One of south Wales' last Victorian piers, near Cardiff
(Photos © urban75, Aug 2009)
Despite being one of several major coal ports on the south Wales coast - and being only a short distance from the thriving Cardiff docks - Penarth developed as pleasant resort at the end of the Victorian era.
Keen to grab a slice of the lucrative Bristol Channel paddle steamer action, the Penarth Promenade and Landing Pier Company Ltd began construction on a new pier designed by H F Edwards in 1894.
The Penarth Pier opened for business the following year on 4th February 1895, although the cast iron and timber decked structure was little more than a landing jetty and promenade.
Things improved in 1907 when a small wooden dance pavilion was erected at the pier-head, with shops built along the neck. After being sold to the local council in 1926, further improvements saw a new concrete landing stage and this shoreward end pavilion being added.
Things haven't always gone swimmingly for the pier though: in 1931 there was nearly a major disaster after a fire started in the seaward end pavilion.
The fire broke out during the busy August Bank Holiday of 1931, and quickly spread to nearly engulf the entire length of the pier.
With 800 people on the pier - some of whom were busy busting moves in the now-marooned pavilion - things looked grim, but the heroic efforts of a pilot cutter and local yachtsmen saved the day, and all souls were saved.
However. the physical damage was substantial, and the pier head, deck and shops were rebuilt a cost of £3,157. Sadly, the wooden pier-head pavilion was never replaced, so no longer will the pier timbers clatter to the cha-cha.
Another calamity struck the pier after the Second World War, when the 7,000-ton Canadian ship,'Port Royal Park' smashed into the pier during a severe gale in 1947, destroying a large section of the structure.
It took two years and some 28,000 quid to get the pier shipshape again, with the cast iron columns being underpinned and concrete columns added.
On 20th August 1966 the White Funnel paddler 'Bristol Queen' also decided to crash into the pier, although the damage seems to have been repaired fairly swiftly.
More serious clouds appeared on the horizon in the early eighties when White Funnel cruises (run by P & A Campbell Ltd of Bristol) ceased operating in 1981, but thanks to the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, the MV Balmoral and PS Waverley - the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world - continue to call. Check out our photo feature: A steamer trip from Penarth to Somerset.
In recent years, the pier has seen considerable investment, with a formal re-opening taking place in May 1998 and the buildings gleaming from a fresh lick of paint when we visited.
The Cardiff Waterbus operates a passenger water taxi service daily between 10.30 am and 5.00 pm, sailing from the Penarth end of the Bay Barrage and the Mermaid Quay on Cardiff's waterfront with seven crossings at hourly intervals.
It's free to take a stroll along the pier and makes for a delightful short trip out of Cardiff.
RNLI Penarth Lifeboat Station, providing a 24-hour lifesaving service for those in danger on the water. Run by volunteers and operating two inshore lifeboats, the station recorded its busiest weekend ever in August 2009, with nine calls outs in eight hours.
Slipway for the lifeboats.
A view along the smart promenade.
Gardens facing the sea.
On the pier. Decks food store is to the right. We scored some lovely chips there!
Looking towards Cardiff. Thankfully, the spectacularly, nay, awesomely ugly multi story car park seen below was demolished in 2002.
We can't imagine what drugs the planning committee who approved this monstrosity were on at the time, but here it is in all its 1960s glory. Not only did it fail to match any local architecture, or win over any hearts for its looks, but it even failed to pay its way.
Looking towards Penarth.
An early view of Penarth Pier from a similar view the modern photo above. You can see that most of the original buildings on the shoreline have changed.
Looking across the pierhead.
In the distance you can see Cardiff Bay, dominated the gleaming copper-tiled roof of the Millennium Centre.
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