Hythe's Pier, Train and Ferry - A Brief History

Hythe Pier, the Hythe Pier Railway and the Hythe Ferry provide a link between the English port city of Southampton and the Hampshire village of Hythe on the west side of Southampton Water. It is used both by commuters and tourists, and forms an important link in the Solent Way and E9 European coastal paths.

The pier, railway and ferry service are currently operated by Blue Funnel Ferries of Southampton. The railway is the oldest continuously operating public pier train in the world

Hythe Pier

Hythe Pier stretches 700 yards (640 m) from the centre of Hythe to the deep water channel of Southampton Water. It is approximately 16 feet (4.9 m) wide, and carries a pedestrian walkway and cycleway on its northern side and the Hythe Pier Railway on its southern side.] During normal high tides the pier is 4 feet (1.2 m) above the surface of the water. A company was formed to construct a pier in 1870 and in 1871 it obtained an Act of Parliament in order to do so This effort then stalled and a pier was not constructed

A second company called the Hythe Pier & Hythe & Southampton Ferry company was formed in late 1874A new act passed parliament in 1875 but legal disagreements with the Southampton Harbour and Pier Board delayed royal assent until 1878. Construction started in 1879 and the pier opened in 1881. Originally there was a tollhouse at the landward end of the pier, and this was replaced by the present ticket office in the first decade of the 20th century. Large scale maintenance was carried out on the pier in 1896 at a cost of £1,500.

Hythe Pier Railway

The 1878 Act of Parliament made provision for the construction of a tramway along the pier, although one was not originally laid. The trucks that carried luggage along the pier were found to be damaging the pier decking, and in 1909 a narrow gauge railway was constructed to replace them. The vehicles were hand-propelled, and the track was laid flush with the pier decking

In 1922 the railway was reconstructed and electrified, attaining its current form. The track is laid to 2ft (610 mm) narrow gauge and is electrified at 250 V DC by a third rail on the seaward side of the track. The line consists of a single track with no passing loops, with two non-electrified sidings at the landward end. One of the sidings enters the line's covered workshop. Stations, equipped with low wooden platforms, exist at both ends of the line. The pier head station has an overall roof, whilst the landward station has a ticket office and waiting shelter.

The line is operated by two four-wheeled electric locomotives built in 1917 by Brush with works numbers 16302 & 16307. They were originally battery powered, being used at the World War I mustard gas factory at Avonmouth. They were transferred to Hythe after the war, where they were converted to collect power from a third rail and had their batteries removed. They are crudely numbered № 1 & № 2 on their seaward sides.There was initially a third locomotive but it was taken apart for spares.

The line owns four bogie passenger cars, two of which have a driving cab at their seaward ends. In normal operation the single train is made up of one of the locomotives propelling three passenger cars, with a four-wheel flat car for baggage. The locomotive is always at the landward end, and the seaward passenger car must have a driving cab. The line also has a four-wheel oil-tank car, used to carry fuel to the Hythe ferries. This distinction makes it the only operating mixed goods train in the country.

Hythe Ferry

Every train connects at the pier head with an arrival and departure of the Hythe Ferry. The ferry carries passengers and bicycles, and takes about 10 minutes for the crossing. En route, the ferry passes the terminal used by the passenger liners Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria and by other cruise ships, giving good views of the vessels when they are in port.

The Southampton terminal is at the Town Quay, also the terminal of the Red Funnel ferries to the Isle of Wight. Town Quay is a short walk from the city centre, and is linked to both the city centre and Southampton Central railway station by bus.

A ferry has operated from Hythe to Southampton since the Middle Ages, and it is marked on a map by Christopher Saxton of 1575. Steam vessels were introduced in 1830. From 1889 the Percy family were involved in the running of the ferry, and from 1900 to 1980 the service was run by the General Estates Company, owned by the Percy family. As a consequence of this, many of the ferries used carried the name Hotspur, named after Henry Percy or Hotspur, who was immortalised by William Shakespeare

The company only has one operational vessel, Hythe Scene at present, with Ocean Scene and Jenny Ann filling in when needed.

Hythe Scene (formerly Great Expectations) is a catamaran ferry originally used on the White Horse Ferries service across the River Thames from Tilbury to Gravesend

Previous ferries to have operated on the service include:

MV Uriah Heep removed from service following a collision with the pier on 13 May 2016. As a result of the collision the Maritime and Coastguard Agency withdrew the vessel's passenger safety certificate and vessel was later sold.

Hotspur IV was built in 1946 and served on the service until 2014. Hotspur IV was the last in a line of similar ferries. One of her earlier half-sisters, Hotspur II of 1936, saw further service as a ferry on the Firth of Clyde under the name Kenilworth.