What is this man doing? Read on…

The two Alans are back – Volunteers Alan Clarke and Crooks – with gems for the new year. First Alan Clarke, with two photographs from our archives…

The museum has just been donated roughly a thousand glass plate negatives, some dating back to around 1875.  They are of various sizes up to bigger than A4.  The subject matter is vast but includes many local scenes such as ones of Stonehenge, New Forest and surroundings.  

According to some of the images, around the turn of the century (1900) there were a number of local baking competitions for who could make the best bread. Photographs were taken of all the competitors’ bread and their slices!  

There is little textual information with any of the 1000 plates.  Hence one is left to finding people who might recognise the images.  The rest of this blog deals with just one such image – Image A.  The quality of the original image allows a zoomed in image to be made – Image B. 

Swanage image A
Swanage image B

Below are the comments of various volunteers who have inspected the image in great detail:

This is an image of Swanage Pier, the Wellington Tower in the background was re-sited here in 1867-ish.

The square tall house behind to the right is The Grove, which, by 1907 was the Grosvenor Hotel.  It still appears like a private house in this image, which may suggest a turn of the century date.

The railway wagons are sitting on the pier having been unloaded from a coal-boat.  It is almost certainly sacks of coal, with individual lumps of coal piled up – unless you think otherwise – and is awaiting horse and carts to take it to the new coal-gas-works (for street-lighting) in Hop Pole Lane at the far end of town.  The company of Mowlem (under George Burt) is the business here in all probability.


This is possibly a very early image of Swanage Pier – the first pier, a working jetty – I note the lack of cranes.


This image must have been taken from the upper deck of the new pier, dating to it to after 1896-ish.  And the coals are not for the gas works, but almost certainly for the steamers of Cosens and Co., Weymouth, which berthed and coaled on the old pier once they had disgorged their passengers.


It dates post-1896. The modern Swanage Pier had at last been built, the old pier (pictured) had long since not been used for exporting stone, its purported purpose, and had been used primarily for the previous decade or so for the quickly increasing trade in people on steamers.  Not a good environment for passengers to disembark! 

Now, with the new parade pier built for passengers, the old pier was used for berthing the paddle steamers overnight during the April-Oct season.  Cosens of Weymouth generally kept two and sometimes three steamers here on station during the season between the 1890s and 1930s.  The pier was secure out of hours, and ideal to keep coal on.  I think these trucks have a bed of sacks of coal, with larger lumps piled centrally above.  The steamers would be coaled in the evening – there was some friction with Swanage Council at one point when the council tried to lessen the amount of fresh water the steamers could take on.  The tramway was mostly unused at this stage, it extended off the pier to a warehouse just along the promenade, but no further, so it could not be used for real transportation.


Ball clay looks like lumps of coal. See Image-C where men are cutting out the ball clay and piling it on a railway truck.


The clay industry was based out at Norden and beyond Corfe, and after 1885 the Swanage Railway would have provided them the obvious modern alternative to boats, so I don’t see these trucks as holding clay.  It might be that Cosens held a stock of coals here for sale as well, although the Swanage Railway also had a coal yard providing coal for sale.

I have captured all the above information in the jpeg images metadata because I don’t know what the truth is!  Lots of scope here for the real enthusiast to delve into. Do you the blog reader, have any more information?  Original high definition image available upon request…