There is one part of Swanage seafront which is somewhat decrepit. The Old Pier Head Building stands out like a sore thumb and has been the subject of local concern for many years. In 2007 artists Nina Camplin and Antonia Phillips volunteered to paint a mural on the building as part of Purbeck Art Week. When we passed through in December 2014 their work was still a dominant feature.
The building is derelict and the central mural provides a glimpse inside to further dereliction – but the open door in the back wall shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel. To either side of this central feature are three windows depicting the building in its past, present, and possible future use.
The future window will not be realised. In May 2012 planning permission was granted for the demolition of the existing building and a redevelopment of eight flats and retail units. When the actual work might start I do not know. The development will no doubt improve the area, but in some sense it will be sad to lose such a clever piece of artwork.
As for the Old Pier itself, that is also derelict, consisting now of only the piles outlining what once stood here.
Just behind the piles, to the left of the houses, you can see a small clock tower. This is the Wellington Clock Tower which was originally built in 1854 at the approach to London Bridge. Deemed a nuisance by the traffic trying to access the bridge, it was taken down again when London Bridge station was enlarged in 1864-7. The rubble was given to a builder who needed ballast for the boats he was taking back down from London to Dorset. He then decided to rebuild the clock tower on his estate, and at some point it was moved to Swanage Harbour. It originally had a spire, but that was removed in 1904 after becoming unsafe – more dereliction!
The pier itself was first constructed in 1859-60 and was designed for cargo. Tram carts led up to it, allowing local quarries to transport their rock to ships – you can still see the tram tracks along the seafront. In 1874 the pier also became used for passenger transport and a steamer service ran between Swanage, Poole and Bournemouth. These passenger and cargo requirements conflicted with each other and eventually a replacement, longer, pier was proposed. This opened in 1897.
In 1940 the pier head was demolished as an anti-invasion measure, but was rebuilt after the war in 1948.
The pier was not invaded by Nazi Germany, but it did come under attack from the wood-boring gribble worm. The damage was so extensive that the pier had to be closed down. A trust was set up in 1994 to oversee its restoration, which cost £1,100,000. Today it is a rather ornate structure, refurbished in a design which complements its Victorian heritage.
Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Old Pier Head Building: N 50° 36.457 W 001° 57.220
- Swanage Pier: N 50° 36.542 W 001° 57.020
- Old Swanage Pier: N 50° 36.508 W 001° 57.000
- Wellington Clock Tower: N 50° 36.452 W 001° 56.872
Walk #76 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):
- Date of Walk: 26 December 2014
- Walk #76 total distance covered: 6.83 miles
- Coast of Britain Walk Total Distance Covered: 641.45 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!