Sunday, September 6, 2009

Peter's Port - Part 4

Part 1 here.

To recap, Benbecula found itself at the turn of the 20th century endowed with a pier on an off-lying island with no connecting road or causeway and at which MacBrayne's thrice weekly mail steamers did not call or even make a ferry call.

In 1898, the MP for Ross & Cromarty asked the Postmaster-General in the House of Commons what was preventing the Benbecula mails being landed at Peter's Port Pier? The answer was:

The mails are very small, and it would not be desirable to add to the length of the passages of the boats from Oban by including a call at Petersport in their time tables. Besides, there is difficulty, it is believed, in approaching Petersport.

So it wasn't just the lack of a road to the pier which was the problem but difficulty of access from the sea by the steamers as well.

Further exchanges in the House reveal that complaints about access to the pier from the sea began almost as soon as it was built. It appears the Government obtained a report from the Admiralty who made recommendations to allow a steamer of 180 feet in length and 12 feet draught to approach the pier in daylight and lie alongside it at suitable states of the tide. A grant of £300 was made to Inverness County Council to carry out the work but it seems nothing was done.

In 1905, the Postmaster-General refused to order the mail-steamer to call at Peter's Port on the basis that:-

such a call would delay the boat, and would prejudicially affect the mail service to and from the most important places in the districts concerned

But this did not prevent construction of the road to the pier which was completed with further public funding in 1906-07.

But still the mail steamers did not call and now it seems the problem was the absence of navigation lights. Apparently, MacBrayne's were at last induced to call in 1910 but this didn't last and, in 1911, the MP was reduced to pleading for at least a ferry call off Peter's Port. The official answer was that:-

the mails would frequently fail to be landed owing to adverse weather conditions; and the postal service would, therefore, be subject to frequent interruptions, especially during the winter months. The direct postal communication between Benbecula and North and South Uist would also be severed, and this would, I am assured, cause considerable inconvenience. Moreover, considerable additional cost would be entailed on a service already maintained at a serious loss.

The same questions were still being asked in the House into the 1920s with the powers that be now answering that even the provision of navigation lights would not induce shipping companies to call at Peter's Port. The last parliamentary question on the subject was in 1924 and thereafter there was a lull until 1938 when the questions became to be about construction of a bridge from Benbecula over the South Ford to South Uist. Work on this began in December 1938 whereupon everyone forgot about Peter's Port Pier. The wooden structure visible in the photo above is long gone and all that remains at the end of the B891 today is a simple concrete slipway used by some local fishermen.

Picture credit Stephen Darlington

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