National Piers Society


by Anthony Wills

SWANAGE PIER was chosen as PIER OF THE YEAR 2012 by the Society’s 650 members. It was the first time the Dorset pier had won the award and was a worthy reward for the very active and enthusiastic Friends group who help run it. No fewer than 22 different piers received nominations that year: BLACKPOOL NORTH (which recently changed hands) and CLEVEDON in North Somerset tied for second place.

The Grade II listed Swanage pier was the second to be built in the resort, opening on 30 November 1895 and slightly shorter than its predecessor, the remains of which are still visible. Passenger steamer traffic transferred to the new pier in 1896 and continued until the outbreak of World War II when, in common with the majority of South Coast piers, the pier was breached (i.e. cut in half) as a precaution against German landings. When the missing section was replaced in 1948 the piles were lined in concrete. The downturn in UK holidays in the 1960s saw off regular steamer traffic though p.s. Waverley and m.v. Balmoral still call in during the summer season and pleasure boats offer excursions along the Purbeck coast.

Under a succession of private owners the pier gradually fell into disrepair until in 1994 the Swanage Pier Trust was formed and successfully applied for a restoration grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Friends have faced formidable challenges to keep the structure in good order, not least the voracious “gribbles” (wood eating worms) which attack the landing stage. In spite of voluntary effort in running the shop, manning the gate and the museum, the pier’s annual maintenance bill is in the region of £130,000. Income is derived from parking fees, entrance tolls and the Diving Club, whose members explore the dazzling array of underwater marine wildlife (recently featured on BBC2’s Heritage Heroes series). The privately restored Swanage Railway also brings in visitors.

Commenting on the award, National Piers Society President, Gavin Henderson, said: “Swanage’s lovely little pier has rightly captured our hearts and our votes to be awarded Pier Of The Year: congratulations.”
Derek Tarrant, Chairman of the Swanage Pier Trust, said: “It is a real honour to receive this prestigious award on behalf of all the volunteers and supporters who work so hard to keep the pier open for everyone to enjoy”.

Tim Phillips, Chairman of the National Piers Society, presented the award at Swanage pier on Thursday 12 April.

Press enquiries to Sarah Parr (Swanage Pier Trust) email or telephone 07796 060744 or Anthony Wills (National Piers Society) email or telephone 020 7586 5154.