Contraband and Corruption

Late one night in March 1682 shipwright Charles Daw was awakened by strange noises in Poole High Street. Putting his head out of the window, he saw men manoeuvring bundles and barrels into the next door George Inn, now known as Scaplen’s Court. Clearly this was no legitimate operation. When the men spotted Daw watching they told him to shut the window and mind his own business. The bundles were tobacco, illicitly landed from the Robert of Poole whose captain, Robert Bennett was also keeper of the George. What is more, even while the contraband was being brought in, Bennett was in the George drinking with merchant William Orchard (co-owner of the cargo), Thomas Barney, Surveyor, Thomas Miller, Collector and John Emerson, Deputy Controller of Customs.

Scaplen’s Court, once the George Inn. The former Plume of Feathers is to the right.

This was one of many cases which came to light later that year in a survey by William Culliford into the conduct and integrity of the customs service. Culliford came from Encombe near Corfe Castle and knew the local ports well. In fact his father was a burgess of Poole and he himself a Poole Justice of the Peace. In his career with the customs service, he had become something of a specialist in rooting out corruption. He was therefore a natural choice by the Board of Commissioners of Customs for their investigation into the ports of the South West and Wales. By the time he arrived in Poole in July 1682, he had already carried out a survey of Bristol and ports in South Wales and Somerset, leaving a trail of dismissed officers behind him. The Poole merchants and customs men must have viewed his arrival with trepidation since, as soon became clear, they had plenty to hide.

Culliford was knowledgeable, energetic and not afraid of confrontation. He was also probably primed by the Commissioners about which officers were suspect. At Poole he found inefficiency, the reappointing of dismissed officers and connivance in fraud on a vast scale by merchants, ship-owners, masters and customs officers of all ranks. His main method of investigation was to use informants, many of them lower ranking customs officers. On arrival in Poole, he quickly identified William Vincent and Thomas Keeping as key witnesses. The two were employed as tidesmen whose job was to inspect the cargos of incoming and outgoing ships, search for concealed goods and make sure that nothing was unloaded illegally.

Vincent’s evidence revealed several examples of fraud involving tobacco from Virginia. Cargos from the colonies intended for re-export had first to be landed in an English port and the customs dues paid. If such goods were re-exported within a certain time, the merchants could apply for certificates known as debentures allowing them to reclaim most of the import dues. Vincent related how on 24th July he had witnessed 12 hogsheads of tobacco being secretly relanded from the David about to sail for St. Malo, and rolled into a cellar belonging to William Orchard, ‘which this informant offering to seize was beaten off by persons disguised and unknown’. William Orchard was a leading merchant, three times mayor of Poole. While pretending to export the tobacco, he had in effect imported it without paying customs duties.

In June, Thomas Keeping told Vincent that he had seen several hogsheads landed from the Claire, due to sail for Rotterdam with a cargo of Virginia tobacco. The next night, about midnight, Vincent also saw about 5 hogsheads landed from the Claire at William Orchard’s quay. Attempting to seize the goods he was driven off by men wearing ‘Vizard Maskes’. He said that he did not try to inform his superior, Thomas Barney because he had refused to search for run goods before and when making a seizure based on information supplied by Vincent ‘would never give this Informt one farthing for his pains, but have put the whole profitts in his own Pockett’. As a result of this testimony, Culliford went to the Custom House and put a stop to the payment of debentures for the Claire and the David.

Alley alongside the George

The case of the Robert was one of Culliford’s most telling pieces of evidence. The main witnesses were again William Vincent and Thomas Keeping, appointed tidesmen on board the ship. They related how they had been induced to leave the ship ‘upon the importunity of John Penny, the King’s Searcher, & the Master of the shipp who earnestly solicited this Informant to consent to the running some Tobacco, by giving this Informant severall hints, that Mr Barney was willing thereto . . & there was that night run out of her 17 hhds of Tobacco & severall Baggs and Bundles.’ Vincent and Keeping each received £2 for keeping silent. The next day more tobacco was brought round by boat, landed near the church and carried through the alleys to the back door of the George in broad daylight. With the inducement of backhanders and all-night drinking sessions, William Orchard and Robert Bennet were able to reland a large part of the cargo. They also claimed that some of the tobacco was damaged and not eligible for customs duties, even though it had not been inspected or certified.

Thomas Keeping and tidesman Robert Checkford described another corrupt device apparently used by Barney. At the end of each day on board a vessel unloading at the Quay Barney would demand the tidesmen’s books and then alter the figures and accounts ‘as he pleased himselfe’. He also often removed tidesmen from a ship and gave their books to others ‘that no perfect acc’t might be kept of the said shipp’s delivery’. Checkford described one occasion when the John was at the Quay, laden with linen and Barney ordered the hatches to be opened in the absence of Samuel Wetwang, the landwaiter appointed to the ship. He then called for 8 rolls of ‘broad Hanovers’ to be put in the Town Cellar and 15 more rolls to be loaded on to the Winchester Waggon ‘that drove away immediately’. None of the rolls was opened or examined.

Another with a tale to tell was mariner John Tombs. He described how the Vine ketch of Poole came into Studland Bay in September 1681 with a cargo of salt, wine and brandy. The Vine was owned by George Lewen, a partner of William Orchard. During the two days that the ketch was anchored in the bay, the customs smack was at Brownsea but did not approach the ship. Meanwhile, several tons of wine and brandy ‘upon Mr. Lewen’s acco’t’ were taken off by ‘Dragger boats’ belonging to John Thompson, Thomas Bennett and others and carried to Poole. As a seaman employed on the Vine, Tombs had helped to load some of the boats himself. The dragger boats were fishing boats built to operate drag nets and in Poole used extensively to run contraband. On other occasions the William of Poole and the Mary hoy came into the bay and unloaded their cargos into dragger boats ‘without any notice taken of it by the officers, who this inform’t cannot but believe must be privy thereto’.

Private jetties or ‘piles’ extending from Strand St. from a map c.1634

Unloading vessels before they reached the Quay seems to have been common practice, sometimes even in daylight. Goods were then brought to be unloaded at private quays or ‘the Piles in the Strand’. In February 1682, according to William Vincent’s account, Thomas Barney and Dudley Hopper, master of the customs smack, were sailing to Brownsea and passed within a stone’s throw of three boats deep laden with wine without seizing them although they must have seen them as it was bright moonlit night. Later that year, Vincent saw the John at anchor against Brownsea Quay. Between 10 and 11 pm., more than 20 packets of cloth were unloaded into 2 boats and brought to Poole. Vincent informed Thomas Barney of the incident and also that he believed the goods belonged to Mr. John Carter, one of the magistrates of Poole, but Barney never searched for the goods.

Culliford ordered that any dragger boats found to contain smuggled goods should be seized and condemned and ‘openly & publickly to be burnt upon the Key . . . this being in my Judgement the most Effectuall way to affright them from persisting in their accustomed trade of delivering (with these Dragger boats) a whole shipp’s loading in a night’.

Two members of the customs smack crew, mate Edward Cummings and seaman William Jordan had more information to disclose about Dudley Hopper. One incident ocurred in June 1681 when a ketch came into Swanage Bay and Hooper sent some men on board where they found many anchors of wine and bales of goods without proper documentation. Hooper threatened to take the vessel in to Brownsea but the master offered him £5 instead. The men were sent to search an incoming collier and when then got back, they found Hooper and his wife in the cabin with the captain of the ketch and heard ‘some money Gingle upon the Table’. Hooper said that the master had now satisfied him and so left the ship. The informants described Dudley Hopper as ‘a very carelesse, negligent man & is seldome sober, when he is any where that he can come at drink.’ He was also believed to have pilfered various items from the smack including rope, tallow, a musket, tongs, a boat hook and a water bucket.

The old cottage on the corner of Carter’s Lane probably belonged to John Carter

Another local man believed to be involved in smuggling was John Carter, merchant,shipowner, former mayor and magistrate. He owned several properties in the High Street, near the corner of what is still called Carter’s Lane, and some of his premises were said to contain secret stores where run goods could be hidden. He was also believed to use the Baiter windmill and its stables to hide contraband before it was moved inland. To deter curiosity and intimidate the customs men, he employed ‘men armed with Clubbs and Swords, Vizards on their faces’ when moving goods through the streets of Poole. It is likely that Carter had inside information about the progress of the enquiry. When Culliford carried out a raid on Carter’s property many hiding places were discovered but no illicit goods.

Replica of the king’s beam or scales

As a result of Culliford’s findings procedures were tightened up. For instance he ordered that both landwaiters and the King’s searcher should ‘attend the king’s beam & take an exact acct of all tobacco weighed for export, with the particular marks and numbers thereof’. The custom house was relocated to a better position with a view of the Quay. Culliford also protested against the re-employment of John Willie, a former Collector of Customs dismissed for fraud. Willie was acting as Deputy Customer although as a magistrate he could not officially serve as a customs officer.

Thomas Barney, John Emerson and Dudley Hopper were dismissed from the service. Others were rewarded for the information they had provided. Thomas Keeping and William Vincent were judged basically honest and allowed to keep their posts but were dismissed a couple of years later. Robert Daw was appointed as a tidesman and later became the landlord of the Plume of Feathers, next door to the George Inn. John Tombs was made assistant boatman to Robert Corbin, the Waiter and Searcher at Studland. One dragger boat was publicly burnt as threatened but three other condemned boats mysteriously disappeared before they could be destroyed.

In 1691, George Lewen’s Vine fell prey to Barbary pirates and the crew of six were taken to Sallé in North Africa and sold into slavery. Appeals for their ransom reached Poole but what happened next is unknown. In 1697, another ransom appeal showed that at least one of the crew, Henry Hart, was still held in ‘the most horrid and crewell bondage and slavery’, and it is doubtful that any of them saw their old smuggling ground of Poole Harbour again.

Over the long term, it is unlikely that smuggling was greatly reduced in Poole. Culliford had no powers to act against the merchants involved in the frauds he uncovered which must have reduced the effectiveness of his investigation. There is another chapter in his relationship with the leading men of Poole. On November 14th 1683, he attended the Poole Town House for a formal ceremony, his election and swearing in as a free burgess of the Corporation of the Town and County of Poole. Among the members signing (probably with gritted teeth) the record of his election in the Corporation Record Book were John Willie and William Orchard.


Sources: The Report of Wm Culliforde Gent of his Survey of the Port of Pool. 1682 TNA Ref T 65/139 pp.43-52 / Guttridge, Roger. Dorset Smugglers. Dorset Publishing Company 1984 / Stephens, W. B. The Seventeenth Century Customs Service Surveyed: William Culliford’s Investigation of the Western Ports, 1682-84. Routledge 2017





Cataloguing the Skinner Street URC Church Archives

Amongst the many historical records curated by the Local History Centre (LHC), there is an interesting cache for Skinner Street Congregational Church (SSCC), now the Skinner Street United Reformed Church (SSURC). Collectively, they span almost three centuries from 1700, providing fascinating insights into theological disputes and secessions during its early history and religious and social mores and conduct since. Commercial and political history – locally, nationally and internationally – feature too, such as the Newfoundland trade, naval wars with France and Spain, restrictions (later lifted) on nonconformists holding civic positions, Whiggism in Poole and much more.

The Skinner Street church

The Somerset and Dorset Family History Society transcribed and indexed some of oldest of these records, including registers of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths, now accessible on Poole History Online (PHO). Others have been added in the last 18 months, including 18th and 19th century registers of pew subscriptions, a membership and a minute book. They can be viewed by typing ‘SSCC’ into the search box in PHO’s home page.

One of our volunteers became fascinated by the history of SSCC. A visit to the SSURC was arranged in September, turning up further historical records of interest. In November Len Wigg attended a second visit. Len is a local historian with an interest in the history of Congregational churches, (Longham Congregational Chapel in particular), and contacted the LHC with a query about Joseph Notting, further to his research at the LHC.

Joseph Notting, a Poole boot factory owner, became a deacon of SSCC in October 1827 and in 1835 was appointed the Longham Chapel’s lay pastor, (it was one of five SSCC ‘daughter’ churches). Using his business acumen and personal wealth, he oversaw building a new larger chapel, the “village cathedral” of his aspirations (therein lies another story). It continues to grace the Haskins, Longham roundabout to this day.

Afterwards Len volunteered to catalogue the SSURC archive, with the assistance of an LHC volunteer, commencing early in the New Year. Some of it has not been examined for a long time. What treasures might it hold? Well, we will outline our progress periodically, highlighting any historical treasurers we discover.

Thank yous are due to: Gail Nuttall (SSURC treasurer/secretary) and Alan & Tricia Knapp (SSURC volunteers) for allowing outsiders to search (and soon) catalogue their church archive; The LHC librarians for their enthusiasm and encouragement; and Len Wigg for volunteering his expertise.

Kit Pearce

2018 Christmas Quiz Answers

Happy New Year and here are the answers to the quiz:


  1. Bear Wood / Woodes Rogers / Delph Wood / Forest Holme (local names containing wood or forest)
  2. All finds from the Swash Channel wreck.
  3. OfficeS AND BANKS closed / ChoriSTER TElling the Christmas story / TinSEL DOWN the sofa / Kids UP TO No good (concealed local place names)
  4. Keyhole / floating / lifting / twin sails (names for Poole bridges)


  1. Sturt / Chad / Foster / Waugh (owners of Brownsea Island chronologically from 1812 to 1857)
  2. Mary, North / James, South / Peter, East / Michael, West (dedications of central Poole churches – St. Mary’s, Longfleet / St. James, Poole / St. Peter’s, Parkstone / St. Michael’s, Hamworthy.)
  3. Angel / Bermuda Triangle / Cockshell / Poole pub beginning with D eg. Double Six or Dorset Knob.
  4. Morning Glory / Afternoon tea / Evening Hill / Night . . ?shade / ?jar / ?bus

Word Wall

  1. Artists with local connections.
  2. Place names in Hardy’s Wessex.
  3. Terms relating to ships.
  4. Can all be preceded by ‘water’.

Missing vowels:

  1. A Pint of Good Poole Ale / A Portfolio of Old Poole / Book of Poole Quay and the Waterfront / A Winsome Place
  2. Apple cake / Blue Vinney cheese / Cream tea / Salted cod
  3. Eating ice cream / A sail round the harbour / Sea bathing / Touring Dorset
  4. New local authority / Leaving Europe / Twin sails bridge / Poole Hospital reform.

Hope you enjoyed the quiz and got it all right!



2018 Poole & Dorset Christmas Quiz

It’s quiz time once more and the brain cells have been exercised to the absolute limit to bring you the latest local Only Connect style offering. I hope you enjoy it. Drop me an e-mail with your answers or any comments to

Connections: Can you decipher the clues and identify the connections between them?

  1. Habitat for Bruno? / Circumnavigator / Nature reserve near Gravel Hill / Hospice
  2. Bell / merman / wooden shovel / moustachioed face
  3. Offices and banks closed / Chorister telling the Christmas story / Tinsel down the sofa / Kids up to no good.
  4. See below:

Sequences: Work out the clues and say what should come next and why.

  1. Sturt / Chad / Foster / ?
  2. Mary North / James South / Peter East / ?
  3. Hark! the heavenly singer / Swallowing ships out at sea / Seafood heroes / ?
  4. See below:

Word Wall: Separate these into four groups of connected words and explain their connections.

Missing vowels: Reconstruct these words or phrases.

  1. Local history book titles: pn tfg dpll / pr tfl fld pl / bkf plquyn dth wtrf rnt / wns mplc
  2. Dorset food: p plck / blvn nyc hs / cr mt / sl tdc d
  3. Holiday occupations: tng cc rm / slr nd thh rbr / sbt hng / trn gdr st
  4. In the news: nwl cl thrt y / lvn grp / t wns lsb rd g / plhs ptl rf rm

Good luck and best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.


Remembering Poole’s Sons and Daughters

It was on 16th October 1927 that Poole’s civic war memorial was unveiled by Alderman Herbert Carter, Mayor of Poole, nine years after the end of the war and six years after the unveiling of Bournemouth’s fine memorial in the central gardens. Several local churches, schools and workplaces had already produced memorials of their own and the question arises as to why it took the town so long to produce its main memorial. The story of the debate over what form a memorial should take is told on the Poole First World war website at:

Herbert Carter sums it up in his autobiography: ‘Previous mayors had done their best to carry out the wishes of the public, but these wishes were so diverse and contradictory and their advocates so uncompromising that meetings invariably broke up without anything being done. There was a feeling that any formal memorial without any practical intent was unwelcome, yet as soon as some practical suggestion was made it was immediately ridiculed and vetoed. Eventually we persuaded a meeting at the Guildhall to erect something beautiful, modest in its cost and in a suitable site, whilst asking those who preferred something “practical” to earmark their contribution for the use of the Hospital. . . I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but I feel strongly that our Memorial meets a great need of which I am reminded every time I go through Poole Park.’

The designer of the memorial was James Allner F.R.I.B.A., a local architect with an office in Boone’s ironmongers in Poole High Street. As Diocesan Architectural Surveyor to the Archdeaconry of Dorset, Allner had the right credentials. The design is of a tall, slender cross with a Purbeck stone and brick shaft, surmounted by dolphins and scallop shells in a reference to the town coat of arms. It was described at the time as being of 15th century character but also has stylistic links with the 1920s. The cross is set within a formal garden beside the salt water lake in Poole Park, surrounded by low walling and paving with bricks made from local clay. The inscription round the base reads ‘They died that we might live. We will remember them.’

A large crowd of perhaps 10,000 people, including servicemen, the British Legion, the fire brigade, the lifeboat service, scouts and guides attended the unveiling of the memorial on a warm and cloudless day. The proceedings began with a hymn (O God, our help in ages past), with music by three massed bands. The Reverend C. Egerton Williams, Rector of Poole, led a short service followed by an address by Major-General W.H.M. Lowe C.B. and then a disabled ex-serviceman invited the Mayor to unveil the memorial. Afterwards, Herbert Carter commented that ‘the monument itself, with the lake as background, seemed to me to possess nobility as well as beauty.’

The unveiling ceremony, however, was overshadowed (at least in the press) by the visit three days later of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales to lay a wreath at the memorial. It was just one of his numerous engagements that day across Bournemouth and Poole. The distinguished visitor was welcomed at County Gates by the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, the Earl of Shaftesbury and a collection of dignitaries including the Mayor and Poole’s oldest resident, 103-year-old Mr. H. Bening Arnold. A crimson ‘bannerette’ across the entrance to the Borough proclaimed ‘Poole Greets Our Prince’ in golden letters.

The memorial gates, added later as funds permitted

The party then drove to Constitution Hill where the Prince admired the view of the harbour. In the park a large crowd had gathered including ex-servicemen, school children and representatives of many local services. The Prince laid the wreath (handed to him by the Mayor’s daughter, Betty) and inspected the monument, saying that he had never seen one like it. The proceedings ended with the schoolchildren singing ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’ to the accompaniment of the Bournemouth Gasworks Band. The Prince must have attended hundreds of such ceremonies in those post-war years (and heard that particular anthem) but the royal presence continued to work its magic. As Herbert Carter later wrote ‘I have a very happy remembrance of a young man who wore rosy spectacles, was kind and considerate and anxious to please, and who had caught and understood the humour of the man in the street.’

For the past 90 years, the memorial in the Park has been the focus of commemorative events. Now the memorial and its surrounding area have been repaired and improved in time to feature in the special events to mark the centenary of the end of World War I. I wonder whether it will still be around in 2118?

The End of the Sands – the Haven Hotel Story

Any account of Sandbanks seems to contain an element of nostalgia perhaps because its development has been so extreme. From a lonely spit of sand dunes haunted by smugglers, it was transformed in not much more than a century into the present busy resort with traffic jams, car parks, hotels, luxury houses and (according to the press), millionaires every 50 metres. The story of the Haven Hotel is closely linked to this development and also includes drama, tragedy and scientific achievement.

An early view of the hotel with the coastguard jetty and look-out in the foreground

The hotel was built in 1880 at the tip of the North Haven peninsula with a priceless view of the harbour entrance, passing vessels and Brownsea Island across the water. There was no proper approach road and guests had to make their way along a rough track or be landed by boat to reach it. The original owner, Peter Tuck, soon rented out the building and in the 1881 census John Odlum and his wife were listed as proprietors. At this time there were scarcely any other buildings on ‘the sandbanks’, apart from the coastguard cottages on the other side of the peninsula. In 1887, a writer in the Bournemouth Guardian described a sailing trip out of the harbour, stopping at the Haven Hotel where they ‘put down some of the obliging landlord’s best. The hotel is placed in a rather lonely location for a restaurant, but I fancy Boniface does a good thing out of the visitors who, like we did, generally reach this spot beginning to feel hungry and thirsty.’

The following year, a tragedy occurred as the steam tug Telegraph was moving off after landing a couple of passengers for the hotel. A small boat was moored near the shore with Mr. A. Borrisow and his son Frank on board. Failing to see the sailing boat, the Telegraph hit her, throwing the occupants into the water and resulting in the death of 18 year old Frank. A Board of Trade enquiry found that the captain of the Telegraph was to blame in not keeping a proper look-out and failing to ensure that the lifeboats were ready for immediate use.

By 1889, the hotel was under the management of William B. Mullins and his wife, as a series of press advertisements show. In April 1890, William Mullins and his sister-in-law were driving in a dog cart back to the Haven after taking two gentlemen to Poole. At ‘Glass Cottage corner’ near the junction with Ashley Road, the dog cart was in collision with a brougham belonging to Captain Turner Jones and both William and his passenger were thrown out. The casualties were taken to the Haven Hotel and attended by Dr. Philpotts but William, who had been knocked unconscious, protested that he was not badly injured and did not need medical help. Later that night he died. He was 27 years old and had only been married about 10 months. The license of the hotel was transferred to William’s widow Lilian but in December she was obliged to file for bankruptcy.

Over the next few years the hotel had several different proprietors and in 1895, the owner Peter Tuck proposed that the license should be transferred from the Haven to Sandacres, (now the Sandbanks Hotel) which he also owned. He argued that the Haven Hotel was too remote and vulnerable to ‘parties of roughs’ making trouble. The proposal was turned down in the light of objections from neighbours of Sandacres. Contemporary press advertisements for the Haven show that the hotel was now under the ‘entirely New Management’ of W. H. Witherington and offered ‘Excellent cuisine, Choice Wines, Luncheons, Teas, Dinners always ready. Hot and cold Sea Water Baths. Terms moderate’. It seems quite a sophisticated offer for a rather out-of-the-way establishment. The picture shows that the hotel had already been extended with wings on either side of the original building.

In the 1890s there was concern that the shoreline at Sandbanks was eroding and that the peninsula might be cut in two at its narrowest point. Defensive groynes were needed. Another consequence of shifting sands was the build up of a bar at the harbour entrance which was seriously affecting trade. Impatient at lack of action on the part of Poole Council, an association of merchants presented a bill to Parliament for the setting up of an independent Harbour Board and this became law as the Poole Harbour Act 1895. The new Commissioners, who included representatives of the Council and local business, acquired responsibility for the Quay and Sandbanks. To raise money for the necessary sea defences, they decided to divide part of Sandbanks into 40 plots and sell them for building development. The transformation of the peninsula now began to accelerate.

A map of 1896 showing the hotel and some of the plots for sale

The pier and paddle steamer

Road access was still poor and although Sandbanks was the seaside place of the town, ‘people were jolted out of their lives before they got down there’. In 1898, however, the access by sea was improved with the building of a pier 92ft. long by 26ft. wide, large enough to allow passenger steamers to call there. The pier was sponsored by Messrs. George Habgood and Sons of Wimborne, owners of the Haven Hotel, to meet a long-felt want of ‘excursionists’ and visitors. Passengers were brought from Poole on board the S.S. Lord Elgin for the opening, conducted by the Mayor of Poole. The ceremony was followed by a luncheon in the hotel, hosted by Mr. G. Habgood junior who took the opportunity to stress the need for better roads.

Meanwhile, the Haven Hotel became the site of a cutting edge experiment. The young Italian inventor, Guglielmo Marconi had arrived in England in 1896 and won support for his investigations into wireless telegraphy. His first transmitting station was at the Royal Needles Hotel on the Isle of Wight followed by stations at Bournemouth and Swanage. In September 1898, he arrived at the Haven Hotel with masts and apparatus and set up his laboratory in an east-facing room on the ground floor.

The hotel and Marconi’s mast

One of Marconi’s assistants, Mr. H.M. Dowsett, recalled the wireless room as ‘a business workshop, full of purposeful activity and with signals being continuously exchanged between the Needles station 14 miles away.’ By 1899 it was reported in the press that ‘Marconi’s wireless telegraphy is now far beyond the experimental stage and recent trials of its practical utility have been crowned with success. . . . Recently one of the stations has been removed to the Haven Hotel, Poole and the signalling distance increased to eighteen miles.’ Marconi continued to work at the hotel until 1926. He was a frequent visitor of the Van Raalte family of Brownsea Island and his yacht Elettra was frequently seen moored off the island. When he was in residence at the hotel, there were often convivial meals with his family, assistants, fellow scientists and other visitors, followed by musical evenings with Guglielmo on the piano and his brother Alfonso playing the cello.

The landlord during most of Marconi’s time at the Haven was Frenchman Eugene Poulain, a native of Normandy. Under his management, the hotel gained a reputation for excellent food and hospitality. A lobster tea on the veranda for 40 members of the Yacht Club in 1901 was well within his scope. Over the next few years, guests of the hotel included local gentry, members of the aristocracy and even foreign royalty when the Spanish Infanta Eulalia and her two sons had ‘a most pleasant stay’. The poet Robert Browning was a guest in 1899 and nurse Edith Cavell in 1903. M. Poulain provided motor boats to ferry guests across to Shell Bay and motor buses to bring people from Poole and Bournemouth. There was also a frequent boat service from Poole Quay.

Bus and party in front of the hotel

Articles in the press praised Sandbanks as a ‘breezy and health-giving place.’ ‘The true lover of Sandbanks cannot wish it to become a fashionable resort with all which the term implies of bricks and mortar and suburban conventionality but we scarcely fancy that such will be its fate.’ In 1909, the Bournemouth Graphic gave a glowing account of the Haven. ‘This delightful spot is at the end of the sands, westward from Bournemouth, and can be reached by different means. . . The Hotel, of which Mr. E. Poulain is proprietor, is situated in a charming position overlooking the Harbour, Solent. Brownsea Island and the Purbeck Hills Everything necessary for an enjoyable holiday is to be obtained there, – fishing, swimming, boating &c.

By 1914, Eugene and his wife Francis had acquired a French partner, Raymond Louis Patenotte who later married their daughter, Marguerite. The young couple’s son, Reynold was born at the Haven in 1916. At the beginning of the First World War, the hotel was requisitioned to house Belgian refugees and was left in a poor state with skirting boards and other fittings stripped out for use as firewood. The family continued at the hotel for several more years but in 1921, it was announced that M. Poulain was retiring and revisiting France for his niece’s wedding. Transferring the licence to Mrs. Kate Eliza Dore, the Mayor expressed the hope that it would be run as well in the future as it had been in the past.

In 1925, Mrs. Dore was obliged to sue one of her guests for a debt of £24 18s 9d. The ‘well dressed’ Maurice Friend arrived at the hotel at the end of April for a 6 months’ visit at 21s 6d (£1 15p) a day. Early in his stay, he offered to buy the hotel for £27,000 and started negotiations with Mrs. Dore, probably as a ploy to stay on, even when his bill was in arrears. He also defrauded James Harvey who operated one of the Sandbanks ferry boat services by telling him that he had bought the hotel and would give him a 5 year lease of the pier for £200 a year. Mr. Harvey paid him £70 to seal the deal. Messrs Wyatt, Jewellers of Bournemouth were also patronised (or targeted) by Mr. Friend who bought goods from them on three occasions and in each case, paid by a cheque worth more than the purchase price and received cash as change. All the cheques were returned by the bank. It turned out that Maurice Friend was an undischarged bankrupt with debts of £7,146 and no assets, but he must have been a very plausible trickster to fool so many business people.

Meanwhile, building development in Sandbanks had been proceeding at a pace and an advertisement for the hotel in 1923 mentions ‘Bungalow Town’ near by. Car travel was also on the increase and an Act of Parliament was obtained to allow a car ferry to operate across the harbour entrance to Shell Bay. A steam driven ferry started in 1926, and in its first season carried around 100,000 passengers. The ferry’s journeys to and fro have been a source of fascination to hotel clients ever since.

The rebuilt Haven Hotel as seen from the ferry

In 1925, the hotel had been bought by Sir Arthur Wheeler, the latest owner of Brownsea Island who appointed Major Ruttle to run it. The country was in the midst of an economic recession but  some with the means and confidence were bold enough to invest in the future. Starting with a major rebuild in 1926, the hotel was transformed into a large, luxurious building incorporating the most modern features such as a smoking room, sea water baths in the rooms and a sprung dance floor. Garages were provided for the guests’ motor cars, with rooms for their chauffeurs above.

An article in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News in May 1928 gives a glowing description: ‘At Sandbanks there has arisen . . . a new Haven Hotel, the like of which I have not quite come across in all Great Britain. . . . As a comfortable, modern, perfectly designed and furnished real hotel, in the best sense of the word, it stands almost in a class of its own, and I have no hesitation in recommending any of my readers who want the best of food and wines and sea air to try it for themselves.’ The writer was particularly struck by the location ‘facing blue water on almost every side, the only exception being the view that looks across the gorse and bungalow-covered ridge to the north. Ships – mostly yachts – pass immediately beneath its windows; across the strait stand up the blue Purbeck hills; within fifty yards one can bath from golden sands in clear water and best of all, there seems always some place where one can sit entirely out of doors and yet out of the wind.’

The Haven had moved into a different league, to be considered side by side with establishments like the Royal Bath in Bournemouth. In the following years it would host big events like the British Rotary annual district conference with 150 delegates in 1930 or the 1935 Parkstone Sailing Club annual dinner dance for 180 members, as well as regular week-end dances.

Haven Hotel c.1940

World War II put everything on hold. Sandbanks was a restricted area and local residents were summoned to the Haven to be issued with special passes. The ‘golden sands’ were strung with barred wire and many buildings were requisitioned for military purposes, including the Haven Hotel. At various times, it was used to accommodate the Green Howards, American troops, the Royal Navy and BOAC staff operating the flying boats from the harbour. During a bombing raid, the hotel kitchen was hit and the boiler thrown out of the building. After the war, work was needed to refurbish the building which was in a poor state and it was not until 1949 that it reopened under Major Ruttle’s management.

The Business Centre

In the postwar world, hotels like the Haven found themselves competing with affordable holidays on the continent. A low point for the hotel was in the early 1970s when plans were put forward to demolish it and replace it with a block of flats. Ironically, it was the recession that prevented demolition, as a developer could not be found. In 1977, the prospects for the hotel improved when it was bought by FJB Group. Press articles announced that the Group planned to spend £250,000, add 25 extra bedrooms (bringing the total to 101) and install an open air sea water swimming pool and a roofed sun terrace. In the 1980s, a leisure club and business centre was opened. The Haven was once again aiming at the luxury market.

Disaster struck in 1988 when, as the press reported, ‘a blaze ripped through the roof and third floor of the Haven Hotel, and over 100 guests had to be evacuated.’ The alarm was raised by pastry chef Dave Holmes who smelled smoke while serving tea. Going outside, he saw smoke coming from the roof. Staff were quickly mobilized to check all the rooms for guests before the fire brigade arrived. No-one was injured but the damage to the hotel was serious as part of the roof had collapsed on to the third floor. It was a serious set-back but the hotel was rebuilt and restored. It went on to become an award winning hotel into the 21st century.

The Haven Hotel story over 130 years has run parallel to the story of Sandbanks itself, once wild and remote and now developed and urban. The hotel’s iconic building represents 1920s Poole archtiecture, a period of optimism against the odds. In spite of dramatic changes, the Haven’s appeal still rests on the location and its simple, but spectacular blend of sand, sea and scenery.


Main sources:  Morris, Iris Looking Back at Sandbanks / Waters, Jeremy Parkstone-on-Sea, Salterns, Sandbanks and Seaplanes. / Newspaper articles