Poole and the Press

In 1759 it was reported in the Annual Register that Captain Nickleson of Poole, master of the Thomas and Elizabeth had been awarded the sum of £1,000 with costs in a court case against Captain Fortescue of the Prince Edward man of war. Acting for the impress service, Fortescue had taken so many men from Nickleson’s ship, as she sailed back to Poole that she foundered and was lost. This was just one of the more extreme incidents involving the infamous press gang and the port of Poole.

Legalised by a series of Acts from 1664 onwards, the press had been set up to help supply the Royal Navy with the large numbers of seamen it needed in time of war. Service in the navy was unpopular with many sailors because conditions were poor, discipline harsh and pay usually less than in the merchant service. There was also a policy of paying the men six months in arrears to discourage desertion. The answer of the authorities was a system of forced recruitment, targeting seafaring men between the ages of 18 and 55, (although non-seamen were sometimes taken). It was an offence in law to resist the press, which was therefore both hated and feared. For the merchants and ship-owners who stood to lose their best seamen it was a cause of great resentment.

St James old church

Poole merchants were known to allow their men to disembark before the ships reached port or to hide them on their country estates to escape the press. Local magistrates sometimes delayed signing the Impressment Certificates authorising the press men to operate in the town, so as to give seamen a chance to make themselves scarce. They also issued men with ‘Protections’ or certificates of exemption on various pretexts. In the case of a ‘hot press’ however, these might count for little especially as the press gang members were recruited more for their brawn than for their finer scruples. In February 1762, it is reported that one unfortunate young man was carried off from the door of St. James’ church where he was about to be married.

The press also took men from merchant ships at sea, encircling the coast with their tenders and particularly targeting the main trade routes including those taken by the Newfoundland ships. Sometimes a ship might be dangerously depleted of crewmen. In 1741 the Joseph and Mary was so late in returning to Poole that she was given up for lost. When she finally limped into port it was discovered that she had lost 15 crew members to the press. It was in this context that the disastrous loss of the Thomas and Elizabeth occurred.

The actions of the press also affected the work of the Customs Service. In 1770 local customs officers reported to their superiors that, hearing there was ‘a very hot press’ in Poole, four men took a boat from the Elizabeth and went ashore to avoid being pressed before the ship entered quarantine. Later the same month, five men went on shore from the Nancy to escape the press and could not be traced. The ‘terror of falling into the hands of the impress officers’ seemed likely to undermine the quarantine system to the danger of the public. Customs men themselves were not exempt from being pressed. After one such incident in 1779, local customs men wrote to their headquarters: ‘We waited on Captain Scott to know whether he would release these men which he refused & said he would impress even Extra Tidesmen who was fit to serve in His Majesty’s Navy, that was not on actual duty, which if he persists in doing we are certain the Service must suffer greatly & therefore humbly pray Your Honours’ Speedy Directions what is to be done.’ In 1780 they reported that customs officers could not go into the country to search for run goods without an escort from the military.

Benjamin Lester

Believing that the press was essential to the navy, the national authorities continued to support the system in spite of the antagonism raised in the country. It was this resentment that led to the worst incident of all involving Poole and the press. In 1794, the brig Maria belonging to leading merchant Benjamin Lester was returning to Poole from Newfoundland, having on board a number of passengers, mainly fishermen returning to their homes in Dorset. On the night of Saturday 29th November the brig’s master George Randall anchored in Studland Bay, where the pilot Thomas Allen came aboard around midnight. A tender of the impress service was in the area, commanded by Lieutenants John Glover and Nathaniel Phillips with Midshipman Arthur Oliver. Glover sent a boat loaded with men to board the brig but the passengers and crew of the Maria refused to allow the press on board and continued to resist when the tender also came alongside. The tender anchored near to the brig for the night.

The following day the Maria with Thomas Allen at the helm entered Poole Harbour, closely shadowed by the tender which had on board 20 soldiers besides the impress men. It was ‘between ‘Brownsea and Jack-in-the-Basket’ according to later testimony that Lieut. Phillips told the pilot to come to and anchor, but Thomas Allen replied that the passengers would not allow him to do so. Shortly after, the impress men and soldiers succeeded in getting on board. Captain Randall and some of the passengers including Captain Stephen Pack were confined below decks while the Lieutenants and their men impressed all they could find and took them on board the tender. Hearing shots, Captain Pack ‘broke out of the cabin where he had been confined and went on Deck & cry’d for Quarters & desir’d them to bring the boat for that many people were killed or wounded’. When Captain Randall reached the deck he found that Thomas Allen and two others, Peter Rake and John Housley had been shot dead and several others badly injured, two of whom later died.

The Antelope Inn

That night Benjamin Lester noted in his diary that when the brig was brought to the Quay there was such an outcry that it was only through the presence of soldiers garrisoned in the town that the magistrates managed to save the Lieutenants from harm. Two inquests were held in the following week, the first at the Poole Arms on Thomas Allen and the other at the Antelope Inn on Rake and Housley. With feelings running high, verdicts of murder was found against Glover, Phillips and the Midshipman Oliver, who was alleged to have shot Housley through the head. Believing that the three could not receive a fair trial in Poole, the Admiralty intervened and they were tried instead at the Old Bailey. In June 1795 they were acquitted of the charges.

Following this tragedy, feelings must hardened even more against the press in Poole but there were times when even service in the navy was better than the alternatives on offer. In 1800, with famine in the countryside, young men flocked into Poole and were pressed in large numbers. Washed, cheaply clothed and given a knife, spoon, comb and a piece of soap each, they found themselves on board where they could at least be sure of avoiding starvation. Four years later in 1804, Captain Walbeoff and Lieutenant Osmer, with a midshipman and eight press gang men broke into the house of mariner William Trim to press him. Trim tried to escape, hitting the midshipman with a red hot poker, but was overpowered and disarmed. His sister going to his aid was also assaulted and when his father, a man of around 70, came rushing in, he was stabbed in the back and beaten. Following this incident an Admiralty inquiry was held into the conduct of the impress officers.

With no signs of an end to the long war with France, the demand for men to supply the navy was unrelenting. In 1805, the local impress men complained that the customs officers showed an ‘unjustifiable’ inclination to obstruct them in their duty. The customs officers were refusing to inform the press when a ship was released from quarantine and stood on their dignity when asked to explain: ‘We beg leave to observe that we are not aware of its being customary at any of the out-ports for the Office of Customs to give such information to the Office of the Impress Service’.

A couple of incidents involving Robert Gillet, landlord of the Lion and Lamb in Salisbury Street, were more farce than tragedy. On one occasion Lieutenant John Marshall of the impress service had pressed a seaman in the taproom of the inn. Gillet’s wife and daughter assaulted Marshall and then followed him out into the street shouting abuse. A crowd quickly gathered and Marshall escaped with difficulty. Another time an impress midshipman, Michael Ryan, was passing the inn when Gillet grabbed hold of a gig which was standing in the yard and tried to run Ryan down. According to the court report: ‘on being asked why he did it, defendant said “If you don’t like it you may kiss my arse” which he frequently repeated and used many other opprobrious and insulting expressions.’

For a long time the impressment system had been justified by the authorities on the grounds that it was supporting Britain’s freedom by helping to maintain naval supremacy. By the end of the Napoleonic wars the system was seen as clearly unjust and oppressive and was at last discontinued.

Jenny

Main sources: Poole Custom House Letter Book / Hutchinson The Press Gang Afloat and Ashore / Beamish and others The Pride of Poole 1688-1851. /  Poole archives – Coroner’s Inquests

 

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Poole’s Ghost Walls

Pause in the middle of Falkland Square, level with the turning into Kingland Crescent, and you are probably standing on the line of Poole’s long-vanished medieval defences. Cutting across this area four hundred years ago was a ditch stretching from Holes Bay in the west to Parkstone Bay in the east, backed by the town walls. To the west near the site of the present railway station was the only landward entrance to the town, the ‘embattled gate of stone’ known as the towngate, reached by a drawbridge.

Map of the defences c.1634

The defences were constructed in the 15th century following a grant from Henry VI in 1433 making Poole a Port of the Staple or customs port for Dorset. Permission for the Poole inhabitants to build defences was included in the grant: ‘The mayor and Burgesses of the said town of Pole propose (as we conceive) sufficiently to wall, embattle and fortify (through our succour and licence) the said town and port for the more safe keeping of merchandizes and other goods coming thither, and also for the fortifying of the places adjacent.’

There is no record of the process of constructing the defences but it must have been a major operation. The chosen line of the wall and ditch took advantage of the geography of the town, cutting across the narrow neck of land joining the Poole peninsular to the main land. Elsewhere the town was protected by the sea and mudflats. Why the towngate was built to the west rather than near the middle of the defences is not clear. Perhaps it was a case of choosing the highest and most solid piece of ground, but its location required the building of an access road from High Street known as Towngate Lane (later Towngate Street). There are several images of the towngate on old maps, showing it as a square castellated gate house flanked by two round towers. There are also many references to it in the archives, as for instance in the town accounts of 1524 when the two new posts and nearly 2 cwt of iron were needed to repair the gate or in 1645 when workmen were paid for mending the chain of the drawbridge. In contrast, the walls are only sketchily depicted and seldom mentioned in the records.

The earliest image comes from a map or bird’s eye view of the Dorset coast dating from 1539 when Henry VIII was planning a series of forts and beacons against attack from the continent (one of which was the blockhouse on Brownsea Island). Confusingly to our eyes, south is shown at the top of the map and an added complication is that some of the depicted fortifications were never actually built. The Poole section shows the towngate with what might be a stretch of wall to the west and a cluster of buildings behind to represent the town. Two circular gun platforms are also shown, one on the Quay and one at the end of the Hamworthy peninsular. We know from the records that a gun platform was built on the quay in 1524, decorated with carved and painted heraldic animals from the royal coat of arms. This platform or its successor may be the one shown on the map, but as space was tight on the Quay it would have probably been removed as soon as the invasion threat was over. The Hamworthy fortification was known as the bulwark and is mentioned in the archives into the 1600s.

The old wall near the Quay

Shortly after the map was drawn up, the antiquary John Leland visited Poole and observed its layout. He described the town being connected to the main land ‘by the space almost of a flite shot’ and mentioned the towngate and the ditch, but not the walls at the north end of town. Instead he claimed that ‘King Richard III began a pece of a Toun Waulle at one end of the Kay; and promised large thinges to the Town of Pole.’ This may refer to a section of wall behind the buildings on Thames Street which still exists. Dating from the late 15th century or the 16th century (depending on which authority you consult) this wall of coursed limestone rubble is about 3m high, 30m long and in places nearly 1m thick. It contains an arched doorway and for part of its length, a projecting castellated top supported by corbels. On the inside are stone steps leading up to a parapet. Whether this was a town wall or a rather over-sized property boundary and whether it was originally longer and was ever finished are among the many questions surrounding the structure. What is clear is that at one time the shingle came up to foot of the wall but over time the shore was reclaimed, leaving the wall high and (literally) dry. By 1609, an inventory of a house on Thames Street describes its two gardens, one within and one outside ‘the battled wall’. In other words, by this date the wall had lost its function as a property boundary, let alone anything as grand as a town wall.

Map from the time of Elizabeth I

In 1582, a legal settlement with the town’s brewers over taxes made a rare reference to the town walls, describing how Poole’s revenues ‘must of necessity be from time to time employed used and bestowed upon the necessary provision and maintenance of the said town the church the haven the quay the walls and other necessary offices . . .’ Around the same time another map of the harbour seems to show the town completely walled around, with a structure, presumably the towngate, at the northern end of town. The details cannot be taken literally, but the map-maker clearly wanted to show a fortified town. It is not until the early 17th century that maps begin to show the layout of the town with some accuracy for the first time and it is from these that we get most information about the defences and their location.

Map c. 1630s from the Bankes family archive

By the time of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, Poole’s defences like those of many towns must have seemed like a relic from the past. In changed times, however, they were about to come into their own. Poole had declared its support for Parliament and one of the first actions of the authorities was to make an order that ‘that a constant watch shalbe from henceforth kept for the preservation and the Defence of this towne, by the number of one watch man, one Rounder, and a gunner for the daye tyme att the towne gate, and six ordinary watchmen of the Comonalty, and two rounders for the night watch’. The inclusion of ‘rounders’ or roundsmen suggests a boundary which could be patrolled.

The following year, there was an attempt by the Royalists to take the town by treachery which casts more light on the war time defences. A Royalist Captain Thomas Phillips had been having secret meetings with Captain Francis Sydenham of the Poole garrison to persuade him to betray the town into Royalist hands. Sydenham pretended to accept but revealed the plot to Col. John Bingham, the Governor of Poole. Sydenham as officer of the watch was to blow a horn as a signal and then rush into the town, leaving the gates open for the Royalist troops to enter. On the chosen night the Royalists about 500 strong under the command of the Earl of Crawford approached the town in the darkness and hearing the signal, charged forward only to find the gate closed against them. Worse ‘before the gate was a halfe-moon, at the entrance of which there were chaines to be drawne up at pleasure; the earle with his horse filling the halfe-moon, the chaines were then drawn up, and the muskets and ordnance . . . gave fire upon those that came on, which caused all that were not slaine to throwe downe their armes and runne away.’ The earl barely escaped with his life and the Royalists lost valuable arms and about 50 horses, beside those killed, injured or taken prisoner.

A half moon

Half moons were outworks, usually with two sides coming to a point and short flanks, used as a refuge for defenders outside the main fortifications or to protect a vulnerable spot such as a road or the entrance to a town. Where exactly the Poole half moon was and how it operated, we don’t know but it certainly served its purpose on this occasion. The following year, the town was again under attack when the Royalist Sir Thomas Aston defeated a detachment of Poole horse and chased them to the edge of town ‘where the Rebels’ cannon and small shot played thick upon him from the walls’, according to the Royalist newspaper, Mercurius Aulicus.

There is evidence from the archives for other fortifications used during the Civil War. One was a fort at Hamworthy said to be built from stone taken from the Hamworthy church. It was probably designed to prevent attackers coming down the peninsular and getting too close to the town. In 1645-6 the town accounts mention payments to 4 workmen ‘to unrig the fort at Ham for lading it, bringinge it out & pillinge it & for the cartinge of it all’. It was not entirely demolished because in November 1646, Thomas Smedmore of Hamworthy was awarded compensation of £12 a year for his ‘great losses by fortifications which were made upon his ground’, making it clear that these were still standing. Other defensive structures mentioned in the same accounts about which very little is known are ‘seaman’s battery’ and the ‘western works’, although the latter may be the same as the ‘western fort’ shown on a map of 100 years later near the western end of the ditch.

After the Civil War some of the defences like the half moon were probably removed fairly quickly while other structures gradually fell into disuse. In August 1653, the Council of State ordered towns to demolish their fortifications and ‘the town of Poole, Ham and all the works adjoining, to be immediately dismantled’. So the walls and the towngate were taken down after 200 years’ existence and the ditch was filled in or gradually silted up. In 1745, at the time of the second Jacobite rebellion, an attempt was made to re-excavate the ditch but this was discontinued after the town had spent around £300, according to the traveller Dr. Pococke.

Map of c. 1760

The defences had gone but their ghostly imprint on the streets of Poole remained. Towngate Street continued as the main road leading out of town and 100 years after the wall and ditch had gone, High Street still came to a stop at the northern end with a ropeworks built across it. When the turnpike trust was set up, the Poole tollgate was built on the site of the old towngate where it remained for another 40 years. It was not until the 1830’s that High Street was extended into Longfleet and the toll gate was relocated there. The coming of the railway in 1874 reinstated a barrier more or less along the same line as the old defences, which remains today.

Over the years, reminders of the lost defences have unexpectedly surfaced. In 1835, workmen digging a well near the site of the wall found a skeleton with long hair still attached. Whether this was a victim of the Civil War or some other unfortunate individual, we don’t know. In the 20th century, shaped blocks were found in a garden in Rigler Road, Hamworthy, perhaps the foundations of the fort.

In the early 1970s it was still possible to race the old boundary line from Holes Bay in the west via the site of the gate at Towngate Street to the reclaimed area north of Pitwines. Later developments would sweep away most landmarks in the area. When the Towngate Bridge was being built in 1971, traces of the old town wall were discovered and some of the stonework was taken to Scaplen’s Court for display. An old boundary stone was also found nearby and mounted on one of the bridge supports with a modern explanatory plaque. At least the name of the bridge preserves the memory of the old towngate and as we sweep over the bridge today we can imagine the deadly fight in the darkness nearly four centuries ago when the townsmen fought off the Royalist ambush.

Jenny

Main sources: ‘An Old Town Boundary’ Poole Corporation Report 1970 pp. 97-9 / ‘The History of the Borough and County of the Town of Poole’ H. P. Smith / ‘History of the Town and County of Poole’ John Sydenham.

 

 

 

Fame and Disaster: Swash Channel wreck update

Back in July 2014, we posted an article on this blog about Poole at the time of the Swash Channel wreck. Now with the release of the likely identification of the vessel by the wreck team (see News and video), more details can emerge.

Lying in 7-9 metres of water at the entrance to Poole harbour for nearly 400 years, the wreck has been excavated by a team from Bournemouth University. The investigation revealed a large carvel-built merchant ship of around 300-500 tons lying on her port side and broken in 2 pieces. The harbour mud had preserved the port side right up to the forecastle and stern castle rails as well as parts of the rigging. Below what would have been the waterline, the hull was covered with a layer of hair and tar sheathed with thin planking, a device used by Dutch ship builders to protect the hull from tropical ship worm. The main timbers are of Dutch or German origin and are thought to have been felled around 1628.

The number of gun ports on the ship indicates that she may have carried at least 26 guns although only 7 cast iron cannon and 1 gun carriage have been found, suggesting that many more were salvaged. There were also no signs of a cargo or of the possessions or remains of passengers, suggesting that the ship could have been operating as a warship or sailing in ballast. The many high quality carvings on the wreck around the rails and gun ports and on the rudder now on display in Poole Museum indicate an important, high status ship.

Many ships were wrecked off the Dorset coast in the early decades of the 17th century as merchants vied for the profits of long distance trade, but the most likely candidate for this wreck, based on date, location and nationality, is a vessel mentioned in the records of the Poole Admiralty Court in 1631. The court met, in theory, every year, to regulate all matters to do with the port and harbour including moorings, the channel, buoys, fishing, pilotage, pirates, felonies and shipwrecks. At the meeting on 24th June 1631 under Thomas Smedmore as Mayor and Admiral of the port the following item occurs: ‘Item: wee present that Mr Newland doth undertake for the ffleming to cleere the harbour of the wracke of the ffame of Horne castawaye before Studland, we do therefore enioyne him to place a coupple of boyes on that wracke by the first of August next on payne of forfeiting of two hundred pounds.’

 This suggests that the wreck was partially submerged and dangerous to shipping entering the port. A year later it appears that this massive fine had not been effective (if in fact it had been extracted) because at the meeting of 21st May 1632 before Mayor George Skutt there was a further mention of the wreck: ‘Item we present that Mr Robert Newland the younger of the Isle of Wight hath not cleered the channel of the fflemish wracke and not placed the two boyes thereon and therefore he is enioyed to doe it viz to cleere the channel thereof and to place two boyes thereon by the xxxth of Julye next on payne of forfeiteing CCli.’

Either Newland then complied with the ruling or the ship sank into the harbour mud out of harm’s way, but no more is heard of the wreck in the records of the court.

The ship’s home port, Hoorn in North Holland on the Martermeer is about 35 km north of Amsterdam. During the 1600s, it was a major trading port, an important base for both the Dutch East India Company and the West India Company and a prosperous centre of trade. On a voyage of 1616, an explorer from Hoorn, Willem Corneliszoon Schouten, rounded the stormy tip of South America and named it Kaap Hoorn after his home town. Hoorn is also credited with developing the Dutch fluyt, a very successful type of broad beamed merchant ship with a large cargo carrying capacity.

According to High Court of Admiralty records, the Fame was not owned by a trading company but by merchants Hercules Garretson, Cornelius Vene and their associates. She set sail from Hoorn in early 1631 bound for the West Indies. Anchoring off Poole in February, perhaps to take shelter in Studland Bay, the ship was overtaken by a storm, dragged her anchor and was driven on to the sands where she began to break up. The captain Jacob Johnson Botemaker and the crew of about 45 had to abandon their splendid new vessel to the sea, but at least they managed to get ashore safely. Their survival meant that the ship was not a wreck in the legal sense and still belonged to its owners. However, the presence of such a large vessel so close to the shore was too strong a temptation for the locals. As soon as the seas subsided, small boats started to go out from Poole and other places nearby, plundering victuals, tackle, munition and whatever they could find from the ship.

Newport from Speed’s map of 1610

The owners of the Fame were quick to petition the High Court of Admiralty for the recovery of their goods and the arrest of those responsible for plunder, but it is notable that they made no mention of a cargo. The Poole court records indicate that they also appointed Robert Newland to salvage the ship. The Newlands were an important merchant and shipbuilding family on the Isle of Wight with warehouses, yards and wharves at Newport and East Cowes, well placed to serve ships travelling out to the new settlements in the Americas. In the early seventeenth century, investment in Virginia was a fashionable business venture and Robert Newland senior was a member of a consortium to set up a plantation in the area of the James Rive under Captain Christopher Lawne. Newland was not one of the settlers but opened a new shipyard at Cowes and built a ship, the Bonnie Bess of 90 tons, to support the colonisation efforts, winning praise for his practical support of the venture: ‘This man (Mr Newland) an honest sufficient & a moste indevoring man for Virginia is he that cann & will searve you for victualling or maning or any other imployment to further ye plantacon, he is so well reported of, & his late indevors for Capt: Lawne (who had ells sunck) hath approoved him a ventrous charitable marchant…’ He was also given five shares in the Virginia Company in gratitude for his services and Robert junior acquired ‘lands and estate in Virginia’ as his will, of 1642 shows.

Besides having important contacts, the Newlands were also experienced in salvage operations. In October 1627 seven ships of the Dutch East India Company loaded with Dutch silver daalders and Spanish ‘pieces of eight’ were caught in a gale, near the Needles. One of them, the Campen, sank just south of the Needles and Robert Newland joined forces with a Dutch salvor, John Jacop Jansen, known as ‘Jacob the Diver’ to recover five cannon, 6,660kg of lead, and 2,635 coins from the ship. In 1631, Robert junior and William Newland were involved in the salvage of a wreck at Chale Bay in the south of the Isle of Wight and in 1635 William Newland would help to salvage the Bird Phoenix, wrecked in Compton Bay. Given their background and expertise, it was therefore natural for the Newlands to be called in to salvage the Fame.

It is possible that Robert Newland again joined forces with Jansen to work on the Swash Channel vessel. The Dutchman’s special skill was ‘a playne and manifest way of diving deepe under water’ to bring up ‘sunck ordinance, wrackt goods and moneys upon His Majesty’s Coastes of England and Ireland’. The precise details of salvage operations at the time are a mystery but they probably involved weakening the structure of the ship so that the hull could be forced apart to give access to the gundecks and hold. In deep water, primitive diving bells may have been used, as they were later in the century to salvage guns from the Swedish warship, Vasa. It was a difficult and potentially dangerous process. In the case of the Fame the salvors had the advantage of relatively shallow water and the fact that the vessel was already damaged by being battered on the sands.

In the absence of cargo, the most salvageable items were probably the guns, particularly bronze guns, sails and tackle, tools, instruments, victuals for the voyage and the clothing and belongings of the crew. The relatively small number of items found on the wreck suggests that the salvage process was quite thorough. Objects found in the excavation include a ceramic drug jar, leather shoes, pewter spoons, a skillet, cattle bones, barrels, the remains of a galley, ballast, a lead for sounding, a small bell and different kinds of shot, beside the 7 iron guns. Presumably these items were either of small account or inaccessible to the 17th century salvors.

Assuming that the identification of the Swash Channel wreck as the Fame of Hoorn is correct, there are still many unanswered questions about the vessel. What was the purpose of her voyage to the West Indies and what if anything was she carrying? What can she tell us about ship-building, maritime equipment and daily lives on board ship in the early 17th century? Whose image is carved on the head of the rudder? More information will emerge in the next months and years, but some questions will probably never be answered.

Jenny

Main sources: Minutes of the Poole Admiralty Court  DC-PL/C/F/1/1/1 (Poole and Dorset History Centres) / Will of Robert Newland 1637 PROB11/174/100 (National Archives) / Will of Robert Newland (junior) 1642  PROB/11/192/104 (National Archives) / Friel, Ian: The Mercy of the Sea: Identifying the Swash Channel Wreck 2013 Unpublished (Poole History Centre)

Atlantic Rescue

In the winter of 1822, storms and heavy gales out at sea took their toll of shipping and many losses were reported in the press. The brig Lester of Poole had set sail for Newfoundland on 11th October and had reached longitude 38.00 (well over half way in her voyage) when she encountered heavy gales and tremendous seas. For several days she continued beating to windward until 17th November when she sprung her bowsprit and split the sails. The master John Lander decided that there was no alternative but to turn back to Poole.

Another ship embarking on a north Atlantic voyage was the brig Mary Ann of Aberdeen which set sail from Quebec on 4th November bound for London. On Saturday 23rd November, the vessel met a severe gale and struggled on under reefed sails. Around 5 o’clock in the evening, the wildly veering ship was hit by a tremendous wave which carried away the main mast and swept her decks of ‘boats, bulwarks and every thing standing’. Captain Moore who had been at the helm was also swept overboard and drowned. Desperately clearing away the wreckage of the mast, the crew discovered that the decks were damaged and the ship was half full of water. Pumping made no impression and within an hour the vessel was totally water-logged.

The following day the situation worsened as the decks broke up and the cargo, which was mainly staves, began to wash out of the hold. By now the decks were below the surface and the mate, eleven seamen and a boy called Davidson made for the foretop, their only possible refuge. In the process, the boy was swept away and lost but the others succeeded in reaching temporary safety. Their situation however was dire. They had no water and only a few biscuits, enough for half a biscuit each for a couple of days. By Wednesday 27th November, after three days and nights, they had run out of food and just about any hope of rescue. It was then that they were spotted by the Lester on its homeward course.

The hull of the Mary Ann was totally submerged and it was something of a miracle that the crew of the Lester chanced to see her remaining mast sticking out of the water. As they sailed closer they could see the survivors still clinging on. Captain Lander resolved to save them if he could, and set about what must have been a most perilous rescue mission, given the hazardous motion of the water-logged vessel in the heavy seas and the damage already suffered by the Lester. Somehow, all twelve men were helped from the mast and transferred to the Poole ship where ‘every assistance and comfort was given them’.

The Lester reached Poole on 1st December bringing the news of the wreck and recovery. Their arrival happened to coincide with the launch in Poole of the Sailors’ Union Bethel Society, an organisation founded by the Rev. George Charles Smith, known as Bo’sun Smith. Its aim was to provide religious services and spiritual support for seamen in port. Locally the Society had the support of the Independent and Baptist churches and it was in the Baptist Chapel that the first service was held on Wednesday 4th December before a gratifyingly large congregation which included the surviving crew of the Mary Ann. During the service the Aberdeen men send a written paper to the minister asking for a public thanksgiving for their deliverance ‘in a period of the most desperate peril’.

Later, the Poole Bethel Society gave an award of humanity to Captain Lander and his crew and the owners of the Mary Ann, John Catto, Son and Co. of Aberdeen, sent 20 guineas to be divided amongst them for their exertions ‘to snatch these poor fellows from the billows which threatened every moment to overwhelm them’. A silver cup was also sent to Captain Lander from the owners, engraved with the following inscription: ‘A Tribute from the OWNERS of the BRIG MARY ANN of Aberdeen TO CAPTN JOHN LANDER of the LESTER of POOLE as a testimony of their regard for his Humane & Meritorious exertions in saving from the foretop of the wreck of the Mary Ann in the Atlantic TWELVE OF HER UNFORTUNATE CREW on the 27th November 1822’.

John Lander continued sailing from Poole as a master mariner and eventually became Harbour Master. His death in 1854 at the age of 68 was reported in the Poole and Dorset Herald for 15th June of that year. The same issue also contained an account of the wreck of the Aldebaran of Poole on a voyage to Quebec with the loss of seven men, another reminder of the perilous lives of seamen in the age of sailing ships.

Jenny        Main sources – Salisbury and Winchester Journal 9th Dec 1822, 27th Jan 1823, Bell’s Weekly Messenger 8th Dec 1822, Sunday Times 15th Dec 1822, Poole and Dorset Herald 15th June 1854.

Gold, Oak and Adventure – News from the Museum

News of a few current happenings at Poole Museum might cheer the gloomy days of winter. The first is a free talk at the Museum on 25th February at 2.00pm by David Dawson of the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes. Gold from the Time of Stonehenge will outline the story of the World Heritage Site and its ritual landscape and feature the remarkable craftsmanship of objects found in the burials of chieftains, important women and priests who used the area for their ceremonies. Many of the objects discussed are on display at the Wiltshire Museum, home of the best Bronze Age collections in Britain. Booking is essential. To secure your place, please contact: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk and search under Poole.

Books for Boys: Heroism, Empire and Adventure at the Dawn of the First World War is a new exhibition running at the Museum until Sunday 23rd April which celebrates a golden age of books for children in the decades leading up to the war. In particular, it considers the influence of the stories of the time on the young men who so readily volunteered in 1914. There is also a special event for World Book Day on 3rd March. For more details see: http://www.poolemuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions .

mermanLastly – it’s back! The rudder of the Swash Channel wreck has returned to Poole from its conservation process in York and is now installed in the Museum. I would like to say it’s impossible to miss but actually that’s exactly what I did, wandering past it with my mind on something else. The massive piece of oak stands on the ground floor near the entrance, opposite the log boat. With a cross section of about 48cm x 34cm and a height of 4m to 5m, its top is above first floor level. Also on display nearby is a carving of a merman from above one of the gun ports of the vessel. This is a strangely androgynous figure with the body of a mermaid and the head of a man with beard, moustache and helmet, just one of a number of carvings retrieved from the wreck site.

rudder-head-1Looking down at the rudder from the first floor you get a better impression of the sheer size of the vessel, and yet this is only a section of the piece. The whole rudder is nearly twice as tall at over 8m. The most striking feature, however, is the larger than life-sized carved head on the top. The face is of a man of middle years, bold and tough, with the flamboyant moustache and long curls of the period and his eyes rolled upwards as if scanning the sails and the sky. It’s tempting to think that it might be the portrait of a real person, perhaps the Dutch owner of the ship, revealed once more after lying on the bottom of the sea, staring blindly out for nearly 400 years.

For more about the ship, see ‘Poole and the Swash Channel Wreck’ on this blog.

Jenny

Poole in Flames

galleyIt was a September morning, just before daybreak in the year 1405, when five war galleys, three Spanish, two French, slid silently into Poole harbour and crept forward through the darkness towards the sleeping town. In the crowded space below decks, crossbowmen and men-at-arms nervously checked their weapons. All were practised fighters, masters of the lightning terror raid and quick retreat. Their captain, Don Pero Niño, Count of Buelno, was a kinsman and subject of the King of Castile, a charismatic, bold, if sometimes rash leader and an excellent fighter. Commanding the French galleys was Messire Charles de Savoisy, a knight formally in the service of Charles VI of France but currently out of favour at court and seeking his fortune at sea. He usually provided a note of caution in their councils. Meeting at La Rochelle, the two leaders had decided to join forces and raid along the south coast of England. From Cornwall to Purbeck they had already left a trail of dead men and burnt towns behind them.

old-church-towerWord had spread and every man on board the galleys that morning knew that the town they were about to attack was the home of ‘Arripay’, the English pirate whose raids on Spanish coastal towns and attacks on shipping were notorious. The knowledge added a spice of revenge to their aggression. As the light began to come up, Poole came into view and the raiders noted the absence of defensive walls. The only building of note was ‘a fair tower with a round leaden roof shaped like a cup’. It looked like an easy target but Messire Charles warned of the shoals and sandbanks that would make it difficult for the ships to get close to shore and the many men-at-arms and bowmen that lived in the town. He refused to involve the French galleys in the attack.

Don Pero Niño had no such doubts. He ordered the ships to anchor a little distance from the town and launched the longboats to ferry men ashore. Speed was now essential. As soon as enough men were landed, they ran towards the houses, swords drawn, torches flaring. One minute, all was silent, the next, pandemonium broke out. Smoke and flames rose as the thatch roofs were fired. Men were rudely awakened and staggered to their doors to find a full-scale, deadly raid in progress. Alerted by the clamour, a messenger rode desperately away across the heath to summon help.

Rear wall of Town Cellars c. 1300

Rear wall of Town Cellars c. 1300

In the first surprise of the attack, the raiders had everything their own way. They were able to force entry to the houses, loot and burn and kill anyone who opposed them. Then the Poole men rallied and came rushing out to fight the raiders as they retired towards the boats, loaded with whatever plunder they had managed to seize. Messire Charles had been right to say that many Poole men were trained to arms. In fact some of them had probably taken part in such raids themselves. Seeing his men retreat, Pero Niño ordered more to land, led by his cousin, Fernando Niño. They took a stand just beyond the buildings and then, under orders to leave their plunder and destroy the town by fire, began to force the defenders slowly backwards. Overwhelmed, the Poole men took refuge in a large store building, which they defended fiercely until the Castilians forced an entrance and they had to escape by the back. Inside, the raiders found ‘all manner of arms, bolts, rigging, sails and all furnishings of ships-of-war’ and helped themselves to as much as they could carry, before setting the building ablaze.

As the raiders were boarding the galleys with their booty, reinforcements for the defenders arrived in the form of men-at-arms and longbowmen on foot and horseback. Setting up house doors as protection against the Castilian crossbow bolts, they quickly took a stand on higher ground near the boats and began to attack the raiders with volleys of arrows. Many were hit and some of the leather jerkins of the Castilians were ‘all stuck with arrows’. Seeing that the fight was in the balance, Pero Niño came ashore and managed to reach his standard bearer who was in some danger, as the raiders had retreated under the strong English attack.

Longbow versus crossbow (Froissart)

Longbow versus crossbow (Froissart)

It was now that Pero Niño’s leadership skills proved vital. Ordering the trumpets to be sounded, he rallied his men and advanced against the English with the shout of ‘Santiago! Santiago!’ (St. James) while the defenders also shouted for St. James, the patron saint of their church. The battle was fierce and many were killed or taken prisoner. As it raged, Messire Charles came shore with ‘many knights and gentlemen in armour’ to support the Castilians if needed. At last the English retreated a little distance, leaving the battleground so thickly strewn with arrows that it was impossible to walk without treading on them and men could pick them up in handfuls. The two sides had reached a stand off whereby the raiders broke off the fight and the defenders watched them board the boats without further attack.

Many men must have died that day but we only know the names of two of them, a Castilian of Messire Charles’ galley called Juan de Murcia, and on the English side, a brother of ‘ArriPay’ (Harry Paye), the Poole pirate. The raiders rested, treated their wounded and toasted a victory over the English before sailing on eastwards. The aftermath for the people of Poole was much more traumatic. They could say that they had acquitted themselves well but there were wounded to treat, dead men and women to mourn. The damage inflicted on their town was terrible and it would be many years before Poole would fully recover.

Plaque Civic Centre, Poole

Plaque Civic Centre, Poole

There is no record in the town archives about the raid of 1405. The above account is taken mainly from a Spanish chronicle on the life of Don Pero Niño by his standard bearer, Gutierre Diaz de Gamez (published in English as ‘The Unconquered Knight’). The chronicle leaves many questions unanswered, such as where the battle was fought, where the reinforcements came from, how many people were killed or captured and how serious was the damage to the town. The chronicle says that the town was ‘altogether burnt’ but this is unlikely to be true. The large store building mentioned is almost certainly the Town Cellars on the Quay, the back wall of which pre-dates the time of the raid and must have survived it. The fact that the defenders were able to escape from the back of the building suggests that the raiders did not necessarily penetrate very far into the streets of the town and the worst damage was probably concentrated near the shore. The reinforcements probably came from Canford, the manorial centre and one of the few places nearby where knights and fighting men might be found.

The front wall of the Town Cellars, rebuilt after the raid

The front wall of the Town Cellars, rebuilt after the raid

During the following century Poole did recover, rebuilt its damaged and burnt out buildings, constructed town defences, was created the Port of the Staple (customs port) for Dorset and went on to more prosperous times. Harry Paye, who was not at home at the time of the raid, lived to carry out several more raids of his own.

Jenny

 

A Lucky Dip into the Archives

Effigy of William Longespee in Salisbury Cathedral

Effigy of William Longespee in Salisbury Cathedral

Sciant presentes et futuri quod ego Willemus Lungespee dedi et concessi et hac presenti carta mei confirmavi pro me et heredibus meis burgensibus meis de Pola et heredibus suis omnimodas libertates et liberas consuetudines. . . So begins one of Poole’s oldest documents, the charter granted to the borough by William Longspee, Lord of the Manor of Canford, around the year 1248. Translated into English this reads: Be it known to those present and those to come that I, William Longspee, for me and my heirs, have given and granted and have confirmed by this my present charter all manner of liberties and free customs to my burgesses of Poole and their heirs.

The charter, which marked the start of local government in Poole and cost the new borough 70 marks (£47), is a very modest document to look at, only about 11 inches by 7 and very clear to read in spite of being over 750 years old. Its timing probably had something to do with Longspee’s need for cash to equip himself to join the seventh crusade. He was killed in battle in Egypt in1250, fighting bravely against the Saracens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are many thousands of documents in the Poole archives, some plain, some highly decorative like the later charters granted by Queen Elizabeth I and Charles II. They include court proceedings, personal letters and diaries, town accounts penned by long-dead clerks, colourful maps, property documents, estate papers, business letter books and much more. Some are amazingly well preserved while others are faded, fragile or incomplete, but there is always a thrill unfolding these crackling relics of the past because you never know what you are going to find. Once past all the difficulties of archaic language, highly individual spelling and antique handwriting, these documents are priceless because they provide us with direct voices from the past.

Medieval Quay

The Medieval Quay by Graham Smith

Here for instance are some of the arguments used by Poole merchants in a petition to King Henry VI that Poole rather than Melcombe should be made a Port of the Staple: Havynge consideration to the feblenesse and nonsufficeaute of your porte of Melcombe, nought inhabited ne of strengthe to considere the goodes and marchandizes of youre marchantz . . to withstande and resiste the malice of youre enemies . . and on the tother side . . howe youre towne and havyn of Pole is wele enhabited and manned, where your mair and burgeys bee fully purposed, your gracious license therto hadde to walle, enkennell and fortefie youre said towne and havyn sufficiently by Goddes grace, for the saufgarde of alle marchaundises and other goodes there comynge . . whereupon it like to youre seid mageste to . . anulle the seide porte of Melcombe and make youre seid towne and havyn of Pole a porte. (Parliamentary Rolls 1433)

Graham Smith's impression of Tudor Poole

Graham Smith’s impression of Tudor Poole

Sometimes there is the echo of a Dorset accent in the written words as in this confession by Elinor Spencer that her husband Gowin had been involved in the brutal double murder of Mistress Alice Green and her servant Agnes Beard in 1598: On a wednesdaie about eleven years past my husband was abroad in the Town until it was eight of the clocke. I had made a Ruggen buttered for his supper, and when he came in I asked him where he had bene so late . . . to which he answered that I shold goe to supper for he could eate nothinge. With that I looked on him and found behinde in one of his stockings a greate blacke spott, and thought it had bene a stewed prune. But I putt my hand to it and found it did clinge to my fingers and proved it to be a Clotte of thicke bloode. . . . . . Roberte Hill was with my husband on the wednesdaie and it was hee who committed the murther, but Gowin brought home with him a bodkin made of a gimlet which he had made round and sharpe. As yet I still have him and doe use him in the garden. I will fetche him unto Mr Maior. (Testimony of Elinor Spencer to Mayor Roger Mawdley 6th June 1610)

Coming across the following case, my first reaction was to wonder what the 12 men listed had done to each earn a fine of 5 shillings (a week’s wages). In fact they had simply yielded to a very human temptation, as quickly became clear: Joseph Skinington / Christopher Rowland / Richard Williams / Henry Stone / William Hopkins / William Bremble / John Mager / Richard Vine / Abraham Toms / William Derham / Richard Newland and Mordekay Whatley. Fine Vs each. Tot. £3 – For that they and either of them beeing Jurors Sworne to try the Issue betweene our Sovaigne Lord the King and Dennes Smith Senr. of the said Towne and County Did Contrary to the ord of the Court Absent themselves from the Jury Chamber in the said Hall and went Downe to the Key and from thence to a Tipling house to Consider of their Verdict to the great delay and abuse of the Court. (Poole Quarter Sessions 1st Sept 1682)

The George Inn, now known as Scaplen's Court

The George Inn, now known as Scaplen’s Court

Some documents evoke a particular picture, like this candle-lit scene in the small hours of an October morning 300 years ago: Memorandum that on the Two and Twentieth day of October Anno Dom. 1703 about two of the Clock in the Morning, Wee, Daniel Hide of the Towne and County of Poole, Clerke, William Skutt of the Same, Merchant, Nicholas Perce of the Same, Baker and John Skutt of the Same, Labourer being in Presence of Miles Bownes of the Same Towne and County, victualler at his Chamber in the George Inn in Poole aforesaid, where he laye sicke in his bed and more likely to dye than to live but yett of sound minde and memory Being desired to settle his wordly Affayres before his Death and to Declare his will how his estate should be disposed of after his decease, Did declare in our Presence and hearing that he did give unto his brother Humfrey Bownes one Shilling to Cutt him of from being troublesome to his wife after his Death. And all the Rest of his Estate whatsoever he did give and bequeath unto his loveing wife Mary Bownes And that this was his last will & Testament In witnesse whereof wee have hereunto sett our hands the said Two and Twentieth day of October about Twelve of the Clock at noone Anno Dm. 1703 Daniel Hide Mnr Ibid: / Wm Skutt / Nicholas Perce / John Skutt his mk. (Will of Miles Bownes 1703)

The following account of a notorious 18th century smuggling incident gives the custom officers’ point of view of what happened on the fateful night: On the 24th instant about Eleven o’clock at Night, Lieutenant Down Commander of the Folkestone cutter then lying in Brownsea Road landed on the North Shore with Fourteen of his Hands & found a large Quantity of Tea on the shore, & about Twenty Men with it loading it on their Horses. Mr. Robert Wilson, Midshipman of the Cutter got on one of the Smugglers’ Horses that had no Goods on him & rode in amongst the Smugglers & the Goods (which he declar’d he seiz’d) when they immediately knock’d him off the Horse & beat him in a most cruel manner with the great End of their horse Whips about the Head and other Parts for a considerable time. 

The 'North Shore'

The ‘North Shore’

Mr. Edward Morrice, Mr. Down’s Clerk was the next that came up who they beat in the same manner & fir’d a Pistol at him, & the Ball graz’d his Breast. They then dragg’d him into the Sea, & left him there almost dead, & as he imagines with a design for the Breakers to drown him but with great difficulty he crawl’d out . . . At this Juncture Mr. Down with his other Hands came up  & got in amongst them, & he declar’d that if any one offer’d to carry away any of the Tea he would fire at them on which some that had their horses loaded endeavour’d to get off when he gave orders to his men to hamstring their Horses & cutt the Bags of Tea from them, which was done to several, but in their doing this several of the Folkestone’s Men were beat by the Smugglers with their Whips, had Two Pistols snap’d at them by the Smugglers & Eneas Atkins able Seaman shot by them thro’ the Leg. They then made use of the means in their Power to defend themselves & secure the Goods: And one Robert Trotman of, or near the Devizes, the Head of a desperate Gang of Smugglers was kill’d: but as it was very dark, Mr. Down nor any of his Men could be certain who shot him, whether they or the smugglers & Nine of their Horses died on or near the Shore of their Wounds. (Poole Custom House Letter Book 27th March 1765)

The town was also at times a disorderly place as this indictment shows: Lydia Wills, late of Parish of St. James, Poole, widow is indicted with keeping an ill-governed and disorderly house with men and women of ill repute, drinking, whoring and misbehaving to the common nuisance of the other inhabitants. Plea: Guilty. Sentence: To be imprisoned in the workhouse for six months. (Quarter Sessions Indictments 12th January 1781)

The Antelope

The Antelope

Some fifty years later, the coming of gas lighting must have transformed the streets, a fitting occasion for celebration: Gas and Coke Company: George Ledgard Esq., in the Chair. The contractor having intimated to the Directors that the works are in such a state of forwardness that gas maybe supplied to the public by 10th instant, it was resolved that the town be lighted with gas on the evening of the above day and the Directors, in order to celebrate the event, will assemble at the gas works, at half-past seven o’clock and proceed from thence in procession through the town, terminating their perambulation at the Antelope Inn at 9 o’clock where the Directors will sup together. Resolved – that the above resolution be printed and a copy sent to each of the shareholders and others promoters of the undertaking and to the several public functionaries in the town, inviting them to accompany the directors in the procession and to join them at the supper to be provided on the occasion. Tickets to be had at the bar of the Antelope Hotel or at Sydenhams Library on or before Saturday 8th instant.

The following burials were among those recorded during the cholera epidemic of 1849: 30th June: Fanny Weeks, child of John Weeks, aged 41/2 from cholera. 30th June: Amy Weeks, child of John Weeks, aged 21/2, from cholera.  2nd July: Harriet Weeks, child of John Weeks, aged 6, from cholera.  3rd July: George Weeks, son of John Weeks, aged 15 from cholera.  3rd July: child of John Weeks, aged 10 from cholera.  5th July: Louisa Weeks wife of John Weeks, aged 40, from cholera (or grief?) [clerk’s note]. (Skinner Street Congregational Church Register 1849)

Later view from the pottery

Later view from the pottery

An controversial planning decision in Victorian days produced this earnest petition: To the Mayor and Councillors of Poole: We the undersigned inhabitants of the Borough of Poole request you most respectfully but yet most urgently to re-consider a resolution of the Town Council made 27th November adopting the report of the land committee recommending the offer of a portion of the Gas Quay to Messieurs. Carter and Company for a term of 75 years – for £15 a year. We respectfully urge upon you to consider and give due weight to the fact that since its first formation when it was called Pinney’s Park that it has been used by us as a Recreation Ground it is almost the only easily accessible piece of ground now by water side, where the sea breezes can be obtained by us and the children of the town. It is also in the summer time, a favourite and frequent resort of invalids much valued since two seats have been placed there by the kindness of Mr. Henry Farmer we most earnestly and respectfully entreat you to preserve this ground as a healthful recreation resort for all classes of the town and improve it by planting a double row of trees and making a gravel path along its northern edge apposite the Gas Works put seats underneath the trees, level the ground and lay down grass for the children of the town to scamper over. We ask you not to let even one square foot more of this people’s recreation ground to be built upon or enclosed. (Petition on the Gas Quay 1882/3)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe above examples are just the result of a quick lucky dip into the archives which contain 700 years of business, tragedy, comedy, celebration and everyday transactions. The Poole Borough Archive documents are kept at the Dorset History Centre in Dorchester. At the moment they are in the process of being catalogued and more and more are appearing on the catalogue at: https://www.dorsetforyou.com/dorsethistorycentre . If you have a particular interest to pursue, it’s worth checking on the catalogue under a family name, place name or topic to see what comes up. There is nothing quite like seeing the origin documents for yourself but as a preliminary, try checking in the Poole History Centre where you will find copies of quite a few documents as well as transcripts and summaries of others. There also some transcripts available via Poole History Online at: http://www.poolehistory.org.uk . Other records including parish records and census returns can be found on the commercial websites such as Ancestry. The internet of course has become a fabulous tool for local and family history research, but it can never quite replace the thrill of reading real documents from the past.

Jenny