We went to a place in the village of Brading just outside Sandown and found a place called The Brading Experience. Set inside the oldest building in the village is a brief history and waxwork chamber of horrors, Also a selection of vintage vehicles and a display of stuffed animals. Excellent tour but a lot of stairs to climb.
Ask anyone to describe a traditional British seaside resort and the first thing they are likely to mention is the pier. I think the pier holds a certain romantic place in the hearts of many British people, myself included. Sandown has a magnificent example of a pleasure pier and it is well worth a visit, even if you are not lured by the dubious attractions of the slot machines and fast food.
Initially opened in 1879 as a short pier, it was extended and re-opened on 17th September 1895 at it's current length of 875ft (265m). After a long period of neglect and the obligatory requisitioning for the war effort during World War 2, the pier was eventually repaired. I know my parents honeymooned on the Isle of Wight in the early 1950's (on my father's motorcyle) and, as I walked along this magnificent structure, I had a mental vision of them walking in the same place all those years ago.
Today, there are all the usual attractions - video games, a fairly advanced crazy golf game and a few small rides (helter skelter etc.) for kids, but for me, just walking along the length of it was a wonderful trip back in time.
Given the generally old-fashioned feel of the whole Isle of Wight, I suppose this tip was almost inevitable. The island is very much a reminder of a bygone age, from the traditional pier entertainments to the numerous small, frinedly guesthouses and old-fashioned fish and chip shops. I suppose, for me, that is a large part of the appeal.
If you happen to be in Sandown for a period of time and want to take advantage of the wonderful, clean beaches, you could do worse than rent yourself a beach hut either for the day or the week. There are no facilities inside (i.e. no running water or toilets) but at least it gives you a degree of privacy for changing and a place to shelter should the notoriously fickle English weather take a turn for the worse. If you are having a day at the beach with children, I would think they are a Godsend. Even off season, I saw many of them occupied.
The stretch of sea walk between Sandown and Shanklin is jammed with these beach huts which will cost you £49 for the week or £7 -8 pounds a day.
Over the years several of England's most famous stars have appeared
at the pier's theatre, which was the largest on the island; these included
the Nolan Sisters, Jimmy Tarbuck, Gene Pitney, Sir Bernard Miles,
Sir Harry Secombe, Pam Ayres, Jasper Carrott, Diana Dors, Roy Castle,
Cannon and Ball, Jim Davidson, Matt Monroe, Cilla Black, Lenny Henry,
Norman Wisdom, Des O'Conner, Bob Monkhouse,
Little and Large, and Frankie Howerd.
In 1989 the pier suffered from a fire in the theatre, but after new
fire exits were constructed and the latest fire-fighting equipment
installed, the pier opened as good as new.
In 1999 the theatre sadly closed, and was replaced by a golf course
and a bowling lane. The pier still hosts an amusement arcade, bar,
restaurant, dodgems, shops4 and even, occasionally, a small market,
and remains popular with tourists,
fishermen5 and those who love seaside piers.
1 Where it was known as Sande; later it became known as Sandham.
2 A brass band that was considered to be among the best in the country,
winning several trophies.
3 The Sandown led the 10th Minesweeping Flotilla out of Dover
and saved 3000 men at Dunkirk. The Navy has not forgotten
the ship's bravery, and the first of the modern Sandown-class Minesweepers,
HMS Sandown, was named after the ship. HMS Sandown can often be seen in
Sandown, and in 1998 the ship and crew were granted the freedom of the town.
4 Including a doughnut-seller.
5 Many different species of fish and spider crabs
enjoy living beneath the pier.
Also the odd dosser from the mainland might
fancy the summer months here.
After the war the pier needed to be repaired, especially the landing stage.
During the 1950s Sandown enjoyed popularity while bucket-and-spade holidays
became popular again, and often held the all-England sunshine record.
Between 1957 and 1959 there was even a direct passenger service to
Portsmouth from Sandown Pier (a journey of 75 minutes), and the pier
is still visited occasionally by paddle-steamers.
In 1965, when Lord Louis Mountbatten was installed as Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight,
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip toured the island,
I remember standing on the sea front on Ryde Esplanade with my Union
Jack flag and see her passing in her Bentley and waving to us.
Also Lord Mountbatten was also the Governor of my school
Ryde Boys School, Jeremy Irons went there...but long before
my time, but his younger bro was in a class a few years above mine.
at the end of which the Queen attended a ceremony at the pavilion,
before boarding the Royal Barge moored at the end of the pier.
In 1968 the pier needed to be rebuilt after nearly a century's town service.
The old pavilion was pulled down and a new pavilion on the shore end was built.
This was used as a theatre, and for the first time theatre-goers did not have
to brave wet and windy weather in winter. On July 22, 1973,
the pier was re-opened by Earl Mountbatten.
The World War Years
During the war Lord Alverstone died, and the Sandown Urban District Council
offered Lord Alverstone's trustees £2500 for the pier, after which the pavilion was
enlarged and the Sandown Prize Band2 often played on the pier.
After the war bathing machines were no longer used, except as changing cubicles,
and the town adopted the 'continental' method of changing in tents along the shore.
In 1933 a pavilion was built on the pier head, and it was opened on October 23, 1934,
by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Jellicoe. The pavilion was used as a ballroom,
and many steamers continued to call at Sandown Pier, including, from 1934,
the Sandown. During the war the pier was sectioned and was partially demolished
to prevent it being used as a landing stage for German vessels, and the Sandown
was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and used as a minesweeper3.
Building the Pier
Plans to build a pier were considered as early as the 1860s,
yet it was not until 1874 that an Act of Parliament allowing work to begin
on the pier was passed, and work began in 1876. By 1879 the pier opened,
but was only 360 feet long. The Sandown Pier Company had ran out of funds.
In 1887 a new company, the Sandown Pier Extension Company, bought the pier.
The company was owned mainly by Richard Webster, the Member of Parliament
for the Isle of Wight at the time. Richard Webster's father Thomas had owned the
Beachfield Estate in Sandown, and had done much to develop Sandown
as a tourist resort; for example, out of his own pocket he had funded Sandown's
waterworks that prevented sewage being dumped into the sea. Richard Webster
was also fond of Sandown, and when he became Chief Justice of England in 1900,
the title he chose was Lord Alverstone, named after a hamlet just outside Sandown -
the closest title he could get to 'Sandown'.
By 1895 the pier was extended to 875 feet, and a domed pavilion was built and
opened on the pier on September 17, 1895. Much of Sandown was decorated
for the event, and a regatta was held in its honour: surviving photographs show
the splendour of the town that day. Bathing was allowed at the pier head, and at
the bottom of the pier several bathing machines were in constant use. It was in
Sandown that Lewis Carroll wrote 'The Hunting Of The Snark', which includes the lines:
The fourth is its fondness for bathing machines,
Which it constantly carries about,
And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes -
A sentiment open to doubt.
Paddle-steamers called regularly at the pier head until the Great War of 1914.
Sandown is comfortably near the middle of a five-mile long
stretch of golden sand known as Sandown Bay.
Despite being in the Domesday Book1, it was not until 1789 -
when John Wilkes, a former mayor of London, retired to Sandown -
that it became known as a watering hole. Previously it had been little
except a fishing village, castle and military garrison.
When the Ryde-Shanklin railway opened in 1864,
Sandown's population grew at a rate faster than any other town,
as it offered exceptional sea bathing. Visitors who stayed at Sandown
included the Crown Prince and Princess of Germany,
and Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll
(author of Alice In Wonderland). He was born in the Vicarage
on one of my GGGGG Granfathers houses where he lived.
See my family tree on my HP Travelogue
Hmm, being on a trip from my local pub, alcohol played a large part on this trip.
A morning walk along the coastal path on a sunny February morning was great for blowing the cobwebs away though.