The Romans are Coming

H. P. Smith and boys beside an ancient kiln

Working in the Museum stores bagging and recording archaeological finds, we have just been working on a particularly historic dig carried out in Hamworthy in the 1920s by headmaster Harry P. Smith and pupils from South Road Boys School. It started when a Roman coin and some pottery was found on land belonging to Carter’s tile works and H. P. Smith got permission to dig some trial holes in an adjoining field. The finds suggested the existence of an ancient settlement on the Hamworthy shore. Over the next six years, the boys carried out a series of excavations and hundreds of artefacts were unearthed, dating from the Iron Age into the Roman period. Since those exciting discoveries, several fresh excavations have increased our knowledge of ancient Hamworthy.


On the eve of the Roman invasion, several small settlements and enclosed farmsteads with their round houses dotted the shores of Poole Harbour at Fitzworth, Middlebere, Cleavel Point, Shipstall, Hamworthy and elsewhere. The inhabitants belonged to the loosely federated tribe which archaeologists call the Durotriges and were farmers, fishermen, craftsmen and traders. Unlike some other tribes they still maintained their hillforts, some of which were inhabited while others seem to have been used as regional meeting places. They had recently developed a distinctive coinage, used for trading. For the coastal communities salt-making was a major occupation as shown by finds of large quantities of coarse orange salt pan fragments known as briquetage. There is also evidence for working of Kimmeridge shale. Most important of all was pottery making, a local success story since the products of the Purbeck and Poole Harbour potters were found throughout the Durotriges region where they had begun to supersede local types.

Base worked out of shale

The main port in Poole Harbour was originally at Cleavel Point, where large jetties had been built 200-300 years before between the mainland and Green and Furzey Islands, probably originally joined together. Rising sea levels had since created separate islands and reduced the viability of the facilities at Cleavel Point while making the rest of the harbour more accessible to sea-going ships. It was Hamworthy, with its deep water channel and good access to the hinterland, which developed as an alternative port. Finds of Armorican pottery from Gaul, amporae from the Mediterranean and other exotic goods show that active trading with the continent was taking place there. Unlike Cleavel Point, Hamworthy had no large port structures but ships were probably beached in a bay on the eastern side of the peninsula.

During his excavations, H.P. Smith found abundant evidence of late Iron Age Hamworthy including the traces of eight circular houses and deep ditches running across the site, probably for drainage. The soil filling the house foundations was full of animal bone, charcoal, pottery, flint scrapers and the remnants of clay heaths. The presence of iron slag, nails and other objects suggested metal working on the site.

Ever since the days of Julius Caesar a century before, the Romans had contemplated invading prosperous Britain. In 43 AD the invasion finally came with the landing near Richborough of four legions, perhaps 40,000 to 50,000 men, under the veteran commander Aulus Plautius. His first task was to subdue the tribes of the south east and prepare for the arrival of the Emperor Claudius to participate in the crossing of the Thames and the capture of the local capital, Camulodumum (Colchester). The emperor’s presence at this critical point meant that he could claim a military victory to add lustre to his career. When the emperor had left, Plautius could turn his attention to capturing further territory.

The Durotriges and other coastal tribes were probably well aware of the progress of the invasion but could do little except wait for events to unfold as Plautius sent his legions north and west. It was probably the II Legion Augusta under the future emperor Vespasian which attacked along the south coast, fighting 30 battles, capturing the Isle of Wight and 20 towns and defeating 2 tribes according to his biographer. One of these tribes must have been the Durotriges who seem to have retreated to their hillforts armed with slings and shot in a doomed attempt to stop the Roman advance. One by one their strongholds were overrun, being no match for the organised might of the Romans with their ballistae, mechanised catapults firing iron bolts. How long it took the Romans to reach Poole Harbour we do not know but it may have been a couple of years after the invasion. The small settlements around the harbour would have been in no position to oppose the incomers and were probably easily taken.

Operating in hostile territory, it was important to the Romans to secure their supply lines and it seems that they decided to use Hamworthy as a supply port for the next stage of their drive westward. Excavations in 2000 near the shore in Hamworthy revealed two sets of double ditches at right angles to each other, protecting the port on the landward side and enclosing a building which may have been a barracks. From here the Roman engineers laid out a road up the peninsular to a site at Lake Farm where a camp, later replaced by a fort, was constructed near a crossing of the River Stour. The line of the road was traced in the 1930s by H. P. Smith who also dug a cross section of it on Ham Common. It ran northwest up the peninsular before turning north to Corfe Mullen and Lake Farm, crossing the Stour and then running northwest to Badbury Rings. The flat top of the road was about 10 ft (3m) wide with a ditch on either side and it was constructed of layers of bracken and heather, clayey sand and then shingle topped with fine gravel. From here the Romans moved forward to mop up the Durotrigan strongholds including the largest of all at Maiden Castle, and continue their conquest of the west.

Road cross-section

Patterned Samian Ware including hare design

The coming of the Romans was a traumatic event for those who lived through it, but evidence suggests that Hamworthy had a prosperous existence after the invasion. The incomers provided a market for local produce of salt, pottery, stone and shale goods. Even after the military had moved on, the settlement, which was now connected to the wider Roman road network, may have continued as a port trading with the continent. In his excavations, H.P. Smith found imported pottery including Terra Nigra and Samian Ware from Gaul and many fragments of flagons and amphora, probably used for the import of wine or oil. The discovery of a kiln showed that pottery making continued and in fact locally produced Black Burnished Ware became popular all over Roman Britain. Other finds included Roman glass, loom weights, roof and flue tiles, pots of New Forest ware and a hoard of 3rd century Roman coins. A dig in 2003 discovered several burials from the Roman period.

New Forest Ware indented pot

Today, Hamworhty is still the location of the cross-channel port in Poole Harbour. The old Roman Road forms Poole’s western boundary for some miles. Since the time of H. P. Smith’s excavations there have been many finds in the Hamworthy, some chance discoveries and some the results of organised digs in advance of development. Although the area is now much more built up than in the 1920s, there may be still more to find there to tell us about its ancient past.


Photos taken by courtesy of Poole Museum




Gas Technology Update

Gas lighting came to Poole streets in the 1830s and then was gradually introduced into local homes. The agents of the change were the ironmongers who set themselves up as gas fitters to introduce this new technology. Gas burners were brighter than candles or oil lamps but brought new dangers of their own – hence this set of instructions from the Poole archives:-

Christmas Quiz Medley Answers

I hope you had a bit of fun with the quiz and did not find it too easy or too obscure (it’s hard to know when you’re compiling it). Here are the answers:Chain – Who or what?

Herbert Carter

Writer: John Le Carre / Square: Falkland Square / Island: Green Island / Jetty: Salterns Pier (subject of a court case between Poole Corporation and George Jennings) / Court case: the Tichbourne claimant case / Name: Granny Cousins / Woman: Lady Cornelia / Hospital: Baiter Isolation Hospital / Beach: Sandbanks / Bridge: rustic bridge, Poole Park / Naval HQ: Alcatraz building, Poole High Street / Head quarters: Royal National Lifeboat Institution /  Institution: Society of Poole Men (now the Society of Poole) / House: Beech Hurst, Poole High Street (or Sir Peter Thompson House, Market Close) / Coat of Arms: West Lodge, Poole Park / Pottery founder’s descendant: Herbert Carter.


Line 1: Bassett Green etc.  (Names of Poole Lifeboats).  Line 2: Gravel Hill / Broadstone / The Woodman / Sandbanks (All contain types of construction materials).  Line 3: Branksome 1893 etc. (Poole railway stations with their opening dates).  Line 4: Henry Price / Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon / Harry Peace Smith / Henry Farmer (All Henrys or Harrys).


The Lord Wimborne (old library)

Top row: Rolls coat of arms, on the pediment of Beech Hurst, Poole High Street / RLNI Memorial sculpture, West Quay / Old Town wall, St. Clement’s Lane / Date on the old lifeboat station, East Quay.

Bottom Row: Bay window, Lord Wimborne pub, Lagland Street / Blockhouse on Brownsea Island  / Gold medal awarded to Peter Jolliffe by William III in 1694, Poole Museum / Modern plaque near to Robert Rogers house, New Orchard with wording from the old plaque on Rogers’ Almshouses.

Best wishes for the New Year.



Christmas Quiz Medley

Here is our annual quiz offering and I hope you get some fun out of it. To make it easier to compile and solve (in theory) we have a mixture of quiz styles this year and the answers are local or festive. If you complete any of the sections, send me your answers at: to receive a PMS Christmas Quiz certificate!

(Note: you can print out the tree by clicking on it and then right clicking on the image.)

The Chain – Who or What around Poole?

A writer who called himself a square / A square named after islands / An island with a prehistoric jetty / A jetty that featured in a court case / A court case over a claim and a name / The name given to an early-rising woman / A woman who founded a hospital / A hospital beside a shingle beach / A beach with a nearby floating bridge / A bridge that was destroyed in wartime / The wartime Poole naval head-quarters / The head-quarters of a life saving institution / An institution set up to save a medieval house / A house surmounted by the family coat of arms / A coat of arms in terracotta from a local pottery / A pottery founder’s grandson who was a mayor and a writer.


Can you solve each set of clues and say what links them?


Can you identify these snippets?Good luck and happy Christmas.




Wartime Christmas 1917

Europe bitterly divided, war in Iraq, controversy over Jerusalem, suspicions over developments in Russia – is this 2017 or 100 years ago? Browsing the local newspaper in the run up to Christmas 1917, there are clear parallels with the situation today but also massive differences.

The year 1917 had been momentous, with the loss of over a million tons of shipping to U-boats, disasters for the French on the battlefield and terrible casualties at Passchendaele. One ray of hope for the allies was the U.S. declaration of war on Germany in April. The British were using new destructive tactics such as the detonation of huge mines at Messines Ridge and a mass tank attack at Cambrai. In Russia, the Tsar had abdicated and a Communist government was installed under Lenin. Jerusalem had been captured by the British, General Allenby entering the city on foot out of respect.

After three years of a terrible war, Poole people had become used to shortages, fear and loss. They were familiar with the names of distant places where their husbands, sons and brothers were serving and were eager for any scrap of war news. One grim feature of every edition of the Poole and Dorset Herald was the weekly Roll of Honour column, reporting injuries or deaths in action of local men. In contrast, up-beat letters from servicemen writing home were frequently printed. In early December, the newspaper contained a letter from the son of Mrs. Whitley of West Street serving with the Dorset Regiment in Mesopotamia who was having a rest after being in action. He had had ‘a warm time’ but he and another Poole man, Herb Rigler, had managed to get through without a wound although three or four Poole men had been killed or injured.

Not all the news was about the war. The Poole Sanitary Committee was debating the condition of houses in Old Orchard and Church Street in response to a report from the Medical Officer of Health. The owners had been served notices to give good reason why the defective premises should not be demolished. The Committee was also concerned about the White House Laundry which was emitting black smoke, and sceptical over the owner’s claim that he was having great difficulty obtaining smokeless coal. The laundry was not the only offender. Councillor Stevens complained that people were sometimes unable to see each other in East Street because of smoke from the gas works.

A community-wide effort to entertain the soldiers

A pleasant weekend had been spent by the soldiers at the Poole Soldiers’ Home. As one of them remarked when ‘taking a hot cup of coffee prior to starting out for a 16 mile cycle ride to camp’, “Whatever we fellows would do without this place, I can’t think.” The Sunday night social consisted of selections on the piano by Mr. Benboe of London and songs to the accompaniment of the auto-harp by Miss C. Reed and Miss Senior. The audience sang ‘O God our Help in Ages Past’ in memory of Lance Corporal Arthur Gritten of Maple Road, Poole. Donations to local hospitals for the benefit of wounded soldiers included socks, gloves, mittens, biscuits, apples and even bottles of pickles. Entertainment was also on offer at the Amity Palace of Variety with Miss Evelyn Brewster and Co. in a novelty all lady sketch entitled ‘The Real Lady Raffles’ and ‘star pictures’ including The Heart of Norah Flynn, a dramatic silent film starring Marie Doro and directed by Cecil B DeMille.

Scene from ‘The Heart of Norah Flynn’

Some Christmas spirit was appearing in Poole. The newspaper reported that ‘the purveyors of the good things of this life, in Poole as elsewhere, are beginning to exhibit their stores in great abundance and variety. The butchers as usual stocked to overflowing, make a most tempting display.’ (Although a 21 lb turkey sold in Wareham for £3 6s 0d provoked the paper into mutterings about ‘mugs’ and ‘excessive war profits’.) The International Stores was urging people to drink coffee for breakfast to help the Food Controller to cope with the shortage of tea, and the Borough Studio reminded customers not to forget the Boys’ Christmas: ‘have your photo taken now with Xmas Greetings, Special Price 4/- doz’.

Blake’s butchers

For most shops the theme of their Christmas advertisements was usefulness. S. M. Silverman of 60, High Street was offering ‘a fine selection of useful household requisites suitable for presents at prices within the reach of everyone’ while H.W. Jordan and Son, general drapers, proclaimed ‘Useful Xmas Presents’ and simply advised their readers to ‘see our windows’. Ladies’ outfitter, M. Prankard also felt that her coney and musquash coats, fur ties and muffs would be useful Christmas gifts.

Freddie Guest M.P.

On the political scene, the paper reported a speech made by Freddie Guest, the M.P. for East Dorset, to the House of Commons on behalf of the War Aims Committee. The third son of Lord Wimborne of Canford, Freddie Guest had been a regular soldier and returned to active service on the outbreak of war. In 1916 he received a D.S.O. for service in East Africa and then was invalided out with a serious illness. In his speech he defended the activities of the War Aims Committee which had been set up in industrial areas ‘where patriotic citizens asked the Government to take the platform from those who were holding it unpatriotically and against the interests of the nation’. Their work consisted of holding meetings and distributing literature, in fact acting as a propaganda organisation for the Government against disruptive elements. The committee was a cross-party body, not sectionalist and, he argued, did not cost very much considering its effectiveness, although it was not appropriate to disclose exactly how much.

In the December 20th edition of the paper, a Christian message was published under the headline ‘What shall Christmas be?’ The writer acknowledged the burden of celebrating a fourth wartime Christmas but maintained that the country had much to be thankful for. Britain had not lost the war and its shores had not been invaded ‘by the foot of a foul and murderous foe’. There was cause to celebrate because the country was fighting, sacrificing and dying for the very cause that ‘the Babe of Bethlehem was born to work out and fulfill’. (Would we see things in quite that way today?) The occupation of Jerusalem had made the story of Christ’s birth closer to us than ever before. Merriment might be inappropriate but quiet celebration was not and the paper concluded by wishing its readers all that Christmas means to ‘a Christian nation in the grip of war.’

Reading about the preoccupations of Poole people 100 years ago, it is impossible to ignore the shadow that the war cast over every aspect of everyday life. In contrast, squabbles between politicians over Brexit seem very minor problems!


Main source: Poole and Dorset Herald November and December 1917.

From Pickaxe to Paver

Recently I came across an estimate from 1843 for repairing and ‘Macadamizing’ parts of the High Street and it made me think of the difference between the process of road surfacing today and in early Victorian times. Everyone who has been into Poole in the last few months must have noticed that there have been a few road works in progress. Drivers into the town centre found themselves waiting in queues or undertaking unexpected little tours, directed by lines of red barriers and bollards. At first the pattern changed every week but once the resurfacing started, it was every half day or even every couple of hours. Bus stops were in and out of use like yo-yos and pedestrians learned to watch out for traffic on the wrong side of the road, smoking tarmac beneath their feet and rapidly approaching rollers.

At one stage, the resurfacing vehicles were parked at the end of our road in all their colourful splendour. The most intriguing one was a strange hybrid beast with two sets of tracks, an extended body and a long conveyor belt stretching out in front. Each morning, the kitchen cabinets would start to vibrate as this machine trundled past, like some pre-historic creature from a dead-end branch of the evolutionary tree. Some minutes later it would trundle back in reverse, but the precise purpose of this excursion, I never discovered. However, I would get to see the beast in action a couple of days later.

Workmen in upper High Street

Back in 1843, the stone paving of the High Street was in a poor condition and the Borough Surveyor had requested a specification for resurfacing, using the relatively new technique of macadamizing. John Loudon McAdam was an experienced road engineer who had learnt his trade on the turnpike roads of Scotland and the West Country. Adapting the techniques of road builders like Thomas Telford, he believed that massive foundations were unnecessary as long as the road surface was strong and waterproof. An underlying 20cm layer of stones 7.5cm or less in diameter was covered by a 5cm thick layer of stones only 2cm in size, much narrower than the iron wheels of the carts and carriages that travelled over it. This top layer was spread very carefully and evenly with only a slight rise to the centre of the road. No binding material was applied and it was found that the passage of the traffic alone would create a strong weatherproof surface.

The corn market fountain later in the century

Twenty years or so after the first macadamized roads were laid down, Frederick Easton of Oakley wrote out his specification and estimate for the High Street job. The stretch to be resurfaced was from Weston’s Lane to the Quay and Easton proposed that the present paving should be broken up ‘and the stones cracked on the spot to a size not exceeding one Inch & a half in Diameter’. The road as far as the corn market was to slope at least six inches from the centre to the sides with new border stones for the gutters where necessary. The top layer of stones was to be carefully laid ‘at the rate of Eight yards in every perch and to have at least one yard of clean sand mixed with it’. From the corner of the corn market to the Quay, the road (being narrower) would slope not more than 3 inches from the centre to the sides. The corn market was ‘to be curved and formed to the pleasure of the Surveyor’ and there were some adjustments such as lowering the road near Morcom’s house about 6 inches and eliminating a dip near Fish Street (now Castle Street). The cost for the whole job, ‘to be performed in a workman like manner and to the satisfaction of the Surveyor’ was £140.

If the present road works have caused some inconvenience, imagine the situation of the High Street residents and shop-owners in the 1840s. The road in front of their premises was to be torn up, presumably by a team of men with pickaxes and then the area would become a stone breaking yard with men hammering away all day long to reduce the stones to the size of small pebbles. How long they and their customers would have to put up with the disruption, dust, mud and noise is anyone’s guess.

Today the process of breaking up the road surface is much more streamlined as I discovered the day I saw the beast at its work. Hitching itself up on its tracks it manoeuvred into place and then with an unseen claw, started carving away the surface of the road with amazing speed, sending the broken fragments of tarmac up its conveyor belt neck into a truck moving slowly in front. No pickaxes, shovels or wheelbarrows needed. As I understand, this creature is called a road planer or as I like to call it, planersaurus.

Roller and paver on Longfleet Road

To resurface to road, the paver is brought into action. These square tarry machines move forward at a snail’s pace, emitting steam and leaving a trail of sticky black tarmac behind them. The amazing thing is how such cumbersome vehicles manage to avoid grids and manhole covers so skilfully. Then the rollers are deployed to compress and smooth the final surface. The truth is of course that the machines are operated by men as skilled at their different jobs as the workmen of the 1840s. Nevertheless it was somehow reassuring to see a few awkward sections that the vehicles could not reach being tended by men with wheelbarrows, long-handled shovels and hand rollers.



Christmas Cards

If you fancy sending some truly local Christmas cards this year, we have some mixed packs for sale. The two designs are Poole Rectory in the snow and a drawing of a snowy lamp-lit Harbour Office by Arthur Bell. Packs of 6 (3 of each design) are on sale in the Museum and also at society meetings at £3.25 per pack. We can also supply them by post with a small postage fee. Contact Jenny at: