Swanage is a small town on the coast at the edge of the Purbecks. Originally it was a small port and fishing village.
The town grew in the Victorian era, when it first became a significant quarrying port and later a seaside resort.
Purbeck marble and Purbeck stone have been taken from the limestone cliffs near Swanage for hundreds of years.
Quarrying was a family run industry with small works on the cliff edges. Stone quarried from these workings was lowered into small boats below the cliffs using wooden cranes called “whims”. From there the boats sailed into Swanage and off loaded their cargo ready for use locally. The stone was also shipped to London and other cities.
London pavements were repaved with Purbeck stone after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Purbeck stone is used today for landscaping and for building.
The original Swanage Pier was constructed in 1859/60 for the Swanage Pier and Tramway Company. It was opened by John Mowlem. The Pier was built primarily for shipping stone. Horses were used to pull carts loaded with Purbeck stone along the narrow gauge tramway which ran along the Pier and seafront.
Swanage developed as a holiday destination during late Victorian times and became a popular seaside destination for the wealthy.
George Burt started a steamer service between Swanage, Poole and Bournemouth in 1874 and the Pier was used for day-trippers as well as for shipping Purbeck stone.
In late Victorian times, there was improvement in ordinary working people’s lives and income. This, together with the arrival of the railway in 1885, allowed many more ordinary people to enjoy the benefits of the seaside at Swanage.
The Arrival of the Railway
The arrival of the railway to Swanage, connecting from Wareham, in 1885, made the transportation of Purbeck quarrying products much easier and quicker.
The ball clay and other mineral workings on the Isle of Purbeck had not been connected to this branch line at first. But by the beginning of the twentieth century, rail connections were made, and the minerals were transported away by rail.
Swanage was developing rapidly in 1885. However, having been left out of the Corkscrew Railway forty years previously, the town now needed a railway conection.
The independent company which built the Swanage Railway was amalgamated in 1886 with the larger London and South Western Railway. Swanage Pier Tramway was not connected to the network at that time so Purbeck stone continued t go by sea to London for many more years.
In the first decade of the twentieth century, taking holidays at seaside resorts became a major pastime. Through trains from London to Swanage became part of the timetable. In 1931 there were thirteen daily passenger trains on the branch.
Children’s book writer Enid Blyton holidayed in the area, and she used the Swanage railway. She would generally include a train journey, inspired by her own experiences, in her Famous Five books.
The passenger service was withdrawn in 1972. Freight service continued over part of the line handling mineral traffic from the Purbecks.
Swanage Heritage Railway
Today the town remains a popular tourist resort with many thousands of visitors coming to the town during the peak summer season. They come for the bay’s sandy beaches and other attractions.
The railway is still an attraction today. There is a steam heritage Swanage Railway, operating a regular passenger service between Swanage and Corfe Castle.
See our Events and Activities page for more details of this exciting heritage resource, including special events trains and live webcam feeds.