A pineapple sits on top of our ornate Royal Pier entrance building. Despite a serious fire on the pier in May 1987, and another in 1992, the gatehouse survived. In 2008 it became Kuti’s restaurant. The Royal Pier itself finally closed on December 31, 1979.
The present building dates from 1930 and was nicknamed the ‘wedding cake’ by some when new.

It replaced an earlier 1888 gatehouse which was in front of the current building.
The 1888 gatehouse was built when the pier, originally used by ferries and excursion steamers, was redeveloped into a pleasure pier. It is said that the clock from the 1888 gatehouse ended up above the pavilion at the Municipal Golf Course.

The gatehouse building had to be moved back to enable the train track between the old and new docks to pass by. There are some remnants of it in Herbery Walker Avenue by Mayflower Park.

The eagle-eyed might also notice he trophy for the men’s singles at Wimbledon, which dates back to 1887, has a pineapple design adorning the top.
There is a tradition where captains in the British navy coming back from sea put a pineapple on the gateposts of their home to show they were back from their travels and ‘at home’ to visitors.

Pineapples have come to symbolise hospitality and that all are welcome.
Some say this dates back to the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) who was given a pineapple by friendly locals when he arrived in the volcanic island of Guadeloupe on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. He completed four Atlantic voyages, the last one in 1502. This opened up the European exploration and colonisation of the Americas.

His landing party ventured inland and found a Carib Indian village.
Outside the huts were clay pots with freshly gathered vegetables and fruits, one of which was the “anana” that we call the pineapple. Columbus recorded it in his log as looking like a pine cone with the sweet flavour and firmness of an apple.

However, the pineapple did not have its origin on this island. The Caribs were masters of the dug-out canoe and navigated their way along the open seas and river systems, raiding and trading. They brought pineapples back with them from the inland basin of Brazil and Paraguay. Soon, the pineapple was widely transplanted and cultivated throughout the islands.

Daily Echo: Building the pier gatehouse 1929. Below both old and new together.
Not only was Columbus intent on finding gold and riches to return to Spain, but he was also looking for food which could be shipped or grown in Europe, especially very sweet crops.

The pineapple’s natural sweetness soon found favour in the royal courts of Europe. Pineapples are best when picked ripe, but a lack of refrigeration meant they would not be easily transported.
It was nearly two centuries later that European gardeners first successfully grew a pineapple in a hothouse.

Daily Echo: Southampton's Royal Pier in an old colourised postcard.
King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait of him receiving a pineapple showing it had become the symbol of royal privilege.
Pineapples were popular and you could even rent out a whole pineapple for the day, usually placed as a table centrepiece.

More affluent clients could be sold one to carve and share with their dinner guests, who knew that no expense was spared in guaranteeing their enjoyment. The crowned fruit became the high symbol of social events to show welcome, friendship, and hospitality.
Even today, in some hotels and inns, you will see a pineapple carved on a sign outside the establishments. Often in stately homes, a carved pineapple can be found carved in head-boards, dining rooms, the backs of chairs, on wallpaper, cupboard doors, and woven dining linen. 

Daily Echo: The old and new gatehouses in November 1929.
Casts in the shape of pineapples were used as hot plates or on the end of silverware, all to impress upon their guests that they were welcomed.

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Martin Brisland is a tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .