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    Before humanity dug it's heels in, Sandbanks was literally what it said, banks of sand, sand dunes, probably wind-blown if we accept the geological aspect of their presence. A few people came along and thought this is a nice spot to put up a shack or two, a hundred or so years later we have a mixed hotel and residential development which boasts some of the most expensive properties in the UK.
    A hundred plus years ago Poole and Swanage were relatively divorced from each other, Swanage a small fishing village with the Purbeck Stone connection and Poole a busy commercial centre. A lot of water traffic would also use Wareham, silting of the Frome channel out into the harbour did put paid to a lot of their trade.
    Anybody wanting to cross the harbour would avail themselves of a small boat crossing from one of the small bays on the south side of the harbour where there are still piers like Goathorn. It was all very low-key.
    At the beginning of the 20th century the Branksome Park and Swanage Light Railway Scheme was created, this encompassed a Mr Bankes who owned Studland, and various businessmen and gentry. Their intention was to build a tramway between Canford and Swanage.
    They had a serious problem though, how do you span the entrance to Poole harbour which is some 300 yards wide? The idea of the day was to set up a chain and cage arrangement spanning between towers on either side. Cars would be transported from one side to the other, one at a time we assume. This would be powered by the Bournemouth Electricity Supply Co.
    Meetings of the powers that be took place and the idea was thrown out. Things went quiet until 1929 when the proposal of a bridge was put forward, with 2 towers again. They would have been in the tideway to avoid too large a span. That was thrown out by Parliament
    While all this was occurring a rowing boat service was operating, but only when the tidal flow was favourable which wouldn't have been a lot of the time. In 1908 a James Harvey started running a motorboat service.
    Nowadays we talk of the Haven/Sandbanks for the north side and Shell Bay for the south side. A century ago they were called North and South Haven. The Shell Bay name seems to have originated from the local wanting the place to sound more attractive to would-be visitors.
    Ideas for bridges have always been kicked around since those days but have been dropped because of the enormity of the exercise and now of course because of the cost. To have an access road on the Sandbanks side would mean buying up property which these days would probably cost more than the bridge itself.
    Subsidy by Government would seem unlikely since there is now a successful and improved 'floating bridge', the traffic is seasonal and Purbeck is such an insignificant little backwater. The pressure to increase the housing density is on, but improved access for the increased traffic is not, as demonstrated by the lack of A351 Holton Heath & Sandford bypass.
    The Harbour Commissioners pushed for some sort of vehicle ferry before the First World War, but that was put on permanent hold because of the war.

    The first successful effort came from an IOW man, Frank Aman and his 2 sons, when the Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company was created in 1923.
    The set-up entailed purchasing a strip of land on the Banke's estate from Studland village to South Haven, parliament had allowed a toll to be collected and the toll-booth near Studland Beach, which some may remember, was constructed albeit not much more than a garden shed.
    An IOW shipbuilder, J. Samuel White, was commissioned build a ferry. The road construction was going to be undertaken by an internal subsidiary of the ferry company, they would use local Purbeck stone rather than a softer chalk. There is a popular story that the quantities of stone were short-measured and a weighbridge was installed to eliminate that possibility.
    In 1926 all was complete and the service started on the 15th July. The ferry itself was steam driven and coal fired. It carried a dozen cars with later modifications adding 3 more. That year it transported a magnificent 12,000 cars and roughly 100,000 people and bicycles.

    The outbreak of the Second World War meant restrictions on the service and ultimately it was stopped altogether whilst Studland was used for troop training which meant installation of pill-boxes and all manner of defences like trenches, wire fencing and anti-tank devices.
    After the war there was significant damage to the road together with a badly maintained ferry to delay a reopening until 1946. The ferry itself had now been running about 20 years but managed until 1958, when after more frequent breakdowns it was semi-replaced by what became known as Ferry No.2. This was a second hand job that had seen service on the IOW. The semi-replacement had in fact been something of a 'courtesy ferry' while the original was having its increasing maintenance sessions. Ferry No.2 was also smaller and not a long-term prospect.

    What became known as Ferry No.3 was built by J. Bolson & Son of Poole. It was diesel-electric powered with 3 engines and carried up to 28 cars. Normally it used 2 engines with the 3rd in reserve, but could run on one at a pinch.
    This ferry lasted 35 years eventually carrying over 600,000 vehicles annually, which, if you had been one of those waiting in the extremely long queues, was academic. It finished on 17th January 1994.
    During the 1950s and 60s various ideas were flying around to develop South Haven and build a larger ferry. All of this came to nothing since Mr Bankes declined to sell the required land.
    Because of financial problems the then holding company, Raglans, had to be sold, since it was already held as security, to Silvermist which became part of Fairacres Group.

Sandbanks slipway / Ferry No.3


Shell Bay slipway


    There were improvements to the make up of the whole system such as the slipways being built, electricity supply installed to South Haven/Shell Bay, the shed/toll booth near Studland/Knoll House was replaced by a brick building at Shell Bay.
    Life collecting tolls was not a happy one; the operatives were exposed to the elements with rudimentary heating, open to physical and verbal abuse from both driver and pedestrian. The modern day operative in his warm brick-built building just gets the verbal abuse.


    The latest ferry came into service in January 1994. It is unusual in the respect that it has a name, 'Bramble Bush Bay', named after a bay adjacent to and south of the approach road.
    This ferry like it's predecessors has to be maintained and goes away to Southampton for about a month every other year autumn/wintertime.
    Many people know little about the ferry except the obvious, so here are a few details:
    It appears to be the same each end which up to a point, no joke intended, is true. However the Sandbanks end is the bow, the Shell Bay end the stern. Rather than being called a boat or ship, it is a 'floating bridge'.

Ferry No.4 / Bramble Bush Bay

    Its propulsion is achieved by drive wheels pulling along the chains. The chains are fixed at the Sandbanks end where, due to the channel being deeper, the wear is greatest. At the Shell Bay End the chains having emerged from the water lay along the road, and are linked to steel cables that disappear down pits with counter-weights on the ends. That serves to maintain the tension in the chains.
    The long lengths of chain at that end serve as replacement, in that as the chain wears most at the Sandbanks End because the channel is deeper, sections are removed, and replaced at the Shell Bay end by using shackles since links proper cannot be created on site.
    This operation can be carried out several times until the shackles actually get back to the water and the ferry and would not be able to run over the drive wheels. The chains were once mild steel and/or hardened steel but are now entirely hardened steel. They are manufacture about 160 feet longer than the transit distance which allows for the worn sections to be moved several times before a full replacement is required which is usually about every 18 months. Each chain is about 1,250 feet long and costs about 18,000
    Wear in the chains themselves, and between chains and slipways accounts for a lengthening of about a link a week so every fortnight a couple of links are removed.
    When running to and fro the ferry surprisingly only drives on one chain. The chain used is the one away from the flow of the tide. Apparently this consumes less power, and perhaps even more surprisingly gives a 'smoother landing'.
The old chain does not go to waste and is used by boat owners for moorings, and Scottish salmon farmers as net weights.
    Extraordinary work was carried out for some 6 weeks late in 2008 when long needed work to the slipways was undertaken

    And last but not least, for those that are puzzled or curious about the black cones/balls and flashing lights on the ferry.
.........The following is an extract from the Admiralty Sailing Directions Channel Pilot:

    The ferry shall give way to all other vessels navigating the harbour. The ferry, when under way, shall:

    Display a white rotating flashing light from the leading end of the chain ferry to indicate the direction of travel, in addition by day, display a black ball at the forward end of the vessel to indicate the direction of travel.

    Should the ferry become stationary in the fairway it shall:

    By day, display a red flag at one end of the vessel.

    At night, exhibit a white light at one end of the vessel.



Contact details: Ferry Office, Shell Bay, Studland, Swanage, Dorset BH19 3BA
  click: www.sandbanksferry.co.uk  
01929 - 450203
01929 - 450498







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