Ryde Pierhead

Ryde - Isle of Wight, The Pier Tramway.

Off to the seaside! For many a tourist in earlier times, their arrival on the Isle of Wight would have been by boat from the south of England (probably Portsmouth or Southampton) to Ryde Pier. Our postcard, by French card producers Lévy Fils et Cie, of 44 Rue Letellier, Paris, is number 11 in their series and was published in around 1905, our copy being posted in November of that year. It shows the pier head and the pavilion together with an electric tramcar pushing a luggage trolley. The smaller view below is card 2 in the same series by Lévy Fils and shows the landward end of the pier at Ryde Esplanade, with the steam railway station and the point at which the pier tramway terminated (at a platform under the canopy to the left of the steam tracks). A feature of Lévy Fils (L.L.) cards is that they sometimes issued several cards at the same date, location, camera position and card number, but with slightly different objects in the picture. Our third view is an almost identical card 11, albeit a black & white one, but with the tram on the other track.

Ryde Esplanade Ryde Pier, which still exists today, is in fact three piers side by side. The first was opened by the Ryde Pier Company (RPC) on 26th July 1814 at a length of 1,740 feet. By 1833 it had twice been increased in length to reach 2,250 feet plus the adding of the pavilion in 1895. Originally all wood, the piles were systematically replaced by cast iron, but the decking has remained wooden. The second pier built by RPC was for its tramway. It was actually joined to the first and was opened on 29th August 1864. The third pier, owned by the LSWR and LBSCR railway companies and to carry the Isle of Wight steam trains, was opened on 12th July 1880. This pier was separated from the other two by a small gap, but terminated at the same pier head. In the smaller view you can see on the right the head of the Victoria Pier, built in 1864 for rival ferries but by the date of our card was a pleasure pier only and it was demolished in 1920. At one time there was a short goods siding from the pier tramway to the land end the Victoria pier.

The Ryde Pier tramway commenced service on 29th August 1864 as a standard gauge horse line (after a brief trial with a Manning, Wardle steam loco) with two cars, others being added a little later, a mixture of double and single-deckers. It was double track with a crossover and turntables at the end to reverse trams. On 28th January 1870 the line was extended beyond the pier and through the streets via the Esplanade to Ryde Castle and then on 7th August 1871 continued to St. John's Road steam railway station, bringing the length of the tramway to about 1.5 miles and making it a true street tramway. To serve this extension, the horse car fleet was expanded with additional trams, mostly double-deckers from Starbuck although in time these were cut down to single deck and used as trailers etc. By 1880 the steam railway had been extended to the pier, so the now unnecessary street running was cut back to the pier gates and the street tracks lifted around 1886. In 1876 there was a three-month trial of a Merryweather steam tram pulling horse car trailers. In 1881 two Starbuck cars were converted into Bradley steam trams which for three years pulled horse cars as trailers.

East track Finally the decision was taken to electrify the tramway with equipment supplied by Siemens Bros. & Co. of Charlton, two Starbuck cars being fitted with their D2 motors and the line given a third rail supply at 120 volt dc. Our view (left) shows one of these motorised Starbuck cars in 1905 on the east track pulling a modified 1871 trailer, known due to its elaborate design as the "Grapes" car. The bookstall from the pier head was re-sited at the pier gates and was used as an engine house. This contained a 12hp Crossley built Otto gas engine driving a Siemens dynamo which could supply 60 amps. The electric tramway opened on 4th April 1886. In effect it was run as two separate tracks with a tram and trailer on each, shuttling up and down. In 1891 a second-hand but little used Stockport 20hp double acting gas engine driving another Siemens dynamo was added, as the Crossley was not powerful enough for simultaneous operation of both tracks. This then became the main engine with the Crossley one kept in reserve.

The tram on our main postcard, on the west track, was built by the Lancaster Carriage & Wagon Co. Unnumbered but sometimes referred to as car 3, it was added to the fleet in 1892, replacing one of the Starbuck sets. It was a six-wheel car, with a centre platform and two saloons, a total of 45 feet in length. The livery was red and cream. It was designed to carry 60 people, but with standing passengers this could rise to 100. Over time there were problems with this car causing extreme wear to wheels and track, so in 1907 it was split in two to form a matched pair of trams, each running on a four-wheel truck.

In 1911 the other Starbuck set was replaced by a car built by Messrs Pollard and Sons re-using earlier running gear. It ran on the east track together with the "Grapes" car (both vehicles preserved). In 1924 the pier company was taken over by the post-grouping Southern Railway bringing everything under one control. By 1927 the electric trams and equipment were considered life expired and the trams were replaced by two Drewry Car Company petrol driven trams (later given diesel engines), which continued to run until the whole tramway closed in 1969, after which the tracks were lifted.

Today Ryde Pier is served by a high-speed catamaran passenger service from Portsmouth and the beach at the Esplanade end by a hovercraft service from Southsea. The promenade pier carries road and pedestrian traffic. The tramway pier is still there but without decking, although there are plans to re-deck it for pedestrians leaving the promenade pier to the road traffic. The railway pier still carries trains. Steam was withdrawn in 1967, being replaced by two generations of ex-London Transport tube stock and after the line was upgraded in 2021 is now run by refurbished and modified ex-London Transport D78 District line stock in five two-car sets. No trams, but at least you can reach the pier head by electric traction.

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