Swanage is a coastal town and civil parish in the south east of Dorset, England. It is situated at the eastern end of the Isle of Purbeck, approximately 61⁄4 miles (10km) south of Poole and 25 miles (40km) east of Dorchester. In the 2011 census the civil parish and two electoral wards had a population of 9,601. Nearby are Ballard Down and Old Harry Rocks, with Studland Bay and Poole Harbour to the north. Within the parish are Durlston Bay and Durlston Country Park to the south of the town. The parish also includes the areas of Herston, just to the west of the town, and Durlston, just to the south.
The town, originally a small port and fishing village, flourished in the Victorian era, when it first became a significant quarrying port and later a seaside resort for the rich of the day. Today the town remains a popular tourist resort, this being the town's primary industry, with many thousands of visitors coming to the town during the peak summer season, drawn by the bay's sandy beaches and other attractions.
During its history the bay was listed variously as Swanawic, Swanwich and Sandwich, and only in more recent history as Swanage.
The town is located at the eastern end of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site. The town contains many listed buildings and two conservation areas – Swanage Conservation Area and Herston Conservation Area.
While fishing is likely the town's oldest industry, quarrying has been important to the town and the local area since at least the 1st century AD. During the time of the Roman occupation this industry grew, with the distinctive Purbeck marble being used for decorative purposes in buildings as far away as London. When the Romans left Britain, quarrying largely ceased until the 12th century.
The town is first mentioned in historical texts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 877. It is stated as being the scene of a great naval victory by King Alfred over the Danes: "This year came the Danish army into Exeter from Wareham; whilst the navy sailed west about, until they met with a great mist at sea, and there perished one hundred and twenty ships at Swanwich." A hundred Danish ships which had survived the battle were driven by a storm onto Peveril Point, a shallow rocky reef outcropping from the southern end of Swanage Bay. A monument topped (historically incorrectly) by cannonballs was built in 1882 by John Mowlem to celebrate this event and is situated at the southern end of the seafront promenade.
In the 12th century demand for Purbeck Marble grew once again. While Purbeck marble is not suited to external use, as it does not weather well, it is however strong and suitably decorative for use as internal columns. As such the stone was used in the construction of many large churches and cathedrals being built at the time.
In contrast to the decorative Purbeck marble, Purbeck limestone, or more commonly 'Purbeck stone', has been used in construction locally since the early days of quarrying on Purbeck. Its use is less well documented as it was taken for granted as the default construction materials in the area. However, the arrival of more modern quarrying techniques in the 17th century resulted in an increase in production. The Great Fire of London in 1666 led to a period of large-scale reconstruction in the city, and Purbeck stone was extensively used for paving. It was in this time that stone first started being loaded upon ships directly from the Swanage seafront; before this time quarried stone had been first transported to Poole for shipping.
The idea that Swanage could become a tourist destination was first encouraged by a local MP William Morton Pitt in the early 19th century, who converted a mansion in the town into a luxury hotel. The hotel is noted for having been visited in 1833 by the (then) Princess Victoria, later to become queen. The building was later renamed the Royal Victoria Hotel.
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