January 2009:
Paddle Steamer Pier for Sale

January 2009:
Paddle Steamer Pier for Sale

Anyone want to buy a pier?

Totland Bay Pier on the Isle of Wight is up for sale. It featured in the auction of Barnard Marcus in London on 8th December but, with a top bid of £115,000, failed to meet the reserve price and was withdrawn. Currently owned by Derek Barren, a local artist, the catalogue described what was on offer in typical estate agent speak:

Originally constructed in 1880 this is possibly one of the most unusual lots offered by auction and is steeped in history. Some 88ft long, the walkway is approximately 14ft wide with a main building benefiting from water and electricity connection (previously used as an artist’s studio) being some 13ft x 34ft with a separate bedroom/kitchen. The pier has its own mooring with steps leading to a landing stage and may represent an opportunity for a variety of different uses or alternatively a secluded summer retreat.

Quite so.

In its heyday, Totland Bay Pier was used by the railway steamers, like the little Lymington (pictured above), as an extension of the Lymington to Yarmouth ferry and received quite a comprehensive service with, for example, departures to Lymington in 1889 at 8.10am, 12.45pm, 5.30pm 7pm and 8.35pm. It was also a summer calling point for the excursion paddle steamers of Cosens and what was to become Red Funnel bringing passengers to the pier from Weymouth, Swanage, Bournemouth, Southampton and other Isle of Wight resorts.

The ferry service to Lymington was much reduced in the 1920s. The winter connection ceased after 1925 and Totland Bay disappeared from the timetable altogether after 1927 although there were still excursion calls each summer until the pier was closed to traffic in 1931 due to its poor state. The Southern Railway paddle steamer Freshwater is pictured above alongside.

Totland Bay Pier was re-opened in 1951 with Red Funnel’s Lorna Doone, under the command of Capt Larkin, making the first call on June 17th.

There never was a lot of water in Totland Bay as can be seen in the chartlet above with the 2m line at chart datum running across the end of the pier and only 2.3m to 2.7m in the approaches. There is also a significant tidal back eddy across the pier so some of the masters, like Capts Rawle, Larkin and Field sometimes berthed their steamers on the end of the pier, stemming the tide directly (see the Lorna Doone above), and then canted them round so that they were facing the right way for setting off again. This was a handy technique in certain winds and states of the tide for some of the paddlers like the Emperor of India and the Bournemouth Queen in her later incarnation which were inclined to wander going astern particularly in shallow water, leaving them sometimes taking off in unwelcome and unexpected directions as they backed out.

The Bournemouth Queen berthed head out in the 1950s ready for an easy get away.

After an initial flurry of excitement around the re-opening of the pier, sailings from Southampton to Totland Bay by Red Funnel dwindled in the 1950s and had ceased altogether by the end of the decade. The last call by a paddle steamer from Weymouth was scheduled for Friday September 1st 1961 as shown in the timetable above. This was quite a long haul for the Consul with a good four and a half hour’s steaming each way for just two hours ashore. However, as a pier, Totland did have one major advantage over the more interesting and attractive destination just around the corner at Yarmouth. A call there avoided having to steam on through the narrow entrance to the Solent off Hurst Castle which could put more than half an hour onto the journey time each way if the ship was fighting strong adverse tides.

The last paddle steamer to call at Totland Bay was Cosens’s Embassy in September 1966 on a trip from Bournemouth under the command of Capt John Iliffe. After that Bolsons of Bournemouth continued to use the pier for their Isle of Wight services into the early 1970s after which it fell into disrepair. The Balmoral went alongside in June 1993 after the pier had reopened but the re-opening did not last long and it is now many years since any passenger vessel has called there.

So why not dig into your piggy bank and buy this magnificent paddle steamer pier for yourself? Think of the pleasure you might have sitting in your own deck chair on your own pier, breathing in your own fresh and salty sea air as you dream of all the paddle steamers which have called at your own pier in days gone by. Perfection!

Of course owning your own pier may have its down side. Think of the maintenance. Think of the vandalism. Think of the winter gales washing bits off. But hey, look how safe putting your money into shares and banks is these days as one trusted financial institution after another totters or crashes loosing our money for us in the current economic turmoil. And with some UK bank shares having lost 90% of their value in the last year, putting your liquid assets into a tumbledown seaside pier which has seen better days has begun to look like a much safer home for your money all round!

Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.

John Megoran

John Megoran