The number of information plaques in Poole has multiplied recently, giving our next speaker, Steve Roberts, quite a challenge in tackling the subject at his talk on 15th February. The latest crop of bright blue discs adds to the many types and styles of plaques already in existence. In fact the more you look, the more you find. They are mounted on walls and buildings, set into the pavement, on posts and plinths, indoors and outdoors. Some are made of stone, some of metal, ceramic tiles, wood or plastic. A purist might wish that they were all of one style but I think that would be a shame because the style of the plaque says as much about the time they were put up as the subject they are commemorating.
Some are consciously antique in style, like the one recording the visit of Charles II in 1665 or the one on the old library. Others are contemporary like the tiled ‘Welcome to Poole’ signs and the decorative plaques round the walls of the Civic Centre which evoke the 1930s. The oldest one I could find is the one on the Guildhall which presumably dates from 1761 and is very much of its period which we are told was during ‘the mayoralty of George Wefton Efquire’. One or two are hard to read like the Sea Music sign which I believe is due to be splendidly restored. The Overlord plaque on the Custom House is classic and restrained while the 1994 plaque further down the Quay also commemorating D-Day is abstract and artistic.
Wording on the signs is also diverse and interesting. Some are technical ‘. . note the eye-bolt terminals’ or rather convoluted ‘. . . which formerly ran through this point in a direction slightly north of west to the shore.’ There are unexpected nuggets of information: ‘. . . these 83 foot boats, made entirely of wood . .’ or ‘. . . the crew was taken by horse brake to their station at Sandbanks, which is now the site of the Royal Motor Yacht Club’. One plaque is in Latin and another quotes from a document dating from 1579. Some are poetical: ‘. . . a time to love and a time to hate, a time of war and a time of peace’ or religious ‘. . . suffered six months’ imprisonment for conscience sake’. Some express themselves in a way we would not choose today: ‘. . . devoted to the use of the poor for 500 years’ and some allow a little partisan feeling to creep in: ‘King Charles II and unfortunate Duke of Monmouth . . .’.
Mixed bag or not, the streets of Poole are richer for their plaques and I am looking forward to finding out more about them.
Sea Music, Poole’s remarkable and sometimes controversial 35 ft. sculpture by Sir Anthony Caro, is now 25 years old so it seems a suitable time to take stock. With the help of money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Sea Music Project has been set up to assess, renovate and celebrate the work. One question is how the metal sculpture has fared physically after 25 years of salty winds and sea spray. Can the base and upper platforms of the sculpture be improved along the lines that Sir Anthony himself proposed? What has Sea Music meant to local people over the years and how best can Poole’s association with the work be celebrated? You can find out more about these and other questions at the talk by Melinda McCheyne, the Project Manager (Wednesday 18th January 7.30pm at Poole Museum).
Also not to be missed is the exhibition on Sea Music at the Museum (Floors 1 and 2) which is running until 22nd January. The Floor 2 gallery deals with how the sculpture was made, the involvement of local people, its physical condition and plans for the future. There is also a filmed discussion featuring arts journalist, Alastair Sooke about the creation and significance of the work, revealing, among other details, how Caro was making small changes even as the sculpture was being erected on the Quay. In the Floor 1 gallery is a lively display of works created by fine art, photography and costume students from Bournemouth and Poole College, taking Sea Music as their inspiration.
Poole is lucky to boast a work by such a distinguished artist and one which was designed specifically for the site. Having reached its quarter century, has Sea Music earned its place on the Quay and in the history of the town?
Dorset is full of historic houses, towns and villages, but beneath them often lie the traces of older settlements now lost and forgotten. Researching and investigating these ancient sites is the aim of the Dorset Castles Research Group, which started by concentrating on early Norman castles and then expanded its interest to prehistoric field systems and vanished manor houses. To kick off the Poole Museum Society 2016/7 season of talks, we are delighted to welcome Roger Hills who will be telling us about the Group’s project in East Lulworth to rediscover the 17th century ornamental gardens, the 12th century castle and the lost village of East Lulworth itself. This settlement which went back to Saxon times was demolished at the end of the 18th century to make way for the parkland estate of the Weld family. ‘East Lulworth: 1000 years of history’ is on Wednesday 21st September at 7.30pm and visitors are very welcome to come along.
This autumn we also have two special Saturday afternoon events. On Saturday 1st October at 2.30pm, author David Leadbetter will be introducing us to ‘Prehistoric Times in Purbeck’, exploring ancient sites and features in an corner of Dorset which has known both rural tranquillity and intensive industry. Based on a very varied geology, Purbeck’s resources of shale, clay and stone have been exploited by man from at least the Bronze Age. It is rich in ancient settlements, traces of industrial workings, burial mounds and some prehistoric features whose purpose remains mysterious to us today. Come and find out more from a speaker with a wide knowledge and great enthusiasm for this special area. All welcome.
Our second Saturday talk highlights the vital role of drawing in artistic practice over the centuries. This autumn, Poole Museum is hosting an exceptional exhibition of drawings from the British Museum’s collection by some of the world’s most famous artists, Rembrandt, Dürer, Picasso and Michelangelo through to Cézanne, Rodin and Bridget Riley. In her talk, ‘Lines of thought: Drawing dissected’, curator Isabel Seligman from the British Museum will explain the inspiration behind the exhibition and how a programme of workshops for London art schools influenced its curation. The talk is on Saturday 15th October at 2.30 and booking is essential. Visitors are welcome and at the risk of revisiting an old advertising cliché, anyone interested is advised to book early to avoid disappointment!
All three talks will be held in the meeting room on the 5th floor of the Museum. For full details including booking, and for the rest of the season’s programme, see Forthcoming Society Events.
Sometime before noon on Saturday 11th December 1641, a Dutch vessel called the Golden Grape was driven ashore in foul weather and cast away on Chesil Beach near the village of Wyke. Seven crew members were drowned. The inhabitants of the coast where the ship was wrecked had a long history of wresting their living from ships and the sea, sometimes within the law, often outside it. Merchants, privateers, out-and-out pirates, not to mention smugglers, had flourished there for centuries, sometimes with the connivance of the highest in the land.
The Golden Grape was carrying a rich cargo on her voyage from Cadiz to Le Havre, including raisins, wine, oil, wool and silk. She also carried a quantity of silver plate and gold and silver coinage whose origins and destination were mysterious. These goods now lay at the mercy of the wind and sea and of the local population. As the surviving crew struggled ashore, cold, wet and shaken, what reception could they expect for themselves and their stricken ship?
Discover the fate of the vessel and the background of piracy, smuggling and other lawless activities along the Dorset coast, at a talk by Selwyn Williams, local historian, diver and author of The Treasure of the Golden Grape. The talk is at Poole Museum (5th floor) on Wednesday next 18th November at 7.30 pm as part of the Museum Society programme, and visitors are welcome.
The Society’s new season starts not just with one but with two talks. Following her fascinating tour around the ceramic embellishments of Bournemouth’s buildings, Jo Amey will take us on a similar tour round Poole’s architectural ceramic heritage and this time we won’t have to stir a step! Tiles and Terracotta: Ceramic features in Poole Buildings is on 16th September at 7.30 pm. This is a joint event with the Dorset Architectural Heritage Week so just for this time it’s no visitors please (just members and DAHW attendees).
Thumbs up from Billy Bragg for the John Rede talk
Our second talk, John Rede, the Levellers & the Battle for Poole 1647-1651 on Saturday 26th September at 2.30 pm is a special event run jointly with the Levellers’ Association. Writer, broadcaster and activist, John Rees, will take the audience back over 350 years to a time when the country abounded in new political ideas. The Governor of Poole was Col. John Rede, a charismatic soldier whose radical beliefs and revolutionary associates began to raise alarm in the heart of the Poole establishment. When they petitioned Parliament for his removal, the stage was set for a dramatic confrontation between Rede and George Skutt, the man who planned to take over as Governor. (This talk is now fully booked. Wed 23rd Sept.)
Catch a glimpse of life in the 17th century this Saturday 20th September at Poole Museum’s Civil War Day. Themed activities, re-enactments and demonstrations will be taking place at Scaplen’s Court (opposite the Museum, 4, High Street) between 11 am and 3 pm and entry is free.
As a Civil War garrison town Poole played an important local part in the conflict, holding out for Parliament even when most of Dorset had been taken by the Royalists. In 1643, the King’s forces tried to take the town and there was a dramatic skirmish in front of the towngate (near the site of the present railway crossing). Soldiers from Poole took part in the siege of Corfe Castle and the capture of Wareham as well as carrying out several successful raids on Royalist bands. Scaplen’s Court was then the George Inn and probably accommodated some of the troops, as graffiti on one of the old fireplaces suggests.
See the world of 400 years ago – the world of the Swash Channel wreck – brought back to life for the day.
August is racing on and a new season of Society talks will soon be starting. The first meeting will be at the Museum at 7.30 on Wednesday 17th September when Rob Curtis makes a welcome return with his ‘Smuggling Tales and Trails’, Find out more about illicit activities along the Dorset coast in past centuries. Visitors are welcome.
For the full season’s programme see the ‘Forthcoming Society Events’ section on this blog.