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The Bournemouth to Swanage Motor Road (well, sort of...)
publication date: Apr 28, 2016
author/source: Dave Moss
Hidden away in south east Dorset, the Isle of Purbeck isn't an island at all: its a small but scenic 60 square mile peninsula, known since the 17th century for its high quality stone.
Tourists have long been attracted to Swanage, Purbeck's only seaside town, and its smaller, quieter neighbour, Studland. Both are under 8 miles from the bustling cosmopolitan centres of Poole and Bournemouth as the seagull flies, but the near-100 miles of coastline around Poole Harbour makes for a circuitous 20 mile route by road, which was slow going when the age of the motor car dawned - and isn't a lot better today.
Vast though it is, Poole Harbour has only one sea access - a deep water channel, less than a quarter of a mile wide, almost due north of Studland. Across the water from here is the swish Bournemouth suburb - and today's millionaires' paradise - of Sandbanks. From the mid-19th century, an efficient way of linking Bournemouth and Purbeck across this fast flowing stretch of water occupied several engineering minds. Rowing boats came first, and a motor ferry ran before the Great War - but tidal conditions seriously limited safe operation. Then, early in the 20th century, the 'Branksome Park and Swanage Light Railway' was incorporated, proposing a tramway between Canford, adjoining Sandbanks, and Swanage, crossing Poole harbour entrance by an electrically powered chain and cage arrangement running between towers on each side. The idea never got off the ground...
In the 1920's, Isle of Wight entrepreneur Frank Aman became involved. His primary interest until then had been promoting an Act of Parliament to build the South Western & Isle of Wight Junction Railway, involving a two-mile tunnel under the Solent, for which Royal Assent was granted on July 26th 1901. Twenty years later work hadn't started, perhaps because Frank was by then promoting another Act of Parliament - to set up and run a car ferry across Poole harbour entrance...
Even then access was easy on the Sandbanks side - known as North Haven - but there was no link beyond Studland village to the sea on the southern side. Authority was needed to build a road connecting the proposed South Haven ferry terminus with Studland, and so, early in 1923, Parliament found itself passing a bill to create the "Bournemouth to Swanage Ferry and Motor Road." This involved "A motor road 2 miles, 7 furlongs 50 chains or thereabouts in length, wholly in the Parish of Studland in the Rural District of Wareham and Purbeck, terminating by a junction with the public road from Studland to Swanage." Unusually, the Act also provided for the Company to prevent others from building alongside the road, and create by-laws to administer it - including a vehicle toll - applicable to either the ferry or the road.
The Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company built their new road using local Purbeck stone - and the first toll was levied at a small shed (booth is too grand a term) near Studland beach on 15 July 1926. The ferry - technically a chain-driven floating bridge - and a story in itself - was coal fired and steam driven, and commissioned from Isle of Wight shipbuilder J. Samuel White.
Almost ninety years on from the first crossing of this notorious stretch of water, the Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company continues plying its trade. Since the toll booths were moved to the south slipway, use of the "motor road" is free for pedestrians and vehicles alike, providing uniquely serene and stunning views of Poole harbour, and time to reflect on how dramatically different it all might have been if Owen Williams' bridge had been built as proposed...
Image: Skez at English Wikipedia
Wikipedia information on the Sandbanks Ferry.
A tourist-oriented site with lots of interesting information about the Purbeck peninsula.
Brief details of Frank Aman's involvement in Isle of Wight Railways and proposed Solent Tunnel.
A selection of pictures of the various ferries that have been used on this route since its inception.
The official ferry company website.
A brief history of how the ferry service came into being, and two drawings of Owen Williams' bridge plan.
This official paper provides detailed background to the history of extraction of Purbeck stone in the Swanage area, its use and application, and size and status of the specialist industry producing it.
Owen Williams: The engineers contribution to contemporary architecture
By David Yeomens, University of Liverpool, and David Cottam, Architect. pp168
ISBN: 9780727730183 Published 1st November 2011, Thomas Telford Ltd.