Sway Tower, The 14-Story Folly And The World Tallest Unreinforced Concrete Structure

Aug 25, 2020 2 comments

On the outskirts of Sway, a village near Lymington, on Britain’s south coast, stands a peculiar Victorian tower. Visible for miles around, the narrow rectangular tower shoots straight up into the sky for more than two hundred feet, and is crowed by a cupola. A spiraling staircase housed within a separate but adjacent hexagonal tower allows visitors access to all the fourteen floors and the top.

Sway Tower is a folly, a purposeless building, that housed nothing but pigeons for more than a hundred years, until about 45 years ago when it was converted into a residential house. The kicker is—there is not a single piece of iron support anywhere in the entire concrete building. Sway Tower was the first building in Britain to be made of non-reinforced concrete, and is also the tallest structure in the world to be built without reinforcement.

Sway Tower

Photo: VIP International Homes

Sway Tower was built in the 1880s by Judge Andrew Thomas Turton Peterson, after his retirement from judicial services at the Supreme Court of Calcutta. While in India, Peterson turned to spiritualism, and after returning to Britain, decided to build the tower. The story goes that Peterson made contact with the ghost of acclaimed English architect Sir Christopher Wren, through a medium, and it was Wren who encouraged him to build the folly.

Andrew Peterson was a good man, and he employed only the unemployed to build the tower, giving some 40-odd people work over a six-year period, from 1879 to 1885. He paid a living wage as well as built cottages for the poor on his estate. In all the Tower cost him around £30,000—an enormous sum of money at that time.

The tower is 66 meters (216 feet) tall and 5.5 meters (18 feet) square, and it rests on a foundation 2.7 meters deep. The concrete is 60 cm thick at the base of the tower. The thickness of the concrete walls gradually tapers as the tower rises to a final thickness of 30 cm at the top. The spiral staircase is housed externally in an octagonal stairwell.

Sway Tower

Photo: VIP International Homes

Peterson wanted to have a light at the top of the tower but this was denied because the light would have confused passing vessels. Peterson had another wish—he wanted the tower to be his final resting place. Thus, upon his death in 1906, Sway Tower became his mausoleum until 1957, when his body was exhumed and reburied in the local churchyard alongside his wife’s grave.

In 1973, the tower was bought by Paul and Julie Atlas. At that time, it was a derelict building invaded by pigeons. The seventh floor was full of sand from the time when it was used as a defense against enemy aircraft. Paul cleaned the tower of nearly 18 tons of pigeon dropping, and converted it into a garden shed and workshop. Then it became a bread and breakfast, and finally Paul and Julie’s home.

In 2018, Sway Tower was put on the market, initially for £3.5 million, then dropped to £1.6 million. Currently, the property is not on the market, but news on whether Paul and Julie made a successful sale is also missing.

Sway Tower

Photo: VIP International Homes

Sway Tower

Photo: VIP International Homes

Sway Tower

Photo: VIP International Homes

References:
# Sway Tower: Hampshire's finest folly?, https://www.lymington.com/lymington-life/locally/894-sway-tower
# http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=125
# Emma Caulton, A look inside Sway Tower, https://www.hampshire-life.co.uk/homes-gardens/property-market/a-look-inside-sway-tower-1-4789490

Comments

  1. They looks like an amazing place to live! However, I find myself short if the £1.6 million.

    ReplyDelete
  2. For US viewers, the structure is about 20 foot square and the distorted photos don't do it justice. Not handicap accessible. lol

    ReplyDelete

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