Gas Technology Update

Gas lighting came to Poole streets in the 1830s and then was gradually introduced into local homes. The agents of the change were the ironmongers who set themselves up as gas fitters to introduce this new technology. Gas burners were brighter than candles or oil lamps but brought new dangers of their own – hence this set of instructions from the Poole archives:-

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Wartime Christmas 1917

Europe bitterly divided, war in Iraq, controversy over Jerusalem, suspicions over developments in Russia – is this 2017 or 100 years ago? Browsing the local newspaper in the run up to Christmas 1917, there are clear parallels with the situation today but also massive differences.

The year 1917 had been momentous, with the loss of over a million tons of shipping to U-boats, disasters for the French on the battlefield and terrible casualties at Passchendaele. One ray of hope for the allies was the U.S. declaration of war on Germany in April. The British were using new destructive tactics such as the detonation of huge mines at Messines Ridge and a mass tank attack at Cambrai. In Russia, the Tsar had abdicated and a Communist government was installed under Lenin. Jerusalem had been captured by the British, General Allenby entering the city on foot out of respect.

After three years of a terrible war, Poole people had become used to shortages, fear and loss. They were familiar with the names of distant places where their husbands, sons and brothers were serving and were eager for any scrap of war news. One grim feature of every edition of the Poole and Dorset Herald was the weekly Roll of Honour column, reporting injuries or deaths in action of local men. In contrast, up-beat letters from servicemen writing home were frequently printed. In early December, the newspaper contained a letter from the son of Mrs. Whitley of West Street serving with the Dorset Regiment in Mesopotamia who was having a rest after being in action. He had had ‘a warm time’ but he and another Poole man, Herb Rigler, had managed to get through without a wound although three or four Poole men had been killed or injured.

Not all the news was about the war. The Poole Sanitary Committee was debating the condition of houses in Old Orchard and Church Street in response to a report from the Medical Officer of Health. The owners had been served notices to give good reason why the defective premises should not be demolished. The Committee was also concerned about the White House Laundry which was emitting black smoke, and sceptical over the owner’s claim that he was having great difficulty obtaining smokeless coal. The laundry was not the only offender. Councillor Stevens complained that people were sometimes unable to see each other in East Street because of smoke from the gas works.

A community-wide effort to entertain the soldiers

A pleasant weekend had been spent by the soldiers at the Poole Soldiers’ Home. As one of them remarked when ‘taking a hot cup of coffee prior to starting out for a 16 mile cycle ride to camp’, “Whatever we fellows would do without this place, I can’t think.” The Sunday night social consisted of selections on the piano by Mr. Benboe of London and songs to the accompaniment of the auto-harp by Miss C. Reed and Miss Senior. The audience sang ‘O God our Help in Ages Past’ in memory of Lance Corporal Arthur Gritten of Maple Road, Poole. Donations to local hospitals for the benefit of wounded soldiers included socks, gloves, mittens, biscuits, apples and even bottles of pickles. Entertainment was also on offer at the Amity Palace of Variety with Miss Evelyn Brewster and Co. in a novelty all lady sketch entitled ‘The Real Lady Raffles’ and ‘star pictures’ including The Heart of Norah Flynn, a dramatic silent film starring Marie Doro and directed by Cecil B DeMille.

Scene from ‘The Heart of Norah Flynn’

Some Christmas spirit was appearing in Poole. The newspaper reported that ‘the purveyors of the good things of this life, in Poole as elsewhere, are beginning to exhibit their stores in great abundance and variety. The butchers as usual stocked to overflowing, make a most tempting display.’ (Although a 21 lb turkey sold in Wareham for £3 6s 0d provoked the paper into mutterings about ‘mugs’ and ‘excessive war profits’.) The International Stores was urging people to drink coffee for breakfast to help the Food Controller to cope with the shortage of tea, and the Borough Studio reminded customers not to forget the Boys’ Christmas: ‘have your photo taken now with Xmas Greetings, Special Price 4/- doz’.

Blake’s butchers

For most shops the theme of their Christmas advertisements was usefulness. S. M. Silverman of 60, High Street was offering ‘a fine selection of useful household requisites suitable for presents at prices within the reach of everyone’ while H.W. Jordan and Son, general drapers, proclaimed ‘Useful Xmas Presents’ and simply advised their readers to ‘see our windows’. Ladies’ outfitter, M. Prankard also felt that her coney and musquash coats, fur ties and muffs would be useful Christmas gifts.

Freddie Guest M.P.

On the political scene, the paper reported a speech made by Freddie Guest, the M.P. for East Dorset, to the House of Commons on behalf of the War Aims Committee. The third son of Lord Wimborne of Canford, Freddie Guest had been a regular soldier and returned to active service on the outbreak of war. In 1916 he received a D.S.O. for service in East Africa and then was invalided out with a serious illness. In his speech he defended the activities of the War Aims Committee which had been set up in industrial areas ‘where patriotic citizens asked the Government to take the platform from those who were holding it unpatriotically and against the interests of the nation’. Their work consisted of holding meetings and distributing literature, in fact acting as a propaganda organisation for the Government against disruptive elements. The committee was a cross-party body, not sectionalist and, he argued, did not cost very much considering its effectiveness, although it was not appropriate to disclose exactly how much.

In the December 20th edition of the paper, a Christian message was published under the headline ‘What shall Christmas be?’ The writer acknowledged the burden of celebrating a fourth wartime Christmas but maintained that the country had much to be thankful for. Britain had not lost the war and its shores had not been invaded ‘by the foot of a foul and murderous foe’. There was cause to celebrate because the country was fighting, sacrificing and dying for the very cause that ‘the Babe of Bethlehem was born to work out and fulfill’. (Would we see things in quite that way today?) The occupation of Jerusalem had made the story of Christ’s birth closer to us than ever before. Merriment might be inappropriate but quiet celebration was not and the paper concluded by wishing its readers all that Christmas means to ‘a Christian nation in the grip of war.’

Reading about the preoccupations of Poole people 100 years ago, it is impossible to ignore the shadow that the war cast over every aspect of everyday life. In contrast, squabbles between politicians over Brexit seem very minor problems!

Jenny

Main source: Poole and Dorset Herald November and December 1917.

From Pickaxe to Paver

Recently I came across an estimate from 1843 for repairing and ‘Macadamizing’ parts of the High Street and it made me think of the difference between the process of road surfacing today and in early Victorian times. Everyone who has been into Poole in the last few months must have noticed that there have been a few road works in progress. Drivers into the town centre found themselves waiting in queues or undertaking unexpected little tours, directed by lines of red barriers and bollards. At first the pattern changed every week but once the resurfacing started, it was every half day or even every couple of hours. Bus stops were in and out of use like yo-yos and pedestrians learned to watch out for traffic on the wrong side of the road, smoking tarmac beneath their feet and rapidly approaching rollers.

At one stage, the resurfacing vehicles were parked at the end of our road in all their colourful splendour. The most intriguing one was a strange hybrid beast with two sets of tracks, an extended body and a long conveyor belt stretching out in front. Each morning, the kitchen cabinets would start to vibrate as this machine trundled past, like some pre-historic creature from a dead-end branch of the evolutionary tree. Some minutes later it would trundle back in reverse, but the precise purpose of this excursion, I never discovered. However, I would get to see the beast in action a couple of days later.

Workmen in upper High Street

Back in 1843, the stone paving of the High Street was in a poor condition and the Borough Surveyor had requested a specification for resurfacing, using the relatively new technique of macadamizing. John Loudon McAdam was an experienced road engineer who had learnt his trade on the turnpike roads of Scotland and the West Country. Adapting the techniques of road builders like Thomas Telford, he believed that massive foundations were unnecessary as long as the road surface was strong and waterproof. An underlying 20cm layer of stones 7.5cm or less in diameter was covered by a 5cm thick layer of stones only 2cm in size, much narrower than the iron wheels of the carts and carriages that travelled over it. This top layer was spread very carefully and evenly with only a slight rise to the centre of the road. No binding material was applied and it was found that the passage of the traffic alone would create a strong weatherproof surface.

The corn market fountain later in the century

Twenty years or so after the first macadamized roads were laid down, Frederick Easton of Oakley wrote out his specification and estimate for the High Street job. The stretch to be resurfaced was from Weston’s Lane to the Quay and Easton proposed that the present paving should be broken up ‘and the stones cracked on the spot to a size not exceeding one Inch & a half in Diameter’. The road as far as the corn market was to slope at least six inches from the centre to the sides with new border stones for the gutters where necessary. The top layer of stones was to be carefully laid ‘at the rate of Eight yards in every perch and to have at least one yard of clean sand mixed with it’. From the corner of the corn market to the Quay, the road (being narrower) would slope not more than 3 inches from the centre to the sides. The corn market was ‘to be curved and formed to the pleasure of the Surveyor’ and there were some adjustments such as lowering the road near Morcom’s house about 6 inches and eliminating a dip near Fish Street (now Castle Street). The cost for the whole job, ‘to be performed in a workman like manner and to the satisfaction of the Surveyor’ was £140.

If the present road works have caused some inconvenience, imagine the situation of the High Street residents and shop-owners in the 1840s. The road in front of their premises was to be torn up, presumably by a team of men with pickaxes and then the area would become a stone breaking yard with men hammering away all day long to reduce the stones to the size of small pebbles. How long they and their customers would have to put up with the disruption, dust, mud and noise is anyone’s guess.

Today the process of breaking up the road surface is much more streamlined as I discovered the day I saw the beast at its work. Hitching itself up on its tracks it manoeuvred into place and then with an unseen claw, started carving away the surface of the road with amazing speed, sending the broken fragments of tarmac up its conveyor belt neck into a truck moving slowly in front. No pickaxes, shovels or wheelbarrows needed. As I understand, this creature is called a road planer or as I like to call it, planersaurus.

Roller and paver on Longfleet Road

To resurface to road, the paver is brought into action. These square tarry machines move forward at a snail’s pace, emitting steam and leaving a trail of sticky black tarmac behind them. The amazing thing is how such cumbersome vehicles manage to avoid grids and manhole covers so skilfully. Then the rollers are deployed to compress and smooth the final surface. The truth is of course that the machines are operated by men as skilled at their different jobs as the workmen of the 1840s. Nevertheless it was somehow reassuring to see a few awkward sections that the vehicles could not reach being tended by men with wheelbarrows, long-handled shovels and hand rollers.

Jenny

 

Magic Carpets in an Age of Austerity

The year is 1947 and Poole with the rest of the country is still suffering in the aftermath of a devastating war. Bomb sites, beaches scarred from defences, rationing and austerity are still the order of the day. How can the Poole tourist department inject a little romance and glamour into their description of a war-battered resort? Here is their answer from the town guide of that year under the title of: ‘The Magic Carpet of the Sky Lanes. The Airport of Poole’

From out over the Channel drums the sustained note of high-revving air-motors and with the evening sun gilding her spread wings, a silver sky-clipper suddenly appears over the horizon to find at last her home on the quiet waters of the harbour after a journey across half the world: or with the first light of dawn she steals out mysteriously to link the old country with the antipodes making in a four day flight, the trip the old world wool-clippers were fortunate to sail in ninety.

For five years the British Overseas Airways Corporation have made Poole their terminus for long distance flights to and from South Africa, the Near and Far East. Kings, princes, potentates, statesmen and international war chiefs have come and gone and Poole harbour has been their first glimpse or last recollection of home. Where the Roman galley painfully beat in from the sea now the air-liner taxis with the foam washing her nacelle to silver. What wonder therefore that visitors and residents never seem to tire of watching these romantic and graceful air-ships from the high places of the harbour shore – watching them circle as they await the coming-in signal till they finally slant down to their berth and the clamouring motors are finally stilled: or in the darkling, the flare-path on the water making all the night a stream of fire.’

Poole and the Press

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

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

St James old church

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

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

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

Benjamin Lester

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

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

The Antelope Inn

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny

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

 

The Physician’s Art and the Surgeon’s Skill

In the 17th century, the journey from the cradle to the grave could often be a very short one as a browse through contemporary burial records reveals. In nine months during 1668-9, for instance, 47 of the 70 burials recorded at Poole St. James’ church, were of children. Childbirth, even if attended by an experienced midwife, was a dangerous time for infants and mothers because of poor sanitary conditions and lack of knowledge. Those who survived the trauma of birth were all too likely to succumb to one of the infectious diseases which regularly broke out, including measles, typhus, smallpox and plague. Outbreaks of the dreaded plague killed up to 150 people in Blandford and Bridport in 1626 and 500 in Salisbury in 1627. Woodbury Fair was cancelled for three years to avoid spreading the infection. In 1628, Shaftesbury suffered from an outbreak with only 20 fatalities but 10 years later, as many as 400 people may have died at Wimborne. In 1645 it was the turn of Poole when the plague struck in the middle of the Civil War and probably took about 118 lives (see the post ‘Epidemic!’ on this blog).

Those who survived into adulthood would rely mainly on folk remedies which every good housewife knew how to concoct. In the 17th century, some of these were collected and published in guides such as Gervase Markham’s ‘The English House-wife’, published in 1615. Many were based on common herbs like this cure for headache: For the Head-ach, you shall take of Rosewater, of the iuice of Camomile, of warme milke, of strong wine vinegar, of each two spoonful, mixe them together well upon a chafing dish of coals: then take a peece of drie rose cake and steepe it therein, and as soone as it hath drunke up the liquor and is thoroughly hot, take a couple of sound Nutmegs grated to a powder, and strew them upon the rose cake, then breaking it into two parts, bind it upon each side upon the temples of the head, so let the party lye down to rest, and the paine will in short space be taken from him.’ It was only in serious cases (and if they could afford it) that people turned to the apothecary, the physician or the surgeon.

At the beginning of the century, medicine was still based on the medieval theory of illness resulting from any imbalance in the four fluids or humours of the body, but some physicians began to challenge aspects of the theory, based on their observations. In 1628, William Harvey published a well-argued thesis proposing that blood circulates round the body, but it took many years for the idea to be generally accepted. Epidemics of infections diseases, including the plague, gave doctors the chance to study symptoms and the efficacy of remedies, and the Civil War provided many examples of trauma for surgeons to improve their techniques.

Richard Wiseman

One of the most noted surgeons of the century was Richard Wiseman who became Sergeant Surgeon to King Charles II. As a young man, recently trained as a barber surgeon, he served on the Royalist side of the conflict and was present during the battle of Weymouth in 1644-5. In later life, he published several ‘Chirurgical Treatises’ dealing with many surgical procedures including some honed during the war. On treating gunshot wounds with fracture he advises ‘if the Wound be not large enough, make it so that you may the better pull out the extraneous bodies, whether Slug, Bullet, Rags, Splinters, or Shivers of Bones, so shall the Extension be made the easier and less subject to Inflammation . . . Whereas if the Wound be not so cleaned, these extraneous bodies, nay the smallest Shivers of Bone, will raise such disturbance as will render it incapable of Digestion . . . Make your Extension so soon as you may, and restore the Bones to their former place with what gentle dexterity and lenity you can.’

Thomas Sydenham

Also involved in the battle at Weymouth but on the Parliamentary side, was Thomas Sydenham, one of the Sydenham brothers of Wynford Eagle, Dorset. Although badly wounded, Thomas survived and went on to become a famous physician, his Observationes Medicae’ being regarded as a standard text book. Among many other diseases, he wrote about the plague, basing his arguments on close observation of patients and treatment. He claimed that ‘an enquiry into the manner of curing diseases may proceed very successfully, tho’ we are ignorant of their causes, because the cure of most diseases is not effected by this kind of knowledge, but by a suitable and experienced method’. Today’s doctors would not agree with him but would probably approve his detailed observations as a basis for treatment.

Blessed Thistle

For plague and pestilential fevers, he recommended moderate bleeding followed by the raising of a sweat in the patient for twenty four hours. Then he administered a sudorific (sweat inducing) bolus or pill: ‘Take of Venice treacle, half a dram; the electuary of the egg, a feruple; Gascoign’s powder, twelve grams; and the juice of the kermes enough to make the whole into a bolus; to be taken every six hours, drinking after it six spoonfuls of the following julep: take of the distill’d water of carduus benedictus, and compound scordium water, of each three ounces, treacle water, two ounces; syrop of cloves, an ounce: mix them together for a julep.’ Venice treacle was ‘theriac’, an ancient concoction regarded as a cure-all, an electuary was a medium to make medicine more palatable, Gascoign’s powder contained various powdered substances including pearls, and both cochineal and juice of kermes were red coloured dyes made from crushed insects. I haven’t managed to work out how much a feruple was! The refreshing julep was made of spiced and sweetened herbs, carduus benedictus (‘blessed thistle’) and scordium (water germander). After a further twenty four hours, the patient was given a purge made of an infusion of tamarinds, senna leaves, rhubarb, manna (from the manna ash) and syrup of roses. By this treatment, Sydenham claimed, ‘I recovered several persons who were seized with a pestilential fever . . . and did not lose a single patient after I began to use it.’

As a garrison town for the Parliament during the Civil War, Poole must have seen many injured soldiers requiring the attention of a surgeon. Although we know the names of several 17th century doctors practicing in Poole, there is very little information about their treatments and whether they would have been similar to those used by Wiseman and Sydenham. During the plague outbreak of 1645-6, the sick were isolated at Baiter in the town windmill and several purpose-built pest houses. Here they were attended by Dr. John Spence who was paid a salary of 30s (£1.50) a week by the town. From the accounts we know that he used pitch and tar to fumigate the houses and ordered a lot of vinegar, perhaps to wash the patients. He also obtained ‘cuill oyle’ and a box of drugs from Salisbury, but what they were and how they were used is not explained.

Those whose ailments were beyond the aid of medical treatment were advised to seek help from their faith. A letter of 1687 in the Poole archives from Dr. John Tillottson (Doctor of Divinity not Medicine) is an example. Having heard that his friend Mr. Nicholas Hunt of Canterbury was suffering from a fatal cancer, he wrote to console him and urge him to resign himself to God’s will: to renew your Repentance for all the Error and miscarriages of your Life and earnestly to beg God’s pardon & Forgiveness . . . to exercise Faith and Patience for a little while; and be of good Courage since you see Land; the Storm wch you are in will soon be over.’ In an age when religion was so central to people’s lives and disease would be seen as a punishment from God, faith could also be a consolation when science failed.

Jenny

 

Poole’s Ghost Walls

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

Map of the defences c.1634

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

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

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

The old wall near the Quay

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

Map from the time of Elizabeth I

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

Map c. 1630s from the Bankes family archive

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

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

A half moon

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

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

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

Map of c. 1760

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

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

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

Jenny

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