Swanage Bandstand to mark 100th birthday as friends charity disbands

Swanage Bandstand is to host a special carnival concert in August 2023 to celebrate its centenary – but will then have to find a new way forward as the charity which saved it closes down.

After six years of conducting an amazingly successful rescue plan, the Friends of Swanage Bandstand is to be wound up, with any remaining funds going towards its future maintenance.

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Rebuilt and ready for reopening, the bandstand in October 2019
LAWRENCE SANDFORD

Rebuilt and ready to reopen, Swanage Bandstand in October 2019

Finishing touches will soon be completed

The finishing touches to the project will be completed, including replacing some of the coping stones around the top of the seating circles. An events board to promote the bandstand has just been installed.

But the bandstand’s future will then be back in the hands of the town’s people to make the most of an important heritage asset which was very nearly lost for all time.

Swanage Town Band and singer Karen Grant have already agreed to take part in the evening concert on Wednesday 2nd August 2023 as part of Swanage Carnival week, but it is hoped that a barbershop quartet and many other musical groups will step forward to complete a whole day of events at the venue.

Alan Houghton, who organised the original fundraising drive to have the stricken bandstand rebuilt, hopes that the Swanage Information Centre will then be able to use it as an important element for attracting visitors to the town.

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Swanage Town Band plays a concert to raise rebuilding funds in 2017

“This was part of our local heritage”

Alan said:

“My involvement began when I heard that it was to be taken down and the area filled in, which to me was like a red rag to a bull as this was part of our local heritage – so I started a campaign of pledges which would only be called in when we got charity status and council support.

“Charity status came about very quickly, followed by a pledge from the council and from then on it was all systems go. What pleased me most was that out of all that money pledged, almost everyone followed up with a donation and we were only £80 light when it was all called in.

“The town rallied to our cause, with many donations coming from visitors who have had many happy memories of their times at the bandstand, which helps to explain how we achieved such a fantastic outcome.”

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Swanage Bandstand on its opening day in August 1923

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The original Walter MacFarlane bandstand plans

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The Swanage Town Band, pictured in 1948

Swanage’s jewel in the crown for many decades

Work began on the original Swanage bandstand in early 1923 after young soldiers who had returned home from World War One found themselves unemployed – so ‘for the benefit of their mental health’ they were put to work digging out the amphitheatre in which the bandstand sits.

They also built the surrounding walls and the two-tier seating area out of local Purbeck stone, with the bandstand itself built by Glasgow company Walter MacFarlane, the leading manufacturers of the cast iron ‘parkitecture’ movement of the 1920s.

It was one of the jewels in the crown for Swanage over many decades and even featured in tourist posters for the town, being given the same prominence in advertising as the steam railway, the sandy bay, paddle steamers and Punch and Judy on the beach.

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Tourism publicity for Swanage in the 1970s still featured the bandstand

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An aerial picture of Swanage in the 1980s with the bandstand still prominent

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The damaged roof was removed in 2012 following the discovery of asbestos

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An all time low – the remnants of the bandstand pictured in 2017

Roof was damaged in bitter winter storms

But during bitter storms in the winter of 2011 to 2012 the roof of the bandstand suffered severe damage and during subsequent inspections it was found to contain asbestos and had to be taken down.

The cast iron structure was believed to have been given away for scrap, angering many locals as by that time the bandstand was one of only four of its kind left in the country.

But that was nothing compared with the outcry in 2017 when Swanage Town Council announced that they were considering dismantling what was left of the bandstand and filling in the amphitheatre.

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The Save Swanage Bandstand public meeting of May 2017

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Fundraising events – this one in May 2018 – went ahead in the shell

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Swanage Town Council delivered a £50,000 cheque to help the fund along

Reopening ceremony attracted 500 in a storm

At a packed local meeting of more than 200 people, a campaign was launched to raise money towards the restoration and the Friends of Swanage Bandstand was formed, raising around £150,000 over the years.

Two significant grants were made by the Talbot Village Trust and the Coastal Revival Fund, and Swanage Town Council contributed a total of £80,000 towards the restoration and managed the project to rebuild the bandstand.

The official reopening ceremony was on Saturday 26th October 2019, postponed from a summer date as the work was not quite complete and unfortunately in the middle of an autumn storm, but still attended by an estimated 500 people.

Since then, many of the planned events have been disrupted or postponed by Covid and lockdown, but with the success of two December carol concerts, including one in sub zero temperatures, Alan hopes that the coming years will see much more frequent use of the bandstand.

Opening ceremony of Swanage Bandstand

The official reopening ceremony was more of a baptism as the rain lashed down on Saturday 26th October 2019

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The most recent event at the bandstand, a Christmas carol concert in December 2022

Bandstand exactly the way it originally was

Alan said:

“We have done what we pledged to do, and when you see the bandstand being used it makes me so proud of the town and I know that all the hard work was worthwhile.

“But in March 2023, we will have been doing this for six years and it will be time to start winding the charity up. We will disband the Friends of Swanage Bandstand, although if anyone else wants to set up anything else to replace it, they will be very welcome to.

“The bandstand is exactly the way I wanted it, the way it originally was. I was determined we would not have our heritage taken away from the town – it has been an incredibly important part of the local community for a century.”

Mr Bandstand, Alan Houghton, wants the venue kept as a central hub for town events

It should still be here in another 100 years

Alan added:

“Swanage is a wonderful place with an amazing community spirit and I would like to see the spirit shown while rescuing it continue, to keep it as a central hub for town events.

“I want the young people to use it for the sort of music they would like as well as the traditional brass bands and such. It’s important that the youth protect it and use it, as well as the rest of Swanage.

“It has now been here for a hundred years and with the support of all the town there is no reason at all why it shouldn’t still be here another hundred years from now.”

Watch the reopening ceremony in October 2019

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