From the collapse to the big refurbishment - looking back over Clevedon Pier's 150-year history

PUBLISHED: 08:00 25 May 2019

Clevedon Pier. Picture: Celebrity Cruise

Clevedon Pier. Picture: Celebrity Cruise

Celebrity Cruise

From remarkable parties to a collapsing walkway, Clevedon Pier has seen it all in its 150 years and this week marks the start of the pier's official birthday celebrations.

Clevedon Pier. Picture: Jane AbrookClevedon Pier. Picture: Jane Abrook

CONSTRUCTION

Until the Severn Tunnel was opened in 1886, Brunel's Great Western railway line from London to South Wales took the 'Great Way Round' via Swindon and Gloucester.

Clevedon's closeness to the London to Bristol main line and the opening of the Yatton branch line in 1847 offered the exciting possibility of a faster route to South Wales by steamer from a pier at Clevedon.

A pier in the town had been under consideration at the time but was finally accepted at a public meeting in the town.

Sir Athur Elton instigated and part-funded The Clevedon Pier Company along with Richard Godwin, Samuel Ransford and others.

By July 1867 building work had begun and it was suggested the pier should be 840 feet long.

The construction of the pier was a very laborious task as every section of ironwork had to be manhandled before a large crane could raise it into position. Around 370 tons of wrought ironwork was required.

Clevedon Pier being built.Clevedon Pier being built.

GRAND OPENING

The design included a Toll House with accommodation for the Pier Master and was built by Clevedon builder, W Green, who was responsible for building the bandstand further along the promenade. It was designed, along with the hotel, by Hans Price.

In all, the pier cost £10,000 to build - £1,180,444 in today's money - and the project employed an average workforce of 60 men.

On February 6, 1869 the contractors were able to hand the completed structure to the directors of The Clevedon Pier Company.

Clevedon Pier in 1985. Picture: John HowardClevedon Pier in 1985. Picture: John Howard

It was officially opened on March 29, 1869.

Clevedon Pier after its collapse.Clevedon Pier after its collapse.

THE 20TH CENTURY

For 20 years Clevedon Pier provided a new, fast route to South Wales. Sadly, the opening of the Severn Railway Tunnel on December 1, 1886, began to take passengers who before opted to travel to or from Clevedon on the steamer.

Responding to this, the enlargement and improvement of the pier was discussed. But, despite these endeavours, the business on the pier faltered and in 1891 its ownership was placed with Clevedon Council.

The council borrowed £10,000 from the town to build a new pier head and a landing stage.

Clevedon Pier. Picture: Maurice AllenClevedon Pier. Picture: Maurice Allen

The pier head was built at an angle to the pier in order to align with the Bristol Channel current.

The pier was reopened on April 3, 1893 by Lady Elton. A Japanese-style pagoda and two shelters were added to the pier head.

The opening of Clevedon Pier in 1998.The opening of Clevedon Pier in 1998.

1930s-1960s

A covered dance hall was added to the pier head as a way to attract visitors but it failed to attract more people and by 1956 the annual footfall fell to 45,000 people.

But the arrival of a juke box in 1949, during the rock 'n' roll era, electrified the pier overnight.

Young people flocked to the pier to hear the music of Elvis Presley, Pat Boone and Perry Como. By 1959, 83,000 people visited the pier.

Clevedon Pier. Picture: Gary ClarkClevedon Pier. Picture: Gary Clark

THE COLLAPSE

At 10.20am on October 16, 1970, disaster struck when, under load testing for insurance purposes, the two end spans failed and collapsed into the sea.

A couple of years later, both the Pier Preservation Trust and the Pier Supporters Club were formed while the marooned pier head began to deteriorate.

A year after the initial collapse, trustee Mike Hedger used his boat to get to the pier head at high tide.

He and Peter Cowley built a banner saying 'save the pier'.

Despite the trust's efforts, Woodspring District Council voted to demolish the pier in 1979.

A public inquiry was launched to save the pier, when Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman famously called it the 'most beautiful pier in England'.

After negotiations in 1981, a short lease was taken out under the auspices of The Clevedon Pier Preservation Trust and then in 1985, a 99-year full repairing lease was taken out with the district authority.

REOPENING

A Victorian-themed party was held on May 27, 1989 to mark the reopening with sailings aboard the paddle steamer Waverley available.

The total cost of the pier head restoration was £2million and the pier remained open to the public throughout the work.

THE PRESENT DAY

In May 2011, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Coastal Communities Fund made grants of £1.2million to refurbish the former heritage centre in November 2013.

The Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust was formed in 2015 and the new visitor centre opened in 2016 with the addition of a café, toilets, interactive exhibition and the new Porthole Room.

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