Southport Pier, Merseyside

Often referred to as the first true 'pleasure pier' Southport Pier is also historically important, being one of the earliest pier structures to be erected using iron. Talk of a pier in Southport had been aired since the 1840s, but it wasn't until the spring of 1852 that a committee was eventually formed to formally promote the issue. Many arguments were to follow until finally, on 17th March 1859, agreement was reached to form a company to commission the building of Southport's new pier.

A design from James Brunlees was approved at a cost of £8,700 and on 4th August the same year a large crowd witnessed the driving home of the first support pile. Using Brunlees pile 'jetting' system, construction of this vast pier was to be swift; its full 3,600ft (1,098m) length having been completed for the grand opening on 2nd August 1860. The second longest pier in the country and boasting to be more than just a landing jetty, the opening was to be a memorable occasion. The celebrations included processions, banquets, illuminations and fireworks, to name but a few.

Although a great success Southport Pier was not without its problems. Its substantial length and lack of shelter at the pier-head left customers at the mercy of the elements for long periods of time and steamer passengers, being required to handle their own luggage, further exacerbated the problem. In 1862 the operating company responded with the addition of waiting and refreshment rooms at the pier-head. The following year a track was laid down the centre of Southport Pier so that porters' using manually operated trucks, could facilitate the easier movement of passenger luggage. Unfortunately this was not to the liking of the promenading fraternity who objected to the track 'interfering with their progress'.

Again the operating company responded and in December 1863 it was agreed to widen Southport Pier, placing the track to one side and enclosing it with fencing. The luggage line was also replaced by a steam driven tramway, capable of carrying both passengers and belongings. Building commenced in 1864 and was completed the following year. Sadly, a fatal accident occurred on the tramway shortly after it opened when, on 1st August 1865, a Mrs Frances Bateman and her brother-in-law were thrown from one of the cars. Mrs Bateman was fatally injured against the railings and the Pier Company was later sued to the total sum of £650. In 1868 Southport Pier was further extended now reaching a length of 4,380ft (1,335m).

Disaster is never far away on a pier and Southport Pier was to be no exception. In 1889 the pier-head refreshment rooms were destroyed in a gale after their foundations were swept away in rough seas, and On 18th September 1897 the original pavilion was destroyed in a fire, being subsequently replaced by a much grander affair in 1902. In 1903 the original 1864 entrance buildings were demolished and redeveloped.

Modernisation of the tramway was again required, the steam system being replaced by an electric one. Proposals for a second track were never to come to fruition and the new line opened on 3rd April 1905. Although visited by many steamers in its heyday, services had all but ceased by 1929 as silting in the channel left all but the smallest boats unable to reach the pier-head. This has however allowed much of the beach to be reclaimed, which is why today Southport Pier surprisingly passes over an ornamental lake, miniature golf course and a road, before finally reaching the beach.

During the war years the pier didn't suffer the fate of being sectioned, but it was closed to the public so that searchlights could be installed in an attempt to destroy enemy aircraft on their way to the industrial towns of the north. After the war Southport Pier re-opened but was soon in need of further investment as the supply of direct current electricity to the town was stopped. This action effectively meant that the tramway could not operate. So as not to suffer a similar problem in the future it was agreed that the system would be replaced with a diesel alternative. The new service opened to the public on 27th May 1950.

On June 22nd 1959 a serious blaze destroyed the buildings on the pier-head. This combined with a previous fire on 21st July 1933 served to reduce Southport Pier to its current length of 3,650ft (1,112m), although it still remains the second longest pier in Britain. In 1968 the shoreward end was re-developed, the work unfortunately requiring the demolition of the pavilion to make way for a new amusement centre, restaurant and bar.

Southport Piers history remained quite stable during the 1970s and 1980s, but things were to become more difficult in 1990 when Sefton Council applied to have the, now Grade II listed, pier demolished due to rising debts and escalating repair costs. This motion was defeated by a single vote and led to the formation of the 'Southport 2000 - save the pier group' and later the 'Southport Pier Trust'. Through their efforts Southport Pier survived and by 1999 sufficient funding had been obtained from the Heritage Lottery Fund and European Merseyside Objective to restore the complete structure.

Restoration is being completed in two phases. Phase one concentrates on the restoration of the main structure, along with the building of a new pavilion to house an interpretation centre. The second phase will effectively 'fit' the pier out, providing a new pier tram, deck lighting, restoration of the Victorian Shelters, completion of the Intrpretation Centre, and the construction of a new entrance. In May 2002 phase one was completed and the full length of Southport Pier was once again opened to the public.


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