Mocking-Up, Tissue Puffs and Sausages – the Great Museum Decant

This week the Museum decant has finally begun in earnest. The task is to remove all the items on display and pack them up ready to go into store before the internal building work gets underway.

A great deal of preparation has taken place to get to this stage. For example, a list of objects for the new gallery displays had been produced by the teams researching the different themes, but no-one really knew whether the objects would fit into the cases proposed by the design team, and how they could best be arranged. This was the cue for Gary Edwards and Joe Raine of the collections department to start a series of experiments to try out the objects in their proposed spaces. Snag number one – the cases don’t actually exist yet! The only solution was ‘mocking up’, using imaginary cases taped out on the floor from the measurements given on the plans. A great deal of ingenuity was required to replicate three dimensions from a two dimensional footprint.

Mocking up the military Poole case with Gary, Joe and
volunteers Debbie, Linda and Bob

Packing everything up to keep the chosen display items separate from the rest, calls for a master plan. Gary and Joe have produced a list for each box of all the objects to be packed in it. A lot of measurement was needed to see if this vase or that piece of scrimshaw would fit. They have also devised a schedule of work so that different sections are packed in a logical order, and obtained a large stack of boxes from Robert Dyas, when the first chosen supplier failed to come up with the goods. Meanwhile Lorenda Elliott has been busy recruiting volunteers for the great task. In a series of volunteer briefings, the recruits have been introduced to (among other techniques) the mysteries of making tissue puffs. These magical items are designed to cradle the artefacts on a pillow of air-filled tissue as gently as a baby in its cot. A variation of the puff is the sausage. This resembles a large white cracker with twisted ends and a string of sausages make a soft grid for the bottom or sides of a box. Many many thousands of puffs and sausages will be created before the task is done.

So as the workmen begin the job of dismantling the scaffolding on the outside of the museum, the interior work has begun. Over the next few weeks we hope that it will progress smoothly and overcome any problems on the way. Watch this space for future bulletins.


A Trip to West Dorset Anyone?

This is the best time of year for planning holidays and excursions even if it’s only to prove that long days and warm sunshine will return. That is why our talk on 18th January with Jackie Winter seems particularly appropriate. Why not come along and leave the cold behind for an hour?

Discovering West Dorset:  Travelling the Byways with Jackie Winter

18th January 2023 7.30 pm at the Spire, Poole High Street

West Dorset is full of variety, with miles of coast and country to be explored. Quiet winding lanes lead to some of the prettiest villages in England. This talk contains fascinating snippets concerning local quirks, customs, and traditions, as well as useful information regarding leisurely walks and visits to pubs, tea shops, rural churches and manor houses steeped in history. Hope to see you there!


Swash Channel Wreck – Some Background from the Netherlands

Doing some more research recently on the wrecked Dutch merchant ship the Fame, (otherwise known as the Swash Channel Wreck), I came across an online article in Dutch which filled in some of the background from her home port of Hoorn. It is not new information because the article was published in 2017, but it was new to me and adds to the story we have of the Fame’s last voyage.

After the shipwreck near the entrance to Poole Harbour in 1631, the merchant owners were in communication with the English High Court of Admiralty and their names appear in the records in anglicised form as Hercules Garretson and Cornelius Vene. Research in the Dutch archives by Peter Swart and John Brozius, the writer of the article, identified them as Hercke Gerritsz and Cornelis Claesz Veen the younger, important Hoorn merchant shipowners. They were joint owners of several vessels and also had a family connection since Gerritsz was married to Veen’s cousin. Both men lived on the Grote Oost, one of the city’s grandest streets.

The Grote Oost

References in the Westfries Archives and the National Archives in the Hague suggest that they were involved in the salt trade. As owners of the Neptune, they brought a court case in 1624 over a salt delivery for which they had not been paid. Another lawsuit involved an Amsterdam dealer who was blocking the sale of a large quantity of stockfish salt belonging to Veen. In 1632 the crew of Veen’s ship, the Son, sued him for not paying their full wages for a four month voyage to take on salt in Brazil and the West Indies.

Salt was a valuable commodity, vital for the North American salt fish business among other trades. During the 1620s, the merchants of Hoorn were trying to prevent the Caribbean salt trade being included in the patent of the Dutch West India Company (WIC), but by the middle of the decade, the company was winning the dispute. Merchants were required to pay a levy to the company on all salt unloaded at their home ports. If a ship were hired by the company, the strict contract would lay down what crew, guns, and ammunition she should carry and where she must call to collect and load the salt. Payment was made only when the cargo was unloaded at the home port, and the company bore no risk if the voyage were unsuccessful.

It is likely that loading salt was also the purpose of the Fame’s voyage to the West Indies, either independently or under contract to the WIC. When she came to grief on the sands near Poole, the master Jacob Jansz Bootmaecker reported the loss to the owners along with the news that local people were plundering the wreck for ‘provisions of victual, tackle, furniture and other necessaries.’ Gerritsz and Veen promptly petitioned the High Court of Admiralty in London for the return of their property. Nowhere was there any mention of cargo or passengers being carried on the ship, so this would fit the pattern of a salt voyage. The article suggests that a salt ship would be carrying a large number of barrows and shovels, but If there were any on board, they were lost in the wreck or perhaps removed by scavenging locals.

The information from the article tells us more about the Fame and the probable purpose of her voyage but does not resolve one mystery, the identity of the carved face on the rudder head of the ship. It looks like an individual but could it be Gerritsz or Veen? As far as I know there are no portraits of the merchants in existence.


Main source: Brozius, John. De Faem, een Hoornse Zouthaler Gestrand voor de Engelse Kust. Oud Hoorn 2017 4 pp.124-8

A Stone Story

Across the south of the Isle of Purbeck is a band of limestone rocks, alternating with layers of clay and marl. They were formed around 145 millennia ago in the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous period in a landscape of freshwater or brackish lagoons, sometimes flooded by the sea. Fossils of molluscs, fish, reptiles, insects, mammals and trees, and occasional dinosaur footprints give a clue to the conditions at different times during their formation. In places, the beds are up to 170m thick and outcrop at the surface and in the cliffs along the shore. Many of the beds provide good building stone, and the ‘Purbeck marble’ layers in particular are famous for their decorative appearance and polishing quality.

Not surprisingly these rocks, plentiful, versatile and relatively accessible, have been exploited by mankind for centuries, since prehistoric times, in fact. The jetties of the Iron Age port in Poole Harbour were paved mainly in Purbeck stone and the Romans used it for inscription tablets, mouldings, cornices, mortars (grindstones) and stone coffins. In medieval times, the trade really took off. Purbeck marble was used in Durham Cathedral in and soon was in demand for important buildings all over the country, including the cathedrals at Canterbury, Ely, Lincoln and York and the Temple Church in London. It provided slender, shining columns, ideal for the soaring gothic style, and also effigies, pavements, fonts and tomb lids.

Purbeck marble columns in Salisbury Cathedral

By the middle of the 13th century many tons of marble were being supplied for the building of Salisbury Cathedral and the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey. Purbeck stonemasons, known as ‘marblers’, with their special skills in working the stone, travelled to the sites to carry out finishing and polishing, and eventually formed their own communities in London and elsewhere. For more mundane uses, building stone was also constantly in demand. This local resource can be seen all over Purbeck and beyond, in the walls of castles and cottages, barns and warehouses.

Fine Purbeck stone masonry at Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle was the centre of the medieval trade. Stone was brought from the quarries, perhaps by horse-drawn sled to Corfe village. West Street, then the main street, was lined with ‘bankers’ to store the stone blocks, and workshops where items could be produced for the customers. The products of the stonemasons were as finished as possible to avoid shipping more weight than needed. From Corfe, the stone was taken by horse and cart down to the sea at Ower in Poole Harbour to be loaded on to boats. It is thought that the carts were provided with extra large wheels so that they could be driven into the sea to load up. Little is known about the medieval boats except that they must have been sturdy to cope with such a cargo. Some of the value of the trade probably filtered through to the small but growing port of Poole.

Ashlar blocks of Purbeck Stone in Poole town cellars, 1400s

Most of the details of this early stone trade can only be worked out from rare documentary evidence, finished structures and monuments in cathedrals and elsewhere, the traditions of stone workers and the traces of disused quarries and tracks across the heath. It would be fascinating to catch a glimpse of the trade at its peak in medieval times. In fact, around the year 1250, (about the time Poole was receiving its first charter from William Longespee), one loaded stone boat foundered with its cargo just outside Poole Harbour, and never reached its destination. Recently rediscovered, it is believed to be the oldest medieval wreck found in English waters and is the subject of our talk at the Museum Society meeting on 14th December (7.30 pm at the Spire) when Tom Cousins of Bournemouth University will be unravelling some of the mysteries of the so-called ‘mortar wreck’. We hope to see you there!


A Poole Dentist and the Yankee Dodge

James Burgess Hamilton was a chemist and druggist from Portsmouth who came to Poole in the early 1800s with his wife Elizabeth and their young son, Horatio. They set up shop in the High Street close to the Bull’s Head Inn, now the Rubicon Recruitment Agency. Horatio (or to give him his full name, Horatio Theophilus Wilson Hamilton) had been born in 1816, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and was presumably named after England’s hero, Horatio Nelson. Shortly after they arrived in Poole, they had another son who was born in April 1819 and baptised Augustus Priestley Hamilton at the old Presbyterian Meeting House in Hill Street.

Bull’s Head Inn

Like much of the country, Poole was going through a recession in the aftermath of the war with France. In Poole’s case, this was made worse by the rapid decline of the Newfoundland trade which had been the mainstay of the port. Nevertheless, High Street was a busy thoroughfare, lined with houses, shops, workshops and inns. Coaches passed regularly on their way to the London Hotel and the Antelope, and the street was often congested with carriers’ wagons. Behind the main streets, most people were squeezed into overcrowded and rather insanitary courts and lanes, the population of the town having grown by over a third in the first two decades of the century.

During the early years in Poole, James had to establish his business and win the trust of local customers and medical men. Beside patent remedies bought in, he probably made up many of his own medicines and pills on the premises. The family was also growing, with the birth of Julius in 1821 and Lavinia in 1825, although Lavinia may have died young. The 1830s were a time of political instability with agitation for parliamentary reform. When the Reform Act was passed in 1832, Poole’s boundaries were expanded and the number of burgesses greatly increased, one of the new voters being James Hamilton. By the time of the first detailed census in 1841, James at 50 and Horatio, now 25, were both working as chemists, and 15-year-old Julius was probably learning the business. Augustus was not listed with the rest of the family as, according to the Dorset County Chronicle, he was in Edinburgh training as a surgeon, where he was in the running to receive first prize in that year’s essay competition.

John Sydenham’s shop, now Frontline with James Hamilton’s premises two doors away.

 Poole society had its share of scholars, scientists, and innovators. There was the High Street doctor, Thomas Salter, a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and also a noted botanist and geologist and member pf the Linnaean Society. A close neighbour of the Hamiltons was John Sydenham, printer, bookseller, and stationer who established the Poole and Dorset Herald in 1846. The editor was his son, John junior who had published a history of Poole in 1839. The 1830s and 1840s were a time of economic recession and political in-fighting, but also brought the first Poole bridge, the subscription library, a new Anglican church in High Street, the introduction of street lighting and the coming of the railway to Hamworthy.

During the 1840s, Augustus completed his medical training, returned to Poole and set up as a medical practitioner. Meanwhile, Horatio was developing a career as a dental surgeon. Both brothers married during the decade and settled in neighbouring properties further up the High Street from their father’s shop, probably on or near the site now occupied by Lloyds Bank. They were both in their 30s and at the start of their professional careers, at a time when new discoveries and techniques were about to revolutionise the practice of medicine.

The site of the premises occupied by Horatio and Augustus, now Lloyds Bank

This is the background to the events described in the next Museum Society talk, when Poole played a small part in medical history. Come along and find out more, including the vital question – what was the ‘Yankee Dodge’? The talk is on Wednesday 16th November at 7.30 pm in the Spire, Poole High Street.


State of the Art to Ancient Edifice – Poole’s Town Cellars

Hidden under hoardings and scaffolding, the Town Cellars building is currently undergoing renovations before emerging in its new role as the shipwreck gallery of the refurbished Poole Museum. It is just the latest chapter in the long history of this remarkable building.

Built as a woolhouse to serve the expanding English wool trade, it was originally the very latest thing in port warehousing. When the Black Death arrived in England and spread devastation throughout the country, the building was already around 50 years old. It has stood on the quay through every conflict since the Hundred Year’s War and suffered attack, fire, flood, storms. neglect, decay, collapse, and rebuilding. Merchandise of all kinds, the life-blood of Poole’s trade, has been stored within its walls. As the historian, John Sydenham related, the building is ‘of considerable antiquity, but so mutilated by time, violence and alterations, that it is difficult to trace in the structure itself the characters of its original use’.

Investigations in the last few decades have revealed a lot about the Town Cellars, but many mysteries remain. Even such basic facts as exactly when it was built and by whom, are unknown. The next society talk on Wednesday 19th October at 7.30 pm (in Hall 2, the Spire, High Street) will try to sort out facts where they are known and relate some of stories and mysteries associated with the 700 year history of the building. Why not come along and take part? Non-members are very welcome to attend at a fee of £3.

Local Author appeal

I have had an enquiry about an author called Nora Laverock Lees who lived with her parents and sister Enid in Glencullen, Western Road, Branksome Park in the 1930s. Nora had been born in Ireland before moving to this area and in 1936, she published a book entitled Bogs and Blarney, describing travels through the west country of Ireland, particularly Aran and Connemara. It was illustrated with pen and ink sketches by M. Vesey.

In 1958, Nora is believed to have married Harold Horton and the couple continued to live in the area. After her husband’s death in 1969, Nora possibly lived with her sister in Park Court Western Road. Nora Laverock Horton died in 1987, and her address at that time was given as 26, Sandecotes Road, Parkstone. Does anyone know about Nora and her family, parents George Murray Lees and Mary Lees or her sister Enid Mary Lees? Did she write any other books? Any information would be welcome.


Pirates of the Carribean – The Poole Connection

The infamous Blackbeard

The name Woodes Rogers was a familiar one in Poole in the later 17th century. A list of mariners in 1664 contained two men of that name, presumably father and son. One of them was mate on the ship Magdalen of Poole under Captain Sydrach Lester. Nearly 30 years later, another Woodes Rogers was listed in a Poole poll book of 1690. He and his wife Francis, son Woodes and an infant child were then living in Thames Street, quite a prestigious location.

Shortly afterwards, the family moved to Bristol where Woodes junior served an apprenticeship in seafaring. In 1708, with backing from local merchants, he set off on a privateering voyage which was to take him round the globe and make his name. On the way, the expedition faced desertion, mutiny and disease, took a rich Spanish prize ship and rescued Alexander Selkirk, the model for Robinson Crusoe, from the island of Juan Fernandez. On his return, Rogers wrote an account of his voyage which was a great success. Financially, however, he was struggling.

Rogers next turned his attention to the problem of the pirates who had found bases in various parts of the world to prey on merchant shipping. After failing to interest the East India Company in a colony in Madagascar, he managed to get a commission as Captain General and Governor in Chief of the Bahamas, then a notorious centre of piracy. Armed with the promise of a royal pardon for those who surrendered, Rogers’ task was to clear the islands of pirates. It would bring him into conflict with such colourful individuals as Jack Rackham, known as ‘Calico Jack’, ‘Blackbeard’ (Edward Teach), Benjamin Hornigold, Charles Vane and female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Woodes Rogers as Governor

Woodes Rogers’ struggle with the pirates is the subject of our first talk this autumn for the Museum Society when Don Nutt will be describing the next chapter in Rogers’ adventurous life. There will even be a little story-telling to set the scene.

The talk is on Wednesday 21st at 7.30pm in our new temporary venue, the Spire, Poole High Street. Don’t miss it! Non-members are welcome to come along for a charge of £3. The entrance is in the street to the left of the building.

The Delayed 200th Anniversary Celebrations of St. James’ Church, Poole

The delayed celebrations: In normal times, St. James’ Church, Poole would have celebrated its 200th anniversary on time, but Covid restrictions intervened. Belatedly, it is about to celebrate it on the weekend of 10th and 11th September 2022. This article outlines a few details about its rebuilding in 1820-21, noting some interesting aspects of the historical and cultural context that may have led to the choice of its architectural style. It also notes that opinions offered on the quality of its architecture in two hundred years have tended to the lukewarm (about the exterior) but have been uniformly appreciative of the interior. 

The earlier church: The first reference to a church in Poole is in 1142, when the chapel of St. James was endowed to a Wiltshire Priory by the Lord of the Manor, together with its ‘mother’ church in Canford Magna, the seat of the Lord of Canford Manor. 

The Rector: It was originally sole Church of England parish church of Poole. Its rector at this time was the renowned and long-serving Rev. Peter William Joliffe (Feb. 1767- Feb. 1861), who ministered for seventy years there. He was well respected in the town, in many ways conducting himself with an ecumenical spirit, according to local histories of the Dorset non-conformist churches. [1.]

Why was the church rebuilt?  Lehane (2006) writes that old St. James’ was “the worse for eighteenth century wear and tear.”  [2.] The website for British listed buildings notes that it was rebuilt near the end of the almost complete renewal of the town between 1700 and the early nineteenth century, coinciding with the town’s greatest period of prosperity. [3.]

Brocklebank notes that following the end of the Napoleonic Wars [4.], and civil, social and political shockwaves emanating from the French Revolution, there followed “a slow and very serious re-appraisal of the functions of the Church of England, partially but not wholly provoked by the success of non-conformity.” [5.] This was within the context of industrialisation and urbanisation, and the burgeoning urban working classes. In Poole, many non-conformist congregations were prospering, as evidenced by their wider influence and church building. Skinner Street Congregational Church, and its many local daughter churches, epitomises this locally. 

The decision to rebuild: A survey undertaken by the architects, John Kent of Southampton and Joseph Hannaford of Christchurch, showed how much a rebuild was needed. They discovered just below the floorboards, under some pews, “some coffins with no other covering than the loose [floor]boards, from which such an offensive smell arose that we were obliged to put the covering boards down again immediately…” [6.]

Whatever the urgency, ‘the Vestry’ (responsible for overseeing church business, including maintenance) vacillated on how to proceed: simply structural and cosmetic repairs or a complete rebuild?  Disagreements over costs, in particular, became heated.  It took a year to agree to add the tower, the battle to rebuild having been won by then. [7.]  

Exterior of St. James Church, Lehane p.100

The architectural style chosen: Brocklebank (1979) notes that the former dominant classical style of English church architecture, associated with Hawksmoor, Wren and Gibbs, appeared old-fashioned in the early nineteenth century and was eclipsed by “a nostalgic longing for the romantic past” [8.], in the form of Georgian Gothic.  It had links in literature and was first expressed architecturally in grand houses.  Unease about some aspects of industrialisation and urbanisation (noted earlier) may have framed this new cultural style.  

Historical opinions of the new church’s architecture: Whilst many appraisals to the exterior have tended to be lukewarm, those of the interior, have consistently earned praise.  The authors of Hutchins’ third edition of his History and Antiquaries of Dorset seem to have set the tone, writing (in 1861) that the church is “a remarkably commodious edifice”, adding, “Taken as a whole, its architectural character, though not coming up to the standard of the present day, is far from being inelegant…” [9.

Rather more generously, the British Listed Buildings website, assesses it as “an exceptionally complete and virtually unaltered late Georgian church of high architectural quality” [10. ]  It particularly notes the Purbeck ashlar exterior.  Elsewhere it is described as a “plain late Gothic style typical of the early nineteenth century Gothic revival.” [11.]  The least complementary, if not dismissive, comes from Lehane (2006), who writes: ‘It is just fine, it is OK, St. James”, adding that its fine Purbeck stonework looks good on sunny days!  [12.]  

Interior of St. James Church from An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 2, Part 2, Plate 118

Fortunately, there is unanimity over its interior, the consistent element singled out for praise being the clustered pillars reputedly of Newfoundland pine (not all agree the timber came from there – although the British Listed Buildings website seems convinced).  Brocklebank (2006) applauds Poole for opting for timber, rather than cast iron – the new medium of the age – and agrees with so many others that their slender pillars echo the masts of sailing ships.  [13.]  They are a double echo of Poole’s commercial and familial links and (at the time) its prosperous maritime trade. 

© Kit Pearce, 2022

  1. The Story of the Congregational Churches of Dorset, Densham & Ogle, Mates & Co. Ltd, Poole (1899) p. 205
  2. Dorset’s Best Churches; Lehane, Brendan; Dovecote Press Ltd, Wimborne (2006);  p. 101
  3. British Listed Buildings: (Poole St, James entry)
  4. The impact of the peace and trade treaties following the end of the Napoleonic Wars were not to be felt for another decade or two, leading to a steep decline in Poole’s prosperity, notoriously in the Hungry Forties (the 1840s)
  5. Victorian Stone Carvers in Dorset Churches 1856 – 1880; Brocklebank, Joan;           Dovecote Press Ltd, Wimborne; (1999); p. 11
  6. Mansions & Merchants of Poole & Dorset; Beamish, Derek; Hillier, John; Johnstone, HFV; Poole Historical Trust; (1976); p. 175
  7. Beamish, Hillier & Johnstone; op cit; p. 175
  8. Brocklebank (1999), op cit; p. 11
  9. The History & Antiquities of the County of Dorset – Vol 1 – 3rd Edition; Hutchins, John; E P Publishing Ltd, Wakefield; (1861); p. 50
  10. British Listed Buildings Website, op cit.
  11. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Vol 2/2; HMSO; (1972); p. 193
  12. Lehane (2006), op cit; p. 100
  13. Brocklebank (1999), op cit; p. 12