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Swanage, Dorset

Historical Description

Swanage or Swanwich, a small town and a parish in Dorsetshire. The town stands on Swanage Bay, with a station on the L. & S.W.R., 132 miles from London, and a post, money order, and telegraph office. It was known at Domesday as Swanawic or Sonwic, is a pleasant watering-place, consists chiefly of one street nearly a mile long, commands a fine view of the Hants coast and the Isle of Wight, and enjoys very fine environs, with many interesting natural features. In recent years almost a new town has sprung up, many good residences having been bnilt, and a fine estate known as Durleston Park laid out. The bathing is good, owing to the sands being very firm and sloping. There is a pier with landing stage for steamers, and also good fishing. The town-hall is a substantial stone building erected in 1883. On Peverel Point is a coastguard station with a battery commanding the bay, and a lighthouse has been erected at Anvil Point, near Durlston Head. Purbeck stone is quarried in the neighbourhood. Swanage Bay is proximately semi-circular, on a chord of 1½ mile, has a depth of from 5 to 8 fathoms, and affords good shelter in westerly winds. The parish includes Herston and Ulwell hamlets. Acreage, 3097; population, 2674. There is an urban district council of nine members. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Salisbury; net value, £370 with residence. The church of St Mary was rebuilt in 1859, and is a cruciform structure in the Early English style, with a lofty massive tower. There are Wesleyan and Congregational chapels, a mission church and chapel of ease, and a working-men's institute. An eminent medical expert once wrote to a Swanage gentleman that if he were asked to select the purest air in England, or anywhere else so far as his knowledge went, he would take the top of the hill at Swanage. " The High Cliff at Hastings," continued the expert in his letter, " has the reputation of having the purest air in England, but if you take a herring just caught from the sea and hang it up there, it will putrify in time, as it would anywhere else; but if you hang a herring up on the top of the hill at Swanage, it will ' dry off.'" This curious experiment, according to " Swanage," edited by John Braye, has actually been performed many times, and always with the result predicted by the medical man.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyDorsetshire 
DioceseBristol1542 - 1836
DioceseSalisbury1836 -
Poor Law unionWareham and Purbeck1836 -
Registration districtWareham 
Registration sub-districtSwanage 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

The register dates for baptisms from 1563, marriages 1595, burials 1568. The original register books are now deposited with the Dorset Archives Service, but have been digitised by and made available on their site (subscription required).


Church of England

St. Mary (parish church)

The parish church of St. Mary, and interesting structure of the early 13th century, was entirely rebuilt, with the exception of the tower, in the years 1859 and 1860, and enlarged in 1908 by an extension of the north aisle, at a cost of about £6,000: it is a cruciform building of stone in the Early English style, consisting of chancel, nave, transepts, north aisle, south porch and tower 80 feet in height and containing a clock and 8 bells, 4 of which were hung in 1888 in memory of Mrs. Elizabeth Burt, who died Jan. 6th, 1886: there are tablets and brasses to Henry Welles, of Godlingston, d. 25th Jan. 1607, aged 91, and Marie (Pole), his wife, d. 1560, and to the Edmonds family, one of whom, John Edmonds, was killed in Cuba in 1794: there are also memorial windows to Rear-Admiral Sir Eaton S. Travers K.H. d. 1858, Ann Palmer, his wife, d. 1864, to John Mowlem, d. 1868, Susanna Mowlem, d. 1849, Elizabeth Sophia, wife of J. Davies Sewell, d. 1880, and Thomas Randell, d. 1869: the communion plate of silver gilt was the gift of Elizabeth Toop, wife of Abraham Storey, citizen and mason of London, and is dated 1693: the church affords 1,000 sittings. The ground now used as the cemetery is a little to the north of the church, detached from the building.

Civil Registration

Swanage was in Wareham Registration District from 1837 to 1937 and Poole Registration District from 1937 to 1974

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Swanage from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Dorset is available to browse.


Online maps of Swanage are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the Dorset County Chronicle and the Sherborne Mercury online.

Villages, Hamlets, &c


Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Dorset, 1623 is available on the Heraldry page.

RegionSouth West
Postal districtBH19
Post TownSwanage