PREVIEW OF PLYMOUTH PIER.
After a very chequered history the Plymouth Pier at last stands within a few days of practical completion. For six years the scheme ebbed and flowed like the sea amid which the structure now proudly stands; at times it promised well, and seemed on the high road to success, and then again came seasons when the whole undertaking was perilously near shipwreck and total abandonment. “When the Pier’s finished” had become synonymous in Plymouth with “When the Halfpenny Gate’s abolished” -a consummation devoutly to be wished, but almost past hoping for. It is not necessary here to follow the fortunes and misfortunes, the successes and failures, of the Plymouth Pier Company from its formation; the theme is too well worn. Suffice it to say that the first contract for the construction of the Pier was undertaken by Messrs. Laidlaw, Sons, and Caine, of Glasgow, and that ultimately passed into the hands of Mr. C. E. Daniel, London. Mr. Darnel’s staff commenced operations in the face of much adverse criticism in November, 1882, and it will he admitted on all hands that he has brought this work to very satisfactory conclusion. The structure, which stands on about 140 iron columns firmly fixed in the solid rock, is 420 feet length. The width at the entrance is 130 feet, and this gradually narrows to a causeway 60 feet wide, which again extends at its seaward extremity to a spacious promenade 190 feet across. The pier is connected with the Hoe-road by a solid masonry abutment, which is flanked on each side by a flagstaff set in a massive granite base. The entrance from the Hoe-road will present an exceedingly effective appearance; the necessary structures are of light and elegant design, and while they necessarily somewhat impede the view from the road they are calculated to give of little offence as possible to the eyes of those who think nature unadorned adorned the most. The passage ways leading to the turnstiles will be laid with Minton’s encaustic tiles, and the central building is 40 feet long and 16 feet wide, which may be now seen from the Hoe —is to be devoted to the purposes of a tea and luncheon room. The apartment is lofty, and has a storey elevation in the roof, which considerably adds to its attractiveness. In each side of the luncheon-room is an octagonal tollhouse commanding four turnstiles, while on either hand is a gate for the admission of Bath-chairs. The bases of the toll-houses are inlaid with ornamental tiles keeping with the passages, and the roofs are elaborately decorated with ironwork. Above the central building there is a clock tower. Starting from the shore end of the Pier the causeway lies on a gentle slope and terminates in six semi-circular wooden steps. At the head of the steps on either hand is a small house similar in design to the tollhouses—one to be utilised as a cabinet des femmes and the other as a gentleman’s lavatory. These offices will be in charge of a female and male attendant respectively. Passing down the steps the broad promenade which forms the seaward end of the pier is reached, the deck at this point being just 20 feet above high water mark. At the shore end of the broadened portion there is a small reading-room wherein will be found the daily papers, and opposite is a similar building which it is intended there shall be established a postal and telegraph office, and a fancy stationery and book stall. Running along the side of the promenade, and about 20ft. from the margin, is an ingenious structure designed to shelter visitors to the Pier from wind and weather without at the same time obstructing the sea view from the Hoe. It is a highly ornamental glazed screen of pitch pine, horseshoe in shape, and having a roof projecting a few feet on the inside and outside. This roof forms, as it were, a veranda each side of the screen, and the covered portion is divided into about forty bays, each furnished with a comfortable wooden seat. Between the screen and the edge of the Pier is a board walk, and within the enclosure—and consequently in the centre of the promenade—the bandstand is to be erected. The continuity of the horse-shoe veranda is pleasingly broken in its centre by a handsome suite of refreshment-rooms ; the central apartment is intended for the general public, that on the right hand as a tea-room for the exclusive use of ladies, whilst that on the left will be devoted to the purposes of a kitchen. Above the refreshment-room, reached by outside iron steps, is a pretty little room—or rather look-out house—surrounded ty a balcony commanding a magnificent view of the Sound. This lofty sanctum, while it forms a pleasant feature in the whole design, will be valuable for regatta committees who may chose it as their place for observation and direction. One the most useful adjuncts to the Plymouth Pier yet remains to be described. By skilful engineering, facilities as perfect as could well be devised have been provided for landing and embarking. Starting from the seaward end a series of long perforated iron platforms descend by easy stages on either side of the pier until the pair nearest the shore arc only a few inches above low water mark. By this arrangement there is a platform on a level with the gunwale of the smallest skiff or the deck of the loftiest steamer at any state of the tide. Moreover, in the support of this platform the iron columns in use elsewhere have been replaced by stout rectangular wooden piers, against which vessels may ride the heaviest sea without injury. The pier is to be artificially lighted by 18 electric arc lamps of 2,000 candle power each, and the rooms will all be fitted with the Lane-Fox Incandescent lamps. Below the turnstiles and toll-houses is a vaulted chamber which will be used as stores and as a receptacle for the horse-power gas engine by which the motive power for the electric light is to be supplied. The deck of the pier is of 2 ½ inch pitch pine planks smoothly laid and easy to traverse.
Without entering into the controversy as to whether or not the pier breaks the natural contour of the Hoe seaboard, it may be safely said that it adds another artificial attraction to the many natural advantages of the port. To be on the top of the Hoe looking down on the centipedal like structure is one thing; to be on the pier gazing up the green sloops of Plymouth’s famous playground, and surrounded by the waters of the Sound, is altogether a different matter. From the former position, doubtless, some may be inclined to quarrel with the Pier promoters ; from the deck of the Pier itself one can hardly but feel grateful to them. We are able to say this from one hour’s promenade on the structure, even in its present crude condition. One need not, in the West at all events, eulogise the beauties of the Sound and on the Pier are be found many of the pleasures of a trip on the sparkling waters without any of the disagreeables of the game
“Of pitch and toss,”
which Father Neptune so fond of playing with his votaries. Yesterday morning, for instance, the panorama spread out not only before, but all round the promenade on the pier was as beautiful and refreshing as the heart could desire. Whether one turned from the wooded peninsula of Mount Edgcnmbe with its hundred vernal tints, to the pastured heights of Staddon, the brighter green of the Hoe, or watched the tiny waves tumbling and dancing over the brown weed-covered rocks below, one could not but feel grateful for the vantage point which the Pier afforded. The ships of the Channel Fleet, with the hardworking little tugs in busy attendance, steamed one by one majestically past their way to the Hamoaze, as it seemed, almost within stone’s throw of the promenade, and dotted all over the waters were sailing craft, with sails of warm brown or dazzling whiteness, all giving life and animation to the view. An inspection of the pier as it now stands makes it apparent that the company spared neither pains nor expense to make the structure worthy of the scene which it is so prominent a feature. Permission has already been obtained from General Sayer, commanding the Western District, and the officers commanding the various regiments of the garrison for the military bands to perform on the Pier nightly from 7.30 to 9.30 (Sundays excepted) during the season, and also Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Various rumours been afloat as to the uses to which the pier is to put, but from the programme already drawn up it is clear that the intention of the directors is to give promenade concerts which only high class educational music will be rendered. It may be added that the board have under consideration the provision of efficient bathing accommodation, for which the landing stages before referred to, offer admirable facilities. The total cost of the Pier will amount to £45,000, and not one farthing of this sum has been subscribed in the Three Towns or neighbourhood, notwithstanding the fact that more than £17,000 has been expended for labour and material in Plymouth. Mr. E. S. Lancaster, the hon. secretary of the company, who strongly advocated the completion of the Pier at the town’s meeting in the Guildhall in 1880, has unquestionably been the life and soul of the undertaking. Against the strongest opposition he has stood practically alone in bringing the scheme to successful issue, and recently consented, addition to his many other honorary labours, to continue to fill the post of secretary to the company for which he has already done so much. Mr. Dawson has represented Mr. Daniel at Plymouth since that gentleman undertook the contract, and Mr. Drake has fulfilled the important duties of the clerk of works, Messrs Lascelles and Company (represented by Mr Ogilvie) have erected the screen and houses; Mr. Dring, electrical engineer, has superintended the fixing of the electric light; Mr. S Roach has constructed the masonry, and Mr. Roberts (Stonehouse) has carried out the necessary painting. All the labour has been supplied from the Three Towns.
The Pier is to be opened by the Mayor of Plymouth (Mr. J Greenway) on May 29th, and Baron Grant who has a substantial interest in the concern – will be present with the other directors of the company. The charge for admission to the pier on all occasions – and this includes the opening ceremony and concert – will be one penny, and an additional penny will be charged for the privilege of passing into the area of the screen.
The catering for the refreshment rooms has been entrusted to Mr. Matthews. When the order for the construction of the Pier was applied for the Town Council stipulated, as a matter of precaution, that the promoter should not apply to the justices for a license to sell intoxicating liquors on the structure without first obtaining the consent of the Corporation. In accordance with this arrangement application was yesterday made to the Hoe Committee to recommend the Council to grant permission to the directors to apply to the Bench for a license. After considerable discussion it was resolved to adjourn the question, and in the meantime to ascertain what course had been adopted in other towns in which piers have been constructed.