Victorian folly Durlston Castle in lottery awards final

Few of the tourists who admire one of Dorset's most famous landmarks would realise it was once planned as the centrepiece of a major housing development.

Durlston Castle, a Victorian folly near Swanage on the Jurassic Coast, was built between 1887 and 1891 as a restaurant by local stone mason, George Burt.

Burt had planned roads, shops, houses, tennis courts and a series of scenic walks to go with it, along with the planting of exotic species on the 280-acre park that surrounds the castle.

A coastal road to Worth Matravers was also included in the plans.

Burt employed 50 men to landscape the estate with a variety of plants from around the world, but the development did not come to fruition.


When Burt died, the castle passed through a variety of owners until the lease became available in 1976, when it was acquired by the council, which created the Durlston Country Park.

At the time the four-storey building, which is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, was semi-derelict with dry rot, wet rot and subsidence.

Following a £3.23m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £2m raised through sponsorship, fundraising and grants leading to eight years of restoration work began, it re-opened in November last year.

It is one of three buildings to reach the National Lottery awards' semi-finals in the Best Heritage Project category.

Heather Bell, Chair of Friends of Durlston said: "People who remember the castle as it was cannot believe how it is now."

"The funding has restored the castle to what its builder George Burt originally intended it to be - somewhere for the local community to enjoy and a celebration of the natural world."

Burt, who ran his uncle John Mowlem's construction company for many years, re-used materials during its build from a variety of his construction projects in Victorian London.

Ali Tuckey, Countryside Ranger at Durlston said: "While restoring the building, a number of features were revealed, which were almost certainly re-used from other building projects Burt had worked on."

Great globe

The garden features cable from a suspension bridge, strung between London bollards which still have the names Borough of Greenwich, City of London on them.

Thomas Hardy, who called Burt "The King of Swanage" as he was heavily involved in the development of the town into a seaside spa, once visited Burt at the castle for lunch with his wife, Emma.

Image caption At 3m in diameter The Great Globe is the largest sculpture created by George Burt

"Somewhat rougher of speech than one would have expected after his years in London," was Burt's impression on the Victorian writer.

Spread across four floors, the Belvedere room at the top of the Castle was used by Marconi to transmit to the Isle of Wight.

Burt also created the 40-ton Great Globe which sits on the coastal path from the castle as a tourist attraction. Built in 15 segments from Portland stone, it was created at the Greenwich stone-yard of John Mowlem.

Built in 1887, the globe is "very much a Victorian Englishman's view of the world," said Mr Tuckey.

Countries depicted on it that were part of the British Empire are exaggerated in size.

Public vote

"Britain is rather larger than France and the 'Soudan' and South Africa take up pretty much the entire continent," said Mr Tuckey.

"The inscribed panels around it contain an eclectic mixture of poetry and scientific fact - the speed of a Swift in flight- reflecting Burt's fascination with the arts and the natural world."

It was restored and cleaned as part of the restoration the project using lots of water and toothbrushes.

The castle is up against Cardiff's Bute Park Restoration Project and the Curzon Community Cinema in Somerset in the final of The National Lottery Awards.

The winner will be decided through a public ballot, with voting continuning until midnight on 28 October.

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