Royal Opening for Skegness Pier Fact or Fantasy?
Construction of the Skegness Pier began in 1880, and it is said to have been officially opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.
But we uncover evidence to prove this is a myth!
Popular local history resources describe the opening of Skegness Pier as “amid great ceremony by the then Duke of Edinburgh”, and “such was its [the pier] prominence that it was actually opened by the Duke of Edinburgh”.
In his book “Skegness Pier 1881-1978”, Albert Thompson, pictured right, produces evidence that the opening of the pier went almost un-noticed.
Mr. Thompson entered the field of entertainment in 1938 as Cinema Manager at the Futurist Cinema in Nottingham, and in the Spring of 1939 transferred to Skegness.
At the outbreak of war, he became responsible for managing the Arcadia Theatre, the Tower, Central and Parade Cinemas, also the Scarbrough Avenue indoor baths and swimming pool.
In 1948 he became Secretary/Manager to the Skegness Pier Company Ltd. under the Chairmanship of the Earl of Scarbrough (11th Earl) until 1967, and was able to recollect events during his day-to-day management.
Mr. Thompson spent two years compiling a hundred years history of the Pier commencing with the first edition of a Skegness newspaper, the Skegness Herald, 1882.
We reproduce below an extract from Thompson’s book:
The great opening day was Whit-Saturday 4th June 1881. Detailed searches do not reveal any factual account of the opening but it was reputed that his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, Admiral of the Navy and second son of Queen Victoria landed at the pier-head in a naval vessel and officiated at the ceremony. It was following this visit that Edinburgh Avenue and Prince Alfred Avenue were named after him.
This report has appeared in several printed articles and what appears to be fact in some cases is no more than mythology. From searches undertaken, the following press excerpts show through the eyes of the reporters exactly what happened in Skegness on Saturday 4th June 188 1.
The Stamford Mercury was approached in a request to search their back copies for around 4th June 1881 for anything important which may have happened in Skegness on that date. They stated that there was no mention of the Skegness Pier opening although there was quite a long account of the bicycle sports which took place in Skegness on that day.
Further searches by the writer in the Friday edition of the Lincolnshire Chronicle dated 10th June 1881 reveal that:- “The Grand Promenade has been completed and on Saturday the Grand Iron Pier was opened to the public and has already been proved an exceedingly attractive place of resort, a band being engaged to play there each evening throughout the week”. Also in the same edition, there was full coverage of the bicycle races held in Skegness on the same Saturday. One would have thought that a Royal visit would have taken precedence over organised bicycle sports.
On Whit-Monday and Tuesday of that week the number of admissions to the Pier was 18,902, with receipts at £78.13.2d.
A verbatim report in the Boston Guardian dated 13th August 1881 states quite clearly the date the Duke of Edinburgh visited the town of Skegness and his reason for so doing.
As Thompson states, one would certainly have thought that such a grand occasion would have been covered by the press.
I obtained a copy of the original article in the Boston Guardian, though it actually appeared in the issue after the 13th August, 1881, as quoted by Thompson. The article is transcribed below:
The Duke of Edinburgh at Skegness
HRH the Duke of Edinburgh (photo), in the capacity of Admiral Superintendent of the Navy Reserve, visited Skegness on Saturday last for the purpose of inspecting the Coastguards in the neighbourhood. As there was only short notice of his coming and the whole arrangements were so uncertain, little or no preparation was made. Rumours were freely circulated on Friday that His Royal Highness would land at Gibraltar Point and dine at Skegness and again it was reported he would disembark near the Sea View Hotel, near the Coastguard Station. Rumour played false for not the first time, and the Duke after all landed at the Skegness Pier, that being the only suitable landing-place.
At 9 o’clock the steam Yacht Lively appeared near the Outer Knock, and shortly afterwards a small steam launch left the vessel and made towards Skegness, bearing at first in the direction of the Coast Guard Station. At once there was a general rush in this direction and a large number of persons were assembled in the neighbourhood of the Sea View Hotel. In the meantime a temporary landing stage was being erected at the pier-head and Lieut. Pritchard, RN, the officer for this district hoisted an ensign to inform His Royal Highness as to the necessity of landing here.
The launch now steered direct for the pier and in a few minutes the Duke of Edinburgh, who was in full naval uniform and accompanied by several officers, stood upon the pier acknowledging the vociferous cheers of the few persons assembled on the head.
By the time, however, he had reached the Entrance Gates, several thousand persons had assembled, and as he entered the carriage which awaited him, he was enthusiastically cheered. Before the carriage left the pier, two of our oldest residents – the Rev D Rawnsley and Mr W Everington – stepped forward and in the name of the town offered a few words of welcome. Three cheers were given and the carriage proceeded by the way of the Grand Parade, Lumley Road and Roman Bank to the Coast Guard station, where the party alighted and made an inspection of the coastguards’ houses and accoutrements.
This only occupied a few minutes and His Royal Highness and party having re-entered the carriage were driven off towards Mablethorpe en route for Grimsby, the coastguards being inspected on the way.
The yacht Lively left about eleven o’clock, steaming slowly northwards.
The next time his Royal Highness visits Skegness the inhabitants hope to have timely warning so that a right royal and loyal reception may be given.
So it appears that the Duke of Edinburgh opening the Skegness Pier IS after all only a myth. But the people of Skegness, determined to commemorate HRH’s fleeting visit to Skegness, DID name Prince Albert Avenue and Edinburgh Avenue after the Royal!