The Old Water Tower was built by George Burt, nephew of John Mowlem (founder of the Mowlem construction company) in 1886. They were both born in Swanage and were quarrymen who made their way to London and became successful businessmen and great benefactors to Swanage. Burt and an architect friend by the name of Crickmay mapped out his dream of Durlston Park Estate that stretched south from the Ship Inn on the seafront at Swanage to the sea at Durlston Country Park. (At Durlston Castle you will see two turrets similar to the one at the corner of this tower.)
George Burt wanted Swanage to have a supply of piped water and gas, and the small carved lettering on the front ashlar panel of the Tower refers to various acts of parliament pertaining to Swanage Gas and Water supply. The 45 ft high tower contained two lead lined tanks, holding 5,737 & 22,000 gallons respectively. Water was pumped to the tanks from an artesian well at Sunnydale, by two 8 h.p. gas engines contained in the attached ‘pump room’ to the south of the Tower.
In 1892 a reservoir was built to the north of the town at Ulwell and we believe that the Water Tower simply became redundant. In 1919 a public water authority was formed and assumed the responsibility for the town’s water supply.
On June l l th 1919 the Durlston Park Estate was offered for auction in 55 lots – lot 21 was the corner plot that included the Tower. We do not know if it was sold at this auction, but in 1940 it was in the ownership of Lt. Col. E. J. Burt.
During World War 2 the building was requisitioned by the war department. An anti-aircraft bofus gun was placed on the roof, but this proved to be ineffective as the enemy aircraft would fly in low over the sea and only appear over the cliffs at the last moment. We believe that the lettering was cemented over at this time to prevent easy recognition of the location by enemy aircraft.
During the ensuing years it apparently served as a storeroom for various items such as statuary, vintage motorcycles and cars belonging to several owners.
We think that it left the ownership of the Burt family in the 1950’s. The tower was assigned a Grade 2 listing in 1985. The current owners bought it in 1991 in a state of complete dereliction. Swifts nested within the walls in the summer and daylight could be observed through the 2 foot thick walls!
There were no floors in the building and the only windows in the Tower proper were four, high up on the walls (these are now the 2nd floor windows to the South & East elevations.)
Access to the roof was via a cast iron ladder in three stages to a trapdoor in the roof.