Southsea South Parade Pier, Hampshire

Southsea South Parade Pier was initially the younger of the two piers built in this popular seaside resort but, as Southsea Clarence Pier was completely rebuilt in a rather unusual manner after the war, today it is very much the more traditional in style. Designed by the Blackburn engineer R Gale this 1,950ft (591m) pier was intended for the use of passengers travelling to and from the Isle of Wight. The well-known firm of Head Wrightson were employed as the contractors, work commencing in 1875. Southsea South Parade Pier was to take a further three years to complete and was opened, amid great ceremony in November 1879, by Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar.

The life of the original privately owned pier was to be unfortunately short lived when, in 1904, a serious fire destroyed the structure, necessitating a complete re-build. Taken over by the Portsmouth Corporation the new, much Southsea South Parade Pier, reopened in 1908. Designed by a local entrepreneur G E Smith and built to a length of just 600ft (183m), the new pier was much more a pleasure pier than a practical landing jetty. The construction of the pier was also innovative for the time with a deck laid in concrete as opposed to the use of traditional timber. Southsea South Parade Pier remained as one of the few piers to be constructed in this manner.

The new facilities included wind-screens on all sides affording good protection from strong sea breezes. There was a large pavilion near the shoreward end that comprised of two sizeable halls. One was used as a 1,200 seat theatre, that was soon to gain a notable reputation for the quality of its performers, while the other, smaller hall, doubled as a cafe during the day and a dance venue in the evening. At the seaward end there was a small pavilion that incorporated a bar and lounge. These facilities were not to come cheap, the final cost of reconstruction reaching some £85,000, a significant figure for the time.

Southsea South Parade Pier history remained uneventful during the next sixty years, even surviving the heavy bombing of the port during the Second World War. Two fires in the 1960s and 1970s were however to have an impact on the structure, as it survives today. The first blaze in 1967 severely damaged the theatre to the extent that it had to be later removed. The second, more serious fire, on 11th June 1974 was during the filming of the rock-opera Tommy. Believed to have been started when a spotlight set light to some drapes, the fire soon spread out of control requiring several hundred actors, staff and extra's to be evacuated promptly, but on the whole calmly, from the scene. Over 100 firemen fought the blaze, successfully stopping it from spreading to the rest of the Southsea South Parade Pier. This task, as is often the case, being made much harder by strong winds along with the age and largely timber construction of the buildings. Although much less grand, the pavilion was rebuilt at a cost of £500,000 and now houses several showbars along with the normal array amusements.


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