Formation of the Company
The Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company came into being in July 1923 when an Act of Parliament received the Royal Assent, so becoming law and giving the necessary powers for this statutory company to be created.
The idea of operating a car ferry service in this location was largely the brainchild of Mr. Frank Aman who came from Totland Bay on the Isle of Wight. His two sons, Gerard, an engineer, and Arthur, a stockbroker, assisted him. They were instrumental in starting the Company and were also the largest individual shareholders who maintained their family connection until 1961.
Capital for the issue of shares following the Act of Parliament and work raised the venture commenced on building the slipways and the new road from Studland. An order too was placed, for Ferry No. 1, with J. Samuel White, a well-known firm of shipbuilders on the Isle of Wight.
Stone for the slipways and the road foundations came from quarries on the Isle of Purbeck, mostly from the cliff-face quarry at Seacombe, which is between Dancing Ledge and St. Aldhelm's Head. Barges carried the stone round by sea for the slipway foundations whilst primitive, one-speed lorries and Sentinel steam-driven wagons via Worth Matravers, Langton Matravers and Swanage brought stone for the road.
Start of the first ferry service to carry vehicles.
It was almost three years after the Act of Parliament was passed before Ferry No. 1 began the service on July 15th 1926. Ferry No. 1 was steam-driven and originally constructed to carry 15 cars; but after only a few years in service it was modified to enable 18 cars to be carried at any one time. The service was popular from the start and in the first rather short summer season 100,000 passengers and 12,000 cars were ferried across the 400-yard harbour mouth.
The service in wartime
The service continued until the outbreak of World War II when a restricted service was introduced. Later, after the fall of France, the ferry was taken over by the military and closed to the public for the duration. In 1943, or thereabouts, Studland Bay and the surrounding heath became a battle-training area for the troops who were to take part in the D-day landings in France. Famous men of those days who visited the area and may well have travelled along the road, if not actually on the ferry, were King George VI, Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Montgomery and General Eisenhower. It is also reputed that the then world heavyweight-boxing champion, Joe Louis, fought an exhibition bout in Day's Park football stadium in Swanage. This being for the benefit of the many U.S. troops stationed in the area.
Resumption of the service in peacetime
At the end of the war the ferry was in need of an extensive refit and the road too required substantial repairs to bomb and shell craters, as well as the removal of tank traps and "Dragons Teeth" obstacles so it was not until 1946 that the service was able to resume. Ferry No 1 carried on gallantly for another 12 years but the refit periods became longer and the service was bedevilled by breakdowns.
The 1940's and 1950's
For a short while a second ferry was used during the extended refits of Ferry No 1. Ferry No 2, as this additional ferry was known, was also steam-driven and had been purchased from its previous owners after it became redundant on the East to West Cowes service, across the river Medina on the Isle of Wight. It was a small ferry with space for only 8 cars and was really too small for use on winter service, even in those days. On the other hand it was better than nothing.
By the mid-1950's it was decided to replace the original steam ferry. The alternative replacements considered were a new ferry or a bridge, whichever met with most favour and support from local people. Many were against the idea of a bridge, which would, of necessity, have had to be at a high level and consequently would have dominated the view from all around the area. It was clear that any proposal to build a bridge would not gain sufficient support from the various local authorities so a new ferry was ordered instead.
Ferry No. 3
Ferry No 3 was built by J. Bolson & Son Ltd at Poole, it was diesel-electric powered and carried a maximum of 28 cars. It had an overall length (including prows) of 157 feet, a beam of 42 feet 6 inches and a draught, when loaded, of 3 feet 6 inches. It was equipped with three Ruston diesel engines and normally operated on two of these, although it could run on only one engine when necessary. This was a useful feature and meant that at least one engine acted as a spare at all times. Also repairs and strip-downs could be carried out without making any changes to the scheduled service times.
During the 35 years that it was in service Ferry No 3 proved to be very reliable. Annually the ferry carried something in the order of 650,000 vehicles of various sorts, up to the then 10 ton weight limit, and, if vehicle passengers are included, well over 1 million people. Ferry No. 3 helped enormously to popularise the service, which, over the years, attracted a hard-core of regular users and provided a unique experience for visitors to the area, many of whom were prepared to wait in quite long queues in order to travel on the ferry.
The 1960's and 1970's
The period since the last war has seen many changes, for example the connection with the Aman family ended in 1961 when the Raglan Property Company purchased the vast majority of the shares in the original company. Frank Aman, had died just before the war and one of his
sons, Gerard, died soon after the end of the war. The other son, Arthur, was not in a position to oversee the running of the company on his own and so Raglan were able to buy the entire business.
Soon after they took over Raglan drew up plans for a larger ferry with a capacity of some 40 cars. Before building could commence the property market suffered a recession due to the mid-1960's oil crisis. The property market remained depressed for some time and as a result Raglan themselves experienced protracted financial difficulties. Bankers required their borrowing's to be restructured so Raglan had no option but to cancel their plans for the new vessel. For many years profits from the ferry operation were used to prop up the property business elsewhere, as a consequence the ferry company suffered from a lack of investment. In the early 1980's Raglan's problems increased and the ferry company, which at this time was held by Raglan's bankers as security, had to be sold as part of another round of financial restructuring. Banks do not normally operate ferry companies so it was not long before the company was sold on to its present owners Fairacres Group Ltd. (Formerly Silvermist Properties [Chelmsford] Ltd.)
Despite its name Fairacres is very much a family concern and new members of staff will soon become aware of the deep interest Mr Rodney Kean and his family take in the company, its staff and operations. In the relatively short period since the Company came under the Fairacres/Silvermist wing a good many improvements have been made. Both slipways have been completely rebuilt, mains electricity laid on to Shell Bay, the old wooden buildings at Shell Bay replaced with a modern office, a roundabout and new toll booths constructed at Shell Bay and a new computerised toll system introduced. Some of the latter changes were made to improve the method of toll collection prior to the introduction, into service of the latest ferry.
"Bramble Bush Bay"
The present ferry "Bramble Bush Bay", came into service in January 1994, it is the fourth to operate this service but the first to actually have a name. It has been named after a small bay, located close to the Shell Bay side of the crossing. It is, in fact, the bay where several houseboats have been stationed for at least the last 50 years.
The new ferry at some 242 feet overall is about 80 feet longer than No. 3., it is wider too by 11 feet having a beam of about 53 feet 6 inches but the draught is virtually the same. The most effective difference between this ferry and all its predecessors is the increased car-carrying capacity. It has a nominal capacity of 48 cars but can quite easily accommodate 52 without difficulty, also buses, coaches and large trucks now only take up two car spaces instead of the four spaces occupied by these vehicles on Ferry No 3. As you might expect, over the 70 years or so since the company began operations the car-carrying capacity of the ferry in service has increased by 220%, rising from 15 in 1926 to the 48 of today.
The future prospects
Despite new and improved roads on the Wareham route round Poole Harbour, this crossing remains at least as popular as ever, if not more so. The long-term employment prospects for present staff are good especially now the new ferry has come into service. With ever more cars in use each year the company, as a whole, can look forward to the next 25 years, at least, with confidence.