It has dominated the New Forest skyline for more than a century, a long, lean concrete structure whose origins are quite bizarre.

Designed by Yorkshire-born Andrew Thomas Turton Peterson (1813-1906), many consider Peterson’s Tower in Sway to be Hampshire’s finest folly.

Like the tower, his life was hailed for being remarkable in a variety of ways.

As a boy he ran away to sea where, heroically, he took charge of his ship after a mutiny before returning to a life on land to resume his education.

As a man he obtained legal qualifications, made his fortune as a barrister and judge in India, then retired to England and settled in the Forest.

During his time in Calcutta, Peterson developed an enthusiasm for concrete and then used it extensively as a building material in India. Despite this, he didn’t use it in England - but that was soon to change.

Paterson wanted to prove to the English that concrete was a viable building material when using a technique called “Roman concrete”, which involved mixing Portland cement with water, sand and gravel.

Bournemouth Echo: Peterson's Folly, more commonly known as Sway Tower, pictured standing proud above the tree-line in 1988..

In Hordle he began his own building project using concrete as the main material and soon employed a local workforce which he personally directed.

By paying the highest wages in the area and employing unemployed workers, he earned a reputation as a model employer.

In fact, it was his concern about unemployment that led to the construction of the tower.

Peterson was also an obsessive spiritualist. Over the course of seven years, he received 1,000 messages from the spirits through his own employed medium.

As his other buildings neared completion, he sought spiritualistic advice on the future employment of his men.

According to an authoritative account published in 1927, Peterson “received directions from Sir Christopher Wren (through a medium in the usual course) to build the tower”.

Bournemouth Echo: The swimming pool inside of Peterson's Folly, more commonly known as Sway Tower, pictured in May 1991..

After choosing a site on a prehistoric barrow, work began in 1879 and continued for six years at a cost of £30,000 - almost £3 million today!

The result was a 218-foot tower, unique and for many years the world’s tallest unreinforced building.

“The method of building was an entirely original one, the whole of the work being done from the inside without the aid of any outside scaffolding,” reads an account from 1927.

“After the foundations had been laid, specially made wooden frames were fitted in the place where the walls were to be built, blocked apart and then bolted to vertical battens on each side of the walls.

“The inside of the framework was then filled with concrete.

Three rows of frames were used, each 18 inches high. When the top frame had been filled and rammed, the bottom one, in which the concrete had already set, was removed and placed on the top ready to be used again for a fresh course.”

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The materials were hauled up by means of a derrick and pulley system and a rope attached to a bucket at one end and a horse at the other. As the horse was led away the bucket of cement would rise.

The tower has 13 floors and a spiral staircase consisting of 330 separately moulded steps.

At the top is a covered observatory from which, on a clear day, can offer views of the Isle of Wight, Portsdown Hill, the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, Christchurch Priory and the Purbeck Hills.

Peterson’s plans to install electric lighting were thwarted by shipping authorities who feared it would mislead vessels in the Solent.

He also withdrew free public access after people abused the privilege by damaging the structure and throwing objects from the windows.

But over the years the tower survived lightning strikes and a century of English weather comprehensively vindicating its creator’s faith in the strength of concrete, which was much disputed at the time.

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It was damaged in the great storm of 1987 but this led to a surge of interest in its preservation with grants from English Heritage and New Forest and Hampshire Council.

Further restoration work was carried out when a private owner acquired the imposing tower during the early nineties for £2,700 from Peterson’s descendants, with the ambition of turning the folly into one of Britain’s most off-beat hotels, complete with four opulent bedrooms and a swimming pool.

The iconic Grade II listed landmark was put up for sale in 2021 but anyone who wants to purchase the property will need to have £2.75 million in the bank.

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