Located centrally in Swanage’s Square and right by the sea, is Swanage Museum & Heritage Centre – a pocket-sized vault of Purbeck history.
Step inside the museum on your visit to the beach or shopping trip in town to learn about Swanage’s transformation from a simple fishing village, through being a prime stone quarrying location, to a flourishing Victorian seaside resort on the world-renowned Jurassic Coast.
Learn all about Swanage’s founding fathers George Burt and John Mowlem (who Swanage’s cinema & theatre The Mowlem is named after). Burt and Mowlem rejuvenated Swanage by bringing an improved infrastructure to the town and by putting Swanage on the map as a prime tourist destination, which it still is today.
For such an unassuming little building, Swanage Museum & Heritage Centre is bursting with history, right from the area’s Jurassic connections through to stories of how Swanage was affected during WWII.
Find some fun souvenirs to take home with you in the museum shop, and if you want to combine your trip with a lunch in town, the museum’s right opposite two of Swanage’s popular fish & chip shops, and it’s just a short stroll to all the other cafés, pubs and restaurants.
Purbeck Radar Museum Trust
A small exhibition area in the museum is dedicated to a unique piece of Purbeck history that tells the story of the development of early radar in the UK.
This pioneering wartime work was carried out at nearby Worth Matravers.
Read all about this surprising story in Swanage Museum and take a breathtaking walk out to see the radar memorial itself along the South West Coast Path.
Swanage History Centre
Swanage Museum is closely linked with the town’s History Centre, which holds archives of information and photographs on local places and people.
The centre’s volunteers can assist (by prior arrangement) in helping you trace your ancestors, or simply find out more about any piece of local history in Swanage you might be interested in, via images, family trees, artwork, books, public records and censuses.
The History Centre is based at the Victoria Avenue Industrial Estate.
Opening times & admission information
Swanage Museum & Heritage Centre is open for most of the year between 11am – 3pm as follows:
- Easter holidays till end of October – Sunday to Friday
- November & December – Saturday and Sunday opening only
Admission to Swanage Museum is free.
Support the museum…
By becoming a member
As Swanage Museum is a charity, it’s volunteer-run and relies on donations to keep it thriving.
If you’d like to help ensure this special piece of Swanage’s history keeps its doors open for years to come, you can become a member for just £6 a year, or £50 for lifetime membership.
As a member of Swanage Museum, you’ll benefit from discounted events, such as museum talks, and receive a bi-annual newsletter – members are actively encouraged to contribute to this publication, which is a great way to get involved in a hands-on way.
Download the membership application for on Swanage Museum’s website: swanagemuseum.org.uk/get-involved/
Get to know some new, friendly people in Swanage by lending some time and sharing your skills at the museum.
There are lots of different ways to get involved, from welcoming visitors and curating displays, to more behind-the-scenes activities, such as creating online content for the museum’s website and simple maintenance work.
The museum team often needs help with assistance during school visits, and there’s also a dedicated team for local historical research – help local people and those with connections with Swanage to find out their local family history here.
To find out more and become a Swanage Museum volunteer, email: email@example.com or call the main museum phone number.
To contact both Swanage Museum and the History Centre, call or email:
- 📞 01929 421427
- 📥 firstname.lastname@example.org
- ℹ️ swanagemuseum.org.uk
More nearby Dorset museums & historical exhibition spaces
Discover more intriguing Dorset history both little and large – from Corfe Castle’s tiny village museum in England’s smallest town hall, to the wonders of the largest creatures ever to roam earth in the Dorset Museum.
Check out these museums and explore a new area of Dorset for the day:
Museums in Purbeck
There are nuggets of history dotted all around the Isle of Purbeck – both in its landscape, like the fossil forest in Lulworth Cove and the many ancient burial mounds in the area, as well as in village and town museums. Many of these are free to enter and all are also lovely places to visit, so you can easily make a day of it.
As well as Swanage Museum, the town has a further exhibition space at Swanage Pier, where you can learn about the pier’s creation, decline, and subsequent rejuvenation. The old pier is adjacent to the new pier and both together form a prominent and much-loved feature of Swanage Bay.
You might also be interested in the various other historical landmarks dotted around Swanage, including the imposing obelisk on Ballard Down, the great globe and faux-castle folly at Durlston Country Park, and the various other Burt-era artefacts dotted around Swanage’s streets, including London bollards, the Wellington clock tower and even building facades, such as that of Swanage Town Hall.
Head to the fascinating and striking Kimmeridge Bay to get up close and personal to Dorset’s Jurassic Coast past. There’s geology in its cliff faces, fossils in the rocks beneath them, and a chance to examine the many fossils and ammonites found locally at The Etches Collection Museum of Jurassic Marine Life.
While you’re in Kimmeridge, stop at the Fine Foundation Wild Seas Centre to learn about today’s sea life in the waters around the bay.
Whilst not strictly a museum, the nearby Tyneham village that stopped in time has its own incredible historical story to tell.
The village of Corfe Castle not only boasts one of the most impressive castle ruins in the UK, but is also proudly home to England’s smallest town hall & museum, which showcases a potted history of the area from iguanodon through Purbeck’s mining history to the village as we know it today.
To learn more about the area’s ball clay mining past, head to the nearby Purbeck Mineral & Mining Museum, just outside Corfe by Norden train station, where you can walk through a replica underground mining tunnel.
Also in Corfe is the Swanage Railway Museum – a must-visit little attraction whether you’re taking a trip on the railway or simply having a potter around Corfe’s pretty square and streets for the day. You’ll find the museum at Corfe Castle Railway Station.
Langton & Worth Matravers
If small-but-perfectly-formed is how you like to digest your history, then head to the tiny museums in these two neighbouring villages close to Swanage.
The pub in Worth Matravers, The Square & Compass, famously dedicates a back room to a collection of locally-found fossils, and Langton Matravers’ Purbeck Stone Museum housed in an old coach house celebrates the importance of Purbeck stone and quarrying in the area over the centuries.
Museums further afield
Wareham Town Museum gives a fascinating insight into Wareham’s rich history, from prehistoric times to present day.
It has lots of fascinating information about the town’s Saxon heritage, as well as its most famous frequent visitor, Lawrence of Arabia.
To get truly immersed in Wareham’s history, after your visit to the museum head outside to explore the old Saxon walls, visit the beautiful carved effigy of T E Lawrence in St Martin-on-the-Walls Church, and pop by the quirky outdoor exhibition of the old town pound.
The Tank Museum in nearby Bovington is a renowned collection of some 300 tanks from around the world.
Nine different exhibition spaces bring the stories behind these military machines to life, and the museum often holds special exhibitions and events, such as its ever-popular Tiger Day and Tankfest.
The Tank Museum also has a soft play area and café and is next door to riding centre the RAC Saddle Club.
Find out more on the museum’s website: tankmuseum.org
In the heart of Poole Old Town is Poole Museum – a collection of interactive exhibits telling the history of Poole town.
The museum holds various talks and children’s activities throughout the year. Find out what’s on next on their website: www.poolemuseum.org.uk/whats-on/
While you’re there, you can visit the museum’s sister site Scaplen’s Court, a medieval house and pretty walled garden.
📍 Find Poole Museums at 4 High Street, postcode: BH15 1BW
The Russell Coates Museum & Gallery is one of Bournemouth’s hidden gems. Explore the decadent rooms, tranquil garden and four gallery spaces of this special Victorian house.
📍The Russell Coates Museum is located on East Cliff Promenade, Bournemouth, BH1 3AA
Also in Bournemouth, although a little out of town, near the airport and close to Adventure Wonderland, is Bournemouth Aviation Museum, where you can have a go inside the cockpit of a range of aircraft. Find out more on the museum’s website: www.bamhurn.org
Dorset Museum (formerly Dorset County Museum) is a jewel in Dorchester’s crown. Located centrally on High West Street, the museum is a vibrant hub of regular exhibitions, talks and events that has recently undergone extensive redevelopment. Permanent collections include galleries of the art, culture, history and people of Dorset. Find out more and book tickets or buy an annual pass on the Dorset Museum website: www.dorsetmuseum.org
Just up the road from the Dorset Museum is Dorchester’s fascinating Shire Hall, an 18th Century courthouse. It holds exhibitions, performances and family events, and has a popular café. And nearby you’ll find the intriguing ruin of a Roman town house.
Also in Dorchester is the small but informative Dinosaur Museum, The Tutankhamun Exhibition and The Keep Military Museum. And, if you’re interested in art, Dorchester’s Sculpture By the Lakes is definitely worth a visit.
Step back in time at the market town of Wimborne Minster’s Museum of East Dorset (formerly the Priests’ House Museum) and experience what life was like for people over the years in a traditional rural Dorset market town. There’s a tea room, garden and gift shop and the town itself makes for a great day out. Find out more on the museum’s website: museumofeastdorset.co.uk
Also visit the Minster itself while you’re there, which houses one of the UK’s last ‘chained’ libraries.