Ryde Pier

An article from the Isle of Wight County Press dated 23 April 1949 which was published to coincide with the nationalisation of the railways. The pier was owned by the Southern Railway but became part of British Railways. It was subsequently sold as part of the privatisation of the ferries (1980's?)



In the history of Ryde Pier, ex­tending over a century and a quarter, last year witnessed the end of its management by private enterprise and the beginning of an era of public ownership.

The change awakens recollections of the past glories of the structure which can claim to have been, in its time, one of the best known and most fashionable promenades in the world. The growth of Ryde, as a beautiful seaside resort, is to a great extent bound up with the history of the pier. At the begin­ning of the last century Ryde was no more than two hamlets, the inhabitants of which gained a somewhat precarious livelihood by agriculture and fishing. The pier was commenced in 1813 and was completed In 1814, and from that date the town began to go ahead, but it seems almost incredible that up to 1829 the streets were” neither paved, drained, lighted nor watched,” as stated by a London contemporary.

Before the pier was built landing was almost impossible at low tide, or, at any rate, it was irksome in the extreme. Fielding, the novel­ist, in an often quoted passage, relates that passengers had to be carried ashore from boats at the time when he visited the Island. At high tide boats mainly landed their passengers at Cooper’s Stage, which was apparently situ­ated where the pier gates now stand, while just opposite was the quaint old Bugle Inn, which was replaced by the Royal Pier Hotel, pulled down a few years before the war.

The pier was built in accordance wjth powers conferred by an Act of Geo, III Cap. 196, dated July 13th,1812;. and the list of subscribers to the Act makes interesting reading.They were:   The Hon. Charles Anderson Pelham, the Hon. Sir Nash Grose, Sir John Barrington, Bart., Sir William Oglander, Bart., Sir Leonard Thomas Worsley Holmes, Bart., Barrington Pope Blachford, Michael Hoy, Walter Lock, George Player, James Edwards, James Cull, Edward Jukes, George Morris Jukes, William Loe, Robert Lydall, James Beazley, James Beazley, junior, Richard Cowlam Wasell, William Wasell and James Warne.

The first meeting of directors was held at the Bugle Inn on July 30th  1812, when the Hon. Charles Ander­son Pelham was elected the first chairman of the company. At this meeting Messrs. Bassett H Clarke, bankers of Newport, were ap­pointed treasurers of the com­pany and Messrs. Clarke and Sewell, of Newport, clerks to the company. Various agreements entered into on behalf of the company by James Cull and James Beazley were confirmed. They evi­dently referred to the purchase of the existing landing stages and land and were with Mrs. Ann Bettesworth, Mr. John Cooper, Mr. James Denham, and Mr. WilliamBaker. It was also resolved that the opinion of Sir Samuel Bentham should, with as little delay as possible be obtained as to the best and most efficacious mode of erect­ing a pier and other works author­ised by the Act. At a general meeting of shareholders on August 24th 1812, what was known as Kent’s plan and model of a pier with stone pillars was unanimously approved and on November 12th of the same year Sir Samuel Bentham’s report and plan were re­ceived. On April 19th, 1813, both plans were submitted to the famous Sir John Rennie, and upon his report Kent’s plan was amended by substituting wooden pillars for the stone ones the heads of the piles to be dovetailed and the brick arches to be 1.1/2 feet thick. These arches went out as far as the stone bay which, is still in existence. With these amendments Kent esti­mated the pier could be erected of the required length for about £13,000.

On June 29th, 1813 the Freemasons of the Vectis Lodge laid the foundation stone of the pier, and 33 guests were entertained at the Bugle. Coopers stage had been bought for £2000. Cooper was a brewer who had a brewery in Union Road. In 1814 the pier of 33 bays was complete and it was formally opened on July 26th. Mrs. Bettesworth’s leave was obtained to Join the pier to Cooper’s Stage, and on September 27th, 1814, the contract for this work was signed.

The tolls for the first year were put up for tender and James Beazley secured the contract, paying £870 for them. They were then presumably 2d. per head.

1823 Kent produced a plan for lengthening the pier to 60 bays.In 1825 an agreement was entered into with Cornelius Wells to take water from the well on the pre­mises in his occupation. In 1825 steam vessels commenced running to Ryde for passenger traffic. The first steamer actually ran between Ryde and Portsmouth in 1818, but this was not for passenger traffic. In 1825 the first steamer bringing passengers was run by the Ports­mouth and Ryde Steam Packet Company.

The Pier Company appear to have gone all, over the town in their search for water. There is an agreement to take water from Lad’s Well, while in 1832 there is a record of boring for water in “Potts garden, Upper Ryde.”

In 1827 the pier head was im­proved by Mr. Thomas Dashwood, and on August 27th of the same year an historic event was the landing of the Duchess of Clarence. On December 9th, 1827, a minute was passed that the gates were to be shut against the watermen until they paid their annual subscrip­tion. This seems to do away with the ancient idea that the watermen have the right of the free use of the pier. In 1829 there is record of a new causeway being erected at the end of George Street, but it appears uncertain as to whether this was erected by the town or the pier company.

Most of the old Ryde families were associated with the pier at one time or another, and in 1832 James Player Lind, was elected a director.

In 1832 a moveable crane enabling invalids to be landed from the steamers, was presented by Earl Spencer K.G. who had been elected chairman of the company in 1824. At this time we find the steamship companies making application for their steamers to be allowed to call at the “Regatta Pier” at Ryde, showing that from its earliest days the pier has been connected with regattas.

In 1833 the pier was again lengthened. In 1834 the water ques­tion appears to have again become acute, as it is recorded that a memorial was signed by inhabi­tants and others as to the deficiency of water.

In 1835 Earl Spencer died, and his place as chairman of the com­pany was taken by Musgrave Harrington. An agreement to light the pier with gas was signed in December, 1838, quite early in the days of gas lighting. This agreement, however, was not carried out. In May, 1841, it Is recorded that “a band be allowed to play on the pier during the coming season.” This is the first mention of music on the pier. In May, 1841, the directors decided to lay a water pipe in Upper George Street and Barfield. At this time Mr. Thomas Yard, of Buckland Grange, was elected a director in place of Mr. Astley, who was, how­ever, re-elected two years later, when the directors were the Rev. W. Spencer Phillips (vicar of Newchurch) and Messrs. Lind, Brig­stocke, Lock, Yard, Astley, Utterson, and Goode.

In 1842 James Langdon secured the contract for the new pier head, which was opened to the public in October of that year. This, it seems, was the first date when the pier attained its present length, 768 yards 1 foot, although it has since been twice widened.

In 1845 William Hearn, the clerk to the company, died, and his son, J. H. Hearn, was appointed in his stead. In October, 1849, the death of Mr. W. B. Astley is recorded, and the election of Mr. R. G. Duff in his place. A somewhat quaint entry in the minute book states that “Mr. J. F. Cole, having been killed at Newport at an election, Mr. Henry Phené, surgeon, was elected a director in his stead. In September, 1854, Sir John Simeon was elected on the board, and the same year the water-works were sold to the Ryde Com­missioners.

1858 we find the first mention of the round house on the pier. In 1861 it was resolved to make a double line tramway on the east side, with a slipway for landing horses, carriages, and cattle. Messrs. Langdon’s tender for a tramway pier was accepted for £13,080. A slipway and breakwater for £3443 were afterwards included in the contract. In June, 1863, a tramway carriage was ordered, with seats on the roof. The tramway was wood paved for £1874. In March, 1865 a locomotive was tried on the pier tramway, but evidently without success, as it was “resolved that the locomotive be returned, and that steps be taken for getting a suitable horse to draw the cars and vans.”

In 1856 the Ferry and Floating Bridge Act was passed, and in 1859 the Ferry Company attempted to obtain power for the company to ­purchase of the pier. This they did not succeed in doing, and in 1860 the chairman offered the con­cern to the pier company. It was not until 1865 that the Pier Com­pany purchased the Ferry Company for £23,000, and about the same time they took steps to connect with the Isle of Wight Railway at St. John’s Road by means of a tram line.

In 1867 the Victoria Bathing Pier was commenced, and in 1870 there was a contract with Mr. Coker for the construction of a tramway from apparently just opposite the Castle to St. John’s Road Station for £7343. In 1875 the town objected to a locomotive crossing the Esplanade on the level, so the engineer, Mr. Stileman produced plans for carrying the line under the road, and this was eventually done.

During, the quarter of a Century of ownership by the Southern Railway extensive alterations were made to the pier-head, and between 1926 and 1928 a concrete deck was laid from the shank, covering the area to the east and Including the pier-head railway station. Later the improvement was extended westwards to where the yacht racing starting box stands and the various understructures. During the greater part of the railway company’s ownership Ryde Corporation leased the promenade pier, but gave it up during the last war, a retrograde step, as this portion of the pier later proved to be one of the most valuable assets in the Southern Railway system.

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