Taking a trip to Hythe on England's south coast is to experience almost a step back in time. The quaint town remains, virtually unnoticed, in the shadow of its urban neighbour Southampton, and the town's pier, always a functional structure, still performs the same service today as it has since opening on 1st January 1881. Designed by Mr J Wright, construction of Hythe Pier commenced in 1878 with the last pile being driven into the seabed in the summer of 1880. It was a simple structure, 2,100ft (636m) in length with a wooden deck, supported by iron girders, on wooden piles. Built purely to facilitate ferry services, Hythe Pier still handles the half-hourly White Horse Ferry service to and from Southampton town quay.
There has been little real development over the years as Hythe Pier never played host to the variety of attractions and entertainments that became synonymous with other piers of the time. Hythe Sailing Club built clubhouse facilities at the seaward end in 1894 but other than an overhaul in 1896, little changed in the pier's first thirty years of service. As passenger numbers grew, a baggage line was added in 1909 and this was adapted to carry passengers after the cessation of hostilities in 1918. A new 2ft (60cm) gauge tramway opened in July 1922. The same 'Brush' locomotives still operate to and from the pier-head to this very day.
An additional pontoon was erected at the pier-head in the 1930s, but was moved after the Second World War and connected to the pier via a small bridge. The shoreward end was modernised in the 1960s and a small number of shelters along the pier neck were removed. The surviving seaward end buildings were re-developed in 1971. As is always the case with seaside piers maintenance costs can be extremely high. The pier-head timber deck was replaced in 1982 but a structural survey a year later reported that other considerable repairs were necessary to the substructure. This work was subsequently completed over a four-year period, at a cost of some £290,000.
On the evening of 1st November 2003 Hythe Pier was badly damaged by the dredger MV Donald Redford. The incident caused a 150ft (45m) breach in the centre of the pier neck, causing the removal of two spans and serious damage to a further two. Thankfully, a settlement in respect of repairs was agreed between White Horse Ferries, the pier owners, and Northwood (Fareham) Ltd., and the work was completed by the end of the year. Hythe Pie re-opened for business on 7th January 2004, and normal ferry services to Southampton resumed.