Location and Construction
At the Southern end of Swanage Bay in Dorset, lie two Piers. One very active and the old original Pier now just a sparse collection of vertical piles.
Originally built during 1859/1860 Swanage Pier was constructed by London based James Walton and officially opened for use by John Mowlem. London bound Purbeck Stone shipments where the original reason the pier was built where horses would pull tram carts up the tramway(narrow gauge) that ran the lenth of the Pier and along the seafront, linking the local quarries to this vital transportation hub.
In 1874 local entrepreneur, George Burt began a steamer routee between Swanage, Poole and Bournemouth, but with the Pier being used by the general public as well as it’s originally designated trade cargos, it was soon no longer became fit for purpose and therefore an additional longer pier was proposed.
A second Pier was built during 1894/1896 and was officially opened on the 29th March 1897.
Facts and Figures
- The new Pier was originally constructed of 170 imported Greenheart Timber Piles,the wooden section is 196.3m (642½ ft) long on the centre line.
- The average width is 8.5m (28ft), widening to a two tier landing stage at its head. The tidal rise and fall is 2m (6½ft).
- The depth of water at the Pier Head is 4.3m (14ft) at high water on spring tides.
- The high point of the paddle steamer era at Swanage Pier was prior to World War 1 – ten steamers a day served Swanage in the 1905 season.
- Return fares to Bournemouth were as follows:
- 1/6 or 7½p in 1899
- 6/6 or 32½p in 1956
- Around £5 in 2002
By 1927 the Gribble worm (a marine wood-boring crustacean) had caused such damage by eating away the wood between the sea bed and the high water level, that concrete cladding had to be added to several of the badly eroded timber piles.
As an anti-invasion measure the end of the pier was demolished in 1940 and this was later rebuilt in 1948 from concrete following the end of the 2nd World War. Steamer traffic saw a re-surgance following the rebuilding of the pier head in 1948 but traffic dwindled over the next 30 years.
With many missing railings and parts of the promenade extremely unsafe due several of the piles being completely eaten through by the Gribble worm, the Pier eventually had to be closed.
Pier Ownership Today
The Pier is owned by the Swanage Pier Company which was established in 1859, however in September 1994 the Swanage Pier Trust(SPT) was setup with the primary aim of renovating Swanage Pier. The SPT took more than an 80% stake in the pier Company and with that became solely responsible for the piers restoration, maintenance and everyday running.
Members of the Trust are made up from local organisations including The Town Council, The Isle of Purbeck Sub-Aqua Club, Swanage Sailing Club, the local Angling Club and Swanage Fishermans’ Association.
Funding was sought and a Lottery Grant & English heritage funding accounted for £700,000 of over £1,100,000 that was spent on renovating the piers timber structure.
With the piles restored, the decking itself was renewed in Ekki wood, including the upper promenade deck, (which was completely missing). A new Victorian Wind Shelter was rebuilt to its original design and reinstated on the top deck. The concrete pile section was also replaced along with the hand railings and side panels and railings, together with the Victorian lamp standards which have all been recast in iron in original 1896 moulds.
The small boat landing deck half way along the Pier, which was destroyed during the early 1950’s has been replaced and is now in regular use by Dive Boats and visiting Yachts. Water and electrical services to the Pierhead have been renewed enabling replacement of the Victorian lamps and seats along the length of the Pier and promenade deck, most being funded by individual sponsorship, recognised by appropriately engraved Brass Plaques.
The Pier Master is an unpaid Trustee and the Gate and Shop are manned by volunteers from the ‘Friends of Swanage Pier’ formed in March 1995 to raise funds for the Pier.
Marine Villas, half way up the Pier houses a well stocked shop selling hot and colds snacks and drinks, sweets, ice creams, books, toys and souvenirs. There is also an exhibition of historic Swanage memorabilia, mainly in picture form and much Swanage maritime history. A comprehensive photo archive detailing the Swanage pier restoration is also available for viewing. Be sure to check out the display of diver recovered booty that has been brought up from the ship wrecks that litter the coast of Dorset. One of the exhibition rooms is dedicated to gaming machines fromt he Edwardian era and these can be played by purchasing old pennies in the Pier shop. There is also an impressive collection of the popular 90’s “Naughty” seaside postcard by Donald McGill.
All visitors are welcome on the Pier and providing you can find a space, you may park on the Pier alongside the waters edge.
In a typical year around 100,000 visitors ‘stroll’ the Pier, 16,000 Scuba Divers and Anglers use the Pier while 15,000 boat passengers alight/depart.
The ‘Friends of Swanage Pier’ pay a minimum of £6 as an annual subscription or £60 for Life Membership, for which they receive a strolling pass and three Newsletters a year. They also have access to a ‘Pier Friends’ Website which keeps them up to date with the latest happenings.
From time to time the ‘Pier Friends’ Committee plan money raising functions, the most successful on-going fund raiser being the ‘Sponsor a Plank’ scheme. This costs £50 and entitles the sponsor to a Brass Plaque bearing a 30 letter message, fixed to a Plank on the Pier.So far (after costs for the brass and engraving) over £244,456.00 has been raised by this scheme.
The Friends also offer a Full Colour Certificate to compliment the Plaque, these cost £12 each and show the owner’s plaque in close up together with a picture of the Plaque’s location on the Pier. Attractive to people who do not live in the area but have sponsored a Plank and like to be reminded of how it looks.
Forms are available from the Pier Gatehouse or Shop, or may be printed out from www.swanagepier.com
A superb underwater camera that is installed at the pier head allows visitors to the Swanage Pier to see what life is like below the water line.
The Pier shop has a screen to allow the general public to see what the fish and sealife that are swimming around in the sea, if you’re lucky you may even spot a diver!
“A Wonderful Pier in a Beautiful Area”