A Brief Summary From Lisa’s Pier Project
Dartmouth has been a popular seaside resort since the 1850’s when the railway was built. This enabled access from London and further afield much easier, so people could visit on day trips. In it’s heyday from the 1910’s to the 1980’s, it was a bubbling town with its main attraction being the Pier, which was a big rival to nearby Brighton’s Palace Pier. Its sandy beaches are still a big attraction as Brighton’s ‘beach’ is actually like a quarry compared to Dartmouth’s.
Known simply as Dartmouth Pier, it was designed and funded by Sir John Wren, a local businessman who had seen what was happening down the road, and decided a pier was just what the town needed. He already had his own team of architects and designers on hand, as they constructed a lot of buildings in the town. This includes the old hospital, some schools and the town hall.
Work started on the pier in 1901, and it took about 3 years for the initial design to be completed. The weather delayed them a couple of times and actually washed away their very first effort. So they used the screw-pile method for the foundations meaning all those posts out there are screwed into the ocean floor.
This method was invented by Irish engineer Alexander Mitchell, who built a Screw-pile Lighthouse in 1838 at the mouth of the Thames. The method is especially suited to areas where you have muddy sea or river bottoms. A number of cast iron piles or poles are screwed into the sea bed. Their design has curved metal welded to them, meaning as you screw them in, they drill their way into the ground, but you cannot pull them out. Wrought and cast iron was used in the rest of the construction, and the flat area covered in decking. It’s about 1,500 feet in length with a width varying from 45 feet to 170 feet at the pier head. Cast iron railings run the whole length of the pier and a huge iron works archway stands at the very front with its name ‘Central Pier’ spelled out for all to see in bright lights. The widest part of the pier is at the very end, and this houses the old ballroom and some coffee shops. Some pictures still exist today of it in pristine condition, with its beautiful freshly painted multi-coloured kiosks and attractions. The whole place including the archway and railings were painted pre-season every year and the decking repaired and protected.
It is split in the middle by rows of small kiosks selling souvenirs and the like, which you can enter from either side, and some of them even enable you to sit on the roof and have refreshments which includes alcohol.
Dartmouth Pier, in its heyday, also had the most up to date fairground rides of the time.
It once was home to the world’s largest Ferris wheel in 1907 when it arrived from London. It was known as ‘The Great Wheel’ and was 308 foot tall, and had carried 2.5 million passengers in London before arriving in Dartmouth.
The wheel lasted until the outbreak of World War 2, when it was seized by order of the military, and melted down for ammunition. It was a sad end to such a great machine. Some people claimed to have seen the coast of France on a clear day while stationary at the top, but that vision may have been alcohol aided. It stood proudly in the middle of the pier, and in prime summer time a thrill seeker could be waiting up to an hour to get on it.
Most said it was worth it, but it did have its fair share of breakdowns, especially in its latter years. Many a person let out screams of total panic thinking they were going to be stuck up there all night, although the longest anyone spent at the top during a breakdown was 3 hours. But at least they lived to tell the tale. Sadly it was never replaced with another one; instead some more kiosks were constructed to fill in the gap and join up with the existing ones.
The pier employed about 150 people in the holiday season. There was always a buzz around the place with the numerous attractions and amusements spread right around the site. Photographers or tattoo artists or fortune tellers all rented the little kiosks on a season per season basis. Many of the kiosks housed games where people could win prizes. Whether it be shooting at targets or throwing ping pong balls in fish bowls to win a goldfish or throwing darts a big cards to win a small teddy bear. There were also many benches spread right around the pier, which were a welcome sight for people with sore feet.
Little merry go round rides for the kiddies came and went, but the old carousel with 40 hand painted horses all having their own name stayed right where it was originally built. This all made the ideal family location to spend your day.
As the years rolled by the rides obviously changed as technology advanced and lots of the old mechanical stuff made way for more sophisticated games. Arcades appeared which housed electronic games, bingo and of course the slot machines.
However, the dodgem ride very close to the ballroom always maintained its popularity and was never in danger of closing and making way for an arcade on its site. It arrived in 1935 and the cars have certainly changed a few times, but that was when they introduced faster ones to increase the thrill. Once you entered the dodgems enclosed area, the smell of the burning rubber and very loud music with flashing lights made it something really special for everyone.
One pedal, one seat belt, no brakes and about 20 cars made for a very interesting few minutes bumping each other at every opportunity. Although a lot of people don’t realize that the object of the ride is to ‘Dodgem’! That’s their official name but most people call them Bumpers, for obvious reasons.
The Waltzers didn’t arrive until the 1950’s. But they too were always so popular that they were never replaced. Their exit from the cars was cleverly placed near the pier railings so people could get sick into the sea straight after the ride if they needed to!
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