Photo: © John Binns
When I wrote a blog-article about Queen’s Pier, Ramsey in the Isle of Man in 2011 there was little to suggest that it wouldn’t continue to decay, as it had done for twenty years, yet despite many delays and the tribulations of the pandemic, effective plans are at last in place to restore the Isle of Man’s largest surviving engineering structure.
The island is rich in industrial and transport archaeology because the Manx habitually leave redundant structures standing unless there’s a need or an economic reason to destroy them.
That’s why the island still retains steam and electric railways, a horse tramway, the Great Laxey Wheel and much else in situ and in use.
The flip-side of this conservatism is that the wheels grind slowly when decay becomes dangerous and restoration is urgent.
The last Steam Packet ship departed from Ramsey in 1970; the disused landing stage became unsafe and was closed in 1979; the little pier tramway closed in 1981.
In 1991, after the café at the pier head was burnt down, rebuilt and twice vandalised, the Manx Department of Highways, Ports & Properties closed the entire structure permanently and commissioned a survey which concluded that demolition would cost over £1 million and a full restoration £2.5 million.
The Manx government, Tynwald, continued to provide £40,000 a year for minimal safety maintenance, and a Friends of Ramsey Queen’s Pier group was formed in 1994, initially with the comedian Norman Wisdom, a Manx resident, as president. The following year the pier was added to the Manx list of protected buildings to safeguard its future.
Discussions about restoration proceeded at a glacial pace, until in 2011 Tynwald allocated £1.8 million to stabilise the structure.
This led to a fresh report which planned a sequenced restoration in seven phases, each of them costing £1.2-1.7 million, overseen by the Queen’s Pier Restoration Trust (QPRT), which in 2016 began work on the fifty metres nearest the promenade.
The first three bays (of a total of sixty) were reopened to the public in 2021, with the return of the tramway’s locomotive and carriage from the Jurby Transport Museum.
The current phase involves restoration of Bays 4-8, of which the first three bays are close to completion.
This steady, methodical process of fundraising and practical work is an admirable exercise in co-operation between volunteers and the Government, which will clearly take a decade or two before the public can, in the words of the historian Richard Crowhurst, “stroll along these decks once again taking in the sea air, and partake of a cup of tea and a sandwich at the end”.
The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2014 Manx Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.