felt that this should coincide with developing The Parade and regenerating Town Quay.
It was originally hoped that the new pier would be built in 2000, and opened by Cowes Week 2001, yet the scheme has come across temporary setbacks, mainly because of the Save the Parade protest. This is an organisation that, whilst in favour of the pier, objects to the other plans for The Parade's development.
A temperary pontoon has been planned for the Cowes Parade during the 2001 America's Cup celebrations, to be towed from Southampton, whilst refinement of the plans to build a permanent pier continues.
East Cowes is across the mouth of the river Medina from Cowes, and so unsurprisingly has also had a large number of jetties and so on over the years. One of these, East Cowes Pier, was a pontoon that was built in 1865 and used by the Southampton, Isle of Wight and South England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company; it has since been replaced by the Red Funnel car ferry terminus. There has, however, been one proper pier in East Cowes that's worthy of note: Trinity Pier.
When Queen Victoria bought Osborne House just outside of East Cowes in 1845, the popularity of the town increased. Trinity House owned the neighbouring wharf and warehouse, and in 1845 the Royal Navy built a pier on the wharf especially for Queen Victoria.
In 1867, when Trinity House bought adjoining lands from the Admiralty, the pier was expanded and improved. It was now about 64 feet long and ten feet wide; it had a canopy and roof, and when it was rebuilt in 1896, it resembled a 'cottage orne'. The pier contained two waiting rooms, gas lighting and even telephones.
Trinity Pier was primarily used by the royal family, who owned several royal yachts such as the Victoria and Albert, Osborne, Fairy, Elfin, Louise and Alberta. It was also used by visiting members of other royal families, such as the Emperor of Germany in 1889, heads of state of many countries and members of Parliament. Visits often took place at the time of the Cowes Regatta, and there were also many during the Queen's diamond jubilee in 1897. When the Queen's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, married Prince Henry of Battenburg in July 1885 in the nearby Whippingham Church, the pier was used to convey all the wedding guests. It was also used on February 5, 1896, when the coffin of Prince Henry of Batternberg was taken to Whippingham Church for burial after he had died of malaria. When Queen Victoria died at Osborne in January 1901, thousands of people lined the route from Osborne to the pier for her funeral procession.
Trinity Pier was used by King Edward VII, but he gave Osborne House to the nation in 1902. Trinity Pier is now gone, as Trinity House uses its East Cowes site for its Engineering Directorate. The ornate canopy that once covered the pier was sold in 1950, and was re-erected near Horsebridge Hill, Newport.
For more information on the pier, visit East Cowes Heritage Centre.Cowes Castle, Isle of Wight, UKThe Isle of Wight's Floating BridgeThe America's Cup and Cowes, Isle of Wight, UKWalking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path: Part 2 - Cowes to Bembridge