Ventnor Piers, Isle of Wight, UK

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Ventnor was originally a small fishing village on the south coast of the Island, isolated by steep hills, the rocky Undercliff and a rough part of the English Channel. Ventnor was more accessible by sea than land, and so remained a small isolated community, until the 1840s. In 1830, Sir James Clarke discovered that Ventnor enjoyed a special micro-climate, one of the healthiest in the
British Isles, and helpful in treating pulmonary diseases. Ventnor is essentially a south-facing sun-trap, sheltered from the north by hills and inland cliffs.

After Sir Clarke's publication of his report in 1841, the population of Ventnor quickly grew from 800 to 5,000. In 1848, a seafront esplanade had been constructed, and in 1866 the Ryde-Shanklin Railway line was expanded to Ventnor. Later, the Isle of Wight Central Railway company expanded a line from Newport to Ventnor West, which opened in 1900.

In 1869, Dr Arthur Hill Hassell established the Royal National Hospital For Diseases Of The Chest in Ventnor. Many people from all over the country, and indeed Europe, came to Ventnor to be cured of tuberculosis, which was unable to be cured by medicine alone at the time, including Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, Karl Marx, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Ventnor was definitely becoming popular, yet the question of access and transport was still a problem. For this reason, a combined pier and harbour would be vital - to help deliver building materials, coal and other merchandise, as well as help transport people into the hard to reach town. The trip from Portsmouth to Ventnor would take an hour and a half, instead of 4 hours.

Ventnor's Harbour Piers

In 1861, before the railway had reached Ventnor, the Ventnor Pier and Harbour company had been formed. It planned to build two piers on the Ventnor seafront, 700 feet apart, and an eastern esplanade. The western pier was to be the principal pier, and would extend 300 ft. south, and then extend a further 100 ft. south-east. The Eastern pier would extend 300 ft. south-west. This would
then form a harbour between the piers, protecting boats from the storms that Ventnor is subject to.

In 1862, the Ventnor Pier and Harbour Act was passed by Parliament, and work began in early 1863. By June, the western pier was 260 ft. long, and despite not being complete, was opened for June's Coronation Day. The steamer Prince Consort visited at High Tide, and 300 day trippers landed. It was decided that the pier would be used by steamers 3 days a week until it was complete.

On the 1st July, the P.S. Chancellor, a large excursion vessel, travelled to Ventnor. Against the captain's judgement and at the insistence of a company director who was aboard at the time, she berthed at the pier whilst the tide was falling. When the tide fell, she grounded, and the sea-bottom pierced her hull, flooding her on the next tide. The pier was no longer used by steamers
until it had been finished.

By March 1864, the Western Pier had been finished, and was even longer than had been intended. A pier head had been built, and daily services to Littlehampton on the Antagonist and Ursa Major were popular. Pleasure cruisers called from Portsmouth and Southampton. Work continued on the Eastern pier, which had suffered storm damage in the winter. By August, the western pier had railings and seats all along its length, the local Ventnor Temperance Band often played in the evenings.

Sadly, in October 1864, a serious succession of storms and gales attacked Ventnor, damaging the promenade, as well as all-but destroying the East pier, damaging the West Pier also. The Ventnor Pier and Harbour company was responsible for paying for the repairs to the piers, harbour and esplanade sea wall, and as they could not afford it, the harbour fell into a state of dilapidation. By January 1867, storms had destroyed much of the remains of the two piers, and the remains were sold, the western pier sold for £460, the Eastern arm for 70 guineas.

Ventnor Esplanade Pier

In 1870, a group of local businessmen formed the Ventnor Pier and Esplanade Company. Despite the short life of the Harbour Piers, during the time the pier was open, the advantages of the pier had been felt by all. Mr Burt, who had bought the Western Pier's remains, was the prime mover behind the scheme, and planned to build a 700 ft. pier on the old pier's site, and 640 ft of
embankment and esplanade along the sea front. The Board of Trade approved the plan and the Ventnor Pier And Harbour Order was made in 1870, and work began on the pier's construction in December 1871.

By the summer, the pier was 200 ft. long, and was opened to the public on the 5th August 1872. By 1873, the pier was 478 ft. long, yet the pier head and landing stage could not be finished because of lack of investment. By 1878, only half the money ecessary had been raised, yet the pier was very popular with promenaders, and often a band played on the end of the pier.

Finally in 1881, work began on completing the pier head and landing stage, and the steamer Prince Leopold embarked passengers in July from the partially completed landing stage to take passengers to Bournemouth to celebrate the Regatta.1 The landing stage was soon finished, and was opened on the 15th September 1881, and one of the largest Paddle Steamers, the Heather Bell, landed at Ventnor. The pier was popular, but only a few steamers called
before the season ended.

Sadly, on the 27th November 1881, a very violent storm struck Ventnor. It removed 40 ft. of the pier shank and destroyed the new landing stage. The pier which had taken 10 years to complete had only been open for 10 weeks before it was destroyed.

The Royal Victoria Pier

A Postcard of Ventnor and the pier

The remains of the Esplanade pier was bought for £2,600 by the Ventnor Local Board, who planned to rebuild the pier. There was at first some dissent about whether Ventnor needed another pier, and whether it would survive, yet Parliament approved the building of a pier in July 1884 by passing the Ventnor Local Board Act. Construction on the pier began in late 1885, and the pier was finished in July 1887. The pier head was in the shape of a horse-shoe, it was locally joked that that was "for luck". The pier also had a andstand,
cloakrooms, toilets, and was 650 ft. long.

On the 19th July the Bangor Castle was the first steamer to land at the pier, followed by the Princess Beatrice and Prince Leopold soon after, although the pier was not officially opened until October 19th 1887, when it was opened by Sir Richard Webster Q.C., MP for the Isle of Wight, who was later to become Lord Alverstone. In 1888, over 3,000 excursionists arrived at the pier by steamers from Bournemouth, Southampton and Portsmouth, over 10,000 visited in 1889. In 1892, the Sea Breeze was the first steamer to travel to Ventnor from Brighton. The pier, combined with the railways, meant that Ventnor was far from being the isolated village it had been less than 50 years before.

In 1903, the original bandstand on the pier was moved to Ventnor Park, where it still is today, and in 1904 a small stage, dressing rooms and store room was built, covered by an awning until the pier pavilion was built in 1906. In 1908, a maple floor was laid in the pavilion, and in 1913 a new bandstand was built at the pavilion entrance, near the shore.

During the Great War, steamer services ceased, yet concert parties at the pavilion continued. After the war, steamer services continued right through the 1930s, the pier being a popular and appreciated part of Ventnor. On the outbreak of the Second World War, though, the pier was sectioned and 100 ft of the pier was removed.

After the war, the pier had suffered from it's years of neglect, and the local council had to wait before getting compensation from Government. By 1948 a survey of the pier condemned all but a few piles and the landing stage. Rebuilding the pier would cost £76,267, of which the Ministry would pay 90%, the council just had to raise £15,000. Work began in July 1950, it was almost a complete re-build of the pier, which from then on was known as
the New Royal Ventnor Pier after its opening in 1955.

The first steamer to use the reconstructed landing stage was the Cardiff Queen, which visited on the 25th May 1953. The pier, though, was not officially opened until the 28th May 1955. The pier was considered the most modern in Britain, it had been rebuilt of welded steel, was now 683 ft. long and had a series of 9 glazed shelters along its length. The entrance housed 7 shops, ticket offices and booths plus a large entertainment area on the pier head. By September 1955, over 200,000 people had visited the pier, and Red Funnel steamers visited. The pier became more popular when local rock bands played on the pier, yet by 1967 the landing stage was once again in need of repairs, this time likely to cost £41,000. In order to reduce this sum, much of the landing stage was demolished as steamer traffic to Ventnor, as elsewhere, had reduced in the 1960s.

In the early 70s, fewer people holidayed on the Island as it became easier to travel abroad, and the pier's income was affected. Winter storms took their toll and repair costs raised, with little money to pay for them. More of the landing stage was demolished in 1975, and the shore half of the pier was covered up, filled with amusements machines and leased by various companies. In 1981 it was discovered that £750,000 was needed to repair the pier. The pier was closed, yet no work on repairing it was made. In 1985, a fire broke out on the pier, destroying much of the shore-half. There was a proposal that for £460,000 the pier could be rebuilt as a promenade pier and a design was approved in 1985, yet the pier's lessee who had rights over the pier until 1990 demanded compensation from the council. By 1988, this had been settled with the council paying a sum of £170,000, which left the council little money to spend on rebuilding the pier.

By this time, £800,000 was needed to repair the pier. Ventnor Town Trust tried to raise the money to repair the pier, the council providing £250,000, yet this sum proved too much to reach. In 1993 the pier was sadly demolished at a cost of £239,950, although it did not go without a fight - the demolition rig used to demolish the pier broke from it's moorings in a storm, forcing those on board to be evacuated by rescue helicopters.

1The rocks which lay on the seabed that had pierced the P.S. Chancellor had been removed in 1868.

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