Clevedon Pier :: Shared Description
written by Brian Robert Marshall
The origins of the pier date to 1847 with the arrival of a branch line of the Bristol and Exeter Railway from Yatton. The progenitors decided that it would make commercial sense to build a pier that would enable a direct rail and sea link between London and South Wales. Although intended to be functional places piers like this one became tourist destinations in their own right.
Construction began in 1867. The engineers were Richard Ward and John Grover. The physical challenges were formidable: a tidal rise of 15 metres, a 7 knot current and south-westerly gales. Nevertheless the 60 men employed to build the pier completed it in 18 months. In all 350 tons (355 tonnes) of wrought iron were used, mostly in the form of former broad gauge rails.
The pier survived the occasional financial crisis as in 1886 when the Severn Railway Tunnel opened thus reducing demand for the sea crossing to South Wales. But by 1893 thanks to a loan from the local council the crisis had passed and a new pierhead was built.
In 1893 regular steamer traffic commenced. In due course up to 400 passengers would land at one time and up 1000 visitors a day came into the town. The main destinations from Clevedon were Newport in South Wales, Weston-super-Mare and Bristol. The Bristol Channel network included Minehead, Lynmouth, Ilfracombe, Bideford, Clovelly, Lundy, Tenby, Swansea, Porthcawl, Barry and Cardiff. Much of the traffic arrived in the form of day-trippers looking for a breath of sea air whilst enjoying panoramic views of the Bristol Channel and the South Wales coast and the hills behind it.
The Toll House was built at about the same time as the pier as was the nearby Royal Pier Hotel, now sadly boarded up.
All went well until the pier's darkest day, 17 October 1970. On that day testing of the pier's structure was being carried out for insurance purposes. The test involved filling heavy duty plastic containers with water placed on the pier decking. As a result the two spans nearest the pierhead collapsed isolating the pierhead from the rest of the pier. Then followed a period of uncertainty when the then council, Woodspring District Council, expressed an intention to demolish what remained of the pier citing the excessive cost of restoration. Fortunately for the pier, there was considerable opposition to this proposal and a public inquiry led to a reprieve for the pier. The inquiry may have been swayed by the influential voice of Sir John Betjeman who described the pier as 'the most beautiful pier in England'. Several years of fundraising ensued and substantial grants were made by English Heritage, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and even Woodspring DC.
For 14 years from 1984 restoration work took place aided by further grants from the National Lottery and the council. Restoration was completed by May 1998.
The pier is listed Grade I Link
The Images of England website is ambiguous about the pier's status referring to both Grade I and II* Link
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Created: Sat, 14 Aug 2010, Updated: Sun, 21 Oct 2012
The 'Shared Description' text on this page is Copyright 2010 Brian Robert Marshall, however it is specifically licensed so that contributors can reuse it on their own images without restriction.