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Swanage Museum

Founded: Not sure        Governance: Independent Trust        Scope: Local history   Visited: Spring 2017

Opposite the parish church in Swanage is the Tithe Barn, and that's where the Museum used to be. I recall visiting it many years ago, so it existed at least in the mid-1980s - and what I remember is a very traditional local museum of old tools and bygones with little typed and hand-written labels. The Museum isn't at the Tithe Barn now, and it isn't like that now either.

Instead it occupies a rather less picturesque but somewhat more practical building on the seafront. Its red brick and glass fabric is not exactly extensive, leaving the museum positively jammed cheek-by-jowl into quite a tiny space. The abiding impression it leaves the visitor with is not just one of the profusion of stuff crammed in the displays but the remarkable variety of mannekins. Unlike the Amy Winehouse of Pateley Bridge these seem to have been manufactured for the purpose. A stonemason stumbles around in a display case; a haughty lady gestures towards a jug she intends to purchase; a chap in specs looks as though he's about to be sick into a bucket but is in fact engaged in another business completely; a lady in a headscarf leans out of a window. In fact, when you glance up, the whole ceiling space resembles a sketch by MC Escher, each plane apparently emerging from a separate dimension and illustrating a different event. The use of the available area is remarkably creative. You don't necessarily get that much of an insight into Swanage's past: instead it's a bit like wandering into somewhere else, a strange location caught some time between about 1890 and 1940, populated by a profusion of bizarre characters. I do like the spinning stone samples!

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