Monday 30 January 2023

Three Cheers For Three Piers (1)

Dateline 1814

Ryde (Isle of Wight) was graced with the very first "pleasure pier" in the world; although this claim depends very much on you definition. The main purpose of the pier was to allow passengers to access Ryde from boats. Before that it was a case of being helped off a boat by a burly "porter" and walking up the slightly soggy sands. Tow boats were also used. In 1833 the pier was extended to allow bigger vessels access.

Dateline 1864
This was a big year for transport in Ryde. The proper steam railway opened from the south as far as Ryde Railway Station - which is now called St Johns Road. To connect boats at the pier with the station a tramway was constructed. This involved an additional pier to the east of the boardwalk pier for foot passengers.
Photographs of the tramway once it left the pier are rare, if not simply unavailable. But the route can be traced. Here is an old map ...
This shows the later railway route from St Johns Road, but just north of the station (map centre right) a line curves off to the right. This is the route of the tramway. It passed through what is now called Cornwall Street (upper right in aerial view below) ...
... and turned left along the esplanade.

Electric trams arrived in 1866 ...
... taking their power from an outside third rail.
Petrol engines trams arrived in 1927.
On of the challenges that a teenage fbb faced in 1958 and 1959 upon arrival at Ryde Pier Head, for onwards travel to a camping holiday with a party of over 100 lads and leaders, was either to obey the leaders and walk down the pier or to surreptitiously join the queues for the tram and get a ride.
The luggage was conveyed to the esplanade by a mini-tractor hauling two or three wheeled cages unloaded by crane from the ferry.

fbb was too much of a wimp to disobey - anyway he feared missing the coach to the campsite and thus being late for dinner! So he walked wearily down the pier! By 1961 he had become a junior leader and was loading and unloading the luggage at Waterloo, Portsmouth Harbour, Ryde Esplanade and the campsite.

The ride in the back of Shiner's van was far more exciting that some boring old petrol driven tram.

But it was still weird to hear a tram changing gear!

Also dating from 1864 was the Victoria Pier (shown on the map above - for a while there were FOUR piers). This was built to receive ferries from Stokes Bay pier west of Gosport. The service was a failure but the facility remained ...
... as a pier for bathers. The tide goes out a long way at Ryde! It succumbed to storm damage and finally demolition in 1920.

Dateline 1880
The "proper"  railway found its way to Ryde Pier Head via a tunnel under the Esplanade, thus Pier number three, to the east of the tramway pier, was constructed.
In its heyday there were four platforms at Ryde Piet Head controlled by a signal box and facilitated by a wonderful scissors crossover on the approaches the the station.
All three piers, joined only by their appurtenances at both ends, still stand seen here from the Esplanade end. Amazingly the piles of piles are still basically sound; its just the bits on top that need attention.

The overall concept at the "dry end" is much the same as ever it was - only the detail has been tweaked over the years.  

The "wet end" is very different.
Here we see (looking approx north and from left to right) the walking pier, the tram pier and station, some "leisure" buildings and the canopies for the four train platforms.

Looking southbound towards the town today, it is quite hard to match the two.
Counting from left to right, the train station is reduced, effectively, to one platform; the tramway pier is just a rusty skeleton and the pedestrian pier is now prioritised for the all-conquering motorist.

The worlds oldest "pleasure" pier now lacks any semblance of traditional "pleasure". It is all about parking the car or arriving for a tight connection by train and running to catch the ferry.

In tomorrow's blog, fbb will briefly revise the demise of much of the railway pier and focus on the future of the tramway pier as it prepares for a sort-of resurrection.

Have We Really Moved On?
Roger French is now doing an alphabetical fortnightly blog on Transport Companied. (fbb thinks : why didn't I think of that?) and, after Avanti West Coast he came to Blackpool on Saturday last.

Roger was impressed that at Blackpool North station there was a display of leaflets ...
... not a full set, but better than most.

But then there was the beautifully attired travel office (sorry, Customer Centre) ...
... utterly closed to customers.
How can an award winning Council owned bus company be so dismissive of its customers, and, indirectly, its council tax paying shareholders?

 Next Three Piers blog : Tuesday 31st January 

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