Logo of the tourism website Visit Purbeck Dorset

The History of Swanage Pier

The original (old) Swanage Pier was built in 1859-61 by James Walton of London for the Swanage Pier and Tramway Company and was opened by John Mowlem.

The first timber Pier was 750 feet long and was primarily used for shipping coal, timber, fish and Purbeck stone. Horses were used to pull carts along a standard gauge tramway which ran along the seafront and Pier, remnants of which can still be seen today.

The new pier

In 1871 a steamer service was introduced between Swanage and Bournemouth for day trippers as well as cargo. Due to the demand, it was decided that a new, more suitable Pier was needed to cope with the increased traffic. The first pile for the new Swanage Pier was driven on 30th November 1895 and although the first steamer landed passengers in May 1896, it was finally completed in 1897.

At an impressive 642.5 feet long, the Pier and its supports are constructed of timber (greenheart; Ocotea Rodiaei). Ornamental cast iron railings compliment the structure either side of the walkway and there is a two-tier section at the Pier head, allowing easier access for boarding vessels.

Up until the 1950s, the original old Pier was used as a diving platform for Swanage Swimming Club. The old Pier subsequently became derelict and today only a few piles remain visible.

The Paddle Steamer at Swanage Pier in the early 19th Century

Second World War

In 1939, the Pier was breached as an anti-invasion precaution during in World War II and was not repaired until 1948 when the missing section was restored in concrete. Steamer traffic was temporarily restarted following the war but ended on 24th September 1966: the last boat to use the Pier was the PS Embassy. The Pier subsequently fell into disrepair for over 20 years. In 1986, Durrant Developments Ltd. bought the Pier and planned to restore it. However, the company went bankrupt and the Pier fell into the hands of receivers. The Pier was designated a Grade II listed structure in 1975 within the Swanage Town Conservation Area.

With the support of Purbeck District Council, the Swanage Pier Trust acquired control of the Pier Company in 1994 and has had responsibility for restoring, preserving and maintaining the Grade II listed Pier ever since. Significant sums of money have been spent on the Pier’s restoration and repair over the years and with the benefit of various grants, has kept the Pier open to the town, local communities, residents and visitors.

This article is taken from the Love It Local Magazine, September 2023. Read the full magazine on the Love It Local website. 

Scroll to Top