Hythe Pier, Railway and Ferry

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Hythe Pier, Railway and Ferry
Hythe pier from a red funnel ferry.JPG
Coordinates50°52′29″N 1°23′37″W / 50.8746°N 1.3935°W / 50.8746; -1.3935Coordinates: 50°52′29″N 1°23′37″W / 50.8746°N 1.3935°W / 50.8746; -1.3935
TypePier, railway and ferry
Operator(s)Blue Funnel Ferries Ltd
Rolling stock
  • 2 locomotives
  • 4 bogie carriages
  • 1 flat car
  • 1 tank car
Listed Building – Grade II
Official nameHythe Pier
Designated17 August 2021
Reference no.1476460
Track gauge2 ft (610 mm)
Route map
Ferry to Southampton
Hythe Pierhead
loco shed/workshops
Hythe Town

Hythe Pier, the Hythe Pier Railway and the Hythe Ferry provide a link between the English port city of Southampton and the Hampshire village of Hythe on the west side of Southampton Water. It is used both by commuters and tourists, and forms an important link in the Solent Way and E9 European coastal paths.

The pier, railway and ferry service are currently operated by Blue Funnel Ferries of Southampton. In October 2016 the previous owners (White Horse Ferries) warned their staff of potential redundancy which suggested an uncertain future from the pier and ferry service.[1] After months of talks Lee Rayment of Blue Funnel completed negotiations to acquire the Pier, Train and Ferry with operations starting on 21 April 2017.[2][3][4] [5]

The railway is the oldest continuously operating public pier train in the world.[6][7]

Hythe Pier[edit]

Hythe Pier from the Hythe shore

Hythe Pier stretches 700 yards (640 m) from the centre of Hythe to the deep water channel of Southampton Water, making it the 7th longest pier in the British Isles.[8] It is approximately 16 feet (4.9 m) wide, and carries a pedestrian walkway and cycleway on its northern side and the Hythe Pier Railway on its southern side.[7] During normal high tides the pier is 4 feet (1.2 m) above the surface of the water.[9]

A company was formed to construct a pier in 1870 and in 1871 it obtained an Act of Parliament in order to do so.[10] This effort then stalled and a pier was not constructed.[10]

A second company called the Hythe Pier & Hythe & Southampton Ferry company was formed in late 1874.[10] A new act passed parliament in 1875 but legal disagreements with the Southampton Harbour and Pier Board delayed royal assent until 1878.[10] Construction started in 1879 and the pier opened on 1 January 1881 having cost £7,000 to construct.[7][11] Originally there was a toll house at the landward end of the pier, and this was replaced by the present ticket office in the first decade of the 20th century.[12] The original toll house still exists and is occupied by a local travel operator. Large scale maintenance was carried out on the pier in 1896 at a cost of £1,500.[12]

The pier and its associated structures were awarded Grade II listed status in August 2021.[13]

Hythe Pier Railway[edit]

The landward station, with depot and spare locomotive
The pier with the pier train
The pier head station

The 1878 Act of Parliament made provision for the construction of a tramway along the pier, although one was not originally laid. The trucks that carried luggage along the pier were found to be damaging the pier decking, and in 1909 a narrow gauge railway was constructed on the northern side of the pier to replace them. The vehicles were hand-propelled, and the track was laid flush with the pier decking.[11][12][14]

In 1922 the current electrified railway was constructed on the southern side of the pier. The track is laid to 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge and is electrified at 250 V DC by a third rail on the seaward side of the track. The line consists of a single track with no passing loops, with two non-electrified sidings at the landward end. One of the sidings enters the line's covered workshop. Stations, equipped with low wooden platforms, exist at both ends of the line. The pier head station has an overall roof, whilst the landward station has a ticket office and waiting shelter.[11][15]

The line is operated by two four-wheeled electric locomotives built in 1917 by Brush with works numbers 16302 & 16307 (simply renumbered as No. 2 & No. 1 - the '7' looking like a '1'.[15][16]). They were originally battery powered, being used at the World War I mustard gas factory at Avonmouth. They were transferred to Hythe after the war, where they were converted to collect power from a third rail and had their batteries removed. There was initially a third locomotive, but it was used for spares and finally scrapped in 1935. All that remains of the 3rd tractor is the electric motor bearing the serial number "16304".[17]

The line owns four bogie passenger cars, two of which have a driving cab at their seaward ends. In normal operation the single train is made up of one of the locomotives propelling three passenger cars, with a four-wheel flat car for baggage. The locomotive is always at the landward end, and the seaward passenger car must have a driving cab. The line also has a four-wheel oil-tank car, used to carry fuel to the Hythe ferries.[15]

Hythe Ferry[edit]

The Hotspur IV at the pier head
Great Expectations leaves the pier head, with Queen Mary 2 in background

Every train connects at the pier head with an arrival and departure of the Hythe Ferry. The ferry carries passengers and bicycles, and takes about 10 minutes for the crossing. En route, the ferry passes the terminal used by the passenger liners Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria and by other cruise ships, giving good views of the vessels when they are in port.[6][18][19]

The Southampton terminal is at the Town Quay, also the terminal of the Red Funnel ferries to the Isle of Wight. Town Quay is a short walk from the city centre, and is linked to both the city centre and Southampton Central railway station by bus.[20]

A ferry has operated from Hythe to Southampton since the Middle Ages, and it is marked on a map by Christopher Saxton of 1575. Steam vessels were introduced in 1830. From 1889 the Percy family were involved in the running of the ferry, and from 1900 to 1980 the service was run by the General Estates Company, owned by the Percy family. As a consequence of this, many of the ferries used carried the name Hotspur, named after Henry Percy or Hotspur, who was immortalised by William Shakespeare.[21][22]

The current owners, Blue Funnel, have two regular vessels providing the ferry service with a 3rd, Ocean Scene, as cover when necessary.[23][24]

Previous ferries to have operated on the service include:

Hotspur IV was the last in a line of similar ferries. One of her earlier half-sisters, Hotspur II of 1936, saw further service as a ferry on the Firth of Clyde under the name Kenilworth.

Change of pier ownership[edit]

A local community group held a public meeting on 24 November 2016 and announced its intentions to "Save Hythe Pier and ferry" by setting up a Charitable Incorporated Organisation under the name of "Hythe Pier Heritage Association.[29] In February 2017 Hampshire County Council made an emergency payment to White Horse Ferries to allow them to charter a replacement ferry while MV Great Expectations underwent maintenance.[30]

On 6 February 2019, 140 years after the original pier construction, Blue Funnel announced they intended to hand over the pier to the Hythe Pier Heritage Association.[31][32]


On 30 July 1885 the pier was hit by the schooner Annie, damaging five of the pier's piles.[12] On 26 August 1915 the pier was hit by the sailing barge Itchen although on this occasion there was no damage to the pier.[33] The pier's piles were again damaged in 1945 when an infantry landing craft collided with it.[34]

Donald Redford leaving Langstone Harbour

In the evening of 1 November 2003 at 18:08 the dredger Donald Redford collided with the pier, tearing a 150 feet (46 m) hole through the midsection and isolating the pier head from the land. The dredger did not collide with the pier train, and there were no casualties. The incident occurred a few minutes after a crowd of people were heading home after a football match. Repairs to the pier were carried out by Dudley Barnes Marine with Beckett Rankine as the designer; the cost was £308,000 and the pier reopened on 7 January 2004.[35][36] The master of the dredger was sentenced to eight months in prison after pleading guilty to an act likely to cause the death of or serious injury to any person while under the influence of drink and causing damage to a structure while under the influence of drinking.[37]

On 13 May 2016 the ferry Uriah Heep collided with the pier damaging the ferry's wheelhouse and requiring it to be withdrawn from service.[38][23] The Marine Accident Investigation Branch report concluded the loss of control leading to the collision was almost certainly from a mechanical failure within the hydraulic circuit that powered the thrust deflector. The report also noted the ferry berth at Hythe afforded little space to abort an approach in the event of a malfunction.[39]


  1. ^ "Future of Hythe Ferry thrown into doubt and staff given redundancy letters". Daily Echo. Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  2. ^ Greenwood, John (19 April 2017). "Blue Funnel press release relating to takeover". Hythe Pier Heritage Association. Archived from the original on 3 March 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  3. ^ "Company History". Solent and Wightline Cruises. Archived from the original on 18 April 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  4. ^ "Company History". Blue Funnel Cruises. Archived from the original on 12 May 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  5. ^ "New Operator Takes Over Saved Hythe Ferry". Capital FM. 21 April 2017. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Timetable". White Horse Ferries Ltd. Retrieved 27 August 2010.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ a b c "Hythe Pier". White Horse Ferries Ltd. Retrieved 17 January 2006.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Top 10: Britain's longest seaside piers". The Telegraph. 1 November 2019. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  9. ^ Titheridge, Alan (1981). Hythe Pier and Ferry a history. southern tourist board. p. 25. ISBN 0950762008.
  10. ^ a b c d Easdown, Martin; Sage, Linda (2011). Piers Of Hampshire & The Isle Of Wight. Amberley. p. 86. ISBN 9781445603551.
  11. ^ a b c "Hythe Pier & Tramway". Simplon Postcards. 2006. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
  12. ^ a b c d Titheridge, Alan (1981). Hythe Pier and Ferry a history. southern tourist board. pp. 22–23. ISBN 0950762008.
  13. ^ Historic England. "Hythe Pier, Prospect Place, Hythe, SO45 6AG (Grade II) (1476460)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  14. ^ Titheridge, Alan (1981). Hythe Pier and Ferry a history. southern tourist board. p. 45. ISBN 0950762008.
  15. ^ a b c Frew, Iain (1983). Britain's Electric Railways Today. Electric Railway Society and Southern Electric Group. pp. 82–83. ISBN 0-85534-021-5 or ISBN 0-906988-12-8.
  16. ^ Industrial Locomotives: including preserved and minor railway locomotives. 14EL. Melton Mowbray: Industrial Railway Society. 2007. ISBN 0-901906-39-5.
  17. ^ Timpson, John (1992). Little Trains of Britain. HarperCollins. pp. 176–177. ISBN 0002184257.
  18. ^ "Hythe Ferry". White Horse Ferries Ltd. Retrieved 27 August 2010.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "Fares". White Horse Ferries Ltd. Retrieved 27 August 2010.
  20. ^ "Ferry Route Map". White Horse Ferries Ltd. Retrieved 26 August 2010.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Hythe, Old Hampshire Gazetteer
  22. ^ a b c "Hythe-Southampton Ferries". Ian Boyle/Simplon Postcards. 2006. Retrieved 14 February 2006.
  23. ^ a b c "Hythe ferry services cancelled after ferry crashes into pier injuring three". Southern Daily Echo. 14 May 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  24. ^ a b "Hythe's Pier, Train and Ferry - A Brief History". Hythe & Dibden. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  25. ^ Hythe Ferry - Hythe Scene. Linerlovers.com. 27 May 2017. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  26. ^ "HYTHE SCENE". MarineTraffic.com. Retrieved 29 May 2017.
  27. ^ a b Davies, Ken (1987). Wessex Coast Ferries and Plaeasure Craft. Hythe: New Forest Publishing Co. pp. 36–37. ISBN 1 870704 00 2.
  28. ^ "Contact made by passenger ferry Uriah Heep with Hythe Pier" (PDF). Marine Accident Investigation Branch reports. Marine Accident Investigation Branch. 6 April 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  29. ^ "Calls for pier revamp to save Hythe ferry". Daily Echo. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  30. ^ Rimell, Will (11 February 2017). "Hampshire council throws under-threat Hythe Ferry service a financial lifeline". Southern Daily echo. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  31. ^ "Restoration on track following Hythe Pier donation". BBC News. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  32. ^ Hythe Pier Heritage Association, HPHA & BFF announcement - 6th Feb 2019, retrieved 10 February 2019
  33. ^ Titheridge, Alan (1981). Hythe Pier and Ferry a history. southern tourist board. p. 53. ISBN 0950762008.
  34. ^ Titheridge, Alan (1981). Hythe Pier and Ferry a history. southern tourist board. p. 24. ISBN 0950762008.
  35. ^ "Becket Rankine News – Hythe Pier Hythe Pier repair and Hythe Pier reopened". 7 December 2004. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
  36. ^ "Hythe Pier, Hampshire". The Heritage Trail. Retrieved 17 December 2006.
  37. ^ Morris, Steven (20 March 2004). "Jail for drunken dredger captain". London: Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 17 January 2006.
  38. ^ Ford, Emily (18 May 2016). "High winds 'were a factor' in Uriah Heep Hythe Pier crash". Southern Daily Echo. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  39. ^ "Hythe ferry pier crash caused by mechanical failure". BBC. 6 April 2017. Retrieved 7 April 2017.

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