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ISLE OF WIGHT PIERS: THE SORRY TALE OF VENTNOR’S CURSED LOST PIERS – ALL 4 OF THEM

For 130 years a pier graced Ventnor seafront, but 2 were swept away, 1 was dismantled during the war and the last caught fire.

The 1st Ventnor Pier was erected in 1863, followed by the 2nd Ventnor Pier in 1872, the Royal Victoria Pier in 1887 and the New Royal Victoria Pier in 1953.

No trace of the former Ventnor piers remains today – the final 1 having been demolished some 30 years ago.

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At the beginning of the 19th century, Ventnor was a sleepy fishing village of a mere 800 souls, hemmed in by the undercliff and the choppy seas of the English Channel. It was more accessible by sea than land with only the hardiest of travellers willing to make the precipitous decent down muddy tracks to the fishermen’s cottages.

This all changed in 1830 after the visit of the famous physician Sir James Clarke, who pronounced Ventnor’s micro-climate as one of the healthiest in the country for the treatment of pulmonary (lung) diseases.

Ventnor From Pulpit Rock
Early 19th century Ventnor

Fashionable people then flocked to Ventnor. The population grew to over 5,000 in just 30 years. The railway was extended from Shanklin to Ventnor in 1866. The rich and the famous came to the new resort, including Charles Dickens and Sir Edward Elgar. Russian nobility even frequented the fashionable seaside town.

But Ventnor needed a pier to import essential supplies from the mainland and service the growing tourist trade. Were a pier to be built, it was estimated that 3,000 passengers a year would land by steamer and that a service from Portsmouth could reduce travelling time to just an hour and a half.

The 1st Ventnor Pier

Ventnor Pier and Harbour Company was formed in 1862. Their idea was to build an east and west pier with a harbour in between.

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The Western pier (although unfinished) opened for business in June 1863, when 300 day trippers were landed from the Portsmouth-based Prince Consort. However, the following month disaster struck. On 1st July, the expensive excursion vessel the Chancellor docked at the pier against the advice of the captain, at the insistence of the company director on board.

When the tide fell, the Chancellor was left grounded on a rock. Heavy seas then broke the paddle steamer in 2.

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The Chancellor

The Western Pier was completed in March 1864. Plans were made for steamer connections to France and the Channel Islands. A daily service to Littlehampton was advertised that would get passengers to London by boat and train in 4 hours.

The piers did not last long. Storms in January 1867 swept away a good part of the eastern pier and most of the supporting timbers of the western one. Wood was strewn along the coastline as far as the eye could see. In February of that year, the remnants of the pier were auctioned as scrap.

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The 2nd Ventnor Pier

Although the piers had been unable to withstand heavy seas, they had shown a profit could be made. A further Pier Company was established in 1870. Work began in December 1871, and a 2nd Ventnor pier opened to the public in December 1872.

Jenkinson’s Guide of 1876 describes Ventnor seafront with the view from its new pier:

“Should the tourist be so fortunate as to visit the spot on a beautiful moonlit night, he will be entranced by the lovely fairy-like scene, the lights on the houses dotted on every hand, from the shore high up on the side of the lofty down.”

On 15th September 1881, the landing stage of the pier was completed. Then, on 27th November of that year, it was swept away by a violent storm.

The pier had taken 10 years to fully complete and had been in full use for just 10 weeks before being destroyed.

The Royal Victoria Pier

In October 1883, the Ventnor Local Board bought what remained of the pier for £2,600 (£250,000 in today’s values). Reconstruction began in 1885 and was completed in July 1887.

The council requested that Queen Victoria open the pier and that she would consent to give her name to it. Her Majesty did not attend the opening but agreed to the new name.

The opening ceremony for the Royal Victoria Pier was performed by Sir Richard Webster QC, MP for the Isle of Wight, on 19th October 1887.

Ventnor-7-c.1905

In 1888 – the 1st full year of the Royal Victoria Pier – 3,000 excursionists arrived in Ventnor from Bournemouth, Southampton, and Portsmouth. By 1889, the number of tourists using it had increased to 10,000.

The Royal Victoria Pier did a roaring trade until the outbreak of World War II when – fearing the pier might be used for an attempt at a German invasion – the pier was sectioned and about 100 ft of decking and ironwork was dumped into the sea.

Ventnor Pier 1950
The Royal Victoria Pier after World War II in 1950 – Photo: Framers Ryde (https://www.framersiow.co.uk/product/2436-ventnor-pier/)

The New Royal Victoria Pier

After the war, the pier was reconstructed and named: the New Royal Victoria Pier.

The souvenir brochure for the official opening ceremony on 28th May 1955 boasted of:

“A new pier, new in conception, new in design and new in its methods of construction and today it is undoubtedly the most modern pier in Britain.”

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The New Victoria Pier initially did well, attracting over 200,000 visitors by September 1955.

Sadly, in the 1960s, the steamer trade was much reduced. The last Red Funnel Steamer called at Ventnor in 1968.

Much of the landing stage was demolished in the 1970s. The shore end was leased as an amusement arcade.

In 1985, a fire broke out in the buildings of the shore end of the pier and spread halfway along its length.

At the start of the 1990s, South Wight Borough Council offered to donate the pier to Ventnor Town Trust if they could raise the estimated £800,000 needed for its repair. Unfortunately, the sum required was not forthcoming.

In March 1993, South Wight Borough Council engaged civil engineers Graham Attrill of Arreton to demolish and remove the pier at a cost of £139,950.

Ventnor Pier Demolition
The demolition of the New Royal Victoria Pier

In the next edition of Isle of Wight Piers, we shall look at the 4 current and historic piers of Ryde.

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The views/opinions expressed in these comments are solely those of the author and do not represent those of Island Echo. House rules on commenting must be followed at all times.
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YJC
YJC
11 months ago

These local historic articles are brilliant. Thank you.

Spaff
Spaff
11 months ago

Really enjoyed this thank you, i wonder if the steamer companies got a roasting from the local population about their island service like the current operators get now!

Wolf
Wolf
11 months ago

The last pier did not go down with out a fight albeit with the help of a storm ,the final picture shows the barge “weapon 4” which was taking down the pier owned by Samos ltd ,it broke its anchor cables used to position it around the pier and ended up colliding with the sea wall with the crew taken off by the coast guard helicopter.
After the weather calmed down and the barge which had been holed repaired the pier was finally removed

Joe Bloggs
Joe Bloggs
11 months ago

There were actually 3 piers in Ventnor. The last one had a section removed during WW2 which was replaced after the war.

Joe Bloggs
Joe Bloggs
11 months ago

The last pier was declared unsafe by the council, however it survived the hurricane whilst Shankiln pier, which was still open, succumbed. The council had an ideal opportunity to get the pier repaired and maintained as part of the agreement with Southern Water when they were allowed to build their sewage works there.

Rough Justice
Rough Justice
11 months ago

I was a retained fireman in Ventnor in the 80s when the pier caught on fire. Terry Perkins and I were the first 2 through the door, wearing breathing apparatus. It was so hot that the paint on our helmets (the old style cork ones) blistered, and our boots started to melt! It wasn’t until it got light in the morning that we all realised just how lucky we’d all been as most of the “floorboards” had almost burnt through, and we’d been walking up and down on them constantly during the night!

Bolly
Bolly
11 months ago

Fascinating,thank you

Isleofwighter
Isleofwighter
11 months ago

Brilliant article thank you. I really wish we still had a pier though.

rodney burt
rodney burt
11 months ago

Victoria pier in 53 no roof what a blunder open to the elements

BluePanda
BluePanda
11 months ago

Excellent reading, fascinating history, thank you

Steve
Steve
11 months ago

The bandstand in Ventnor park came of one of the piers apparently

 

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