The piers of North Wales - a testament to Victorian engineering
PUBLISHED: 20:30 15 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:25 21 October 2015
Piers are the remnants of a bygone era. Or are they? North Wales has more than its share of piers which grace the landscape and continue to draw in visitors WORDS BY ALLISON DICKINSON MAIN PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID ROBERTS
Since their heyday at the start of the 20th century, the number of seaside piers in the UK has halved to just 50. But in North Wales, four out of the original six – each with its own unique character – remain standing as a testament to Victorian engineering and the communities that support them.
Built in 1846, Beaumaris Pier has recently been reopened after refurbishment work which began last spring.
The structure – owned by Isle of Anglesey Borough Council – has been restored to its original width and has been improved with new hardwood decking, a refurbished shelter and kiosk and the installation of a landing pontoon with connecting link span bridge enabling greater vessel accessibility 253to the Pier from the Menai Strait as part of the £5.6m Development of Anglesey’s Coastal Environment Project.
Despite being the shortest of the four remaining Welsh piers, the 174m (570ft) unlisted structure is certainly not short on character with offerings ranging from boat trips to Puffin Island to fishing and crabbing, which are both heartily supported by local businesses selling tackle and bait.
Carole Hough, owner of nearby bed and breakfast Victoria Cottage, has been taking a keen interest in the project.
She said: “The restoration has been a once in a lifetime opportunity
to extend this vital piece of heritage. It’s a spectacle of engineering and I think it will benefit not only Beaumaris but the surrounding area as well. There’s a real sense of community here and the whole town really cares about it.”
Beaumaris’ nearest neighbour, Garth Pier in Bangor, was opened in 1896. It is currently 458m (1,500ft) long, 50ft shorter than the original length.
After escaping demolition in 1974, the Grade II* listed structure was restored in 1988 after Bangor City Council bought it from the former borough council for £1, but it is currently in need of essential maintenance work which could cost up to £2m as the pier is in a protected marine area, including nearby mussel beds; the Menai Strait is home to a thriving oyster and mussel farming community and the region provides around three quarters of the UK’s farmed mussels.
Town clerk Gwyn Hughes said the pier is a ‘brilliant asset’ for the town, adding: ‘It’s a unique environment with fantastic views of Snowdonia and the Menai Straits. Once seen, it’s never forgotten and people come back time and time again.’
The bustling commercialism of Llandudno Pier, built in 1877, is the epitome of traditional British seaside culture with its amusement
stalls, fairground rides and kiss-me-quick hats.
Owned by Six Piers Ltd, its total length is 700m (2,295ft), of which the main pier is 376m (1,234ft), making the Grade II* listed structure the longest in Wales.
It has two entrances either side of the Grand Hotel – one on the promenade at North Parade and the original entrance on Happy Valley Road – and costs around £200,000 a year to maintain, a cost that is covered by the retail and amusement offerings along its length.
Six Piers is currently working with Conwy Council in a bid to secure funding to reopen the landing stage for a service between Liverpool and Llandudno.
By contrast, the 225m (750ft) Colwyn Bay Victoria Pier has been derelict since former owner Steve Hunt went bankrupt in 2008.
The Grade II listed structure, built in 1900, has had a turbulent history with four separate owners, has recovered from two major fires and was saved from demolition following pressure from the community in both 1976 and 1987.
After acquiring the site earlier this year, Conwy County Borough Council announced plans to transform the pier and its Art Deco pavilion into a community and tourist centre but an application for a £4.9m restoration grant was rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund in April.
Patron of the National Piers Society and former Chester MP Gyles Brandreth confesses that he is ‘hooked’ on piers.
He explained: ‘There is something wonderfully romantic about a pier. Dramatic in the rain, matchless in the sunshine, they are pavilions on the sea, pathways that take you from the shore into a world that is timeless and unique.
‘Essentially they are relics from Britain’s Victorian heyday and I love the lost world they evoke. As far as I am concerned, promenading down a pier like Beaumaris is as close to strolling in paradise as you are ever likely to get in this world.
‘I salute the people who maintain these wonderful pieces of our national heritage. Just as some people collect mountains they’ve climbed or castles they’ve visited, I collect piers I have walked down – and North Wales is blessed with some of the best.’