Published: 15th July 2014
The Isle of Wight (IOW) has always held a special place for transport enthusiasts and this summer, there are a pair of significant island transport anniversaries. Ryde Pier celebrates its 200th anniversary and the first IOW railway was opened in August 1864. There will be a special day of pier celebrations on July 27 to mark the anniversary.
Construction of the pier commenced on July 29, 1813 after Parliamentary Powers were granted in 1812 and the work took three days short of a year and the Pier opened on July 26 1814. It was originally 1740 feet long but was extended ten years later by 300 feet and the pierhead was enlarged three years later.
These works were repeated until the pier became 2250 feet long and another pier was built to accommodate a horse-drawn tram opening in August 1864. This was used to carry passengers along the near half-mile pier in a shuttle service and avoided trains becoming overcrowded. Experiments were made with steam trams but these were not successful.
Progress brought Siemens built electric trams from 1886 and they ran until 1927, amongst the earliest use of electric traction on UK railways. These were replaced by Drewry and Company built petrol-engined trams which were imported in kit form and erected inn Ryde Works.
The ‘heavy rail’ operations followed from July 1880 when another pier was built to support a pair of tracks and it was jointly owned by the London, Brighton and South Coast and London and South Western Railways. This gave direct rail connections with ships across the Island to places like Cowes, Newport and Ventnor. The track on the eastern side of the pier was taken out of use 10 years ago, the pier crossover removed nearly 70 years ago and just one is left in use today.
The pierhead pavilion was built in 1895 and over the next 16 years, the original wooden piles were replaced with iron. From June 1924, the Southern Railway took over operation of the pier and as was the fashion in the 1930s, it was rebuilt using in concrete and the pier was now 2305 feet long. It was heavily used in World War two for obvious reasons.
The tram service was withdrawn in January 1969 and some of the pier was dismantled leaving a gap between the railway and road piers. Two years later the road/promenade pier was redecked in a five year project and all was well until August 2010 when a routine structural assessment revealed weaknesses and the pier was immediately closed to road traffic. By this time, ownership had passed to Wightlink after British Rail had sold their shipping services in the mid 1980s.
In a twist of fate, the disused tramway pier was used as a footpath diversion while repairs were being carried out with pedestrians walking on a a temporary deck.
After repairs costing over two million pounds, Wightlink re-introduced the toil charge for vehicles, installed speed cameras and imposed a 10mph speed limit when the pier reopened in March 2011.
So why was the pier built? Ryde has a huge tidal range and miles of sandy beaches so when travellers arrived there before the pier was built, it was difficult and uncomfortable to get ashore and faced a walk of half a mile across wet sand.
The original petrol engines were replaced by diesel in 1959. In 1968 an inspection of the tramway pier and the two cars resulted in the system being condemned, and the tramway finally closed on 26th January 1969.
The IOWSR has raised about 70% of the funds needed to rebuild their former Ryde Tramcar. They have an underframe, the engine, running gear and a few body parts but everything needs rebuilding or reconstruction as the remains are beyond economic repair.
The project team plan to use a reconditioned diesel engine (similar to the original) and to fabricate new bodywork. No trailer car was preserved, but the IOWSR has a set of drawings to make building a new one possible.
The tram and trailer car will be turned out to meet current statutory regulations and will be used on the IWSR offering a truly unique train ride and may also be available for hire on mainland preserved railways.
The IWSR was delighted to receive a grant for £15,000 from the Association of Industrial Archaeology towards this restoration project and means that over £41,000 has now been raised out of the estimated fundraising target of £60,000.
The pier and railway anniversaries will be marked in late July and August with special offers and events. On August 30 celebrations will be taking place at stations giving people a chance to step back in time and sample 150 years of IOW railways.
There will be a vintage vehicle display and model railway exhibition at Ryde St Johns Road with live radio from Sandown Station where there will be a railway display put on by the Sandown Historical Association.
Ryde Esplanade Travel Centre will host the IWR 150 Exhibition display while Brading Station will also be hosting a 1950s day which will include signal-box tours as well as vintage and memorabilia stalls. Shanklin station will host a 150 years of entertainment and host a selection of local stalls and a vintage vehicles display.
Special tickets to include unlimited rail travel on the Island and a return vintage bus ride between Shanklin and Ventnor Botanic Gardens. Tickets cost £18.64 from Ryde Esplanade or Shanklin ticket offices, as well as Wightlink's Portsmouth Harbour ticket office. Advance online tickets are on sale via www.hovertravel.co.uk and www.iwsteamrailway.co.uk.