Saturday 28th May 1955 was a red-letter day in Ventnor. It was the Whitsun holiday, but what made it special was the formal re-opening of the town’s pier. During World War Two, a section of the pier neck had been removed as a protection against enemy landing and, beginning in 1951, the entire structure had been slowly re-built, starting with the missing section of walkway. The inauguration took place in the new pierhead arena where some 200 representatives gathered to see a commodore from Trinity House declare it open. A civic luncheon followed at the Winter Gardens to musical accompaniment from the ‘Ocean Trio’. In the evening, a large number of Ventnor’s young people enjoyed open air dancing in the pierhead arena. A talent competition saw members of a local youth choir pitted alongside local RAF boys. There was then a firework display on the landing stage that could be seen from the Esplanade and the cliffs above. The news item that was to prompt the most attention, though, was the discovery the next Sunday morning of a pair of lady’s bloomers flying from the pier flagpole. It seems that the wickedness of youth never changes!
At the time, Ventnor’s new pier was widely regarded as one of the finest modern structures to grace any British seaside resort. Its 23-feet wide pier neck had windbreak screens fitted along much of its length and the neck widened to 53 feet half-way down. The pierhead itself was a reinforced concrete structure that had a cafeteria and toilets together with an entertainment area that accommodated up to 500 people, part though not all of which was under cover. At a higher level, there was a sundeck promenade, a fully licensed bar and an ultra modern coffee bar known as the ‘Calypso’. Within the arena, music and entertainment was to be provided morning, afternoon and evening. At the landward end, meanwhile, the pier had a series of entrance buildings that included seven shops, together with toll houses and other offices. One shop had ice-cream rights, one had photographic rights, another sold light refreshments and there were also units for the sale of tobacco, sweets and seaside novelties. The shops had in fact been opened three years previously as had a limited stretch of the pier walkway. By the summer of 1953, too, pleasure steamers had been able to call at the reconstructed landing stage and disembark or embark passengers. Not until 1955, though, were the pierhead buildings complete.
Ventnor’s new pier, as many older residents will know, did not have a very long life. Part of the landing stage had to be demolished as unsafe less than fifteen years after it had been rebuilt. The pierhead facilities experienced a slow decline in use from the mid-1960s, prompting thoughts of roofing over the open arena to create a new entertainment hall. However, it all came to nothing, for it soon became apparent that the entire pier structure itself was suffering serious deterioration. Over the following decades, countless ideas and schemes for regeneration were floated, but the end finally came in the early 1990s with the pier’s complete demolition. If you have any memories of the pier’s heyday, we would love to hear from you. And if you have any photographs of the pierhead arena or the Calypso bar please get in touch with us.
Michael Freeman, Ventnor & District Local History Society. Sources: index files of the late Fay Brown; the Isle of Wight Mercury. This article was first published in the South Wight Chronicle in May 2015.