A RECENT Chronicle story about the Bangor Pier renovation prompted a reader to tell us about his memories of working on the 1980s pier rebuild project.
Hughie Edwards, now 93, led a team of unemployed men tasked with completely rebuilding the Victorian Garth pier which had fallen into disrepair.
Work had already started in the early 1980s, but it was in 1982 that Hughie became the pier fabrication contract engineer in charge of the project.
The 1,550 foot long pier which opened in 1896, was constructed from cast iron screw-in columns with a metal superstructure of steel and joists throughout.
But, after years of neglect, by the 1970s it had became an eyesore and was deemed unsafe for use.
It was sold to Bangor City Council by the former Arfon Borough Council for a penny in 1975, with a proviso that it be renovated. It took seven years of fundraising to get the project off the ground.
Hughie, who lived in Bangor at the time, led a 10-strong team of steel riggers, erectors, engineers, welders, painters, plasters, and labourers, mostly unemployed men, who had been taken on by the Community Task Force programme who would completely rebuild the unique structure – something that had never been done on that scale on a Victorian pier before.
“The pier was in a terrible state,” said Hughie, also a former clerk of works on Holyhead’s Breakwater Park project.
“You had to work between the tides, in three or four hour stints, dodging the thick mud, which could be deadly if you fell in, and there was a 26ft drop into the water. We had about three men fall in, but they were OK. The wind and weather at times was awful.
“My first job was to design a jig to make sections cut to size. We built a workshop and fabrication shop. The pier sections were originally built in Victorian foundries, so there were few people or factories still going with the skills needed.
“We had to build a lot from scratch, and coat everything in five coats of special resin. The hand rails were hollow to carry the original gas pipes.
“We rebuilt five or six of the main columns, the kiosks were rebuilt. They were prefabricated in a woodyard in Menai Bridge. They had to be floated on giant air bags and we rebuilt the deck with wood from Malaya.
“We’d been asked to take on local unemployed men on 52 week programmes. They were mainly young, local lads, they only got £62 working out there in the elements. There was no bonuses or overtime. It was hard work. Some took to it, some less so, but for a lot it changed their lives.
“There were some shaky times, when I thought we’ll never do it and other times when everything went to plan. It definitely became a big part of my life .”
Prince Charles visited to see how the pier was progressing in 1983.
“We had some laughs,” said Hughie. “I remember a man covered in paint. Prince Charles said: “What do you do?”
It was obvious. But the lad joked: “I’m the catering manager.”
And Charles said, “Oh, really?” And the lad said: “Yes! I fetch the fish and chips.”
“It was an amazing project to be part of, my only regret is that we didn’t build a pontoon on the end. It was something to be proud of. It is a shame over the years lack of money has meant it has suffered neglect, but I wish the men working on it now good luck.”
“I remember those days very fondly. It would be great to know if any of the lads are still around. Maybe we could have a reunion,” he added.
The pier was finally opened to the public on May 7, 1988, by the Marquis of Anglesey. Hughie and his team won numerous awards for their work.
Hughie wants to hear from anyone who worked on the project, contact him on 07891 464615.