The seaside town of Swanage, Dorset, is a popular holiday
destination. The long, golden beach swells with tourists all
summer and the bay is speckled with small boats. But two
hundred years ago Swanage looked very different and it was about
to gain the nickname of 'Old London by the Sea'.
Clare House was built around 1875 by George
Burt as the town’s indoor market on what was, at that time, the Durlston Estate.
owned and farmed by various farmers and landowners but, in 1863, George Burt purchased a significant part of Durlston and a new era began. George Burt was born in 1816, and worked
locally as a stone mason before moving to London, at the age of 19, to work for his uncle John Mowlem. Using his wealth, Burt played a major part in the plans to transform Swanage from an 'old world village' to a fashionable seaside spa.
It was not until George Burt retired in 1886, that he turned his energies to developing further his estate with the newly commissioned Durlston Head Castle as its centrepiece. The Castle was constructed by a local builder, William Masters Hardy, and despite its traditional appearance, an iron frame lies behind its stone cladding..
Fired by a Victorian zeal for learning and the natural world, George Burt set about transforming the rest of his estate. The most spectacular of his many creations was the Great Globe. George Burt's developments were not confined to building work. His estate was landscaped and planted with a variety of plants from around the world and it is worth noting that 50 men were employed to maintain Burt's ' New Elysian landscape'.
It was about this time that Clare House was constructed using the local stone. Evidence of its original purpose can still be seen; the original porch over, what was the main entrance, hangs over the corner of the building and mouldings of produce, fish and rabbits can be seen above the keystones in the window frames.
Some years later the site was acquired by the religious order, the Sisters of Poor Clare, who added a red brick extension that included two further accommodation floors, evidence of their occupation is illustrated with the two stone crosses on the walls of the first floor.
After the Sisters of Poor Clare the building has been used as a convalescence home and a private dwelling before becoming a guest house at the start of this century.