It’s understood that as from next month – for the first time in 123 years – Penarth Pier will no longer have a designated Piermaster.
The present piermaster, Mr Peter Andrews, combined his duties of patrolling the pier and sea-front and berthing the pleasure ships PS Waverley and MV Balmoral, with general caretaking duties.
Mr Andrews – a long-serving member of the Barry Lifeboat crew – also kept a weather-eye out for any safety issues on the sea front and was instrumental in raising the alarm for many incidents – not least the successful rescue of a man who threw himself into the sea from the pier head but, thanks to prompt action by Mr Andrews, was rescued by Penarth RNLI .
It’s understood that under the council’s “reshaping services” programme, Mr Andrews is to take up a new – re-designated – role with the Vale Council which , as from the beginning of April, will require him to discharge a different set of duties.
As far as the job title of “Piermaster“ is concerned, as from April 1st a PDN source says there will be “no official title as such” – leaving the pier without an official Piermaster for the first time since 1897.
The pier and its facilities will still be checked regularly throughout the day and locked-up at night, but its understood this is to be done a rota basis by other council staff.
Penarth Pier was opened in 1895 and in the ensuing years has always had an official piermaster…that is until now.
In years gone by the Piermaster – and his assistants – always wore a formal brass-buttoned navy-style uniforms, enabling them to be readily picked-out by residents and visitors alike. The Piermaster was also allocated residential accommodation in the council owned North Lodge at Windsor Gardens.
The Piermaster of Penarth traditionally enjoyed a social status which eclipsed that of the town’s mayor. The first occupant of the post was a fully fledged merchant navy officer Captain Daniel Evans who was described as being ” the genial and courteous Penarth piermaster” .
Captain Evans was succeeded by Captain Henry Vellacott . When Capt Vellacott died at the age of 57 in 1910, the entire town went into mourning. Local newspapers noted that Captain Vellacott had been “exceedingly popular with visitors” , had been a founder member of Penarth Yacht Club and had been awarded a “life membership” of that august institution.
His successor as Piermaster was H R Leonard who had been a purser on board a Campbell’s steamer. In 1914 Mr Leonard signed up for naval service in the First World War aboard “HMS Majestic” serving in the North Atlantic and after the war returned to Penarth to resume his duties on Penarth Pier .
On August Bank Holiday 1931 it was Piermaster Leonard and his staff who marshalled to safety all 800 people who were on the pier attending shows at 21:00 in the old pierhead pavilion and in the newly built concrete Pavilion at the Esplanade end.
Flames 30 feet high enveloped the pier from one end to the other. No one could quite believe just how quickly the wooden planking exploded into flame.
The timber-built pierhead pavilion was destroyed . The concrete structure of the new Penarth Pier Pavilion (at the landward end of the pier) didn’t catch fire – but the radiated heat turned the building into a huge oven. A fleet of 7 boats including a pilot cutter ferried the crowds safely ashore. Some of the dancers suffered from shock and were treated at Penarth Yacht Club but everyone escaped without serious injury.
In 1946 former seafarer Stan Galley was appointed Penarth Piermaster – and just a year later had to cope with an emergency every bit as serious as his predecessor had done in 1931.
On May 7th 1947 the steamer Port Royal Park collided with the pier and fractured 70 of the cast iron supports beneath .
The damage took two years to repair and the pier wasn’t re-opened until Whit Monday in May 1949.