A Pier with few equals:- The Queen’s Pier, Ramsey Isle of Man, its history and its future!
The Design and construction. The Pier was originally designed as a low water landing Pier for steamers calling at the resort of Ramsey. The plans were prepared by Sir John Goode C.E. and the construction was undertaken by Head Wrightson of Thornaby, England. These concerns were both involved with Saltburn Pier in Yorkshire and looking at pictures of both Piers you cannot fail to be struck by the family resemblance.
The Queen’s Pier is different, maybe even unique, in that it has several unconventional design features including cruciform section columns and a tramway running virtually the whole of its 2,248 feet. Other features include the transverse girders being grouped in threes about the centrelines of the column groups with single transverse girders midspan. This matrix of lattice girders then supports a uniquely refined style of decking whereby tapering timber packers were laid to give the deck a central camber, further longitudinal timbers and then the transverse boards of the promenade surface.
Queen’s Pier deck has five intermediate widenings with seating, with the central widening also having a passing loop for the tramway. At the Pier head there is a wooden building which served as a waiting room and refreshment area. The small fixed Crane that was used to lift cargo etc., is still in place. A flight of iron landing steps extends down to low water level on the north side of the pier head. The Pier Abutment consists of dressed local stone capped with local limestone with a bulwark of concrete and large quarried stones laid on edge.
At the landward entrance the Pier has two octagonal timber toll houses almost exactly the same as those at Saltburn but their aesthetic appearance is now marred by a pebble dash concrete blockhouse constructed in 1956. The Pier was lit by Gas carried on ornamental lamp posts most of which remain in good condition. Electrification was considered but did not take place.
Dimensions. Original total length was 2,248, with a further 500 feet added as an eastern landing in 1897. The Pier has an average width of 20 feet and is carried on a total of 60 spans. The Pier Head is 120 feet long by 50 feet wide.
Operational History. Construction commenced in 1882 and completed at a cost of between £45,000 & £70,000 depending on who is counting. The Pier was formally opened on 22nd July 1886 by Rowley Hill, the Bishop of Sodor and Man, and, with the gracious consent of Her Majesty and Lord of Man, Queen Victoria, was christened “Queen’s Pier.” A succession of British Monarchs landed at the Pier throughout its long history to enhance its Royal title. The original intention was to make the pier more of a place of resort but this never happened. A small locomotive was introduced to ease luggage handling problems and later still a passenger car was added. This still exists in a working condition.
By 1906 around 36,000 passengers used the Pier each year to get to/from ports in Ireland England and Scotland. On the pleasure side the Pier provided a venue for swimming and diving demonstrations, band concerts as well as the type of activity universally associated with Piers that start with a stroll along the deck but frequently end up below on the sand.
Passenger numbers after the First World War never recovered as holiday patterns changed and the larger ships introduced concentrated on Douglas.
By the late sixties passenger landings were less than 5,000 and shortly thereafter boats from Belfast and Ardrossan ceased to call at all. The last steamer called in 1970 and maintenance for shipping use became unacceptable. The Pier remained open to the Public with little maintenance until a succession of vandal attacks caused its owners to close the Pier in 1991. There are persistent rumours to this day that some of the Vandalism was “State sponsored”.
The Restoration Movement. A Public Meeting was called to express concern over the neglect of Queen’s Piers and “The Friend’s of Queen’s Pier” was formed in 1994. “The Friends” applied for and were granted Charitable status and maintained steady pressure through the media and elsewhere for the Pier to be reopened. Successful “Open Days” saw between 2,000 and 3,000 visitors come to walk on their Pier. These Open Days ceased in 2003 when the Owners played their Health and Safety Card and refused permission.
The Political Machinations.
In 1994 the Manx Parliament (Tynwald) voted the sum of £40,000 by way of annual maintenance and the Pier was placed on the Manx Register of Protected Buildings on 27th January 1995. This placed a statutory duty on The Isle of Man Government to maintain the Pier but this duty has never been discharged. Todate 18 Reports have been commissioned since 1993. Figures for repair have varied between £1.5m and a whopping £17m. Figures produced by consultants who had real experience of Piers in Blackpool, Saltburn and elsewhere came out at realistic and affordable levels. Government consistently refused to accept such figures until their own Select Committee published its report with a figure of £4.5m. The Director of Planning for the Island’s Department of Environment confirmed the Pier’s protected status and the duty of its owners was to maintain it in a safe condition. He also stated that his Department could take action by issuing a repairs notice if they felt the Pier was being neglected. So why don’t they?
The “D” Word. Realistically this is NOT an option. The figure for demolition would far exceed refurbishment with a cost of over £12m. The Pier is a Protected Structure and under Manx Law to de-register requires the owner to show that the original reason for registration no longer applies. Our Pier was Registered in view of its historic significance and landscape value. It follows that its owners have an uphill struggle to demonstrate this has somehow changed!
Present condition and realistic cost of repair.
Most surveyors have reflected on how well the Victorian Ironwork has stood up to the harsh marine environment and winter gales of the Irish Sea. You can still read Head Wrightson’s stamp on the Pier columns! Surveyors have expressed the view that the Pier structure is in better condition than some in England that are actually open to use.
The cost of completely new decking in Opepe or similar has been put at around £750,000 but it would not make economic sense to do this and then have to rip it all out to attend to the maintenance of the Ironwork a few years later.
The position in July 2006:- Despite strong support, Tynwald rejected their own Select Committee’s report but such was the concern that the Chief Minister, Hon Donald Gelling MHK, returned the following day and made a public statement that he believed there was a clear desire to resolve the issue once and for all and he took the matter back to the Council of Ministers (His “Cabinet”). The Treasury Minister, Hon. Allan Bell MHK, who actually represents Ramsey, is on record as stating the funding can be made available should Tynwald authorise the expenditure.
Public and Media support! The Pier enjoys widespread support both direct from the Public and with a very sympathetic media. She has featured on several TV programmes and even as the backdrop to the Title sequences of the Film “On a clear Day!”. Supportive Newspaper Editorials go back to the Ramsey Courier of 25th August 1939 and there are not many weeks when the Pier does not get space in our Island Papers. www.iomtoday.co.im ran a straw poll on whether funds should go to re-open the Pier or be spent on other projects such as Schools etc. The emphatic answer by 60% was in favour of the Pier.
Progress to Refurbishment. A Working Group deliberated throughout 2007 and conducted a survey on the Queen’s Pier and the people of the Isle of Man were given the opportunity of saying whether or not they wanted their unique Pier repairing or doing away with once and for all. They confirmed most emphatically, as we knew they would, that they want the pier repairing and re-opening to use. The response level was the best that the Consultants have ever experienced and clearly showed that 81% want the Pier restored in one way or another. This was a clear message to Government that they cannot ignore. This result showed that even if the Government have been content to be in breach of Planning law the residents of the Isle of Man most emphatically have not. In December 2008 The Council of Ministers Working Party published their findings in the form of “Options & Recommendations with three recommendations comprising two main Options as follows:-
1. That Queen’s Pier is of national heritage significance and should be refurbished.
(Option a) by linking the refurbishment to a new Marina in Ramsey Bay, on condition that the developer completes the refurbishment of Queen’s Pier prior to the completion of the residential and commercial development.
(Option b) refurbishment of Queen’s Pier using modern materials funded by Government.
2. That either Option be commenced as a matter of urgency dependant on the earliest available of the options. There is a final recommendation (3) which reads…
Should Option a or b not be approved or implemented that the Pier be demolished.
On 20th January 2009 Tynwald unanimously approved Options 1(a) and b as recommended by the Council of Ministers.
Tenders were invited for Refurbishment proposals and the contract awarded to BW Partnership of Nottingham whose inspiring proposals involved much use of local labour as part of the drive to minimise post “Crunch” recession. Local Architects “Cornerstone” have been engaged to draw up detailed plans.
We believe the Council of Ministers will ask Tynwald to approve the plans in March 2010.
Author : Fred Hodgson
Update 26th May 2011
Since the article of 2009/10 things have moved on (slowly.)
In May 2010 Tynwald approved (only one vote against)the inital report and permitted the outlay of funds on design work etc., for “De Minimis.” This was promptly re-names SAPS (Safety and Protection Scheme) and work progressed to the application for Registered Building consent for the works. (Registered Building is the Manx equiv. of Listed).
After years of silence and sitting on their hands, Ramsey Town Commissioners objected to this consent. Happily however the Inspector ignored them and the works were approved.
In April Tynwald then approved, by a much tighter margin, the expenditure of the required £1.8m.
Contracts were signed and the work has now commenced. After a disgraceful 18 years of neglect the Pier is being made safe. More on our website. www.queenspier.org