Swanage Bay
Harbourside Apartments
The Open Air Theatre

Swanage Visitor Guide


Swanage, a small coastal town in the south east of Dorset, is found at the eastern end of the Isle of Purbeck. The earliest remains discovered in this locale date from the Middle Stone Age and artefacts from around 2500 BC have been found near Swanage itself. Fishing is the town's oldest industry but quarrying has been vital to the town and the surrounding area since the 1st century AD. The region had already been trading with Rome prior to the invasion and local industries, such as quarrying, continued under their control. During the Roman occupation the quarrying industry grew, with the unique Purbeck marble being used for decoration in buildings as far away as London. Quarrying by and large stopped until the 12th century following the Romans’ departure.

The town is first mentioned in historical texts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 877AD. It is recorded as being the location of a great naval victory by King Alfred over the Danes.

In the 12th century there was more demand for Purbeck marble. While it is not suited to exterior use as it does not weather well, Purbeck marble is strong and decorative enough for use as interior columns. The stone was used in the building of numerous large churches and cathedrals. The Great Fire of London in 1666 led to a considerable rebuilding of the city, and Purbeck stone was widely used for paving. It was in this time that the stone first began being loaded upon ships directly from the Swanage seafront.

A local MP William Morton Pitt in the early 19th century put forward the idea that Swanage could become a tourist destination and he converted a mansion in the town into a luxury hotel. The hotel was visited in 1833 by the then Princess, later Queen, Victoria.


The town came to greatest eminence during the Victorian period because of John Mowlem (1788-1868), a Swanage resident, who became a successful builder in London, and his nephew George Burt (1816-1894) who took over the business when Mowlem retired. They were responsible for the construction of much of the Swanage's infrastructure, including the town's first pier, the Mowlem Institute (a reading room), the first gas and water works, and the development of the Durlston estate and CountryPark. The Great Globe which can be found in DurlstonCountryPark was finished by George Burt in 1887. It is made up of 15 sections of stone joined together with granite dowels and is 10 feet in diameter and weighs 40 tons.


The railway was brought to Swanage in 1885 by the London and South Western Railway Company with the support of George Burt. At this time the town was developing as a fashionable resort destination for the wealthy, known for its fine weather and clean air. The largest increase in visitors came with the construction of the Swanage Pier in 1896 which was built principally for use by pleasure steamers.


During the Second World War gun emplacements and pillboxes were built at spots along the shoreline at the southern end of the bay. The town and other nearby villages were renowned for helping in the crucial development of radar.


Disclaimer: The information in this Tourist Guide has been researched from a variety of sources including books, articles and online information. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information the reader should check any specific facts for themselves before making any decisions based upon the said information.

Swanage Tourist Information Centre

The White House
Shore Road
BH19 1LB

01929 422885

Email mail@swanage.gov.uk

  Swanage Community Hospital

Queens Road
BH19 2ES

01929 422282


Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015

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