A 5-seater cast-iron bench, originally installed on Sandown Pier in 1895, and subsequently located at Battery Gardens and then Ranelagh Road, was rescued from the scrap heap and restored following painstaking renovation by local resident Adrian Simons, with specialist ironwork by A & R Welding of St Helens.
The project has been personally funded by local researcher Richard Priest, who was born in Ranelagh Road and wanted to support the project in honour of his late mother, who died during the Covid lockdown in 2020. He remembers his brothers sitting on the bench following a shift as luggage boys at the railway station, as well as his grandparents on the way to work at Fairlawns on the cliff path.
Before renovation, the ironwork was breaking at an alarming rate and covered in layers of green paint. Inch by inch Adrian restored the cast-ironwork backrest to reveal exquisite details of famous Glaswegian foundry “Walter MacFarlane” together with casting number “P559”. This celebrated foundry is not known to have produced any other pier seats, but they did provide the railings for Llandudno and Ryde piers, as well as the ironwork for the lost bandstand at the end of Southend Pier.
Adrian said: “Growing up locally, the bench was very much a welcome resting place for visitors and residents alike on walks and hikes across the Bay, and it was so sad to see it fall into disrepair and condemned to be scrapped. I’m so glad we’ve been able to restore it, especially during the lockdown.”
Sandown historian, Derek Poole, added: “We are delighted with what has been achieved, and we have worked with Richard and Adrian at no cost to the public purse. We hope that we can put together an information panel, with the bench, once the next phase of the project has been completed. We will ask the community to help find a permanent home for the bench, where future generations can benefit and appreciate the time-consuming effort that has gone into the project.”
A recent post on the Our Sandown Facebook group discussed the fact that the bench was missing from its previous location which led to some speculation that it had been stolen. However, one local resident followed up the issue with Island Roads, who said they had replaced it with another bench citing safety concerns as it was in such a poor state, adding that the rust was so severe that the bench had fallen apart and was ‘regrettably beyond repair’.
Paul Coueslant, of Our Sandown, said: “This wonderful, ornate bench is a unique survival from Victorian times. It was one of several relocated from Sandown Pier to other parts of the town when alterations to the pier between the wars made them surplus to requirements.
“This one stood on Lake Hill for many decades and has come up several times on Our Sandown over the years. It’s clear that local people have always held it in great affection.
“It’s wonderful the bench is being restored because it’s the only one left. Others were moved to the cliff path near Battery Gardens, Sandown seafront and Sandham Grounds but sadly none of these have survived.
“I very much hope the bench will now enjoy a position of pride and prominence in the town, either close to the pier where it came from or outside the Library, where everyone can see and appreciate it as part of Sandown’s history.”
The project, delayed because of Covid and health reasons, is awaiting input from a specialist carpenter, and further research into the information panel, as well as local input to its future resting place. The project is also being considered for the TV series Salvage Hunters.