Clevedon Pier in Somerset represents one of the finest surviving Victorian piers in the country, not only retaining its simple uncluttered decks, but displaying a degree of elegance not found in any other pier in Britain. Clevedon was originally a rural community but with the arrival of the railway in 1847, and the town's close proximity to the industrial ports of South Wales and Bristol, its popularity as a resort was soon realised.
The Clevedon Pier Company was formed in the early 1860s and in 1863 the necessary act of Parliament was obtained to allow the construction of a pier to commence. Designed by John Grover and Richard Ward, Clevedon Pier was a masterpiece of Victorian ingenuity that evolved through the difficult tidal conditions confronting the builders. Faced with exceptionally strong currents, and a water level difference of some 40ft (12m) between low and high tides, Clevedon Pier had to be built in a taller, more slender style than would normally have been the case.
Some years earlier, Isambard Kingdom Brunel had introduced a new 'Barlow' rail system to the South Wales Railway, but the project failed and the track was pulled up. Seeing the potential of this versatile and very strong material the pier designers took advantage of an opportunity to purchase a stock of these rails. Using them bolted together in pairs, they worked them into the slim, elegant curved arches that give Clevedon Pier its graceful outline, making the structure one of the counties most notable landmarks.
Work was completed on the new pier in 1869, the resulting structure being 842ft (255m) in length and 48ft (14.5m) high. The shoreward end comprised of a 180ft (54.5m) approach constructed in stone, an ornate castellated tollhouse built in the style of a Scottish baronial hall, wrought iron gates, and a pier-masters house. The main neck of the pier was a wooden deck with seating along its full length, and a small pier-head cafe. The pier-head had six levels of landing stage to facilitate passengers disembarking, despite the level of the tide. Clevedon Pier opened amid much pomp and celebration on Easter Monday 1869, a cannon shot officially marking the moment.
In 1891 Clevedon Pier was donated to the local council, and the pier-head was reconstructed together with a new cast iron, pagoda-style pavilion. Clevedon Pier's history remained largely uneventful for the next 80 years, not suffering the usual fires and collisions experienced by so many other piers in Britain, until one fateful day in October 1970.
Since the early 1950s the pier had had to undergo regular structural stress tests for insurance purposes. Temporary water tanks were erected on the deck to simulate the required load agreed with the Ministry of Transport and, subject to each span remaining unaffected, the pier was deemed to have passed. Unfortunately, on 16th October 1970 two 100ft (30.3m) spans nearest the pier-head did not take the weight, and subsequently collapsed into the sea. This resulted in the inevitable closure of the pier by the local council.
In September 1971 Clevedon Pier was granted Grade II listed building status, and in December of the same year the Clevedon Preservation Trust was formed, who immediately commenced fundraising in an attempt to save the pier. Escalating restoration costs, coupled with further dilapidation of the structure, forced the local council to announce its intention to demolish the pier in 1979. This met with considerable local disapproval, as the pier was considered an integral part of the town's Victorian character. The trust successfully persuaded local inspectors to allow them to continue with their restoration efforts.
1983 saw a major breakthrough, with a £500,000 award from the Heritage Memorial Fund and the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission. This allowed for the restoration of the stranded pavilion, the tollhouse and the pier neck including recovery from the seabed of some of the collapsed structure. These sections were dismantled, restored at Portishead, and re-erected in 1988, enabling Clevedon Pier to be reopened to the public on 27th May 1989. In 1995 a further award from the Heritage Lottery Fund facilitated a full restoration of the pier-head and landing stages. This reopening ceremony was performed on 23rd May 1998 by Sir Charles Elton Bart, the great-great-grandson of the original chairman of the Clevedon Pier Company.
Today this lovely restored pier stands as a testament to what can be achieved by a local community with the determination to see a worthy cause through. This determination has been further rewarded by the granting of a Grade 1 listing for the pier, making Clevedon pier only the second pier in the country to have been granted this status.