|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (December 2008)|
Ryde Pier seen from the pier head, showing the well-known twin spires of Ryde.
|Official name||Ryde Pier|
|Type||Working pier with landing stages and railway|
|Carries||Cars and Island Line trains|
|Locale||Ryde, Isle of Wight|
|Design||John Kent of Southampton|
|Total length||681 metres (2,234 ft)|
|Opening date||26 July 1814|
Before the pier
Before the pier was built, passengers to Ryde had the uncomfortable experience of coming ashore on the back of a porter and then, depending on the state of the tide, having to walk as far as half a mile across wet sand before reaching the town. The need for a pier was obvious, especially if the town was to attract the wealthy and fashionable visitors who were beginning to patronise other seaside resorts across England.
The original pier
The pier was designed by John Kent of Southampton and its foundation stone was laid on 29 June 1813. The completed pier opened on 26 July 1814, and had, as it still has, a timber-planked promenade. The structure was originally wholly timber, and measured 527m. By 1833, extensions took the overall length to 681m. It is this pre-Victorian structure which has, with some modifications, carried pedestrians and vehicles ever since.
A second 'tramway' pier was built next to the first pier, opening on 29 August 1864. Horse-drawn trams took passengers from the pier head to the esplanade. Prior to the construction of the railway pier, the tramway continued to Ryde Railway Station at St Johns Road. From 1886 to 1927 the trams were powered by electricity from a third rail, and from then until 1969 the trams were petrol-powered.
On 12 July 1880 a third pier was opened, alongside the first two, providing a direct steam railway link to the pier-head. The railway line was owned jointly by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway and London and South Western Railway, as far as Ryde St Johns Road, to connect with their ship services to Portsmouth. However, trains were run by the independent Isle of Wight Railway and Isle of Wight Central Railway, who owned the tracks beyond St John's Road and operated through services to Ventnor and Cowes via Newport respectively.
In 1895 a concert pavilion was constructed at the pier-head and over the next sixteen years the original wooden piles were replaced in cast iron. It was at Ryde Pier that the Empress Eugénie landed from Sir John Burgoyne's yacht "The Gazelle" after her flight from Paris in 1870.
The pier head was remodelled in the 1930s using concrete, and during the Second World War the pier was used for military purposes, with various modifications made to accommodate this.
The Concert Pavilion was at the centre of the narrative in Philip Norman's book, Babycham Night; the author's family ran the venue when it was known as the Seagull Ballroom in the 1950s. Relatives of his produced the eponymous champagne perry. The pavilion was later demolished, a few of the rotting piles are plainly visible, around the edge of an extended car parking area constructed in 2010, with the remainder shortened and hidden beneath the new structure.
The tramway closed in 1969 and the structure was partially dismantled. This has left the disused and decaying tramway pier between the railway and promenade piers. The remaining structure has proved useful as a base for structures for temporary diversions from the promenade pier, such as when a ship sliced through the latter in 1974. In autumn 2010 the whole length was fitted with a temporary deck to provide a walkway during re-building works to the Promenade Pier.
Ryde Pier was made a Grade II listed building in 1976. In the early 1980s a modern waiting area, including some of the original buildings, replaced the original Victorian waiting rooms at the pier-head. Further modifications of these facilities were made in 2009, including the provision of a conservatory-style refreshment area with views across the water towards Ryde. In May 2011 existing lighting columns on the Promenade Pier were fitted with Victorian-style brackets and lanterns.
The pier today
Today the pier is still a major gateway for passenger traffic to and from the Isle of Wight, with the Island Line train running from Ryde Pier Head station (at the pier head), via Ryde Esplanade down to the eastern side of the Island. The Wightlink catamaran runs regularly between Ryde and Portsmouth. It is possible to drive along the pier, and there is car parking on the large pier head.
From August 2010 to March 2011, Ryde Pier was closed to all vehicles as structural work underneath the promenade pier failed to pass a regular inspection by Trant. The pier remained open to pedestrians, who from October 2010 used temporary decking on the tramway pier whilst much of the promenade pier was being renewed. Some Wightlink foot passengers were given permission to use Island Line train services free of charge between Ryde Interchange and the Pier Head. Work to extend the structure of the Pier Head to allow for additional car parking continued during this period. The renewal work being complete, the promenade pier has now re-opened.
For a few decades, Ryde had a second pier, the Victoria Pier, a few hundred yards to the east of the original, and still existing, pier. It was promoted by the Stokes Bay Pier and Railway Company to provide a landing for a rival ferry service from Gosport. It opened in 1864 as the main pier was getting its tramway addition. Being somewhat shorter than Ryde Pier, it could not be used at all states of the tide, so offered little competition to the main Ryde Pier to Portsmouth ferry services. When the Stokes Bay company was acquired by the London & South Western Railway in 1875, the ferry service ceased, and Victoria Pier became a pleasure pier only, with public baths at the head and a swimming platform at the dry end.
By 1900 use of the bathing facilities was declining, and the pier gradually became derelict. In the austerity of the First World War it was considered redundant and a hazard, and in 1916 its demolition was authorised by Act of Parliament. By the 1920s it had gone. Until the construction of Ryde Harbour marina in the 1980s, the outline of the shore-end abutment could be made out in the sea wall near the Ryde Pavilion, and at low spring tides the stumps of the piles could be seen in the sand some way offshore. Now not a trace remains.
The Pier Hotel
The Royal Pier Hotel was built soon after the original pier to serve the increasing trade and passenger traffic attracted by the new pier. It stood on Pier Street opposite the bottom of Union Street for a hundred years, becoming a well-known local landmark, until disaster struck.
Its position across the end of the steep final section of Union Street created a difficult 90-degree turn for drivers. In 1930 a bus descending Union Street took the turn into Pier Street too fast and overturned, killing several passengers and pedestrians, and damaging the south front of the Pier Hotel. At the inquest the Pier Hotel was found to be a driving hazard, and instead of being repaired it was ordered to be demolished. By 1931 the Pier Hotel and the entire range of buildings back to the end of St. Thomas's Street had been removed, and Pier Street itself ceased to exist, becoming part of The Esplanade.
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