History of Swanage high street revealed in new exhibition

A major new exhibition at Swanage Museum features bygone photographs of the town’s shops and restaurants showing what Swanage town centre used to look like.

The mainly black and white photos feature names that were once familiar but have since disappeared. Only one remains the same – but only for now.

Mel Norris, Swanage Museum chairman

Mel Norris outside Swanage Museum in The Square just off the High Street

“Link up shops as they are today with the history”

Mel Norris, chair of Swanage Museum, said:

“The exhibition is to link up shops as they are today with the history of Swanage. We are hoping current retailers will want to get involved.”

The museum is hoping that in addition to the exhibition, that today’s current shops will display a photo of what their shop used to look like in their window, to show just how dramatically the town has changed over the years.

While some older members of the community may be familiar with the names of the old shops and cafes, many newcomers will have no idea what used to be there.

Butcher - Vye, John 35 High Street (Gerry Hatchard 3rd from rt)(Kerley coll)
Swanage Museum

Meat on display at John Vye, now Curiosity in the High Street

“Find it fascinating”

Mel said:

“People who have always lived in Swanage will recognise some of the names, while visitors and newcomers will find it fascinating because they won’t have a clue what the town looked like pre Second World War or just after.”

A small team of researchers at the museum put the display together and it forms the major exhibition for the summer. It was originally scheduled for summer of 2020 but Covid prevented it going ahead.

Lloyds Chemists c1950 A
Swanage Museum
Love Cake

Lloyds dispensing chemists c 1950, now dispensing cake in the High Street

Family run businesses

The striking aspect is the lack of major brand retailers. In those days almost all the stores were independent family run businesses.

Among the premises featured are the old Lloyds chemists at 42 High Street which is now the café Love Cake and A. Savage which is now Jenkins at 21 High Street, that was recently taken over by new owners.

A Savage, High Street c1900
Swanage Museum

A publicity photo for A. Savage showing their wares c. 1900, and now Jenkins on the High Street

Some are no longer shops

Parker’s Stores at 205 High Street, opposite the Royal British Legion Club, is now a private residence. It was set up by Albert Parker in 1927 and members of the family were still working there until about 1970. It finally closed in 2002.

John Vye was trading as a butcher at 35 High Street as early as the mid 1880s and continued as a butcher’s well into the 1980s. It’s now familiar as the shop Curiosity.

Parker's Stores
Swanage Museum

Parker’s store and now a house, still called Parker’s

Bomb damage

A photograph taken during the Second World War shows bomb damage to Hill and Churchill, now McColls, and Haymans, the only shop with the same name.

But even the Haymans name is set to disappear following its recent purchase by the Italian Bakery firm, based in Wareham.

Haymans, Institute Road bomb damage cropped
Swanage Museum
Haymans Bakery

Bomb damaged Hayman’s in 1942 and now

“Interesting insight”

Mel Norris said:

“In those days businesses were around for two or three generations and much longer in some cases. The photographs give a really interesting insight into what the high street used to look like.”

Trocadero Restaurant postcard (Potter - Page coll) cropped
Swanage Museum

The old Trocadero with a charabanc parked outside, now Coast & Country clothes store in the High Street

Further information

  • Any Swanage retailer who would like to find out if there is an old photo of their shop, which they could display over the summer, should enquire at the museum.
  • More about Swanage’s history can be discovered at the museum in The Square just off the High Street or on its website

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