The Epic Gothic Strangeness Of This Quaint Seaside Town

Quite epic huh? Maybe it’s somewhere in the Aegean.

Ah, but no; because now you’re looking at the base and thinking it’s far too modern for that. So… London, right? Some public park there or, if not, Birmingham or Berlin or some big old world city.

But no. These two Ionian columns stand in Swanage, a small sea side town on the Isle of Purbeck, UK.

And Swanage is as postcard picturesque as you might expect, as full of comfortable creamy charm as it is gift shops, stony cottages, fish’n’chips and sea side piers. I mean, just look at the photo below…

But the place is festooned with so many pieces of epic and oversized masonry, seemingly plonked down by some titanic hand…

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In a few cases, these chunks of neo-classical or neo-gothic architecture are grafted on to what would otherwise be rather unassuming buildings; cafes and shops and such.

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So what gives? Well, it all goes back to a guy called John Mowlem. He (and later his nephew, George Burt) exported Purbeck limestone to London during the unprecedented construction boom of the Victorian era. But that entailed a problem. A logistical problem. Once Mowlem and Burt’s ships had dropped off their cargo in London they needed ballast of equal weight to sail back to Swanage.

Yup, they took discarded bits of Victorian London back with them. That’s why a sleepy seaside town with alleyways like this…

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…also has hotels like this…

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…with bits stuck on for the heck of it like this…img_3864

A nice side effect is that over the next century or so a sort of architectural feedback loop kicked in, leading to houses like this:

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I go to Swanage semi-regularly on account of family there. But I heartily recommend a sightseeing visit. It’s very inspiring in a surrealist kinda way. It’d make for a great artists/writers retreat or something I’m certain.

Oh, and there’s a chocolate shop to die for. But I’ll stop now before you think I’m taking a backhander from Swanage’s tourist board.

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