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Weymouth has always served as a commercial port as well as a holiday resort and this has been clearly reflected in the evolution of its pier. There is little documented history to the origins of Weymouth Pier, although it is believed that a structure existed as early as 1812. It was in 1840 that considerable change was made to the port area when a pile-pier, infilled with a mixture of Portland stone and shingle concrete, was built on the northern edge of the harbour. The pier was also intended to compliment the Weymouth Esplanade, which was already considered by many to be one of the finest walks in Europe.
In 1860 the pier was largely rebuilt in timber and at the same time, extended to a length of 900ft (273m). In 1877 a cargo stage was added to facilitate the handling of Channel Island new potatoes and further developments in 1889 saw the addition of a landing stage and baggage handling hall. These were commissioned by the Great Western Railway (GWR) as part of thier overall plan to buy-out the ailing Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Company.
The Great Western Railway's ships operated in connection with the company's trains to provide services to Ireland, the Channel Islands and France. Powers were granted by Act of Parliament for the Great Western Railway (GWR) to operate ships in 1871. The following year the company took over the ships operated by Ford and Jackson on the route between Wales and Ireland. Services were operated between Weymouth, the Channel Islands and France on the former Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Company routes.
Throughout the 19th century the pier at Weymouth had performed a purely commercial role, but the construction of a shoreward end pavilion theatre in 1908 saw the first significant move to include some purpose-built entertainment facilities.
During the early 1930's increased traffic through the port again required the complete redevelopment of the harbour area, including the rebuilding of Weymouth Pier. Costing some £120,000 the new pier was to be constructed in reinforced concrete, reaching a total length of 1,300ft (394m) and varying between 100ft (30m) in width at the shoreward end and 40ft (12m) at the seaward end.
The new weymouth Pier would be divided into two clear halves. The south side of the deck was reserved for commercial use and was fitted out with the necessary hardware to deal with cargo efficiently. Electric cranes, electrically operated capstans and two railway tracks to mention a few of the new facilities. The pier would also be capable of handling one passenger vessel, three cargo vessels and two pleasure steamers simultaneously. On the northern side, fenced off from the industrial section, was a splendid promenade area. This included shelters, an elaborate diving stage, changing rooms, and at night the whole promenade area would be illuminated. The new pier officially opened on July 13th 1933, the ceremony being carried out by the Prince of Wales, soon to become the abdicating King Edward VIII.
The original pavilion theatre was sadly destroyed in a fire in 1954, being replaced by the current structure that opened, some years later, in 1961. Further work was required in the 1970's for the provision of car ferry services to St. Malo and the Channel Islands, the work finally being completed in 1980. The small Alexandra Garden Theatre on the pier itself was badly damaged in a blaze in 1993 but has been subsequently re-built.
The pier today is approached by a rather uninspiring long tarmac pathway that runs around the edge of the ferry terminal entrance. On arrival at the pier itself entertainment includes an amusement arcade situated in the rebuilt Alexandra Garden theatre along with sea fishing from the head. Weymouth Pier has an interesting history in that it is a good example of how commercial and pleasure needs can be catered for side by side, but it isn't one for the pier connoisseur.