What happened to Purbeck House?

The Congregational Archive recently had a request from the current owners of Purbeck House Hotel in Swanage for help updating their history.  They had managed to piece together all the historical information on the house, except for the period when it was a Mercy Convent.  Could we, he asked, help to fill that gap?

Using largely annals and photographs from the Swanage archive collection, I was able to piece together the story of the Sister’s time there.



On 3rd May 1935, the first eight Sisters of the group from Hull Sisters of Mercy who had volunteered to open a Catholic School arrived in Swanage.  The Sisters originally stayed in an annexe of the Wolfeton Hotel until Purbeck House with 6 acres of ground was offered to the Community for £5,500.

The annals of the Convent tell that ‘the gardens besides being beautiful to look at had at that time a flourishing vinery, peaches growing on the walls and the orchard stocked with many varieties of apples and pears.’  We are also told that the house was built by George Burt and ‘it has a perfect replica of a Roman pavement, mantelpieces of Carrara marble, massive doors with intricate markings and lovely painted ceilings.’


The Sisters opened the Parish School, St Joseph’s on 9th September 1935.  They then opened a High School later that month and the Convent Rooms were used for this, with two classes being in the Big Dining Room.  In May 1936, the new St Joseph’s School was opened, constructed from the old farm buildings on the estate.

During the 1960s and 1970s the Sisters took posts in external Schools (in Wool, Wareham, Parkstone and Bournemouth).  They also did Catechetical work with children, and carried out visitation to homes and to hospital, where one Sister was engaged in daily nursing.

In an account written in the 1980s we are told that ‘the community also extends hospitality to other Catholic Schools in the area for days of Recollection.  They also help at a Day Centre for the Elderly.’

The Sisters moved out of Purbeck House in 1994, retaining a presence elsewhere in Swanage until 2003.

Alex, whose family now run the hotel writes:

‘I recently contacted Archivist Jenny Smith enquiring if they had information regarding Purbeck House, Swanage. My family now runs Purbeck House as a Hotel and I have recently been collecting the history of the house in order to give our guests the full story of this beautiful building. I have lived in Swanage all my life and actually attended the St Mary’s Catholic School when I was younger and was taught by Sister Alphonsus so the history of the building has great importance to me. Once I have catalogued all the history, I will update our website and history book which we offer to our guests.’


Purbeck Hotel now
Purbeck chapel is now used for weddings
Early community at Swanage, 1930s
Swanage chapel, 1948
Sisters on Purbeck House lawn ready for a pupil performance, c 1940s