It’s taken 50 years but finally Penarth Esplanade has stepped out of the wilderness.
Embarrassment after embarrassment has scarred the seafront but the Pier’s been done up. Properly.
Concrete abominations like the 1968 ‘leisure’ complex have disappeared and there is now no building at all that looks like the Luftwaffe have just flown over.
The pier opened in 1895 and has been hit by boats at least twice in its history.
A revamp costing £4.2m has seen it done up splendidly and it is now run by http://www.penarthpavilion.co.uk/ and hopefully this will be a permanent solution for the site.
It has a 65-seat cinema, exhibition space and a caffy at the end, which in the mid-80s was a bar.
It looks neat and tidy, though I think the art deco pavilion, added in 1929 could do with a bit of colour. Its sharp whiteness verges on the austere.
Wasn’t a huge amount to see before Christmas – an exhibition of art by schoolchildren.
The most interesting aspect on this visit was the caffy. The wi-fi didn’t work the day I was there as no one had the password. And fish and chips was a tenner which I thought was pricey.
But for location, it’s hard to beat. With several other decent spots to have a tea or coffee, it’s got a fair bit of competition.
Pegs and the 80s
In the eighties, the pier was a bit tatty, and the picture on the top of this piece was taken in 2012. I can remember paying 2p to walk along it.
For many people who went to school in Penarth, the nightclub Pegs is the chief memory of the pier.
Sixth form parties were held at Pegs. And spent hoping to get a snog (unsuccessfully) badgering truculent DJs to play the Clash (DJs were musical philistines back then and had to be bullied, entirely justifiably given they had no taste whatsoever, into playing decent music other than chart trash). The harassment was only marginally more successful.
Then a drunken walk back to Dinas Powys and only once narrowly escaping a beating from a Penarth rugby bonehead.
I feel entitled to take a dim view of most of what’s happened since the 70s at the seafront because, on occasion, I used to be responsible for cleaning part of the Esplanade during summer stints as a roadsweeper.
Back in the early 80s, the swimming baths had shut, the Esplanade Hotel had burnt down and the block of flats opposite the pier was an plug-ugly blot on the landscape.
John Hanson, a whey-faced human fountain, would patrol the seafront and take a very long time to walk down there from the council depot in Woodland Road.
He drank 12 pints a night every night and was always sweating like several racehorses after the Grand National.
It was a surprise many years later to see him still there, chatting to strollers and clearing up the seafront. At the time he was one of the Esplanade’s main attractions.
In truth, Penarth has always suffered from the Severn Estuary‘s browning effect. The sea is often gravy-like and the beach’s sludgy sand and rocks less than inviting, but the views of course are terrific.
Now though, and about time too, the seafront is close to fulfilling its potential.
A fuller history of the Pier can be found at http://piers.org.uk/pierpages/NPSpenarth.html