The pier was opened on July 8th 1833 by the Duchess of Kent and Princess (later Queen) Victoria. It had cost £25,000 and was designed by Edward L.Stephens.
However, the soft wooden piles had become unsafe by 1838 and it was thoroughly renovated. A pontoon was added in 1864 and, in 1871, railway lines were extended to a widened pier-head. The station was built next to the pontoon shortly afterwards. Major reconstruction of the pier took place in 1892 and a pavilion was built in 1894. Facilities included concerts, dramatic productions and dances. From 1906, there was roller-skating.
By 1913, the pier structure and timber-built railway station had deteriorated. Repairs were recommended by the Harbour Board. Trains did not operate during the 1914-18 War and, in 1921, it was agreed not to reinstate the service. However, the ferries continued to run.
A new gatehouse was built in 1937 but there was bomb damage to the ornate cast iron work during World War II. The pavilion re-opened in 1947 (extended in 1963). A new vehicle bridge to the pontoon was built in 1950.
The 900 foot pier was closed on 2nd January 1980 by its owners, British Transport Docks Board (now ABP), after engineers assessed that it was economically unviable.
In January 1984, Red Funnel took over the shoreward end for the provision of car parking and, in 1986, Leading Leisure plc acquired the gatehouse, which was refurbished as a pub/restaurant. However, on 4th June 1987, a serious fire destroyed the ballroom and cut short ABP’s plans for dock-yard development. In 1992, the PR Officer described the pier as ‘totally unsafe and beyond repair’. After several more fires, ABP’s Regional Property Manager stated (in July 1997) that the pier was ‘no longer recognisable as a traditional pier structure’.
The pier itself is now virtually derelict but one positive note in the its sad demise is that the beautiful gate-house building on the shore adjacent to the pier has been restored and is now a fine Thai restaurant – Kuti’s Royal Thai Pier.
In September 2009, a £325M vision to transform Southampton’s waterfront into a world class “marine basin” with a giant promenade was unveiled. The latest scheme would see the derelict pier demolished – at a cost of £3m – and in its place a new promenade created. We will watch this scheme with great interest.
In March 2011, as part of the Party on the Pier event to to mark the launch of British Tourism Week a special heritage day, including a tour of the city and an excellent lunch was organised by Kuti’s Royal Thai Pier for older residents who remembered the pier in its heyday.
In September 2013, it was announced that Associated British Ports had voted to back a “flagship” £450m plan which could transform Southampton’s waterfront. The redevelopment of the derelict Royal Pier could make it one of the nation’s most vibrant seafront destinations. February 2014 also saw speculation that the Royal Pier could be come a ‘super-casino’.
Then in July 2014, RPW (Southampton) Ltd, the developers for the Royal Pier site, launched a new website detailing their plans. In a statement, the company said “Southampton’s historic waterfront is steeped in a tradition of discovery, innovation and industry. This development – as well as our newly launched website – will follow in those same proud traditions.”