Sway Tower: Hampshire's finest folly?
Peterson's Folly proved the versatility of concrete and provided work for unemployed locals.
Sway Tower, along Barrows Lane in the outskirts of Sway near Lymington, is 218 feet high and visible for miles around, making it one of Hampshire's best-known landmarks. It was the first building in Britain to be made of non-reinforced concrete and is also the tallest structure in the world to hold that distinction. It was built in the 1880s by wealthy local landowner Andrew Thomas Turton Peterson, who wanted to prove that concrete was a viable building material and create a centrepiece for his estate. He also wanted to provide work for unemployed locals: the build employed 40 men.
Andrew Thomas Turton Peterson was born in Yorkshire in 1813 and died in London in 1896. In the intervening 93 years he ran away to sea, became a lawyer, went to India, made a fortune, married Charlotte Myers St Clair, retired to Hampshire, became a Spiritualist, and built Peterson’s Tower. Known to be an eccentric, according to local legend he consulted a medium and made contact with Sir Christopher Wren, who encouraged him to build the folly.
Peterson wanted the tower to be his final resting place but his wife insisted on being buried in the local churchyard. On his death in 1906, his ashes were interred in the folly before being exhumed in 1957 and reburied in his wife’s grave.
The tower was badly damaged in the Great Storm of 1987 but was repaired with grants from English Heritage and local councils. Further restoration work was carried out in the early 1990s by the owner.
The Grade II listed building has a total of 14 storeys, all of which are reached via an enclosed spiral staircase (330 steps) attached to the outside of the tower. The views from the top - of the New Forest, the Solent and the Isle of Wight - are apparently breathtaking.