Newly discovered 1930s posters to jazz up Swanage’s Mowlem

A treasure trove of theatre memorabilia has been found at The Mowlem and is about to play a part in brightening up the Swanage seafront showbar.

Posters from productions at The Mowlem in the 1930s were found during refurbishment work, folded up in a box which had been stored out of sight in a cupboard, while broken pieces of old neon signs were discovered under the floorboards in the projector room.


The Mowlem’s Showbar is about to get a facelift from the past

Restore a page of history for £100

Now they are being restored one by one with the intention of installing them in the building’s bar room, and Swanage residents and businesses are being invited to sponsor restoration of the historic theatre posters at £100 each.

More than £500 has already been raised to frame and display posters for plays staged by the Swanage Drama and Music Society including The Irish Girl, Passing Brompton Road, Nothing But The Truth and Ann, all thought to date back to the 1930s.

A new crowdfunder campaign hopes to see each poster sponsored by locals, where money raised will pay for framing and help towards the ‘160 for 160′ campaign.

This aim is to raise £160,000 to celebrate 160 years since The Mowlem Institute charity was founded, and includes the Take Your Seat initiative in which 40 people so far have paid £200 each to dedicate a chair in the auditorium.


Paul Angel pictured with the first of the posters to be restored and framed

“It is amazing how they have survived”

Chair of The Mowlem trustees, Paul Angel said:

“These posters are a wonderful piece of Swanage history and it is amazing how they’ve survived. They date back to the period before the present building was built, and we’d love to know if anybody remembers or is related to any of the local names which appear on them.

“Our Showbar is already popular because of the stunning views over Swanage Bay, and all profits from the bar and kiosk go towards maintaining The Mowlem as a public venue. We want to make it an even lovelier venue for locals to visit.

“The posters were found in the first lockdown in 2020 – at some point after the current Mowlem was built in 1967 they were folded up in a plastic box, moved into storage in the old kitchen, and forgotten about. I rescued them and flattened them out over time.”

Part of The Mowlem’s 1960s red neon sign has been repaired and restored

Red neon signs to be pieced back together

Paul added:

“More recently, we found the letters of the red neon signs that were on the beach facing side of The Mowlem underneath the floorboards in the projector room.

“They were in a number of pieces, so we are putting them back together and placing neon tubes back inside with the idea that they will go in the bar as wall lights – though at the moment we have only pieced the M, the O and the E back together.

“It’s amazing what you find – we have also discovered some stacking chairs from the 1950s which will come back into the bar room once they have been sanded down and restored, which again is quite a job!

“We hope that money raised from sponsorship of the posters will also pay for some plants, planters and lamps to really spruce the place up, and although we have a busy summer ahead it would be really nice if it could all be ready for autumn.”

Some of the 1930s theatre posters waiting to be restored and framed

Another selection from the treasure trove of forgotten posters

Phone Swanage 18 to book your tickets…

Only one of the original posters does not relate to The Mowlem, which is for a performance of music and drama at The Forres School Chapel, and only one of the posters – for the comedy Paddy, The Next Best Thing – has a date on, for 1936.

Tickets for many of the performances could be reserved at the Albany Music Stores in Station Road by phoning Swanage 18; presumably not many buildings in Swanage had telephones at that time, although the number was changed to 2018 at some point.

A lot of the shows feature the same names including Mr PH Cox, Mr JP Ellis, Miss Morvyn Fenwick-Owen and the Misses Marjorie and Biddy Kendrick and The Mowlem hopes that some of them may be recognised today by members of long-time Swanage families.

How it looks now – the unadorned wall above the Showbar’s seating area


And an artist’s impression of how it could look with the framed posters on display

“We’d love to know more about the players”

The Mowlem spokesperson Kristian Wingfield-Bennett said:

“Our aim now is to frame as many posters as we can and to display them for public enjoyment and to celebrate the history of our theatre.

“We’d love to know more about the posters, plays and players, so please do get in touch if you can help us identify the year in which any others were performed or you have a link to any of the stars of the shows!

“One additional poster is completely different, but we’d love to frame this one too – it dates from 1980 and advertises films and performances in the modern building including Superman II and Flash Gordon!

“Each poster will be carefully preserved behind UV-safe glass in high quality bespoke frames supplied by The Mulberry Tree Gallery here in Swanage.

“We had a sample framed, for the show Tom Jones and it looks fantastic, so we’d now like to get as many as we can on the walls so that people can see them for the first time in decades.”

The bar room with the best view in Swanage is about to become even smarter

Further information

  • Take a look at the posters in detail and to sponsor one of the posters visit The Mowlem’s Crowdfunder page
  • Keep up to date with all shows and events at The Mowlem on its website

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