Swanage in Dorset is one of my ancestral places – my mother’s forebears with surnames Read, Saunders, Barter and Edmonds lived here in the 18th and early 19th centuries before their descendants moved to Poole.
The earliest ancestor I can trace to Swanage is my 8-great-grandfather John Barter, who was buried here in 1733.
The parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Swanage, Dorset, is on Church Hill and was entirely rebuilt in 1859/60 in Early English style, apart from the tower.
The tower itself may date back to Saxon times. The massive walls rise in four stages to a height of 80 feet – the three lower stages are of the 14th century and the top stage was built about 1620.
The church has some lovely stained glass of various ages (see images below). And here is a guide to the church’s history and architecture.
Since Roman times Swanage has been the centre of the local stone industry. It became a quarry town and harbour from which Purbeck Marble was shipped for use in many cathedrals in Europe.
The sea off Swanage was the site of one of a great sea battle when King Alfred destroyed a Danish fleet of more than 100 vessels in 878.
In 1820 William Morton Pitt bought the estate and tried to make Swanage a seaside resort but with limited success until the railway arrived in 1885. For this reason the town is full of late 19th and early 20th century buildings.
The railway to Swanage closed in 1972 but has been re-opened by the Swanage Railway Company who now run steam trains. See my page on the Corfe Castle stretch of this line.
You can also get to Swanage by pleasure boat from Poole, going around Old Harry Rocks – I’ve a blog page for that, too.
One of Swanage’s most famous sons was John Mowlem, (1788-1868), a poor boy who went to London and eventually founded the great building company of Mowlem.
You’ll find a few more of “my” East Dorset churches here