Curiosities of Swanage – the Great Globe

The Great Globe and Greenwich . Tilly Whim and Pentonville

THE path around Durlston Head, behind the Castle, affords fine views of the two bays, Peveril Point and Old Harry Rocks. From here the visitor formerly approached the Great Globe up a flight of wide steps, but today it is hedged in by wire fences, concrete posts and an absurd screen, and access is only gained through a turnstile. All was originally “most freely thrown open to the public by this benefactor” -George Burt.
The Great Globe was constructed in 1887 in Mowlem’s stone-yard at Greenwich, and a photograph taken there on its completion shows the imposing figure of George Burt standing alongside his strange brain-child. It is 10 feet in diameter, weighs some 40 tons and consists of 15 segments of Portland stone, with four stones in each of the lower three courses and three in the top-most course, the segments being held in position by means of granite dowels. Its surface is carved in some detail and lettered to show the continents and oceans.
It was brought to Swanage in sections in one of the firm’s sailing-vessels and was erected on a platform cut into the solid rock on the grassy slope below Durlston Castle by W. M. Hardy, a local builder and historian. Some surprising statements about the Globe have found their way into print-for instance, that it is made of granite, is 20 feet in diameter, consists of one stone, and that it stood originally on the front at Swanage or, alternatively, in the forecourt of the Globe Inn at Herston!
Surrounding the Globe, at eight points of the compass, are seats consisting of plain blocks of granite, formerly accompanied by cannon-posts set horizontally; these have since disappeared. The inscribed tablets forming the background to the Globe were added later; they give astronomical information dear to G.B.’s heart and quotations from scripture and the poets. Two plain slabs were also erected, each with the heading: “Persons anxious to write their names will please do so on this stone only.” Another tablet not far away read: “The Sea is His and He made it.” There is no truth in the statement that the name of George Burt appeared above the quotation!
The idea of a 3-dimensional model of the earth had occurred to G.B. some years earlier. In 1879 he had ordered a 3 ft. granite globe to be made under the direction of his friend Professor James Hunter of Aberdeen. Displayed in the grounds of Purbeck House it showed the land areas in polished relief and marked by a gold line, with the seas and rivers coloured blue. This fine, though much weathered, work of art has found a home overlooking the Beaulieu River in the terraced garden of a house built by G.B.’s grandson when he left Swanage some fifty years ago.
A ring of iron bollards from London encircles the Great Globe, and others line the path to Tilly Whim caves. Beside another turnstile is a granite pier dated 1887 which, according to a contemporary account, once stood at the entrance to Pentonville Prison. The dungeon-like approach to the caves was blasted through the rock by G.B. to give visitors access to the old’ quarries. An inscription on the wall at the foot of the steps reads: “These caves were formed centuries ago by men making sinks and rick stones. Smuggling was also carried on here, and both were discontinued about the end of the French Wars, 1814.”
As a boy, John Mowlem is said to have been one of the last to work stone at Tilly Whim. On the cliff face above the quarry, G.B. had a quotation from Shakespeare cut into the stone. The same lines from “The Tempest” appear on the base of the small granite globe: “The cloud- capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve and, like the baseless fabric of a vision, leave not a rack behind.” There has been much speculation on the name “Tilly Whim”. “Tilly’s folly” is usually dismissed in favour of “Tilly’s crane”. But Tilly does not appear to have been a local surname, and the quarryman’s wooden crane was generally called a derrick or “gibbet” from its triangular form. It is, however, interesting to note that while Tilly Whim lies at the southern end of the Manor of Eightholds, there was a common field called “Tilly Mead” at the northern end in Swanage, where Commercial Road now stands. A house near the library preserves this name today.

From Curiosities of Swanage.

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