Piering into the future

One of Britain’s few remaining historic piers today failed to find a new owner after it went under the hammer at auction.

However, experts believe South Parade Pier in Southsea, near Portsmouth, Hants, could well be snapped up in a post auction deal.

Other pier owners have shown that with investment these Victorian gems can still have a viable future.
It was one of 135 lots listed for sale through Clive Emson, the regional land and property auctioneers, at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, and had a guide price of £190,000 to £210,000.

South Parade Pier is one of about 55 remaining in the country and was completed in 1878 then officially opened by Prince Edward.

It has had a colourful history, having hosted some of the biggest names in show business and also been on fire three times.

The last occasion was in 1974 during the filming of the rock opera Tommy and, in a scene from the film involving Oliver Reed, smoke is visible.

The Victorian pier began life at a time when Disraeli was Prime Minister and we were fighting the Zulus in South Africa.

It started as a terminal for ferries that travelled to and from the Isle of Wight, but in 1904 it suffered its first fire and was completely rebuilt at a cost of £85,000.

The new “pleasure pier” became a centre for entertainment and later boasted a 1,200 seat theatre that attracted the biggest names of the day.

At the outbreak of war the pier was requisitioned by the government and it played a key role in the D-Day preparation and embarkation.

After the war it attracted the heroes of the age including Frankie Howerd and Peter Sellers then it was rebuilt again in 1967 following a second fire.

After that, stars including David Bowie and Genesis played there and after the 1974 fire the pier was rebuilt in sympathy with its history and it now it boasts several venues.

There is the “Gaiety Suite” with a capacity of 750 that includes a stage, dressing rooms, kitchens and bar, and also a smaller licensed bar with a capacity of 400.

A substantial basement that has lain unused for many years is also included and there is the “open east passage” that leads to the southern end of the pier that used to house fairground-style stalls, rides and crazy golf.

It also has a boardroom, a fishing platform and stunning views across the Solent and the Isle of Wight beyond.

Earlier this year the pier closed and does require investment. However, experts believe the building has the potential to become a major attraction once again.

Rob Marchant from Clive Emson, the regional land and property auctioneer, said it was a rare opportunity.

He said: “The pier offers huge scope, but needs investment, and might still be snapped up for the price of a three-bedroom semi.

“We are talking to interested parties and hope to find a new owner soon.

“It has two venues that in more recent times have held concerts and events, and there is no reason why they can’t be successful again.

“Other privately-owned piers have shown they can be commercially viable and this is a great looking pier with magnificent views.

“It also comes with a long and interesting history and it remains a Victorian pier that still has a long life ahead of it despite its age.

“I’m sure there is an investor out there who could revive the fortunes of this grand old structure.”

Details of the freeholder have not been disclosed.

A spokesman for the National Piers Society says: “South Parade pier dates from1879 and has a distinguished history.

“It is a listed structure and needs someone who can restore it to its former glory while at the same time appealing to 21st century consumers.

“Given its existing facilities the possibilities are enormous.”

Clive Emson’s next regional sale is at the Ageas Bowl on February 6 2013.