Penarth, one of several major coal ports on the Welsh south coast, also boasted a resort that was competing in the lucrative paddle steamer trade across the Bristol Channel. In 1894 work began on a pier designed by H F Edwards and commissioned by the Penarth Promenade and Landing Pier Company Ltd. Under the management of the Mayohs brothers, Penarth Pier was completed the following year, opening on 4th February 1895.
Built in cast iron with a timber deck, the original pier was no more than a landing jetty and promenade. Facilities were extended in 1907 when a wooden pavilion was erected at the pier-head, and shops placed along the neck. When Penarth Pier was sold to the local council in 1926, they later made further additions including a new concrete landing stage and a shoreward end pavilion. A very pleasing structure, architecturally, the pavilion remains as the most notable feature of Penarth Pier today.
Although relatively recent in pier building terms, the history of Penarth Pier has not been without incident. During the August Bank Holiday of 1931 a fire started in the seaward end pavilion, spreading almost the entire length of the pier within just a few minutes. Some 800 people on the pier at that time managed to reach the shore in safety, despite having to enlist the services of a pilot cutter and local yachtsmen to rescue those people that had become marooned at the pier head. Whilst dancing in the pavilion the alarm had been raised and several people left via a rear entrance only to realise they have no way of escape. Despite the heavy seas, they were all eventually brought safely back to shore. The pier head, deck and shops were re-built at a cost of £3,157, but the wooden pier-head pavilion has never been replaced.
Soon after the Second World War, Penarth Pier experienced a second major mishap when the 7,000-ton Canadian 'Port Royal Park' was driven against the pier in a severe gale, destroying a large section of the structure. Repairs took two years to complete and cost some £28,000 to underpin the cast iron columns and install concrete columns at various points.
Steamer traffic had always been the mainstay of Penarth Pier and it was a cause for great concern when the White Funnel cruises, run by one of the area's most famous shipping operators, P & A Campbell Ltd of Bristol, ceased operating in 1981. The MV Balmoral and PS Waverley, operated by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, do thankfully continue to call. Removing the pier toll, allowing free fishing, and providing a regular programme of summer entertainment has, since 1982, helped Penarth Pier to remain a popular venue with locals and visitors alike. In recent years this regular usage has rightly justified considerable sums of money being spent on fully restoring the 650ft (197m) pier and, in May 1998, a formal re-opening of Penarth Pier took place.