In the 1800’s the seaside was not complete unless it had a pier, it was to be part of the beach scene along with the bathing machines – when we were so much more coy about showing more flesh than was deemed to be decent.
The first pleasure pier was built in Ryde and opened in 1814 and the idea took on in other popular resorts. Southend still boasts the world’s longest pleasure pier (1.341 miles)
Realising their potential, Arthur Hyde Dendy, 1821-1886 a barrister who had purchased Teignmouth Pier (built in 1865/67) with the aim to remove it to the more popular resort of Paignton ,was obliged to scupper his plan because of technical problems, and instead in 1879 financed a similar one at Paignton.
Designed by George Soudon Bridgman. Its total length was 780ft (240m)
The brand spanking new Paignton pier was opened in June of that year.
Dendy was attributed to have written in a holiday guide that Paignton Pier would not allow “rollicking horseplay and boisterous fun” like Ramsgate and Margate – adding that Paignton prefers to be select, dignified and discreet.
He’d made it his baby and was very proud of it, always eager to discover what visitors thought about it and act on their comments if necessary.
This gives us some idea of his disposition and why he was not at all pleased with the behaviour of another entrepreneur Isaac Merritt Singer and his ‘atrocious goings -on’ – despising his womanising lifestyle and flamboyant ways.
“But he is an American” was the excuse given by his contemporaries and Dendy, a stiff lipped upper class type of guy with inhibitions typically British, found it difficult to accept.
Yet Singer himself was outcast by his American counterparts because of his outrageous behaviour before he came to England.
But besides his obvious charms in seducing many an “English beauty” hehad influence and was known to be very generous in helping local projects besides his employees – rewarding them with higher wages than average which did not go down well at all with Dendy. He was obliged however to accept the frivolous activities of the man with the “exhibitionist mansion” which he conceded was only to be expected of an American – quite unlike the character of a typically English gentleman of the time. He’d dismissed a girl supposedly made pregnant by Singer – labelling her as a slut and unfit to be seen in his company. He was further embarrassed when the benevolent Singer took her in and ensured the welfare of the child he apparently sired.
Arguably there are many in the land who could backtrack their genealogy to the American. Dendy could not be doing with his disgraceful behaviour and generally kept a wide berth – but was he whiter than white? We can never be sure or was he one of those guys who’s life was his work, although he did marry and sired a daughter. He certainly put so very much in all he did for the better of Paignton.
Despite his differences with Singer he had to accept he was a well respected man despite his loose virtues – and his influence and generosity was imperative in the development of the resort.
Dendy erected the Gerston Hotel in 1870 and also owned the Esplanade Hotel and several other properties as well. He also built the “Royal Bijou Theatre” attached to the former, which he developed in his role of patron of the arts.
He started the Bathing Machine Company in 1871, an omnibus company to Torquay in 1872, the Pier Company (1878) and constructed the cycling track (1883). His major contribution to the prosperity of Paignton was the building of the Pier. Dendy also ran a local newspaper, a service of steam launches from his Pier to Torquay and, in 1879, was host to the Doyley-Carte Co. for that first performance of Pirates of Penzance. In his Bijou Theatre.
The pier, with its traditional grand pavilion at the seaward end, was opened to the public in June 1879. The venue for many forms of entertainment including singing, dancing, recitals, music hall, and most famously Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, re-titled HMS Pinafore on the water, performed by Mr D’Oyley’s full company on 27 and 28 July 1880 was the pier-head pavilion . In 1881 the pier-head was enlarged to facilitate the construction of a Billiard room, adjoining the pavilion.
On the death of Arthur Dendy Paignton Pier was purchased by the Devon Dock, Pier and Steamship Company, under whose ownership it became a regular stop for paddle steamers travelling between Torquay and Brixham.
Fortunately Dendy was not still around in 1919 when black acrid smoke wallowed out from the pier head which was rapidly destroyed, the fire had started in the pavilion and despite the brave efforts of firemen the building, all its contents and wonderful instruments plunged into the sea. These were never replaced and a period of decline followed
The whole sad loss of the pavilion was a great conversation point to visitors and locals alike in the 20’s and 30’s.
The council, realising the importance of the attraction, offered a sum of money to rebuild the pier in 1920. The offer was initially accepted but then rejected by the “Middle Class Associates” who objected to the acquisition so the project was completed when a new private owner bought it lock, stock and barrel.
In the War years the pier was requisitioned by the war dept, it looked as if another fire had done its worst when some 30ft of decking was removed near the shore end, as an “anti invasion” precaution.
It remains a tribute to the man who coined the phrase about Torquay “that it was built for Paignton to look at”.
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