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You are in: Dorset > Coast > Point 1: Swanage seafront

King Alfred's memorial on Swanage seafront

King Alfred's memorial on the seafront

Point 1: Swanage seafront

Start the walk at the Alfred Monument - the tall pillar on the promenade beside the Mowlem Theatre on Swanage seafront. We're going to find out about a battle that didn't happen, and how the town really 'rocked'.

This is where many visitors to Swanage will spend their time – on the beautiful sandy beach, enjoying a paddle, fish and chips and savouring the stunning views over to Ballard Down and Old Harry Rocks. But there is a lot more to Swanage than you might realise.

Cannon Balls

Cannon Balls on the Alfred Monument

Alfred's battle?

We’ll start the walk at the monument beside the beach, to Alfred the Great's victory against the Vikings in 877AD. Well actually, he may not have beaten them as such.

The evidence suggests that the 120 Danish ships were sailing west from Wareham to Exeter when they were probably ship-wrecked on Peveril Point - foundering in the fog and mist that can engulf Swanage Bay… or it might have been a storm that caused the 120 ships to founder … whatever the cause, it looks like it certainly wasn't because of a battle in Swanage Bay.

Nevertheless it didn’t stop John Mowlem building a monument to the ‘victory’ – topped with Russian cannon balls which had been fired at British ships during the Crimean war.

Family business

John Mowlem is someone you’ll hear a lot about in the story of Swanage. He was a local lad working in the quarries who went to London, and in true Dick Whittington style, made his fortune in the stone contracting business.

John Mowlem and George Burt

John Mowlem and George Burt

He retired back to Swanage and spent much of his fortune improving the town. His nephew George Burt took over the business and their influence is something we'll see all around Swanage.

The Mowlem construction company is still one of the biggest building and engineering companies in the UK – with an annual turnover of nearly 2 billion and more than 25,000 employees worldwide.

The chances are, the office block you are in, or the road outside, could have been built by the company John Mowlem set up.

Made of stone

Swanage was literally made of stone. The Purbeck stone had been used for centuries, and from 1700 it was hacked out of the surrounding cliffs and hillsides in increasing quantities. Cities like London and Portsmouth were growing incredibly quickly and demanding more and more building materials - Purbeck stone was used for paving streets.

The 'Bankers' - Swanage seafront in 1875

The 'Bankers' - Swanage seafront in 1875

Start walking towards the pier, taking care along the water's edge. This was known as the ‘bankers’ – where the Purbeck stone was stacked ready to be exported.

It was hauled down the slipway onto the beach on special carts with wheels big enough to be pulled out into the sea where it was transferred onto rowing boats and then onto larger ketches to be taken to London.

It was back-breaking work and not very efficient - divers who have explored the bottom of the bay, say it is littered with blocks of stone dropped during the process!

Continue walking towards the pier.

last updated: 29/01/2008 at 15:12
created: 06/07/2005

You are in: Dorset > Coast > Point 1: Swanage seafront

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