Stornoway’s Victorian Pier

16 10 2008

Bought a groovy new book last week all about Stornoway’s Pier and Harbour Commission. It’s called ‘It Must Be Stornoway’ and is written by Catherine Mackay, who works for the Commission. It’s an interesting look at the history and development of Stornoway’s harbour over many years. Lots of good pictures and stuff, so I would heartily recommend that you all rush down to the Baltic, Loch Erisort or An Lanntair to buy it.

However, I found one thing wrong in the book, and that is the sad oversight of one of the towns long forgotten landmarks – yes indeed, Stornoway’s late lamented number three pier (as was) which was one of these Victorian pleasure piers. The Pleasure Pier, as it was known, was built in 1870 by Sir James Matheson. It was soundly constructed out of cast iron, wooden decking and lots and lots of rivets. Sir James felt that, in line with most other Victorian seaside resorts,  Stornoway should have its own pier. He imported the finest craftsmen money and drugs could buy and set about building the metal structure out into the bay. It was located more or less where the modern day no 3 pier is today. It had a large promenade along it, leading to a small theatre at the very end, passing whelk stalls, fortune tellers and ‘What The Elder Saw’ penny arcades. Cream teas were sold daily and pleasure cruises were available from dawn till dusk. The theatre  used to put on many shows by the great and the good of the Victorian music hall tradition and even saw the birth of the Stornoway Thespians first ever Xmas Pantomime (Mac In S’tronich and the Three Bears).

Sadly, as with all seaside piers, their time came and went all too quickly. Plus, the FP’s started complaining about folk been able to enjoy themselves too much. By the Second World War, the pier was falling to bits, and was used as a naval look-out station to make sure maws didn’t sneak in to the harbour to steal the sea-planes there. A brief resurgence in popularity during the 1950’s didn’t last long and by the late 60’s bits were hanging off the pier and it was becoming a health hazard. In early February 1971, a mysterious blaze started in the Jazz Club and before the Fire Brigade could reach, the whole pier had gone up in flames. The remains of the metal framework fell in to the harbour shortly afterwards.

The pier is probably best known for featuring in author John Buchan’s adventure story ‘The Thirty Nine Step We Gay-lees’, where his protagonist Richard Hannay gets caught up in a world of espionage and Lewis Weddings. Hannay, on a shooting holiday to Lewis in 1915, gets dragged into a murky mystery involving a ‘foreign power’, murder on the Barvas Express, a wedding cake with too much brandy in it, a chase across the Lewis Moors pursued by a sinister church elder and a climactic climax under the pier where the bride turns out to be a Russian spy and not a herring girl from Inaclete Road.

The book was later adapted by Alfred Hitchcock as a sequel to his big budget ’39 Steps’ and once again stared Robert Donat as Hannay. Donat, of course, took his stage name from all of the dough-nuts he used to buy from Johnny Oaks bakery whilst in the Stornoway Thespians.

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