John was skilled in the use of stone as a building material. He recognised the potential of the local Purbeck stone. He improved the way stones could be transported to the Quay and shipped round Britain - and soon Mowlem's company were building houses, pavements, churches everywhere, especially in London. Mowlem became very rich. He ploughed his wealth back into his home town. It was from here that the Purbeck stone had been mined, and so he wanted to ensure that the local workers enjoyed some of the benefits too.
More than that, as the ships returned, having deposited their stones in the capital, they needed ballast for their holds. John shrewdly filled them with scrap stone and ironwork. His nephew George carried on the tradition. He used these bits and pieces in the structures he built in Swanage.
Which is why, when they erected a monument to celebrate King Alfred's victory over the Danes at the Battle of Swanage in 977 Mowlem topped it with three Russian cannonballs which came to London after the Crimean War. We shall overlook the true facts here - the romantic Victorians rewrote the story, in reality there was no battle - the fleet most likely foundered in one of the violent storms which happen on this stretch of coast.
Further along is the Wellington Clock Tower. Originally put up near London Bridge, the clock didn't work, and the builders ran out of money, so omitted the statue of the Iron Duke which was meant to go on top. Furthermore, the tower was in the way of the traffic. So George fetched that back to Dorset too.
When the Mercers' Hall in the City of London was demolished, he salvaged the facade to front Swanage Town Hall in the High Street. You can see the emblem of the Mercers over the door - two cherubs offering a length of cloth to the Virgin Mary. I am not quite sure why they didn't drape the fabric a little more decorously over her bare chest!
Opposite is the Purbeck House Hotel, decorated with leftover granite chippings from the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. The hotel grounds and gardens are lovely - Neptune looks down from another rescued London archway, and walls are decorated with repurposed plaques.
All over the town you will find mismatched iron bollards from London streets and churchyards.
Burt took over the family firm and carried on his uncle's 'recycling' habits
To this day, the Mowlem company logo is seen on building sites everywhere throughout the country - but the man is best remembered in his home town.
I'll do a second post with more pictures tomorrow...