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Plymouth Promenade Pier c.1884
A contemporary steel engraving believed to date from 1884

Plymouth Promenade Pier was first opened to the public on 29 May 1884. It was the brain child of Edward Lancaster who had a tailoring and outfitting business in Old Town Street. A company was formed, £45,000 was raised locally by public subscription and in 1880, work started.

Things did not go well though and by the following year, little progress had been made. Towards the end of 1882, a new contractor was brought in and a resident engineer - a local man called Robert Dawson - was appointed to supervise the work on a daily basis.

A contemporary description of the pier says:

"It is one of the latest additions to the many attractions of Plymouth and is one of the finest structures of the kind on the coast, its total length being 480 feet. On the pier head is erected a handsome windscreen, enclosing a space 120ft by 109 ft in which the bandstand is erected, also a large number of reserved chairs for the use of visitors not wishing to promenade during the concerts which are its chief attraction, the Royal Marine and other Military Bands, which it is the good fortune of Plymouth to have stationed in her midst, performing frequently.

In providing good landing accommodation for all kinds of vessels at any time of tide, the Pier has supplied a long-felt want, and it is anticipated that yachting at the port will receive quite an impetus, not that the cause of complaints in this respect has been removed.

We must refer visitors to the time bills for particulars of the large number of pleasure steamers leaving the Pier, for the enjoyable water excursions to the celebrated Eddystone Lighthouse, up the River Tamar, and other rivers, all of which are well worth a visit."

At the Opening Ceremony, the Mayor opened the Pier, Edward Lancaster had a place of honour and the Band of the Royal Marines played to some 30,000 people, many of whom were on the new pier. And just as everything seemed to be going so well, in 1887 the decision was made to sell off the Pier.


Plymouth Promenade Pier c.1891

This photograph, taken from an unusual vantage point, dates from the early 1890s and shows the Promenade area after its conversion to a concert hall.

The photographer is believed to have been William Waterfield, a talented amateur, two of whose sons, William Henry and Charles Waterfield, became professional photographers with studios in Devonport.


To many observers, this was an odd move but the fact is that the new structure needed more money spending on it if it was to survive and its management company knew full well that there would be no more to come from the citizens of Plymouth. Unkind people said that Walter Henry Kay, who paid a mere £12,000 for the Pier,  was a fish merchant but in fact his family had made their money from the Newfoundland trade and Walter Kay was an astute businessman with the money to back up his plans. 

The company he formed began by putting a roof over the band-stand area, creating a wind - and rain-proof concert hall - an absolutely essential given Plymouth's weather. Then it began to encourage local clubs and societies to use the facilities the Pier offered and even to make the Pier their headquarters. The Pier was one of the first public places in Plymouth to be lit by electricity and in the early years of the 20th century, the company expanded its activities by buying up a local steamer company, increasing its profits from the landing stage.

But as the years went by, public interest in piers began to wane and by 1938, a Receiver had to be appointed. No buyer had been found by the time the superstructure was destroyed by German bombing in 1942. In 1952, the last traces of the Pier, including the underwater supports, were demolished at the expense of the War Damage Commission and Plymouth Promenade Pier disappeared for ever.

Plymouth Promenade Pier in the late 1890s
A hand-coloured view of the Pier from Plymouth Hoe c. 1898


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