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A history of Swanage Pier


The foundation stone of Marine Villas was laid on 24th February, 1825 - a bath house, billiard room and coffee house, designed by Charles Wallis of Dorchester for William Morton Pitt, MP for Dorset.

The villa was built on 'Slippery Ledge' and included four salt water baths on a lower level that would be replenished by the sea at high tide. The remains of these baths can still be seen today through the glass panels in the floor.


The original Swanage Pier was constructed in 1859/60 by James Walton of London for the Swanage Pier and Tramway Company and opened by John Mowlem. The Pier was built primarily for shipping stone. Horses were used to pull carts along the narrow gauge tramway which ran along the Pier and seafront.

This was intended as a track to link Swanage and Langton Matravers quarries with the Pier, but local opposition caused the track to finish at the `Bankers` (now known as the Parade) where some of the original track can still be seen.


When George Burt started a steamer service between Swanage, Poole and Bournemouth in 1874, the Pier was being used for day-trippers as well as stone cargo, it soon became clear that the Pier was unable to cope with the ever increasing traffic and it was decided a new and longer Pier was needed.


The first pile of the new Pier was driven on 30th November 1895.


The new Pier was officially opened on 29th March 1897 but the first steamer, the P.S. Lord Elgin, landed people on May 1st 1896. The Pier was an immediate success. 10,000 visitors arrived by steamer in the first season.


In 1940 the landward end of the Pier was blown up as an anti-invasion precaution.


Following the war, the blown up section was replaced and steamer traffic was temporarily revived.


Steamer Traffic began to decline in the 1960s and in 1966 services discontinued. The paddle steamer P.S. Embassy was the last to use the Pier on August 24th 1966. The Pier then deteriorated for almost 30 years.


Grade 2 listed status awarded.


The Pier was closed following storm damage. 


The Swanage Pier Trust acquired control of the Pier Company, with the aim of keeping the Pier open to residents and visitors and providing for its eventual total restoration. Already over £1,100,000  has been spent on restoring the timber structure, the renovations were financed by funding from the Lottery & English Heritage, plus other grants of  £100,400. A huge effort from the local community and visitors raised the balance of £299,600 in four short years.


Swanage Pier re-opening ceremony.


Further restoration work was undertaken to replace storm damaged timber piles and surface decking.

2016/2018 Foundation for the Future Project 

Foundations for the Future was a Heritage Lottery Funded project to restore and renovate both the Pier and historic Marine Villas. For the structure of the Pier this included the replacement of 42 of the timber piles and large sections of decking. Marine Villas underwent a complete redevelopment to house a new cafe, exhibition space and gift shop, as well as updating the office spaces upstairs. 



Present day

In order to keep the Pier from again falling into disrepair and dereliction, £200,000 needs to be raised every year - running costs are kept to a minimum by all the volunteer labour. Volunteers help in a variety of ways and we welcome anyone who has a few hours to spare.

This is an edited version of The Story of Swanage Pier 1895 to 2002 by Olive Middleton.

Further information:

Pier facts and figures
Swanage Pier timeline
Swanage Pier quiz