This week we are publishing the first of two posts focusing on summertime in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
A century ago, a summer stroll along the waterfront provided a welcome relief from the crowded streets of the old town for Southampton’s residents and visitors. The attractions of the area were recorded by local photographers and many of the views are preserved in the Peter Cook Postcard Collection.
According to 19th century guidebooks, a promenade along the pier had long been a favourite pastime. Opened by the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria in July 1833, the original pier had a central carriage-way and footways on either side. Intended primarily as a landing stage for ferry and pleasure steamer passengers — the pier having been built largely as the result of pressure from the steamship proprietors — it went on to acquire some of the attractions associated with a traditional seaside pier. The rebuilding of the pier in the 1890s brought a new gatehouse, refreshment rooms and a bandstand which was soon altered to create a pavilion which could accommodate over 1,000 people. The pier extended to an area of four and a half acres and with its 10 berths for steamers providing ferry services or excursions to the Isle of Wight, along the coast and across the Channel, the Royal Pier was the largest steamer or pleasure pier on the south coast.
In the early years of the 20th century it was possible to walk from the pier along the new Western Esplanade which followed the shoreline to another of the town’s summer attractions, the open air pool. This had also been built during the 1890s as part of a new baths complex and the outdoor pool, which covered half an acre, had been built out from the shore as a seawater pool, the water changing at every high tide. Beside the baths there were pleasure grounds laid out for tennis or bowls. The pool underwent many refits, most notably in the 1930s when new terraces and dressing rooms were added and it remained popular even when it became landlocked, following the land reclamation work of the 1920s and 30s which left it sandwiched between the Pirelli cable works and the coal fired power station.
The Royal Pier and Lido both met their ends in the 1970s. The introduction of car ferries meant that ferry services moved away from the pier in the 1960s and although Mecca invested £100,000 in a ballroom at the pavilion in 1963, its popularity eventually declined and both pier and pavilion closed in 1979. Fires in 1987 and 1992 destroyed most of the remaining structure. The hot summer of 1976 had brought a record number of people to the Lido, but the high costs of maintenance led the City Council to close it in 1977. The buildings were demolished in 1981 and the pool, now the site of the National Express coach station, was filled in with local builders’ rubble.