Penarth Pier is one of the last remaining Victorian piers in
Wales. Building of the pier commenced in 1894 and it was finally
opened in February 1895. H.F.Edwards was the engineer. The original structure was of cast iron
with a timber deck and acted as a promenade and landing jetty for
the then lucrative steam ship trade across the Bristol Channel.
A wooden pavilion was added to the pier-head in 1907.
In 1926 the pier was sold to the local council who made further
enhancements. A reinforced concrete landing stage was added in
1927\8 and an art deco pavilion in 1929.
On August Bank Holiday Monday 1931 a fire destroyed the shelters
and shops, the wooden pavilion and the decking. The girders were
also damaged but the landward concert pavilion survived. All 800
people on the pier escaped. The pier was rebuilt at a cost of £3,157,
but the wooden pavilion was
Gales in May 1947 forced the 7,000 ton ship, 'Port Royal Park', onto the pier,
causing severe damage. Repairs costing £28,000, included
underpinning of the cast iron columns and the installation of new
reinforced concrete columns. The pier re-opened in 1950.
In August 1966, the paddle steamer 'Bristol Queen', operated by
the White Funnel line, also collided with the pier in dense fog,
again causing serious damage.
Cruises on the White Funnel fleet, owned by the famous Bristol
based P & A Cambell Ltd, ceased operating in 1981 and over the
years, this trade has dwindled with the commercial shipping
companies having now all disappeared. However, two ships, the MV Balmoral
and PS Waverley, operated by the Paddle Steamer Preservation
Society, do still provide pleasure cruises calling at the pier,
but these are during the summer months only.
A restoration programme was begun in 1994 at a cost of £650,000.
This included crucial repairs to the rotting substructure at the
pier entrance. Further repairs costing £1.7 million, took place in
1996. This involved work on the steelwork, decking and facilities
on the main pier and berthing structure. There was restricted
public access during this phase.
The final stage saw the renovation of the rest of the pier with
financial assistance totalling £1.1 million from the Heritage
Lottery Fund. The formal re-opening of the completely restored 650
foot structure took place in May 1998 and included a Victorian
Fayre, concerts and street entertainment.
Following its opening in 1929, the art-deco Pier Pavilion was used as a
venue for reviews, concerts and lectures, although it was rarely
filled to capacity, particularly in winter months as it lacked
proper heating. During its history it has functioned as a cinema,
a dance hall, a club and restaurant, a snooker club and a gym hall
but its recent history has been one of decay and poor management.
There are now some very encouraging signs that new life may be
being breathed back into this beautiful old building. A public
funded initiative, was launched in 2008 by Penarth Arts & Crafts Ltd
(PACL) to restore this beautiful landmark and create an
innovative, flexible and environmentally sound attraction for
South Wales.An initial application to the National Heritage
Lottery Fund failed but a second bid from PACL was awarded a
grant of £99,600 in November 2009 to develop a detailed plan for
the restoration of this iconic example of pier architecture. PACL
had also earlier been awarded an HLF grant to uncover the history
of the Pavilion during its heyday as the 'Marina Ballroom' in the
The £3.9m refurbishment scheme involves the restoration and
redevelopment of the pavilion for use as a cinema, cafe,
observatory and multi-purpose community complex.
Planning permission was granted for the project and a succesful
bid to the HLF provided a further £1.68m in May
2011. In October 2011, Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd received £300,000
Welsh Government funding towards the restoration and refurbishment as part of
the Community Facilities and Activities Programme and also in October a further
£700,000 was awarded from the latest block of grants from the Community Asset Transfer (CAT) programme.
The gym club run by former Olympic gymnast Gwynedd Lingard which had been
using the dilapidated interior of the Pavilion for many years was finally found alternative
premises and moved out in October 2011.
Enabling work on the building, including the removal of the entire maple dance floor,
began in February 2012. And in March 2012 potential designs for the mosaic which will adorn the foyer floor of the restored
Pavilion went on show with the community being asked to select the final design.
May 2012 saw some major changes in the senior management of the project. Local businessman, Paul Twamley, was appointed as the new
Chairman of Penarth Arts and Crafts Ltd (PACL), and Maggie Knight, until then the leader of PACL and project director and initial moving force behind the Penarth Pavilion Project,
stepped down from her post to resettle in her former home in Australia.
In July 2012, PACL was awarded three new grants, to contribute to the restoration of the pier pavilion. Among them was £199,000 worth of funding
from the Coastal Communities Fund Panel to fund a two-year project to support a marketing and activities office for the project.
£15,000 was also provided by the Headley Trust towards the ceramic mosaic foyer floor of the new Pier Pavilion. And a Cadw grant for £40,000
was made to help with the preservation of older parts of the iconic building. A showroom and offices on the ground floor of Windsor Court
apartment block was also made available free of charge until Decemeber 2013 by Viscount Windsor.
Work finally began on the Pavilion in October 2012 with a target re-opening date of Autumn 2013.
In March 2013, Dr David Trotman was appointed as the new Director of the Pier Pavilion. Dr Trotman said he was excited and privileged to
serve the community and said the iconic pier site would be used to educate, inform and entertain.
April 2013 saw the installation of ornamental zinc tiles to replace the dilapidated paint covering the pier's four domes and barrel roof
and the exterior renovation began to take on its final appearance.
A number of open days were held between April and July to enable the public to see the way work was progressing inside the building and to
outline the exciting programme of events planned nearer to the opening date. The Pavilion's design includes a 70-seater community cinema,
an auditorium, exhibition spaces, designated education areas, a bar, and a restaurant overlooking the Bristol Channel.
In July, the Pavilion's membership scheme was launched with the first 500 applicants becoming Founder Members with special status.
Work on the refurbishment of the Pavilion continued throughout 2013 and even before the work was completed, a number of events were held in
the main auditorium, including a swing jazz evening, a masked ball, and the Three Jackets exhibition featuring the work of members of the
armed services suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A close link was also established with the RAF's 617 Squadron -
the WWII Dambusters Squadron - the leader of which, Guy Gibson, lived in Penarth. The Pavilion Observatory was renamed the 617 Room to highlight this link.
The Pavilion's cinema had also been in full swing during this period.
The full opening of the Pavilion took place on 1st December 2013 and the building was packed with visitors from the time it opened at 10.00am.
A popup cafe set up for December did a roaring trade on both floors and it was also standing room only for a rock choir performance in the afternoon.
A celebratory fly-past was made by an RAF Dambusters Tornado on Tuesday 3rd December.