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, an influential Poole / Newfoundland family, who had lived at Bay de Verde, but relocated to Trinity after losses at the hands of the French. Brothers William and Jacob Taverner settled on the west side of Trinity harbour while another brother, Abraham, returned to Poole where he set up as a merchant. Their sister Mary married the Poole Quaker Samuel White, who became a leading Newfoundland merchant. After only a few years, William Taverner also left for Poole and became a merchant, later carrying out surveys of the Newfoundland coast under a commission from the Government. His daughter Sarah married John Masters, son of another Poole / Newfoundland family who had worked his way up in the trade. Another of William’s daughters, 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.

A selective family tree

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.

Benjamin Lester, a younger son of Francis and Rachel, went out to Newfoundland as a teenager to work for John Masters, his uncle by marriage. 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 great uncle, 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 (and his mother’s cousin), 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 fish drying, 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 his old house in Thames Street demolished 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:


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






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

Tapping into Local Knowledge

One of the effects of having the blog out in the online sphere is that enquiries occasionally find their way to me, most of which turn out to be very interesting. Recently I have heard from an enquirer who has a photograph possibly taken in the Poole area. The name R. Pawle is written on the back and on the frame of the photograph which is quite big – about 14in X 11in. It might have been taken between the wars. The question is, does anyone recognise where it could have been taken and when? The little steamers are interesting and also the area at the foot of the cliffs which seems to have been levelled as a boatyard. The owner and / or photographer could have been Roger W D Pawle who died in Poole in 1979 after a career in the colonial service. Any answers?


Skinner Street Archives Update

In January, Kit Pearce introduced the work that is being done on the archives relating to Skinner Street United Reformed Church. His post brings us up to date with what has happened since, including the opening of a safe believed to have been locked for 50 years. It’s also a taster for Kit’s talk for the April meeting . . . .

Kit Pearce and Church Elder Tricia Knapp at work on some of the documents

After just over ten weeks Len Wigg and I have finished the sifting and sorting the Skinner Street United Reformed Church’s (SSURC) archive. Here are some highlights:

1681 Presentment against Rev. Samuel Hardy

Presentment against Samuel Hardy 1681

This contemporaneous copy of a legal ‘presentment’ (i.e. a complaint) is nearly 340 years old, and has been quoted in full by eminent local historians, such as Hutchens and Sydenham. It called for the non-conformist minister of St. James’ Parish Church to be removed, citing “the [seditious] preaching of one Samuell Hardy, an hired non-conformist preacher, who, for att least twelve yeares last past, hath made use of the church of ye said towne, as a conventicle, readeing little or none of ye litturgie of ye church of England.” (Following a further complaint, from Allen Skutt, he was ejected in 1682.)


Brief Abstract of Poole Case (1760) & Letter from Rev. Samuel Philipps to Martin Kemp (1765)

These are related documents, explaining the circumstances of Rev. Samuel Philipps’ ejection from the Great Presbyterian Meeting House, Hill Street, Poole and later his dismissal from the new Lagland Street Congregational Chapel. He insisted neither was justified on Scriptural grounds but did not prevail either time.

The Poole case and the Rev. Philipp’s letter

A Wide Range of Documents:

The diverse range of historical records cover many aspects of Church life over many generations, including church registers, newsletters and magazines, various orders of service (ordinations, funerals, VE Day etc), various church activities (Sunday school, youth clubs etc), annual reports and much more.

Images of historically important documents have been saved on the Local History Centre’s (LHC) server, some of which have been transcribed and uploaded to the Poole History Online website (including the three documents above), adding to those long since curated by the LHC.

Opening a locked safe unopened for over 50 years!

Only one half of the safe has been opened so far, from which numerous bills of sale from the 1890s were recovered. The documents in the other half might contain the original constitution of the church, which would be over 250 years old.

Next steps

The contents of the locked safe

Documents to be donated to the Dorset History Centre have already been listed. Another list of everything that will remain in the Church’s archive will soon be complete. Our final article will feature finds in the unopened half of the safe and the donation of the Church’s documents to the Dorset History Centre.


Thank you to: Alan & Tricia Knapp of the Skinner Street URC Church, Len Wigg, Volunteer Archivist and Mark, Ashley Security Ltd, Poole

Kit Pearce, 4 March 2019


Contraband and Corruption

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alley alongside the George

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replica of the king’s beam or scales

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

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

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

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


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