Blood, Sweat & Piers
Do you think you know Mumbles Pier? We speak to the owner to discover the true story behind this iconic coastal landmark.
For over a century it has been part of the Mumbles landscape, but the fact that it still remains is down to one family, whose passion, determination, and overwhelming sense of responsibility has ensured it remains for many generations to come. We spoke to Bert Bollom about how his family came to own Mumbles Pier, their struggles, and plans for the future. It’s not every day you speak to someone who owns a pier; you always imagine that they are owned by a major corporation, or are run by a charitable trust. As our conversation starts, my first question just has to be – Burt, how did your family come to own Mumbles Pier?
“The UK’s first passenger railway was in Mumbles; passengers used to arrive by paddle steamer and then go back into town and to the Gower from here. The pier was built as somewhere for the paddles steamers to land, and it opened on 10th May 1898. Bands used to welcome people off the ferries, so the pier has always had an element of entertainment. In 1916 it was leased to the Amusement Equipment Company (AMECO), and they slowly started to get rid of the railway. My grandfather joined AMECO around 1935 to undertake various jobs around the pier, and took over ownership shortly after. During World War II the pier was requisitioned, as were most of the privately owned piers in the UK. The thought was that the Germans might use them as landing and take off areas.
After the war, the pier was in a terrible state; you have a wooden and metal structure that basically has been built to be mopped down in creosote and covered lead, but being soaked in salt water and left out in the weather 365 days a year causes unbelievable damage.
My grandfather re-built it after the war, and the pier opened again in 1950; from there it was passed down to my father, and then to my brother and me.
My earliest memories of the pier are Punch and Judy shows and music. I remember the ballroom when it was the Winter Gardens, although many people today will know it as the nightclub Cinderella’s. The Winter Gardens was where people on a Saturday night would get dressed up and come down and listen to the resident band. The first band I remember is Ray McVay’s he used to come down with his large band and play on the weekends for all the youngsters. We started the memory gallery on our website out of personal interest, I’ve been amazed at the amount of history that’s there.”
One of the items in the memory gallery is an old programme from the 1930s. “The pier has evolved over the years to meet the needs of the public, and it’s still changing. Around 2000 we put in a skating rink for a short period, and now our focus is on family. I feel we’ve just started to capture the attention of people again.
I think a lot of people assumed it was a council-owned pier, and it was falling into disarray; they don’t really understand what it takes to keep a pier up. We can spend literally tens of thousands of pounds on simple things like tie-rods, which are the rods that go between the main piles. Although a pier is very strong with pressure downwards, it has no strength sideways. If you can imagine holding a straw, you can push down on it quite hard, but turning it side to side is easier. We have spent tens of thousands, nearly every year, putting in these tie-rods; it is work that the public can’t see, but it’s essential.
Marketing is something we are getting back to, sharing with people what we are doing, and why. It’s a privately owned pier; we haven’t had any grants or funding, so it’s important to push the message that every penny people spend down here ends up going towards repairs.
We’ve recently opened Copperfish, a bar and restaurant offering traditional fish and chips, as well as some other delicious creations within a stylish and contemporary setting. I’m of the firm belief that if you’re eating fish and chips, you should be able to see the sea. We wanted to create a place where people would enjoy the whole experience, and that starts with making sure that number one, the fish and chips are good, but that the surroundings are right as well. With Copperfish I believe we have achieved that. As well as the traditional fish and chips, the menu also includes dishes such as Crisp Fried Salt and Pepper Prawns, and Lemon and Dill Salmon Salad. The menu is a collaboration between our on-site chef and my brother, we then find a way of presenting it in an interesting way. You have to try the deep-fried cockles, they’re addictive, it’s terrible.
I firmly believe that, although we’re the keepers of the pier, as it were, there’s no doubt in my mind the pier has to be there. It’s part of Swansea’s heritage; when I come off the M4 and I see it across the bay, it’s when I know I’m home. I’m giving blood, sweat, and tears to bring it back to its former glory, and to provide our visitors with the best possible experience.”