When I first think of Bangor Pier, the first word that comes to mind is cute!
I attend Bangor University and before that, when I was researching universities, I had no idea Bangor even existed let alone any knowledge of the place, so I turned up to the University open day not knowing what to expect, and what I found I was pleasantly surprised with. Wandering around the town we found a sign saying “Pier” so decided to explore, on that first visit it was a glorious day, sunshine and sparking waves on the Menai Straits, rambling down the wooden planks with the waves lapping beneath, admiring the Snowdonian National Park in the background and Anglesey in front. At the end of the pier there is a small tea room, selling scones and a warm cuppa…. something you need when facing the more usual crosswinds. It is a place I have visited a few times whilst at uni but something I found out recently is that it is actually called Garth Pier. It is a charming place to think, relax and enjoy the view, you often see children crab fishing or you can have a pancake from one of the little polygonal kiosks with curved pointed roofs that glisten in the sun. The last time I was wandering on the pier, it seemed a lovely day but then I had to run quickly back to the gate as I got caught in a sudden hail storm, ice went into my coat, down my boots and my hair was dripping… not a particularly becoming look.
It really is a quaint Victorian structure, a traditional promenade leisure pier standing 1,500ft into the brisk waters of the Straits and designed by J. J. Webster of London. It was opened in 1896 by Lord Penrhyn, you can almost imagine the sweeping skirts of the Victorian dresses, and the excitement of that opening day, “rosy cheeks and bright eyes abounded and all faces were smiling whether under acre-brimmed hats or piquante little bonnets” like they were on a seaside holiday. That evening there was even a ball to celebrate. To be fair all you have to think of is Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Johnny Depp, with his dashing widow’s peak and Helena Bonham Carter in her eccentric outfits, “by the sea, Mr. Todd, that’s the life I covet“… although that was filmed on Brighton Pier.
When the pier was first proposed there seems to be arguments concerning the “Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen” of Bangor as to where the pier should be built but also a difference of opinion on the practicality of the pier. However the most pressing matter of this document is that Mayoh Bros. of Manchester, were commissioned to draw up the plans for Garth Pier, however previous to this they were engaged to do other work for the council, “for which they had not been paid“.
The pier is constructed largely in steel, with cast iron columns and screw piles, with wooden planks to form the deck, however it also featured street lighting in the form of ornamental lamps and handrails. The total cost to build the pier came in at £14,475.
Further to the promenade pier, when it was first built there was a pontoon landing stage at the far end, just past where the tea rooms are today, the steps down to the sea are still in place. It once used to dock pleasure steamers for a gentle cruise around Anglesey, but also go to and from the Isle of Man or Liverpool. In 1914 SS Christiana, a cargo steamer was docked at the pontoon overnight, yet broke free. It caused considerable damage to the neck of the pier and a gap in the pontoon, this was temporarily fixed by the Royal Engineers which remained in place until 1921 due to World War One. By the time permanent repairs could be made more damage had occurred and took over 4 months to fix instead of the original 4 weeks. Furthermore to the pontoon, there was also a 3ft gauge railway running the length of the pier to help with the loading and baggage from the steamers, yet this was removed in 1914, whether through damage, expense or even needing the metal for ammunition…
In 1971 the pier closed due to safety concerns and was under threat of demolition, but Bangor City Council opposed, claiming it was “one of the three finest surviving piers in Great Britain” and purchased the Pier for 1p. They obtained a grade II listing on the structure and appealed for funding, as it was estimated at £50,000 to restore this treasure. Renovation started in 1982 with financial help given from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Welsh Office and Manpower Services Commission. The restoration took a long time, mainly due to harsh weather in the winters and took 5 years to complete, it was reopened to the public in 1988.
When you walk down the pier there are the wooden benches along the way but also iron benches built into the pier structure. Most are dedicated to people in memorial. I remember seeing a picture placed on one of the benches of a bride and groom who jumped off the pier still in her wedding dress.
When you visit there is a 50p honesty box to help with the up-keep of this treasure, I always pay, it’s one of the quaint things about the pier and I would hate to see this structure demolished. If you visit the pier gates are open till 9pm in the summer, you could try your hand at crab fishing, one of the kiosks sells the equipment or just have a stroll with an ice-cream. As you amble down it really does make you smile.