The History of The Needles

Alum Bay, Isle Of Wight

Alum Bay is on the far western tip of the Isle of Wight, and is known for the beautiful multi-coloured sand of the cliffs. These were a popular tourist attraction even in the 1790s and were a favourite spot of Alfred Lord Tennyson, who is remembered with nearby Tennyson Down. It was also from here that Marconi broadcast his radio transmissions in 1897.

Although there were small landing stages in the Alum Bay area before, in 1869 the Alum Bay Pier Act was passed by Parliament. This was a simple wooden pier, and by the 1880s it had been worn out, and so a second Pier Act was passed in 1887, with the pier opening in August 1887.

The pier was 370 feet long, and was 'paddle shaped' so that the pier head was twice as wide as the promenade leading to it. On the pier was a café , gift shop and a small restaurant, where a glass of water cost 1d. The pier was often very busy, no more so than on July 23 1909, when the 9060 ton German liner Derfflinger ran into the Shingle Bank off the Needles, and two-and-a-half miles from Alum Bay. She was trapped for two days before the tugs nearby were able to pull her free, all of which was witnessed by people on the pier.

Several paddle-steamers called at Alum Bay, including the Princess Beatrice, Prince of Wales and Lorna Doone. Even islanders enjoyed travelling to Alum Bay on the paddle-steamers - day trips were available there from Yarmouth in the summer of 1909. Steamers on the London And South Western Railway frequently called there until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.

After the war, Alum Bay pier was virtually abandoned. The last steamer to call at it was Red Funnel's Queen in 1920. By 1925 the pier was declared unsafe and closed, and in the winter of 1927 the pier suffered severe storm damage, and broke in two. Only the shore half remained, and was still in use when Alum Bay was used as a military practice area in World War II. Now, no trace of the pier remains, and Alum Bay just has a small landing stage. The easiest way to get to the bay now is by using the chairlift, which, since 1973, has helped tourists descend from The Needles that has opened at the top of the cliff.

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