HISTORY OF THE GRAND PIER

 

The following text is an excerpt from 'Teignmouth Pier A Pictorial History' By Viv Wilson to by a copy of the book click here.

 

THE BIRTH OF TEIGNMOUTH PIER.

 

The Pier at Teignmouth was built in 1865 by an engineering consultant from London, called Joseph Wilson.   

As a boy, Joseph William Wilson yearned to be an engineer, much to his fathers disapproval, he’d always hoped that he would follow the family tradition and take up a clerical post.  After his sons initial schooling as a cleric, Joseph’s’ father was eventually persuaded to send him, as an apprentice, to work under his cousins tutelage in Fox and Henderson, an engineering firm.  Later on in his career he acted as an assistant engineer for the firm, on the construction of Crystal Palace, London.  He had an inventive mind, and introduced many improvements to the machinery used on the construction.  When he left there, he set up in partnership with his brother-in-law and opened The Oldbury Engineering Works.  Then, due to ill health, he left Oldbury and  set up as a Consulting Engineer in Banbury, where he and his son carried out the construction of Teignmouth Pier.  Joseph Wilson died in 1898.

 

CONSTRUCTION.

 

The Pier is constructed of cast-iron screw piles, these are  literally screwed  into the sand with a large hexagon on the pile.  They are screwed down to the clay level or infact until refusal.  Any new steel piling has been driven 80ft right to bedrock. The deck is  open and made up of wood from the Yellow Balou, a hard wood from Borneo.  The deck was only recently renewed and will last for another 25 years, withstanding the continuous assault from the sea.

 

A total of 89 piers were built in England & Wales between 1814 and 1910.  Only 50 of the original piers are still standing, however, some of those no longer function as a pier.  They are forgotten structures pointing out to sea, reminders of  another era.  Those of us who like to be reminded of days gone by, can still take a stroll out on the few remaining, safe and attractive piers. 

 

Although Teignmouth Pier has undergone many changes in its history, it is one of only two piers left on the South West coast of England, and that is something, Teignmouth, Devon and the English Heritage should be proud of.

 

VICTORIANS.

 

Teignmouth became a popular seaside destination in 1817, when the Victorians frequented coastal resorts in favour of the “big smoke” cities they lived and worked in.  Doctors used to prescribe a get away for their ails and some even advised their patients to drink the sea water!  It was believed to have healing properties. 

 

Initially, Teignmouth Pier was a landing stage.  It’s purpose was to enable steam boat passengers to get to the shore.  The Victorians used to enjoy their stroll along the promenade, but for some the pull of the sea was too much, so they would walk out to the end of the Pier and look at the view.  They could imagine being on board a ship, with the added advantage of a stable footing.  But as the jetty was used more and more frequently for promenading, the need for entertainment did not go un-noticed.  Some entrepreneurs saw the potential of a captive audience and decided to build on the jetty, giving refreshments and other amusements.  For instance the old machine “what the Butler saw” was one of the first to be installed on the Pier.

 

During the 2nd World War,  a 60 foot section of deck was removed so that the Germans could not breach us if they invaded England.  Nearly all the piers on the East and South coasts were dealt with in the same way.

Compensation was paid out for replacement of that section but many remained in that state for a considerable period.  Our own wasn’t brought to its original width until the early 1960’s.

 

ENTERTAINMENT THEN AND NOW.

 

In 1996 we joined in the National campaign, The Year of The Pier.  It was a great success.  We entertained approximately 7,000 people throughout the day, from 10am until midnight.  We had a Gladiator, local radio roadshow, jazz muscians, beer tent, painting competitions, fireworks and various entertainers. The idea of the National Campaign was to raise the publics awareness as to the plight of piers across the country.  There are 50 remaining in England and Wales, some of which are in a very poor state of repair.  Teignmouth Pier has been lucky to have owners who have the desire to keep it well maintained.  However, each year it gets harder and harder to find the finances to do just that.  We should be proud of our heritage and fight to keep it.  Nearly all the remaining piers are over 100 years old, and we are an English instituation that shouldn't be allowed to crumble into the sea and be forgotten.  Some piers have been lucky enough to get lottery monies, just so they can remain standing.