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The incredible history of Southport Pier

1 year ago

The incredible history of Southport Pier
Southport Pier Credit: Shuterstock

As repairs are announced for Southport Pier, we look at a history of fun, fires, storms, rebuilding and famous faces.

If you’ve visited Southport lately you will have noticed the town’s landmark pier is closed.

The famous structure, that’s been standing proud since 1860, was forced to close in December last year.

Freezing temperatures caused serious damage to its decking boards, sparking safety fears and the difficult decision was taken to shut.

There were already plans in place for a ÂŁ3 million project to upgrade the boards and other parts of the 3,500ft structure.

It’s hoped that work will start soon to get the pier open for the 2023 season.

A spokesman for Sefton Council said: “Expert structural engineers have been appointed by the council to carry out the extensive work required to ensure Southport Pier can be reopened as soon as it is safe to do so.”

So while we await the good news that it’s back in action, we take a look at the history of Southport Pier.

Southport Pier
Picture – Shutterstock

More than 160 years of history

Southport Pier officially opened on August 2, 1860, with a big procession and huge excitement.

The oldest iron pier in the country, it was built in the seaside town that had grown in popularity as a coastal bathing resort. 

Lord Street was first established in the 1820s, with further residential aspects being added in the 1840s. Southport had a growing reputation as an upmarket place to live or visit, and town planners were keen to develop further.

Proposals for a pier were first mooted in 1844 in conjunction with a potential train line to Manchester and the promise of more holiday makers. 

Work on the pier finally started in 1859, with costs running to ÂŁ8,700. 

When it opened a year later, it was the second longest and first iron constructed pier in the country.

Visitors were required to pay 6d to go onto the pier, in an attempt to keep its use exclusively for the more affluent visitors. However, as Southport grew in popularity with the working classes of Lancashire and beyond, the charge was reduced to 2d.

Shipping and pleasure boats

Although originally intended as a leisure pier, the early history of Southport Pier also saw it as a docking area for boats.

Waiting rooms were added for boat passengers in the pier’s early years, and a tramline ran along its length.

Services were operated by packet companies between Southport and other Lancashire coastal resorts like Lytham and Blackpool. You could even get a boat to Llandudno in North Wales.

However, in the 1920s silting of the channel meant it was almost impossible for steamers to reach the structure and by 1929 there were no more boats running.

Famous faces on the pier

In its heyday, Southport Pier played host to a number of famous names entertaining the masses who spent holidays and weekends in the resort.

Comedian, singer and actor George Robey, famous for performing If You Were the Only Girl, performed there, as did film icon Charlie Chaplin.

Visitors in the early 1900s could also witness dare devil aquatic acts like Professor Powsey, diving off the pier, sometimes on a bike from a high board.

Wartime service

Like so many public amenities, Southport Pier had an important role to play during World War II.

During the war, it was closed to the public and was used to operate searchlights detecting enemy planes on their way to attach the docks in Liverpool.

It remained closed to the public until 1950.

Southport Pier
Picture – Shutterstock

Fire damage and storms

Since it opened, the pier has suffered several times from storm and fire damage. Storms caused issues with the foundations in the early decades after it opened. 

Then a fire in September 1897 wrecked the original pavilion which was replaced and re-opened in 1902.

In the summer of 1959, the pier suffered fire damaged which destroyed 460 square metres of the decking, reducing its length. 

The pier fell into a period of deterioration, but was designated as a Grade II listed structure in 1975. Then sadly, there was more storm damage in 1989 and moves to demolish.

However, various funding sources were found – including a ÂŁ1.7 million grant from the Heritage Lottery fund – and in 2002, following work costing in excess of ÂŁ7 million, the pier reopened. 

It is hoped this latest closure, caused by deteriorating decking worsened by a cold weather damage late last year, will end soon with work to restore the boards.

Star of the small screen

The pier has been the star of the small screen in recent years, starring in two major TV shows.

In 2020 Sky TV’s big budget drama Tin Star moved to Merseyside for its thrilling final series.

And it was on Southport Pier that Jack and Angela, played by Tim Roth and Genevieve O’Reilly, finally tied the knot and enjoyed a raucous wedding party before a nasty encounter with a local gangster.

Then in 2022, the pier was the star of the show again in BBC One’s Time, when lead character Mark Cobden, played by Sean Bean, met up with the wife of the man he killed in a drink driving incident in a café on the pier.

While the pier might be closed, there is still loads to do in Southport. Head to the Visit Southport website here.



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