Tales of Brusher Mills

I am indebted to Michael Stead of Bournemouth Library for this entertaining portrait of a unique local character.

The ‘How to build a golf course’ check list:

  1.  Find a large open space and make sure the cottagers of Throop can no longer graze their goats or cut turves out of the ground to fuel their winter fires. Tick (Poors Common, now Queens Park).
  2.  Bring in a golf professional to advise on the design of a course. Tick (golf Champion J. H. Taylor: thank you http://www.qpips.org.uk/history/history.pdf. I think we can forgive the Queens Park author the oft repeated myth – we’ve all done it – of Bertie, Prince of Wales visiting Lily Langtry in Bournemouth. The PoW didn’t, and in any case it was Emily Caroline Langton Massingberd that he never visited).
  3. Make sure no one breaks the rules governing the land by building a whopping great road across it. Whoops! (Well Wessex Way hardly counts does it? Or Queens Park Avenue, or Queens Park We- look, there’s nothing to see here, move along please. And who’s ever heard of the Bournemouth Corporation Act 1904 anyway?)
  4. Get rid of the snakes. Tick. Wait . . . the what????

Yes, in 1900, the heathland south of Strouden was covered in adders and they were a sufficient problem that many gateposts had a small hollow where snake oil was kept to treat wounds. In the absence of a Saint Patrick to help with step four, the most obvious solution to ensure Queens Park golfers wouldn’t suffer a nasty nip in the rough was to call in Harry ‘Brusher’ Mills, the renowned New Forest snake-catcher.

When Bournemouth Council sought the aid of Brusher, he was famous for clearing snakes, with a tally of several thousand vipers caught. His main tool was a forked stick. Recalling his employment in 1972, the Bournemouth Echo reported ‘He did the job effectively, working weeks in difficult conditions for parts of the area were a swampy morass’. The Echo said he ‘although bitten many times, went on to live to a ripe old age’. He was 65 when he died. You know, the older I get, the farther ahead ‘old’ seems.

On 19th June 1943, the Echo published a painting of Brusher Mills, which had spent 30 years at the Knyveton Road home of Mr Kerrison Preston. The painting was the work of Bournemouth artist Frank Richards.

For 20 years, claimed the Echo, Brusher lived in a hut he had made for himself, far into the forest at Lyndhurst. Some accounts have it that he retreated to the hut following a family row, in 1885. Writing in ‘Hampshire’ magazine in September 1961, Cerita Stanley-Little (née Brown) said that the hut was about a quarter of a mile from the high road between Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst, near Queen’s Bower; it was ‘a cone shaped charcoal burner’s hut furnished with a bed of dry bracken, biscuit tins of fire wood and empty jam jars . . . although poor, he earned enough to rent himself a cottage had he wished. But even when growing old he preferred his lonely independent life in his rough quarters, in the silent forest’.

George Perry, writing about Brusher for the Sunday Times in August 1976, managed to track down (in the possession of Mr A. W. Coysh, of Hurstbourne Tarrant, Hampshire) a picture taken by Lyndhurst photographer ‘Harvey’, in the 1880s, which showed a more sophisticated version of the hut, clad in pads of turf. All the classic elements of Brusher’s attire are there, the gaiters just under his knees, to prevent unwanted incursion by snakes, the tongs hanging from his waistcoat, the stick used to hold down the snakes. And, in his right hand, one of his snakes.

Cerita Stanley-Little observed ‘His strange way of life appeared to suit him, for he always expressed himself content with his lot’. Speaking in 1903 he said ‘I can’t get about as I did. I took influenza 13 years ago and it made me weak. Still I can’t complain. I’m 63 and only bad weather takes me in the chest’.

The Echo described him as short, stocky, bent by old age, with bushy eyebrows, wrinkled mahogany skin, and a thick white beard. He wore several waistcoats, a ratcatcher coat and a battered hat, all suitable forest camouflage. Cerita Stanley-Little said Brusher was ‘an upright figure of a man, old with a grey forked beard and bright keen eyes. He always wore a shovel hat, gaiters and two coats, over two waistcoats. He was hung about with tins for the reception of his snakes and across his waistcoats was slung a pair of scissors bent at the top to pick them up with’ (Echo writer T. P. Hattersley describes these more as angled steriliser forceps). Brusher was said to be a clean man, despite his rough exterior, with great self-respect. He was said to regularly visit a Lyndhurst relation for baths and a change of clothing.

He caught over 5,000 snakes. Most were sent to the London Zoological Gardens (‘where they formed the sole diet of certain fastidious larger snakes’) some specimens went for laboratory research. Cerita Stanley-Little said Brusher claimed to have caught 4,086 adders and 29,396 other snakes, over 21 years. That sounds a lot, but it is just over 4 snakes a day. Some of his snakes were sold for their skins. Brusher’s primary patron was Lord Londesborough, tenant of Northerwood House, Lyndhurst, who paid a shilling for every live ringed snake or adder. Whilst Londesborough presented some snake specimens to the London zoos, it was unlikely that he had benign intentions toward the remainder, for he retreated to Northerwood to train his falcons.

The most widely accepted explanation for ‘Brusher’ Mills’ nickname, credited to Mr R. C. De Crespigny ‘who is one of the first authorities on all matters pertaining to the Forest’ was that in his youth Brusher would enthusiastically sweep the cricket pitch at Bolton’s Bench. Writing for the Echo in July 1973, T. P. Hattersley delicately explained that the cricket pitch ‘suffered from the perambulations of the New Forest ponies’: hence the need for them to be swept clean from time to time, and Harry Mills earned the fond nickname ‘Brusher’ from the locals, in appreciation of his efforts.

‘He was the son of a forester, and the Forest was in his blood’. T. P. Hattersley reported that Brusher was a witness to a debated element of forest lore, saying that he had witnessed on many occasions in July and August, that adders certainly did swallow their young to protect them in times of danger. Doubting the veracity of this phenomenon, the ‘Field’ newspaper (somewhat cruelly) offered a reward of £5 to the first person who could send them an adder with its young sheltering inside.

There was a popular postcard of Brusher ‘decked with tins, carrying a forked stick and scowling at some children’.

He never took to poaching to support his squatter lifestyle in the forest. Cerita Stanley-Little wrote that Brusher ‘would never touch the game of the forest, not even an egg or a bough’ Brusher did carry a green bough in one hand to keep off the flies. And also perhaps to offset the inevitable aroma of one who dwelt free of the usual lavatorial arrangements.

On 19th June 1972, The Echo described Brusher as a self-made legend, hermit and enigma. He used to be seen at Lyndhurst carrying a tin of writhing snakes. He was supposed to have a great knowledge of reptiles, but seldom spoke to people. The following day (20th June) the BBC’s ‘Country Calendar’ told a different story, that Brusher was often found with his snakes near a forest hotel, and in return for the payment of a 2d tot of rum, he would tell stories of his forest adventures. In this way it is calculated that he drank a bottle of rum a day. Cerita Stanley-Little said in 1961 that Brusher was kindly and talkative ‘though it was hard to understand his speech as he had a cleft palate’.

Writer Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald reported seeing Brusher at the Crown and Stirrup, and he was reputed to visit various inns. T. P. Hattersley states that on one occasion, finding his favourite inn so crowded with day trippers that he couldn’t reach the bar ‘he threw a couple of snakes on to the floor and the room cleared in a very short time’. Brusher was said to use similar tactics when charabancs of visitors arrived: he would mingle with the party, drop a harmless snake and when the shrieks started he would step forward, capture the snake and pass his hat round to take a collection from the grateful company.

According to the Echo, Brusher invented an ointment made from adders which served as a ‘vaccine’ for snake bites. T. P. Hattersley wrote that when Brusher sold the skins of certain snakes, he would boil the skinned snakes to render their fat, from which he would concoct his ointment. Cerita Stanley-Little informed her readers that Brusher’s cure for a snake bite was to cut out the area of the bite with a penknife, let the wound bleed freely for a while and then rub it with an ointment compounded from adders’ fat. If you didn’t fancy that, another common remedy was to take a dose of ammonia or hartshorn, before rubbing the bite with oil. Hattersley claimed that Brusher’s ointment was ‘sought after on the Continent where it was reputed to be particularly effective in relieving rheumatic pains’.

The Echo and BBC stories about Brusher Mills prompted Mrs Annie Cherrett, of Columbia Cottages, Ensbury Park, to contact the Echo and tell that she had once lived in a lodge on an estate near Brusher’s hut, which was hidden under a holly tree. She said that despite an unfriendly reputation, Brusher was a good neighbour and was kind to children, making friends with her three year old daughter Louie. Brusher, she testified, treasured a memory of being visited by King Edward VII, who invited him to lunch.

Cerita Stanley-Little related that officials pulled down his hut and forced him into more conventional accommodation where he could be cared for, but he ‘hated this new way of life and died soon afterwards . . . in the open air he loved so well, beneath the summer trees’. This last fond farewell was such an egregious misrepresentation, that it moved John P. Garrad, of Park Lane, Fareham, to write to Hampshire magazine, offering an account of Brusher Mills’ demise, taken from the ‘Hampshire Telegraph and Post’ of 1905, which reported on the inquest into Brusher’s death. There it was written that when the Crown authorities burnt down his hut, Brusher moved into another on the New Park estate, with the permission of the owner Mr Webley, of ‘Webley & Scott’ the revolver firm. Opinion was divided as to whether his hut was burnt down to facilitate his removal to healthier lodgings, or to prevent him from establishing squatters’ rights over the site of his hut.

Rather than poetically dying beneath the summer trees, Brusher had a heart attack on the privy at the back of the Railway Inn, Brockenhurst. He had gone there for a meal of beer, bread, cheese and pickles. Brusher finished his meal, went out the back and didn’t reappear; the landlord going to look for him twenty minutes later, found him dead. At the inquest a doctor related that he had seen Brusher Mills about his heart some months earlier.

As the result of a public subscription, an impressive monument was erected to mark his grave at Brockenhurst’s Saint Nicholas’ Church.

Some of Brusher’s equipment was put on display at the Railway Inn for a while after his death. His forceps were left to a forester Benny Bessant, who continued Brusher’s snake catching, the work being taken over in turn by his son Douglas Bessant, who supplied snakes to all parts of the world. When Douglas emigrated to South Africa, no one took over the New Forest snake catching work.

Brusher came from a large family. His parents were agricultural labourer Thomas Mills (1800-1871) and Ann Stote (1802-1878) who married at Lyndhurst in 1833. Brusher’s siblings were Emma, 1826; Fanny, 1830; Maria, 1832; Ann, 1834; Sarah, 1837, Lucy 1842 and (Joseph) George, 1847.

In 1866, a Henry Mills was acquitted at the Midsummer Quarter Sessions held at Winchester, of uttering counterfeit coin. If this were he, his trial can’t have been the proudest moment for his parents: his father Thomas Mills had improved his lot to become a gardener, living on the Street at Lyndhurst, but the family already had the stigma of one illegitimate grandchild, Edward Mills. By 1871, Thomas had slipped back to being a general labourer and his wife Ann was taking in laundry to add to the family income.

By 1881, with both his parents dead, Henry was lodging with Fanny and Maria Whiteham, at Clay Hill, Lyndhurst.

In 1886, a Henry Mills was convicted of larceny (theft) at the Michaelmas Quarter Sessions at Winchester; with a note that he had a previous conviction for felony, he was sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment. There is not sufficient information to establish beyond doubt that the imprisoned Henry Mills is the same as our Brusher Mills. What can be said is that before this date he can be found in the records as Henry Mills, the unremarkable Lyndhurst labourer; afterwards as Harry ‘Brusher’ Mills, the New Forest snake catcher.

It was around 1886, that he went off into the woods to live alone in his hut. Later stories of Brusher said that his independent spirit sometimes got him into trouble before he ‘mellowed’. Cerita Stanley-Little suggested that Brusher was ‘difficult in his youth’ and would not talk about whatever troubled events led to his hermit lifestyle, beyond remarking ‘I was born a gardener’. Brusher was said to be antipathetic only toward gipsies for ‘their thieving propensities’. Perhaps he felt he had some reason to blame a gipsy for encouraging his criminal behaviour? It is a calumny often repeated by settled folk against the Romany people.

If we are looking for any single incident to explain the dramatic change in his lifestyle, the shame to a generally honest man, of becoming a convicted criminal, seems quite sufficient. Add to this the harsh economic circumstances of those too poor when the hard times hit, to sell stocks, or raise rents on their tenants, so that their frequent recourse is crime. This, compounded with the misfortune to get caught, makes it reasonable to suppose that the imprisoned Henry, is our Brusher Mills. What made him remarkable was the decision and wherewithal to reinvent himself from a run-of-the-mill labourer, to the most famous and unique New Forest character of his time.

Having been counted in every census since his birth, Henry/Harry/Brusher disappears for the 1891 census – presumably living too deep and too obscurely in the Forest to be found. However by 1901, he was sufficiently celebrated that Lyndhurst enumerator George Charles White sought him out at his hut at Withy Wood, Lyndhurst, to record his details. Harry informed Mr White that he was a single man aged 61, and that his occupation was ‘New Forest Snake Catcher’. He gave his birthplace as Emery Down, Lyndhurst. It was said that he was a tolerably genial old soul in his veteran years.

Brusher’s younger brother George had several children, with his wife Elizabeth Drodge; one of whom Marie Adelaide Mills – Brusher’s niece – married Joseph Jones, who worked as a Crown labourer for the Woods and Forest Department. Marie and Joseph settled at Elsham Cottage, Queen’s Road, Lyndhurst and had six children. One of their daughters Sylvia Nancy Jones, married Arthur J. Puckett, and lived at Gardener’s Cottage, Rushington Lane, Totton. In 1964, Sylvia composed a ballad about her great uncle, Brusher. In 1978, having moved to Exeter, Devon, Sylvia found a local folk singer to record the song; but its release didn’t trouble John Travolta and Olivia Newton John at the top of the pop charts. A copy of ‘The Ballad of Brusher Mills’ is listed amongst the holdings of the New Forest Heritage Centre.

In an earlier age, Brusher might have accrued myths, and shed facts, to fade into legend. As a son of the 19th Century, there are sufficient reliable records of his life that he remains a genuine New Forest character, with a meaningful Bournemouth connection.



Miscarriage and Disorder – Poole in the 1680s Part 2

At the end of the last post on the blog (A Sanctuary to Debtors and Criminals) we left Poole with its charter suspended by a writ of Quo Warranto and without a proper mayor or corporation. A number of loyal Dorset gentlemen had helped to bring this about by describing the inhabitants of Poole as unruly, disaffected, rebellious, unfit, corrupted and dangerous. In November 1684, it was ordered that unless the town’s representatives appeared in court the following term to defend their charter, a judgement might be entered against them. They did not appear, and so the case against the town took its course.

On February 6th1685, Charles II died. The king’s measures to stifle opposition proved successful and the accession of his brother James to the throne passed without problems. On 16th March came the first mention in the Poole Record Book of Poole’s new mayor, John Wyndham, appointed by commission (rather than election). Allen Skutt, as a local man of suitable loyalty, was made deputy mayor. Wyndham probably did not play a very active role as mayor. From May, when King James’s parliament assembled, he was kept busy as M.P. for Salisbury and a member of several parliamentary committees. Poole’s M.P.s were William Ettrick (who as we know had an extremely low opinion of the town he represented) and Thomas Chafin esq., another loyal pair of hands.

Local inn sign Verwood

On 11th June, Charles II’s illegitimate son, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis to challenge his uncle to the throne. In a long declaration, he described James as a tyrant and usurper and portrayed himself as the champion of the protestant religion. Several thousand local men flocked to his support but many of them were untrained and poorly armed. While the king was gathering his forces, Monmouth was mainly opposed by local militia regiments, one of which was led by John Wyndham. After initial success in western Dorset and Somerset, Monmouth was defeated at Sedgemoor on 6th July by the king’s army. Monmouth himself escaped from the battlefield but, according to legend, was discovered hiding under an ash tree near Verwood. He was executed on 15th July at Tower Hill. The campaign had lasted less than four weeks.

Sir George Jeffreys

Very few Poole men were involved in the rebellion, perhaps because it was over so quickly. The aftermath took much longer, with the rebels being hunted down and put on trial at the autumn assize, nicknamed the ‘bloody assize’, presided over by Judge George Jeffreys. At Dorchester the trials were held over about four days during which time over 300 cases were heard. Around 74 people were executed and 175 transported, the first executions taking place while the trials were still in progress. To drive the message home, some of the condemned were taken to other Dorset towns, including Poole to be hung, drawn and quartered. Parts of the executed rebels were then boiled in salt, tarred for preservation and sent out to smaller towns to be hung up in public places. A letter from Allen Skutt as deputy mayor to the constable of Upper Lytchett is preserved in the archives. He asks the constable ‘to take into yor Care and Custody Two Quarters of the several psons this day Executed for High Treason within this Town and County . . . And to affix them and put them on poles or Spykes in the most notable and Convenient places’.

A reconstruction of Poole Town House and Court  by Graham Smith

The events of 1685 must have done little to heal the divisions in the nation or in Dorset. A draft document in the Poole archives entitled ‘The State of the Towne of Poole in Dorsett as it now stands in Aprill 1686’, gives us more clues about what was happening locally. One of the complaints against Poole by some Dorset gentlemen was that it was difficult to get satisfaction in a Poole court, particularly for the settlement of debts. (This complaint is hard to prove but would be of a piece with the corruption in the town revealed by William Culliford’s investigation into smuggling a couple of years before.) After Poole declined to appear at the Court of King’s Bench early in 1684, the holding of the Quarter Sessions and other courts stopped completely. At this point ‘the Sheriff of Dorsett by virtue of a writt directed to him seized the saide towne into the King’s hands to the great satisfaction of the County, many of them having considerable debts owed to them from divers of the Towne’. King Charles granted a commission to several Dorset gentlemen to allow the Quarter Sessions to be held twice during the remainder of his reign. When he died, however, this ceased and according to the document ‘in the now King’s reign there hath been nothing done noe Sessions no courts kept by the Mayor.’

Poole’s situation was now dire. The mayor and sheriff were advised that their authority had ceased ‘either by the death of the late king or by the judgment uppon the Quo Warranto’. Trade in Poole was said to be almost lost because of ‘miscarriage and disorder’. Common justice was no longer available through Poole courts. Some had resorted to violence to settle their grievances. Nicolas Cobb had been attacked with a rapier and dangerously wounded, and a visiting attorney, John Willis, was said to have been beaten up in what sounds like a premeditated assault.

At this low point, it would be interesting to get an idea of opinion within the town itself to balance the chorus of criticism, but no such information has come to light so far. The 1686 document seems to be written with the interests of Sir John Webb, lord of the manor of Canford and Poole, in mind. It mentions his ancient right to hold a Court Leet in the town, to charge chief rent and to receive Poole’s petty customs, keyage and cellarage dues. It also states that the ballast quay (which earned the town a useful £40 a year) had been built ‘on a piece of wast ground piece of the Manor of Canford and Poole belonging to Sir Jo: Webb and done without his consent’. Others keen to express their views were ‘his Majties good subjects of Dorsett’ who urged again that Poole should no longer be a county. Sir John did hold his Courts Leet in Poole and tried to resurrect the ancient right of the lord of the manor to appoint the town mayor from a short-list of candidates, but this was successfully resisted by the townspeople.

Meanwhile the king’s policies were causing increasing opposition and discontent. James’ heirs had long been his two Protestant daughters, Mary, married to William, Prince of Orange, and Anne. Now James’ second wife, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a son and heir, and the prospect of a Catholic dynasty caused dismay to many. Some leading statesmen began to communicate with William and an invitation was sent to him to come to England and take the throne. By September 1688, the likelihood of a Dutch invasion was generally known.

On 15th September, Poole received a new charter from the king. It started by describing how Poole’s liberties and honours had been taken away ‘by reason of a certaine Rebellion and ill Government’ of the former mayor and officers, and the town had been taken into the king’s hands. Now its rights were to be restored including its status as a county separate from Dorset. This must have been welcome news, but further on were some much less acceptable clauses. The king reserved the right to remove the mayor, recorder, sheriff and other officers at any time and to require the town to elect or appoint others nominated by himself, thereby removing the town’s independence. This was a real sticking point for Poole’s leading citizens, and they refused to accept the charter, aware that James’s hold on the throne was about to be challenged.

William and Mary

William of Orange landed on 5th November at Brixham with 35,000 men, a large force but still outnumbered by James’s army. At this critical time, the States of Holland and the Princess of Orange needed to send ‘several packets of great consequence’ to William and looked for any English ship’s master in port at Rotterdam who would be willing to act as a messenger. Most refused, being only too aware of the Monmouth episode and its aftermath three years before. The only one to agree was Thomas Hyde, the master of a Poole ship. His wife Elizabeth went to the Hague to meet the princess and receive the packets, with the promise that she and her family would be rewarded. Elizabeth Hyde was the daughter of Poole clay merchant, Thomas Cornell, a woman of courage and an astute businesswoman in her own right. On their arrival back in Poole, she set out with the papers quilted in her clothes, ‘went thro several of King James’s troops & about 30 miles from Pool met the Prince of Orange & delivered into his own hands the letters’. A pension of £50 a year was later awarded to the Hydes for their service.

James’s resistance to the invasion was undermined by desertions from his army and declarations of support for William from leading noblemen. He did not engage with William’s army and after one abortive attempt to flee, was allowed to leave the country on 23rd December and go into exile in France. In the last weeks before he left, the king conceded a new charter for Poole, dated 8th December 1688, releasing the mayor and corporation from the judgement upon the Quo Warranto and restoring all their previous rights and privileges including the right to elect and appoint officers as before. The mayor and other officers in post at the time of the Quo Warranto were all returned to office. The new charter was obtained through the influence of Sir Nathanial Napier of More Crichel who was to become Poole’s M.P. in 1689. It was brought to the town by Sir Nathaniel on 24th December to be read out and for the restored officeholders to be sworn in once more. After five years of uncertainty, that Christmas must have been one to celebrate in Poole.


Main sources: Allen Skutt’s letter – DC-PL/C/H/7 (Dorset Hist. Centre) / The State of the Towne of Poole 1686  – MB/CIV/7 (Poole Museum Collections) / Sydenham, John, History of the Town and County of Poole 1839 / Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, James II


A Sanctuary to Debtors and Criminals? – Power Politics and Poole in the 1680s

The 1680s were tumultuous years for the country and a traumatic period for Poole. In 1682 and 1683, William Culliford visited the town to investigate the integrity of the Poole custom service, and found corruption within the service that went all the way to the top (see ‘Contraband and Corruption’ on this blog). At the end of his investigations he dismissed many of the senior customs officers, but he had no powers to act against the merchants involved, some of whom were aldermen and magistrates.

James, Duke of York

On the national scene, there was fierce division between the loyalist Tories and the Whigs, who had campaigned for the exclusion from the succession of the king’s brother James, a Catholic convert. Rumours of conspiracies were rife and the Rye House Plot against the lives of Charles and James was foiled early in 1683. Having seen off plots and exclusion threats for the moment, the king took steps to control opposition in the country. One measure was to pressurise boroughs to surrender their charters. Charles could then grant fresh charters containing new clauses giving him the right to appoint and dismiss key office holders and ensure that towns and cities across the country were led by men loyal to his interests. Many boroughs agreed to this process, but a few did not, and Poole was amongst them.

Under what warrant . . .?

Poole’s local government operated through a series of charters, the latest of which had been granted by Charles II himself in 1667, following his visit to Poole in 1665. This charter confirmed all the rights granted in previous charters including Poole’s status as a county, granted by Queen Elizabeth in 1568. The king reserved to himself the right to approve the appointment of the town clerk and recorder. Now, through defiance or perhaps naivety, the town decided to resist the attack on its ancient rights and privileges. The result of Poole’s refusal to surrender its charter was a writ of Quo Warranto issued against the town in June 1683, demanding to know under what warrant or authority it exercised its powers and in effect suspending them, pending judgement in court.

Extract from the 1667 charter

On 19th September mayor James Hallybread and the Corporation produced a humble petition to the king thanking God for his preservation from the ‘Late Barbarous and Bloody conspiracy’ and assuring him of the town’s loyalty. They begged that he would not ‘Ruine soe Ansient (and may wee prsume to say itt) Loyall Corporacon . . . for the Miscarriages of some few Disaffected prsons’ and asked him to continue the town’s ancient liberties, reserving to himself the right to approve the appointment of the main office holders. The delivery of the petition was entrusted to Benjamin Skutt, member of a leading Poole family, now a prosperous merchant in London. Skutt’s letter to the Poole corporation on 4th October described how the petition was received. Having obtained an audience with the king at his council ‘wee Acquaynting him wth the Occasion of our Attendance uppon our knees Delivrd the Addresse into his Majts hands’.  A clerk read out the petition to the king who gave a ‘Gratious Answer’, that he would tell the Attorney General to settle the matter as they prayed for. So, all seemed to be well. The charter was referred to the Attorney General to make the needed changes, Benjamin Skutt offered to see to the completion of the matter in London and the grateful Poole corporation promised to reimburse him for any costs incurred. It was not to be so easy, however.

The inhabitants are so universally corrupted . . .

It turned out that there were plenty of groups and individuals in Dorset who were happy to condemn Poole as disloyal and rebellious and see it deprived of authority. Even as Benjamin Skutt was presenting the petition, William Ettrick, of Holt Lodge near Wimborne, was writing to London. He was the son of Anthony Ettrick who had retired in 1682 after 20 years as Poole’s recorder. He assured the authorities that the county was loyal ‘except in Poole, where the late conspiracy, the Quo Warranto against them or any other means have not made the least amendment. The people there have so long lived with impunity from the laws by reason of their being a county and being sure of true Protestant juries that they . . . are resolved to defend themselves to the last.’ He went on to explain that the town planned to use the revenues of their ballast quay (£40 a year) to pay for their defence against the Quo Warranto. Might it be feasible, Ettrick asked, to remove the ballast quay and give the license and the revenues to someone else? There were two ‘very honest and loyal gentlemen’ that he had in mind, Alderman Skutt and Mr. Draycott.

The ballast quay at Hamworthy (marked X), from a map of 1751

Poole had been granted a licence in 1664 for the mayor, or someone deputised by him, to manage everything relating to ballast, so as to prevent unregulated dumping of ballast in the harbour. A group of Poole merchants had paid over £125 (borrowed at interest) to erect a ballast quay at Hamworthy. This was quite an elaborate affair with stages, winding tackle and blocks, a ‘Crabb wth barrs’ and a small house to heat pitch for the careening of vessels. Over the years, the ballast quay had become quite a good earner for the town which is why it was now a target. Alderman Skutt was probably Allen, nephew of Benjamin and son of William Skutt who according to Ettrick ‘was in arms for the king and before the restoration had a commission from his Majesty to raise a regiment’. Francis Draycott was the agent for Sir Robert Clayton’s alum works on Brownsea Island.

Other voices were raised against Poole. In January 1684, a petition was received in London from the justices and Grand Jury of Dorset against the incorporation of Poole ‘and especially against making it a county . . . which has always been of the greatest inconvenience to co. Dorset, the said town having never afforded persons fit to put the laws in execution within it, which has always been a sanctuary to debtors and criminals. By the long settling of a Nonconformist preacher in their church, who has kept alive in them their old rebellious principles, the inhabitants are so universally corrupted that it will be impossible to find loyal men to support a corporation therein.’ The Dorset gentlemen were asking that when the judgement (as they hoped) went against the town, the king should grant it no special privileges and particularly that it’ be not again created a county’. The fact that Poole had a nonconformist preacher was another point against it, as nonconformists were seen unruly and potentially disloyal. The preacher in question was probably Samuel Hardy, a controversial figure, beloved by many but detested by others, who was ejected from the Poole living in 1682. Allen Skutt was one of those who had complained about him, that he did not wear the surplice, omitted the sign of the cross in baptism and ‘did divers other things contrary to the rules of the church of England’.

With bad press like this, it is not surprising that the king and his council changed their minds on Poole’s charter. A summary of the progress of the case in the state papers hints at behind the scenes deals. It says that Benjamin Skutt acted for the town in return for the settling of a dispute between the authorities and his nephew (presumably Allen) and ‘as it is said, on their promise of choosing him their member of parliament.’ It also states the first draft of Poole’s petition was ‘filled with false protestations of loyalty but without a word of submitting their charter’. Benjamin judged that this would not be acceptable and drew up a new version himself to present to the king. Whether this was true or not, the Dorset Tories were keen to point out that ‘things have been misrepresented to his Majesty’ and ‘there are not honest men enough in the town for magistrates and officers or, if there were, there is no loyal party to stand by them’.

The writ of Quo Warranto was not withdrawn and in November 1684 it was ordered that unless the town’s representatives appeared in court in the Spring, judgement would be entered against them.

Disaffected and unruly people

An undated and anonymous document recently acquired by the Dorset History Centre appears to relate to this period. It is addressed to Lord North, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England, and lists points to bolster the case against the town. The first item concerns Poole’s defences. The ancient fortifications consisted mainly of the towngate, ditch and walls, constructed in the 15th century. They had served the town well when it was a garrison for parliament during the Civil War, but from the 1650s onwards various orders had been issued for them to be demolished. A warrant of 1665 ordered ‘immediate completion of demolishing the works at Poole, levelling the fences, ramparts etc.’ and according to the document, two Dorset Grand Juries had since pressed for their removal. The fact that at least part of the defences still existed in the 1680s, could be seen as evidence of the disobedient and rebellious nature of the townspeople.

Poole’s defences shown in a map of c, 1634

The second point concerns the ballast quay. The author says that he has petitioned the king that ‘there being now no mayor’ he could deputise someone else to take over the management of ballast, along with its revenues and as a candidate for this, he suggests ‘our Mr Draycott’. The fact that there is no functioning mayor seems to date the letter between November 1683 when James Hallybread last signed himself as mayor in the Corporation Order Book, and March 1685, the date of the first mention of the new mayor. The third paragraph of the document deals with a proposed candidate for mayor. The writer asserts that ‘there being in Poole a great number of disaffected and unruly people it will be impossible to keep them quiet without making Col. Wyndham Mayor by Commission’. John Wyndham was a suitably loyal Wiltshire gentleman, M.P. for Salisbury and colonel of militia. As Collector of Customs, the writer proposes Mr Constantine, presumably Henry Constantine of Merley, the son of Poole’s one-time recorder, ‘his competitor Skutt being allso notoriously unfitt.’  Whether this was Allen Skutt is unclear but it sounds as if the writer thought him just as bad as the rest of the Poole population.

Extract from the document

For the time being the town found itself in legal limbo. The Mayor elect, William Phillips, could not take office and neither could any of the other officials for what would normally be the start of a new mayoral year. How could the town manage its finances, charge port dues, collect rents, raise taxes, pay workers, take care of the poor, elect officers and burgesses, hold court sessions, in fact carry out any of its normal functions without the powers to act? Would the town have to submit to the direction of an unelected mayor and officers?

To be continued . . .


Main sources: The text of the Quo Warranto, Poole’s petition and the correspondence with Benjamin Skutt is written in the Poole Record Book 1589-late 18th cent. (DC-PL/B/1/1/1 (in Dorset History Centre with a copy in the Poole History Centre). / Calendar of State Papers, Domestic. Charles II 1684-4, 1684-5.


Who, What & Where Answers

I hope you knew some or all of the answers. Here they are:

Lady Cornelia

  1. When Augustus John leased Alderney Manor in 1909, his landlady was Lady Cornelia, wife of Lord Wimborne of Canford. (She signed the lease for her husband who was then described as ‘mentally infirm’). In earlier years they had both been involved in good works locally and Lady Cornelia was responsible for the founding of Poole Hospital.
  2. The 17th century house referred to is Hamworthy Manor (also known as Hamworthy Rectory), one of the few local buildings to survive reasonably intact from this period. It is situated behind Hamworthy Library next to the grounds of Carter Community School.
  3. This is a description of Brownsea Island from Mate’s ‘Dorsetshire Illustrated 1900’ (Chantry Press 1986). The clay deposits were worked to make bricks and pipes by two owners of the island, Colonel Waugh and Mr. Cavendish Bentinck, but eventually proved unprofitable. The description was written after the fire which destroyed the castle in 1896.
  4. The natural scientist Alfred Russel Wallace lived in Parkstone before moving to Broadstone where he died in 1913. He developed theories about evolution at the same time as Darwin and was in correspondence with him. Wallace’s grave in Broadstone Cemetery is marked by a fossil tree.
  5. The ruins of ‘Simpson’s Folly’ were at one time quite a visitor attraction at Canford Cliffs. It was built close to the sea in the 1880s by a Poole sea captain (presumably of the name of Simpson) and was one of the earliest concrete houses in the area. Unfortunately, the ground gave way beneath the foundations within days and it was eventually blown up as an unsafe structure. The ruins remained well into the 20th century.
  6. This extract from ‘The Crystal Cabinet’ by Mary Butts describes Sandbanks as she knew it in her childhood in the 1890s. High Horse Manger was the name given to the highest sand dune of all.
  7. Woodes Rogers was the Poole born sailor who made his name by circumnavigating the globe in 1708-11 and later writing about his adventures. During his voyage he rescued Alexander Selkirk who had been stranded on a deserted island (initially at his own request). Selkirk’s story was later fictionalised by Defoe in ‘The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’. Rogers served two terms as governor of the Bahamas but found his time in office financially ruinous.
  8. Poole’s pre-historic port, the so-called Green Island causeway, was constructed just inside the harbour entrance between Cleavel Point and Green Island in the mid to late Iron Age. It consisted of two massive moles or jetties, one extending from the mainland and one from the island, with a deep water channel flowing between them. A rise in sea level gradually made the port structures no longer viable and when the Romans arrived, they made their port at Hamworthy.
  9. This is a description of the 17th century Quay from Henry Harbin’s house in the east to the quay head in the west. A few interesting details are mentioned such as the wall used for heating pitch and the steps in the middle. A similar description in 1558 mentions James Measurer’s house being at the east end of the Quay. His daughter Edith married George Dackombe and one of their daughters, Mary, married Henry Harbin so this is probably the same house which came to them by inheritance.
  10. John Le Carré (real name David Cornwell) was the writer, born in Poole, who drew on his time in the foreign service to write his famous spy stories such as ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’ and ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’.
  11. On 21st June 1988, an explosion in a chemical store stated a massive fire at BDH which fortunately did not turn into a major disaster. The black cloud of smoke, billowing flames and exploding chemical drums were certainly dramatic as I can bear witness, having had a bird’s eye view over the rooftops from the windows of the reference library.
  12. Poole Park was opened in 1890 and since that time has provided local people (and birds) with a marvellous facility to enjoy, especially during the recent weeks of restrictions. Its station and cafés are still closed but life is now beginning to return to some sports facilities.
  13. Louie Foote (later Louie Dingwall) was a woman of great energy and many talents who helped to develop the community at Sandbanks. As a woman in the 1920s she was unusual in setting up and running a number of businesses including training racehorses on the sands. She had been a trainer for years before the law allowed her to get a licence in her own name.
  14. The old town beam was constructed and set up in 1947 as a replica of the balance used to weigh goods coming through the port. Some of the iron structure may have been original. The plaque fixed to the front quoted from the old regulations in the Poole archives.
  15. This couldn’t be anything else but Old Harry Rocks!

Who, What & Where

What is nearly 150 years old, was built by Ransomes and Rapier and allows you to pass even when the gates are closed? Answer: the High Street footbridge over the railway. Can you identify the following people, places and things from the descriptions?  they are all connected to Poole and the pictures may give a few clues (or they may not!)

  1. Once Augustus John’s landlady, she and her husband had a luxurious lifestyle but were also extremely charitable. Their generosity helped to provide Poole with churches, schools, a golf course, park and hospital.
  2. It was built in the 17th century in a Flemish gabled style and was temporally confiscated from its Royalist owner during the Civil War. It may have been used for nursing wounded soldiers and once housed clergymen and their families. It now sits between a secondary school and a modern library.
  3. It is about five miles in circumference, and besides its many attractions of wood and dell, breezy moor and sequestered valley, it has a distinct commercial value in its beds of clay (one of which, a white clay, is nearly 50 ft. thick). At one time it belonged to Cerne Abbey and is said to have been the dwelling-place of a hermit. Sombre fir woods clothe its sides, and at its extreme eastern point stands, in majestic solitude, its now burnt out and partially destroyed castle. (Description of 1900)
  4. He lived in Parkstone and Broadstone and although largely self-taught, was the author of many books and contributed to a scientific theory of great importance. His grave marker is around 146 million years old.
  5. Built of concrete it became a landmark of the Canford Cliffs shoreline and its ruins demonstrated the folly of building on sand.
  6. A pale sand and couch-grass wilderness, honeycombed with rabbits; and the tallest dune, High Horse Manger, a two-hundred foot slide on a tea-tray into the soft, pure drift at its foot, now levelled down for a planting of bungalows, in winter derelict, their blind windows silting up with the ceaseless spin of the sand. (Description of 1890s)
  7. A native of Poole, the account of his exploits during a voyage of 1708-11 was a best seller and his rescue of a stranded sailor inspired a famous novel. He was a successful colonial governor but ended his career in poverty.
  8. Built of thousands of wooden stakes and paved with stone slabs this structure was state of the art at the time of construction but old before the Romans came. One arm was 55m x 8m and the other 160m x 8m, surely a source of admiration to all who docked there.
  9. ‘It is 192 feet long, beginning at the dead wall, commonly used for heating pitch, adjoining to Henry Harbin’s house and land, and WSW to the head thereof, with a pair of stone steps about the middle, being in depth at the said head, 42 feet.’ (Adapted from a description of c.1660)
  10. His grandfather was a Poole alderman and he taught at Eton before joining the foreign service. He is best known for his novels revealing the sordid and treacherous world of international espionage.
  11. It melted the chrome on cars parked nearby, threw chemical drums hundreds of feet into the air and sent a huge cloud of toxic smoke billowing out to sea but fortunately caused no serious injury.
  12. A favourite with local birds, it is 130 years old. Its 90 acres are at least two thirds water, but it also contains roads, a station, bridges, cafés, flowers beds, trees and sports facilities.
  13. She made a great contribution to the development of a popular area of the town. In her remarkable career she set up a motor bus service, ran a hotel and garage and became one of the first women to become licenced as a racehorse trainer.
  14. This replica was probably 70 years old and may have incorporated original ironwork. After decades of sea winds, it succumbed to a storm and has disappeared from the scene. We hope it will return as a reminder of the balance of trade in the port.
  15. Carved into the rock by the action of the sea at the eastern end of the Jurassic coast the formation is named after a pirate, or the devil himself.

Hamworthy – A Whereabouts Guide

Swirling round the George roundabout and up over the Towngate Bridge, it’s interesting to remember that you are flying over the place where, one night in late September 1643, 500 Royalist soldiers attempted to storm Poole’s ancient towngate. The Civil War was a year old and Poole was an isolated Parliamentarian stronghold in what was then a largely Royalist county. Lord Crawford, the local Royalist leader, had bribed a soldier of the Poole garrison, Captain Francis Sydenham to open the gate to the Royalist forces. However Sydenham had revealed the plot to Poole’s governor from the start.

Directly in front of the gate was a half moon, a defensive outwork with chains across its entrance which could be rapidly drawn up. On the chosen night, Sydenham blew a horn, the agreed signal. The silently waiting Royalists surged forward into the half-moon expecting to charge on into the town. Instead the gate was suddenly shut in front of them and the chains rattled up, catching them in a trap. A few seconds of confusion was shattered by a cacophony of noise, the thunderous detonations of guns, the rattle of musket fire from the walls and the shouts and screams of men and horses struggling to escape.

It was said that ‘divers cartloads’ of men died that night. Lord Crawford barely escaped with his life and the garrison captured some 20 prisoners, 50 horses and about 300 weapons belonging to the attackers. It was perhaps the most dramatic and tragic incident in the 250 years or so of the towngate’s existence. Today the location of the gate is marked by a couple of plaques on one of the supports of the present bridge, although all the surrounding landmarks have changed.

Thinking about this attack, made me wonder whether it would be interesting to try to pin down the location of other events or ‘lost’ buildings and structures that have played a part in Poole’s history – a very open-ended project! The following is a whereabouts guide to just a small selection of these in the Hamworthy area.

The towngate stood on Poole’s northern land boundary. Its southern land boundary crossed what is now lower Hamworthy since the tip of the Hamworthy peninsular was claimed as part of Poole. Whether this was originally for reasons of defense or commerce, I don’t know. On or near the boundary was a place called Broomhill, traditionally used for the annual open-air meetings of the Admiralty Court of Poole. The location is described in the 1611 court proceedings as being ‘att and verie close to the now Dwelling house of John Adams roaper in Hither ham . . . close to the banck of oare [seaweed] now invironing the same place’. The area had once been open land but had been enclosed ‘within theis fortie yeares’. At the 1613 court it was mentioned that when the land was open, the local people used it to ‘daylie hange and spread their lynen clothes to drye them in winter and summer’.

There was also an area or route in lower Hamworthy called ‘Maiden Way’ that I haven’t been able to locate, which might be associated with this trip out with the washing. In the 18th century, people perambulating the land bounds of Poole used to visit ‘Old Hart’s Grave’ the furthest westerly part of the boundary near Broomhill. According to John Sydenham this was where ‘one Hart, who hung himself in the town of Poole, about the year 1710 was buried.’ The laundry ground, the pile of seaweed and John Adams’ house and ropeworks have now long vanished as landmarks but at some point a stone was set up marking the spot of Broomhill. It was shown on Sir Peter Thompson’s map of Poole c.1751 and a replacement stone, dating from 1823, can be seen today in a little area set back on the south side of the road with an explanatory plaque nearby.

Another Hamworthy landmark was the fortification built on the tip of the peninsula and known as the bulwark. This was probably built around the same time as the blockhouse on Brownsea Island as part of Henry VIII’s coastal defences because it is shown on the 1539 ‘Bird’s Eye View of the Dorset Coast’. It was still there when the first street map of Poole was drawn up around 1634 and appears as a round stone tower or gun platform. There are frequent references to the bulwark during the Civil War but no descriptions of it that I have come across and it was probably swept away with the rest of Poole’s defences in the 1650s and 1660s. In the 18th century the area was modified for maritime industries and a new quay called the bulwarks was created, extending south from the end of the peninsula. The name is still used today and the site of the old bulwark is probably on the north side of the road, opposite the Freightliner Terminal.

Left: Bird’s Eye View 1539 showing the Towngate and (top right) the bulwark. South is shown at the top.        Right: Map showing the bulwark c.1634

Sir Peter Thompson Map c. 1751 showing lower Hamworthy. W= Shipwrights’ yards, X= Ballast Quay, Y= Bulwarks Quay, Z= Passage boat. A ropewalk is shown along the southern shore and the symbol of the Broomhill stone is just above this, below Ham Corner at the end of the road.

A passage boat has probably plied between lower Hamworthy and Poole Quay since medieval times. When the antiquary, John Leland visited Poole around 1540, he came ‘from Lichet to the Fery’ and crossed the passage to reach the town. It operated from the great quay near the town cellars to what is now Ferry Road on the Hamworthy side. In the 17th century, the passage service and passage house was leased out to individuals by the corporation at an annual rent of £6 to £7. The tenant was also responsible for the passage quay as shown in 1607 when a complaint was made against Jefferie Hudson that he had allowed the quay to lie ‘most ruinous’ and gravel and stone to fall into the sea and block up the channel. The passage boat was large, certainly big enough to hold a horse, as we know from a fatal accident in 1613 when Joseph Long was knocked into the water by a mare he was taking across and subsequently drowned. In his History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset, John Hutchins describes the passage boat ‘large enough to hold eighty persons, which continues to ply all day, and is hauled by a rope stretched from one side to the other, for which every family pays only 4d a year, and every stranger a halfpenny each time’.

Poole Quay from the Hamworthy shore

It was not until 1835 that a bridge was built to span the narrow waters between Hamworthy and Poole. This steep wooden bridge was replaced in 1885 by an iron swivel bridge, superseded in its turn by the 1927 lifting bridge which still remains. All three were more or less in the same position at the furthest west point of the Quay. The ferry boat continued to operate into the 20th century. Ernest Bristowe recalled that the boat was always crowded when the men of Hamworthy Engineering were going on shift. ‘The boat was wide and men used to jump from the Quay desperate to arrive on time. Occasionally someone would fall into the harbour, and I have been in the boat with the water within an inch or so of the top of the rail.’ The latest Twin Sails Bridge, opened in 2012, is located further round the shore at the southern end of Holes Bay, leading from the former Wilkins Way and connecting with Rigler Road on the Hamworthy side.

The Twin Sails bridge

Further up the Hamworthy peninsula are several other sites of historic interest. The Carew family owned land in Hamworthy from Tudor times and had a manor house at ‘Higher Ham’. At the beginning of the 17th century the head of the family was Henry Carew, a staunch Catholic who was often in trouble with the authorities and had some enemies locally. When the guns were fired at Poole Quay as part of the celebrations for the accession of James I in 1603, some of the shot landed dangerously close to Henry Carew’s house, breaking the branches of trees ‘to the great terror of [him], his wife and familie & to the great danger of beatinge downe [his] house’. He accused the merchant Edward Man as being responsible and even took his case to the Star Chamber but without success.

The present manor house is thought to date from the 1620s or 1630s and if so must have replaced the earlier house, but whether it was built on the same site is not known. The new house was of a striking Flemish style, one of the first large mansions locally to be built of brick. During the Civil War, the Carew estates were sequestered (temporarily confiscated) and it is believed that the attic room of the mansion was used to nurse wounded Parliamentarian soldiers. There is also a tradition that Oliver Cromwell once visited. The war damaged the fortunes of the Carew family and at the end of the century they sold their Hamworthy estate to Sir John Webb of Canford. The mansion house became a rather grand farm house and later Hamworthy’s rectory. It now stands sandwiched between Carter Community School and the modern Hamworthy Library.

In Henry Carew’s time, Hamworthy had a chapel, attached to the parish of Sturminster Marshall. The minister before the Civil War was Mathias Melledge who was later accused of being a go-between in the plot to betray Poole to the Royalists (which is where this article began). In the war, some of its stone was used to build a fort to protect the southern approach to Poole. Henry Carew’s tenant, Thomas Smedmore received compensation for ‘great losses by fortifications which were made upon his ground and by the rummage of his dwelling house’. We don’t know exactly where the fort was but, some shaped blocks found in the 20th century in the Rigler Road area may have been a remnant of it.

Hamworthy St Michael’s 1826

A description of the old chapel is given in The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset by John Hutchins, published in 1774 when the ruins were still standing: ‘The chapel stands at the east end of Higher Ham, near the mansion house, and appears to have been a small ancient fabric, consisting of a chancel, body and a small turret at the west end. It is 84 ft long by 17 and was ruined in the Civil Wars, and only the walls remain. The inhabitants bury in the chapel and chapel yard.’ A mound in the churchyard nearby was said to be the burying place of Parliamentarian soldiers. It was nearly 200 years later before the ruins of the old chapel were cleared and a new church built on the site. It was consecrated by the Bishop of Bristol in August 1826 and described in the newspapers as ‘a neat, even elegant structure, capable of accommodating five hundred persons’ in a delightful setting close to Holes Bay. This church was replaced by the present St. Michael’s church, built on adjacent ground in 1959.

There are many interesting locations in Hamworthy; these are just a few of them. I would love to hear any stories you know behind other places in the area and I hope to do another whereabouts guide in a week or so.


Main sources: Bristowe, Ernest, Poole was My Oyster 1998 / Hutchins, John, History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset, 1774 Smeaton Ann, A History of Hamworthy, facts, fables and folk, 2005 / Sydenham, John, History of the Town and County of Poole, 1839 / Maps: Bird’s Eye View of the Dorset Coast 1539, Pythouse Map of Poole c.1634, Sir Peter Thompson Map of Poole c.1751



The Pitwines Project

The Pitwines site

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Bournemouth Gas and Water Company was expanding its operations rapidly to meet the increasing demand for gas from a growing population. The Poole gasworks was at East Quay, where all the available space had been utilised and there was no further room for expansion. Other departments were housed at Beech Hurst, former home of Philip Budge, solicitor and three times mayor of Poole. This fine Georgian mansion provided a rather grand location for the company’s district offices and showrooms. Behind Beech Hurst was a wide stretch of marshy land bordered on the north by the Poole to Bournemouth railway line. This area, known as Pitwines, was once bisected by the medieval town wall and ditch on its way to Parkstone Bay, and was used as a dump for the town’s waste in Tudor and Stuart times. In the 1920s it was already the site of a gasholder and was large enough for the needs of company’s development for many years to come.

The outbreak of the First World War put all plans on hold. Men hurried to enlist, including many from the Gas and Water Company. The town had to adjust to women working in various unfamiliar roles, and female gas fitters repairing gas fires, cookers and water heaters. In the difficult post-war world, development plans could at last be revived. The company proposed to increase their capacity by building what was virtually a complete new works at Pitwines. In 1923 the Co-Partner, the company’s works magazine, announced that ‘the ensuing six months will see Pitwines a veritable hive of activity’ and admitted that it was only just in time as a hard winter would ‘very severely tax our existing gas manufacturing resources’.

By the following year, the company were able to list the major contracts that had been awarded. Most important was the retort house itself which was to be supplied by the Woodall Duckham Company. Harold W. Woodall had been the Engineer and General Manager of the Bournemouth Gas and Water Company in the early years of the century with Arthur Duckham as his assistant engineer. The two men formed a partnership to develop systems for the continuous carbonization of coal using vertical retorts. During the war, Harold Woodall joined the Dorsetshire Regiment and later became a Lieutenant-Colonel in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. Arthur Duckham chaired an advisory committee to the Ministry of Munitions and was granted a knighthood at the end of the war. In 1920, they set up a private company which was to become a leading supplier of vertical retorts. Another important contractor was the Mitchell Conveyor Company which would supply the coal handling cableway bringing coal from the Poole works at East Quay to Pitwines and capable of handling 100 tons per hour. They were also contracted to provide the handling system for coke, ash and breeze (fine coke), a ‘telpher’ or automatic aerial conveyor using a trolleys.

The retort house foundations

The reinforced concrete structures such as the main block of buildings and the coal store and coke hoppers were to be built by T. Vale and Son and the plant for producing water gas by Humphreys and Glasgow, an international firm. There were also contractors for boilers, exhausters, condensers, scrubbers and washers, the relief holder for the water gas, storage tanks, railway sidings and a railway weighbridge. Such a complex site needed detailed planning and drawing but by June 1924, the bulk of this work had been done. The raft foundation of the retort house had been laid, starting with a framework of 42 tons of steel rods to reinforce the 5,000 tons of concrete cement. The reinforced concrete stanchions supporting the retort house (some weighing 168 tons each) would interlock with the steel framework and the finished house would measure 116 ft. x 51 ft.

By the end of 1924, some of the buildings were taking shape including the coal store, water gas relief holder, coke bunkers and retort house. The unstable ground of the site posed problems and meant that the foundations for many of the buildings had to be supported by 14 in. square piles 30 ft. long. It had also proved difficult to recruit the number of scaffolders, carpenters and other skilled workmen needed. Nevertheless the company had made progress, levelling and laying roads and building the supports for the cableway and telpher systems. The completion of the railway sidings meant that construction materials could be brought on site more easily and the company had acquired a 5 ton locomotive hand crane to work with their existing petrol driven 45 h.p. Caledon shunting locomotive. The main block of buildings was also rising from its foundations. Here would be housed the boilers, water gas plant, producers and gas engines for producing electricity as well as the fitting shop and messroom. As it would be the main aspect of the works visible from the railway, it was designed in a plain but elegantly imposing style.

That winter there were south easterly gales and serious floods. At Christchurch a gas holder under construction, estimated to weigh 300 tons, was ‘floated off the foundations and moved a considerable distance.’ At Pitwines some parts of the site were flooded but the ground which had been raised to 7 ft. above Ordnance datum was still 6 in. above the water. The company described this as ‘very satisfactory’ while sincerely hoping that such exceptional weather conditions would not occur again in the near future.

On 5th June 1925 a distinguished party consisting of the directors and officers of the Bournemouth Gas and Water Company, including General Manager Mr. Philip G. G. Moon, the mayors of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole and other civic dignitaries and members of the Southern Association of Gas Engineers and Managers (of which Mr. Moon was President) toured the Pitwines works. The party then went to the Branksome Tower Hotel for lunch where they were entertained with a selection of music played by the Gasworks Band, followed by speeches. In a toast to the Bournemouth Gas and Water Company, with which he had previously been associated, Sir Arthur Duckham called it ‘one of the most progressive in the whole country’.

Gas manufacture finally commenced at the new Pitwines Gasworks on the 4th December 1925. It was only just in time to maintain gas supply in the severe wintry weather. The start of the generating process was the cableway, 1230 ft. long, bringing coal in skips from East Quay via two-storey ‘protection’ bridges over South Road and Green Road to Pitwines. The design of having the out-going skips travelling above incoming ones rather than side by side was to ‘reduce the width required for the cableway, and therefore the number of cottages which had to be demolished’. To have open 9 cwt. skips of coal passing over at chimney level every 32 seconds cannot have been very pleasant for nearby householders, especially on washing days. At the new works the coal was delivered either to the hoist of the retort house or to the coal store. The cableway was also used to transport coke, ash and breeze between the two works.

The cableway with protection bridge and angle station

The heart of the works was the 87 ft. high retort house containing 24 Woodall Duckham vertical retorts each of which could carbonize 7 tons of coal in 24 hours in a continuous process. Coal was fed into the retorts from bunkers and supply hoppers on the top of the building and then heated by 4 producers (furnaces) in an oxygen free environment to release its volatile components, leaving coke as a residue. Gases, ash and coke were continually removed while coke to fuel the producers was fed in through chutes. The carburetted water gas plant was located in the main block of buildings. The process involved passing steam (produced in the plant’s water cooling system) through hot coke to produce water gas, a mixture of hydrogen, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Oil was added in the carburetting process to enrich the gas. The water gas was valuable to the supply because it could be produced more quickly and flexibly than coal gas. The output of the plant was 2,000,000 cu ft. of gas per day or nearly as much as the retort house. Both the coal and the water gas then had to undergo further processing in the condensers and scrubbers to remove unwanted elements such as tar, ammonia and sulphides. The three exhausters, supplied by George Waller and Sons of Stroud, were used to increase the gas pressure usually before scrubbing or at another part of the process. They were designed to be used on any gas main by operation of the appropriate valves and were powered by two vertical 43 h. p. steam engines.

The water gas plant and the exhausters were located in the main block of buildings which also housed the boilers producing steam and two gas producers supplying the gas engine dynamo plants to generate electricity for the whole works. Other areas of the buildings were used for a fitting room, messroom and stores. The massive reinforced concrete coal store measured 315 ft. x 100 ft. and when full it could store 14,750 tons of coal loaded to a depth of 20 ft. It was serviced by a 3 ton revolving jib crane which ran along a central gantry. The telpher which transported coke, breeze and ash around the works consisted of a track 1,448 ft. long, supported at a height of 56 ft. above the ground. The whole site was incredibly complex but processes were integrated as much as possible to save and recycle energy and produce saleable end products. Many different forms of power were in use, gas, electricity, steam, petrol, gravity and compressed air. End products included coal gas, water gas, coke, breeze, ash, steam, electricity, tar, gas oil, asphalt, ammonia and sulphate.

The Pitwines site with the coal store in the left foreground, the retort house to its right and the water gas holder and larger existing gas holder behind. The main block of buildings is to the right facing the railway. The telpher supports are visible in the right foreground.

In 1928, the company built a new gas showroom, specially designed to compliment and not to obscure the Georgian splendour of Beech Hurst. The Pitwines works operated for 50 years until the coming of natural gas made coal gas redundant. When the plant came to be demolished in the 1970s, the buildings resisted the efforts of the demolition crew to take them down. After learning something about the works’ construction, this does not surprise me, and it can be regarded as a tribute to the expertise of the 1920s engineers. Beech Hurst survived its noisy neighbour and still graces the upper end of High Street.

Jenny Oliver        Main sources: Co-Partner / Grace’s Guide / Poole Directories





Hill Street Blues, Browns and Reds

The current exhibition of works by Henry Lamb showing at Poole Museum provides a rare opportunity to see some of the output of this talented artist brought together in one place. From early works when Lamb was developing his style to mature portraits, landscapes, observational views and character studies, the exhibition also includes pictures from his six transitional years in Poole, the subject of the following article:

The door of No. 10 Hill Street.

The artist Henry Lamb came to Poole in the spring of 1922 when he bought No.10 Hill Street. At the time Poole, like the rest of the country  was struggling to adjust to post-war life and an economic depression. Although the town had its prosperous suburbs with big houses and scenic views, Hill Street did not fall into this category. Like a lot of streets in the old town, it had come down in the world and its properties now served a variety of different uses. In fact, Lamb described it in a letter as ‘a slum street which was once genteel’. His immediate neighbours were baker Walter Chaffey on one side and on the other, Harry Arnold, a fishmonger. The street also contained two chapels, Charles Brixey’s farrier’s yard, the Temperance Hall, Arthur Knight’s, coachbuilders, Whitbread’s brewery, the Yeoman Inn and J.H. Cole’s furniture warehouse besides many residential properties.

Houses in Hill Street from the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments volume on Poole. No. 10 is on the right

No. 10, once the home of Poole’s venerable Sergeant-at-Mace, George Squibb, was a three storey house with cellars and a porticoed doorway, built in the late 18th century. Its appearance was plain but elegant. At the back of the house was an early 19th century extension and a long narrow garden with a cottage at the far end, which Lamb converted into a studio. Inside, the house retained many original features such as the window shutters and the tall panelled doors, as can be seen in some of Lamb’s later interior paintings. It was quite a large house for one person but had the advantage of providing plenty of room for guests without disrupting his work space.

Floor plans of No. 10 from the Royal Commission volume.

Before the war, Henry Lamb had been making his mark as an artist. As a young man he had abandoned medical studies in Manchester to enrol at the Chelsea School of Art and study under Augustus John and William Orpen. Here he met aspiring artists and writers and moved in Bohemian circles. The same year he also married Nina Euphemia Forrest, artist’s muse and model, although they soon separated. During visits to France and Ireland he began to develop his style as an artist and produced some successful work. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Lamb, then 31, completed his medical training and enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He went on to serve in Macedonia, Palestine and France. In September 1918 he received the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’, tending to troops suffering heavy casualties from enemy shelling. The following month, he was badly gassed in France and spent the final weeks of the war in hospital in London.

Detail from ‘Advance Dressing Station . . ‘

After the armistice, Lamb was demobilised with impaired health. In fact as much as 20 years later he was described in the notes of an electoral register as ‘RAMC Captain discharged – permanently unfit’. At 36 he had to pick up the threads of his artistic career. After convalescence he began a large war painting,‘Irish Troops in the Judean Hills surprised by a Turkish Bombardment’,  one of a number commissioned by the Imperial War Museum from contemporary British artists. Completing the picture acted as a kind of therapy. In 1920 he found a quiet location at Stourpaine where he worked on another large war picture ‘Advance Dressing Station on the Struma 1916’, this time for Manchester City Art Gallery.

Lamb began to look around for a quieter place to live and work than his studio in Hampstead. He knew Dorset from working at Stourpaine and from visiting Augustus John at Alderney near Poole where the John family had lived since 1911. Lamb was in love with Augustus’s mistress, Dorelia McNeill, and they had a long relationship, although Dorelia’s devotion to Augustus never wavered. He probably chose Poole, because it was small, quiet and close to Alderney while being accessible to London where he retained his studio.

A Street in Poole

After settling in to Hill Street, Lamb soon found inspiration in the streets of the old town with glimpses of the sky, the bulk of the warehouses and other buildings and the jumble of rooftops around him. He started a series of townscapes in dark warm tones of brown, terracotta and slate blue which are among his most successful works. It was not necessary to go far from home to find inviting views. One of the earliest of these paintings was ‘View from the Artist’s Studio’, also known as ‘The Coffin Shop’ which was painted looking from the first floor window of his house across the garden to the uneven roofs and chimneys beyond. A large workshop, used by a neighbouring undertaker, was the main feature. The painting called ‘A Street in Poole’ showing dark buildings silhouetted against a glowing sunset sky may depict Lagland Street a short walk away and another painting was of Dear Hay Lane, just behind Hill Street.

Although Henry Lamb was finding subjects to inspire him, he was still suffering from poor health and insomnia and periods of depression. In the summer of 1922, he had his first one-man show at the Alpine Club Gallery. One work on show was a large portrait of his friend, the writer Lytton Strachey, showing the sitter as an immensely long, lanky figure, draped in his chair. The correspondent of the Pall Mall Gazette, C. Lewis Hind, called the painting ‘a subtle, courteous caricature’ adding that ‘it is satanically clever but if I were Mr. Strachey I would assassinate the artist. No jury could possibly convict.’ This edgy quality in Lamb’s work appealed to Hind and the general verdict on the exhibition was favourable and encouraging.

The Doler

In Poole Lamb continued to explore the local scene. At the time it was commonplace to see dole queues and unemployed men in the streets and around the Quay. One pugnacious character took to pestering Henry Lamb until he arranged to paint his portrait. Called ‘The Doler’, the painting shows the young, anonymous sitter in cap and neckerchief turning an uncompromising face to the world. Another portrait of Augustus John’s son 16-year-old Romilly John, speaks of visits to Alderney. Lamb also entertained at Hill Street. In 1922 and 1923, he had visits from fellow artist Stanley Spencer who tended to rely on Henry Lamb for advice and support, both moral and financial. At the Poole house Spencer met art patrons, Jean-Louis and Mary Behrend who offered him a commission to paint a picture for their planned memorial at Burghclere. Other visitors included Dorelia McNeill, T. E. Lawrence and friend and confidant, Dora Carrington. A talented musician, Lamb liked to play the piano for himself and friends. He also attended performances of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Dan Godfrey whose portrait he would later paint.

Paradise Street, Poole

More Poole townscapes date from 1923, including a view of the lower High Street and another of Paradise Street showing a block of port warehouses in warm reds and browns and figures hurrying towards a narrowly glimpsed Quay. In 1924, he received very welcome recognition when George Kennedy published a monograph on his work in the Contemporary British Artists series. There were also commissioned portraits of eminent figures such as one of Sir Michael Sadler. In 1925 he exhibited works, including ‘The Doler’ at a Tri-National Exhibition at the Chenil Galleries. A relaxed and informal self portrait in Hill Street from 1925 shows Lamb from behind lying back in a basket chair by the fire, one foot on the mantelpiece, books scattered on the carpet and the cat sitting by his side.

In 1926, discontent with the economic situation culminated in the General Strike. In Poole the authorities tried to avoid confrontation while organising volunteers to keep essential services going. To Lamb the streets looked little different from the normal dole queues and idling unemployed men. A large picture of 1926 entitled ‘Football Edition’ shows groups of men in the evening light eagerly clustering round copies of the evening paper to check the football results, perhaps a rare moment of excitement in a rather dreary existence. The scene is the junction of High Street and Towngate Street in front of the Ansty Arms (now the middle of Falkland Square). Living in the centre of town, Henry Lamb would have been well aware of local events, both grim and light-hearted. That year, a photographer recording the start of the Beating the Bounds ceremony caught a rare picture of him in the market place with his bicycle, chatting to a man in uniform.

The Tea Party

Another painting of 1926 is ‘The Tea Party’. This interior shows five people sitting round a tea table in the ground floor dining room of No. 10. Open double doors allow a view of the sitting room at the back with its bow window looking on to the garden. One of the guests at the party is Stanley Spencer, who is talking animatedly and another has been identified as art critic, Leverton Harris, listening with concentration. The other three people are probably two neighbours and Henry Lamb himself, seeming strangely detached and isolated from each other because of the exaggerated size of the table. The uncomfortable atmosphere is very different from his relaxed self portrait of the previous year.

Lady Pansy Pakenham

In 1926 Henry Lamb met Lady Pansy Pakenham, the sister of the Earl of Longford, who was working in the office of his friend, architect George Kennedy. In spite of nearly 20 years difference in age, their relationship progressed and they became engaged. Lamb and his first wife Nina had lived apart for years but they were still married and he had to sort out a divorce before he could marry Pansy. Meanwhile, an exhibition at the Leicester Galleries early in 1927, where he showed both ‘Irish Troops . . .’ and ‘The Tea Party’, confirmed Lamb’s growing reputation. The West Sussex Gazette called him ‘a painter of originality, breadth and distinction who treats art seriously’. The following year, the forthcoming marriage was announced and was reported in the press under the headline ‘Brilliant Artist to Marry. Engagement to Earl’s Sister’. The couple bought a house at Coombe Bisset in Wiltshire.

Henry Lamb’s time in Poole had come to an end and he was to move on to a happier phase of life with his wife and family. Nevertheless, the years in Poole had been a time of recuperation, inspiration and development when he had built his reputation and produced some of his most distinctive works. Over 20 years later he was to paint a picture ‘The Level Crossing, Poole’, suggesting that his memories of the town were pleasant ones.


Main sources: Clements, K. Henry Lamb: The Artist and his Friends Redcliffe Press 1985 /  Davies, Peter Art in Poole & Dorset Poole Historical Trust 1987 / An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset Vol II South-East Part 2 Royal Commission on Historical Monuments 1970 / Moore-Gwyn, Harry. Henry Lamb. Out of the Shadows Paul Holberton Publishing 2018 / Directories of Poole 1922-7 / Press reports.



Trinity and the Lester-Garland House

After our recent introduction to the rebuilding of the Lester-Garland house at Trinity, I thought that I would try to find out more about its history and the role of Trinity in the Poole/ Newfoundland trade.

Trinity harbour lies on the north east coast of Newfoundland, at the northern end of the so-called ‘English shore’ once favoured by ships from England coming to fish for the summer. The explorer and entrepreneur, Sir Richard Whitbourne described it in the early 17th century as ideal as a fishing area: ‘It hath three Armes or Rivers, long or large enough for many hundred sail of Ships to moare at Anchor neere a mile from the Harbours mouth; close adjoyning to the Rivers side, and within the Harbour is much open land, well stored with grasse sufficient, Winter and Summer, to maintaine a great store of ordinary catell, besides Hogs and Goats, if such beastes were carried thither.’ At first, the harbour was used only by migratory fishermen with settlers arriving later in the 17th century. During the 1696 – 1713 war with France, Poole fishing ships started coming regularly to Trinity Harbour and in the early 18th century, most new settlers in Trinity came from Poole and nearby.

Among these were the Taverners, a Poole / Newfoundland family, based at Bay de Verde. After losses at the hands of the French in 1696-7, several members of the family relocated their operations. William Taverner and his kinsman (probably cousin) Jacob  settled at Trinity on the west side of the harbour while William’s brother Abraham returned to Poole where he set up as a merchant. After only a few years, William Taverner also left for Poole and became successful ship-owner and Newfoundland trader. He was later commissioned by the Government to survey and chart the coast of Newfoundland. William and Abraham’s sister, Rachel, married Francis Lester, a prosperous Poole cooper who was also making the transition to merchant. Meanwhile Jacob Taverner raised his family in Trinity, many of his sons becoming planters and seamen.

It was a time of great opportunity in Newfoundland. In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht ceded the whole island to England, although the French were allowed to fish around the northern part of the coast. Aided by William Taverner’s surveys, new fishing areas were being opened up and the trade was expanding. The merchants needed trusted agents to act for them across the Atlantic and in the European markets, and here family alliances could be invaluable. They were also useful for placing sons in good positions to learn the trade. John Masters was the son of another Poole / Newfoundland family who started out as an apprentice to the Taverners and worked his way up in the trade, eventually marrying William Taverner’s daughter Sarah.

Benjamin Lester, a younger son of Francis and Rachel, went out to Newfoundland as a teenager to work for John Masters. For the next 30 years he was based there, usually returning to Poole in the winter, sometimes over-wintering on the island. At first he acted as an agent for Masters and his partner, Michael Ballard, and then went into business with his elder brother Isaac, Benjamin handling the Newfoundland end and Isaac the Poole end of the trade. The fact that Benjamin’s kinsman, Jacob Taverner was probably the most important settler in Trinity must have helped him to establish himself. A closer tie was created when Benjamin married Jacob’s daughter, Susannah.

In 1748, Jacob transferred a property at Trinity to the young couple by deed of gift. Set on a rocky rise within a small bay, it overlooked the stores, stages and fish processing areas on the shore below. Over the next decade or so, Benjamin and Susannah had six children and the business prospered and expanded to include sealing, trapping for furs and ship and boat building as well as the supply of salt cod and cod liver oil. The Lester fleet of ships were busy crossing between Poole and Newfoundland, the West Indies and the Mediterranean. At Trinity, Benjamin Lester was at the heart of business empire, sending out cargos and receiving supplies from overseas and in constant touch with his agents and servants in the out-ports of Newfoundland.

Ships, stores, stages and ‘flakes’ for drying fish, Trinity Harbour

The Seven Years War meant further conflict with the French and in 1762 they attacked Newfoundland, capturing St. John’s and other settlements including Trinity. The story goes that Benjamin Lester managed to reduce the destruction by inviting the French Admiral de Terney to dinner and securing a promise that his property would be spared. The following day when the French toured the settlement, it turned out that just about all the property belonged to Mr. Lester. The truth, as Benjamin’s diary shows, was slightly different. The fort at the harbour entrance and many of the fishing boats and stages were destroyed and provisions were seized from the settlers, but the losses were probably less because of his lead. He persuaded the French admiral to allow some of the stages to be dismantled rather than burnt to avoid the risk of a conflagration. In the peace treaty of 1763, the English rights in Newfoundland were confirmed.

The Lester house, stores and stages at Trinity

It was shortly after the French invasion that Benjamin decided to rebuild his Trinity house in a more modern style. In England Isaac was building himself a country house, Post Green, at Lytchett Minster and the two houses on either side of the Atlantic had a passing resemblance to each other. The Trinity house was a two storey Georgian mansion with a central porch, built of bricks shipped across from England on stone foundations. In a country of wooden buildings it must have made a great impression. The house can be seen in the background of a painting of the Lester establishment at Trinity. Alongside the house, was a counting house which Benjamin extended as a shop and office, and which is now possibly the oldest wooden building in the province.

The Lester mansion house, Thames Street

In 1770, only a few years after completing his house, Benjamin decided to return to Poole on a permanent basis, leaving Thomas Stone as his agent in Trinity. It must have been a big change for the family. In 1776, Isaac had demolished his old house in Thames Street and employed John Swetland to build a grand mansion more in keeping with the family position. When he died in 1778 it was left to Benjamin to complete the project. Benjamin also took over the business and succeeded to a prominent position in the town, serving as Mayor and Poole’s M.P. and becoming a consultant to the Government of all matters to do with Newfoundland.

Benjamin Lester

Benjamin’s one surviving son, John, had poor health and no children to succeed him which cast a shadow over the future of the business. However Benjamin found an able successor in his son-in-law, George Garland, a corn factor and keen businessman who had married his daughter Amy in 1779. George and Amy had eleven children including eight sons who were sent out by their father to learn different elements of the Newfoundland trade. In his will, Benjamin arranged that if his son John died, most of his property in Poole should be inherited by his eldest Garland grandson, Benjamin Lester Garland on the understanding that he would take the Lester surname. Most of the Newfoundland business was to go to George Garland.

When Benjamin Lester died in 1802, the family firm was the largest trading company in Newfoundland and he owned more property there than any one else. In Trinity alone he owned 5 fishing rooms, 23 houses including the Trinity mansion house, a farm and shipyard plus land and property in numerous other settlements. The value of the Lester fleet of vessels was put at over £100.000. In Poole he owned the Thames Street Mansion House, a farm and cottage at Stanley Green, a mansion at Lytchett, the Antelope Inn, wharves, warehouses, coopers’ shops, a lumber yard, an iron yard and many houses throughout the town. Benjamin died just before his son John was knighted by George III for giving a loyal speech on the conclusion of a (short lived) peace with France. In 1805, John Lester died in Bath where he had gone for the sake of his health.

George and Amy Garland

The company was now in the hands of George Garland who ran it very profitably during the last decade of the Napoleonic Wars. He never visited Newfoundland but kept on top of developments, modernising the company fleet of ships. These were boom years with little competition and high fish prices, but George realised that the wartime conditions would not last and prepared for a strategic withdrawal. When the peace came in 1815, there was a slump in fish prices and in the trade as a whole. George began gradually disposing of ships and and reducing the company’s commitment on the island by selling off some premises and restricting credit to the planters. With sons to provide for, he invested in property, buying the Stone Cottage estate at Wimborne and Leeson House at Langton Matravers. He also followed his father-in-law in becoming Poole’s M.P.

George’s eldest son, Benjamin Lester Lester (as he was now called) had inherited sufficient wealth to make a profession unnecessary and was more convivial than commercial by nature. This served him well when he in turn entered Parliament as Poole’s representative. Many of the other sons worked in branches of the Newfoundland trade including John Bingley Garland and George Garland junior. After working in Lisbon for the company of Hart, Garland and Robinson, these two younger sons were sent out to Newfoundland by their father in 1819 to check on the business. They were to work in both Newfoundland and Poole until the 1830s.

The refurbished house

By 1819 it was 50 years since one of the company proprietors had lived in the Trinity house. During that time it had probably been used by Lester and Garland agents and as a business headquarters but it is likely that the building was rather run down. Over the next couple of years, John Bingley Garland refurbished the house by raising it to 3 storeys at the front and replacing the roof. The Garland brothers also built an Anglican church, St. Paul’s, on the site of the previous parish church built by their great grandfather, Jacob Taverner.

John Bingley Garland

The Garlands shared dominance of the trade in Trinity with William Kelson, agent for the Poole merchant, Robert Slade. Most of the leading planters and professionals were allied with one or other of the two companies and most of the workers and tradesmen were employed by them, receiving their supplies on credit and paying in fish. When George Garland senior died in 1825 as the result of a road accident, this part of the business came to John Bingley and George junior. Times were changing and the Garlands saw the advantage of Newfoundland deciding its own affairs. In England their brother Benjamin Lester Lester and their business partner G.R. Robinson (both of them M.P.s) lobbied the British Government for a representative body for the island. When Newfoundland’s first general election was held in 1832, John Bingley Garland was back on the island and stood for election in Trinity. The following year he became the first Speaker of the Newfoundland House of Assembly.

The reconstructed house

Later in the decade, the Garlands returned to Poole, cutting the direct link with Trinity although they retained an interest in the trade through the company of Robinson, Brooking and Garland. Trinity continued as a centre for the fish trade with several merchants operating there. In 1905, the Garland premises were bought by the Ryan brothers who ran a successful general merchandise business until 1947 when the decline of the salt cod trade caused them to shut down. The Trinity house fell into disrepair and was taken down in the 1960s leaving only the ruins of the two gable walls. However, as we know, the story had a happy ending when the house was reconstructed in 1996-7. It is now a museum and education centre promoting the historic links between Newfoundland and the West of England.

A brief video of the interior can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXb8aYYDXmE


Main sources: Beamish, Derek et al, Mansions and Merchants of Poole and Dorset. Poole Historical Trust 1976 / Handcock, Gordon, The Story of Trinity. Trinity Historical Society. / Handcock, Gordon, Soe Longe as there comes noe Woman. Breakwater 1989. Thanks to Kim Parker for information and corrections on the Taverner family genealogy.






Skinner Street URC’s Archive Preserved for Posterity

The 25th April 2019 was the culmination of 3 months of cataloguing the Skinner Street United Reformed Church’s precious archives, covering over 350 years of history. It was the date set for depositing the core of it with the Dorset History Centre, Dorchester for safekeeping. The Centre has about 8 miles of shelving in its vaults – plenty of room for the new collection – and just the right conditions to protect and preserve the records.

Tricia and Alan Knapp from the church, and Len Wigg and myself (the volunteer cataloguers), were greeted by the one of the archivists, Mark Forest, who guided Tricia and Alan through the process. Then we all had a tour of the impressive vaults and the technology in use.

Mark Forest (centre) and the Skinner Street archive volunteers

Len had been researching Longham Chapel for some time, having attended there in his childhood, when it was still a Congregational chapel. In fact, it was originally a daughter chapel of the Skinner Street Congregational Chapel. So he was delighted to discover new pieces of Longham Chapel’s history.

Some interesting items of expenditure on the new Meeting House

During the last 18 months, I have been transcribing existing digital images of Skinner Street Congregational Chapel records as a Poole Local History Centre volunteer. Cataloguing was new to me, but not to Len, fortunately. (He is one of the Christchurch Priory volunteer archivists.) Through assisting Len, I found more historically important documents to photograph and transcribe on behalf of the Local History Centre. The 1681 ‘Presentment [Complaint] against Samuel Hardy’ is an example, and was mentioned in an earlier article on this blog in March. There have been many others too. Some will feature in new blog articles and a new public presentation on the church in 2020.

So now the Dorset History Centre is the custodian of the most important of the church’s historical records. In addition, the digital cache of the church archive created by the Local History Centre in the 1990s has been enlarged. Some has been saved on its computer servers. The most historically important records are also available on the Poole History Online website.

The altruism of the Skinner Street church has ensured that the heritage of the Skinner Street URC is available to a wider audience than ever before as a result. I think it’s something of which the membership can be justly proud, alongside its continued support of many communities in Poole.

Len and I feel fortunate to have happened along at just the right moment to assist the church in this enterprise.

Kit Pearce