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.


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.




A Walk in the Park

Lord Wimborne (centre), Lady Wimborne (right) and town officials with the fountain

right to left: Ian Andrews, Town Clerk, Mayor Ann Stribley, Lord Wimborne, Sheriff Doreen Bugo and Lady Venetia

In 1990, the late Lord Wimborne and his wife, Lady Venetia, came to Poole to unveil a Victorian style fountain which he had donated to Poole Park to mark its 100th anniversary. Lord and Lady Wimborne arrived in a horse-drawn carriage, the Mayor, Sheriff, and Town Clerk by limousine, and a ceremony with speeches took place in front of a flower bed where the fountain was to stand until it could be properly installed. Later the fountain was provided with an elegant pool, surrounded by flower planters and approached by a flight of steps guarded by lions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALord Wimborne’s gift was all the more appropriate because it was his great- grandfather’s donation of 33 acres of land to the Borough which had made the creation of the park possible a century before. The chosen site was a stretch of rather muddy farmland near the Sloop Inn on the fringes of Parkstone Bay, conveniently located between the town centre and the growing suburbs of Longfleet and Parkstone. The local tradition that the sea had once come right up to the Sloop was probably correct as old maps show. However, when the railway was built through to Bournemouth in 1874, an embankment was built across the bay, cutting it off from the open sea. This left what was described as ‘a few marshy meadows over which a precarious footpath wound its devious way’. The Corporation acquired some more land in the area and planning began.

East lodge and entrance with fields beyond

East lodge and entrance with fields beyond

The chosen design was produced in house by the Borough Surveyor, John Elford and others in his department. One of the main features of the 109 acre park was the salt water lake, covering 58 acres. There were also two smaller fresh water lakes, a carriage drive from one end of the park to the other and a network of footpaths. The carriage entrances were provided with brick pillars decorated with terracotta plaques, eagles and lamp standards. There were two lodge houses, a single story one at the eastern entrance, (known as Holly Bush Corner) and a two storey one at the Seldown entrance with a stable, store, greenhouses and cart shed. Both lodges contained waiting rooms for ladies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther facilities were the cricket pavilion and pitch encircled by a bicycle track, a bandstand, six tennis courts, five urinals, two drinking fountains, benches and a shelter on the mound near the Seldown entrance. An open-air swimming pool was planned near the railway line. Trees and shrubs, including the horse chestnuts alongside the main drive, were supplied by local nurserymen, J.K. Ingram and D. Stewart. At the south east corner, a brick tunnel, the ‘keyhole bridge’ was provided under the railway line in co-operation with the railway company. The whole park was enclosed by ‘unclimbable’ iron railings.

Park boatingThe opening of the park was performed by the Prince of Wales on 18th January 1890 but due to a storm which had wrecked the special pavilion, this turned out to be rather an anti-climax. After a carriage procession through the park and the streets, the ceremony was performed in the station booking office as the Prince departed. Nevertheless, the park was now officially open and could start to play its part in the life of the town. It quickly proved its value as a resource for Sunday strolls, sports and games, boating, feeding the ducks, picnics and public celebrations. Previously, occasions of national importance had been celebrated in the cramped streets of the old town. The defeat of Napoleon, for instance, was marked with a dinner for 5,000 people in Market Street and adjoining streets. Now the park provided the perfect venue for such festivities.

The Poole Town Band

The Poole Town Band

Only seven years after the park’s opening, the nation celebrated Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. A procession three-quarters of a mile long, described as ‘the best ever seen in Poole’, wound through the street to the park, where a gun salute was fired by the Reserve Forces and the Volunteer Band played the national anthem. A dinner was then held for 3,000 ‘aged poor’ (who had to be over 60) in a marquis on the tennis court. The children’s procession also finished up in the park where they sang ‘Victoria Our Queen’ and a verse of the national anthem before sitting down to tea and bread and butter. Seating for the 3,000 or so children was improvised from 5,000 foot of timber supplied by the Poole Baltic and Quebec Timber company. The afternoon was reserved for sports and races, including donkey, wheelbarrow, and three-legged races, tilting the bucket and climbing the greasy pole besides more regular competitions. In the evening the park was illuminated with lamps and fairy lights conveying suitably patriotic slogans. The festivities concluded with a magnificent display of fireworks representing a full scale naval battle. During the course of the day it was estimated that there were between 20,000 and 25,000 people in the park.

Poole Carnival 1914

Poole Carnival 1914

Another royal celebration was held in 1911 for the coronation of King George V. Ernest Bristowe remembered assembling with other school children ‘near to the summer house at the Seldown end of Poole Park, standing in rows in the rain to hear the mayor speak. Unfortunately, I was so far away that I had no idea what he said.’ The park had become the obvious venue for such mass public events, but it was also an established part of everyday recreation. New facilities were added such as a refreshment house near the cricket pitch and an aviary. Sports days were held there and the Poole Carnival  procession with its decorated floats ended up there after weaving its way through the streets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the First World War, a new dimension was added to the function of the park when the war memorial was built beside the salt water lake within a specially designed garden. After much debate about the form of memorial the final slender cross of brick and Purbeck stone was designed by J. S. Allner and unveiled on 16th October, 1927 in front of a crowd estimated at about 10,000. Annual memorial services have been held there ever since and in 2014, an event with images, prayers, poetry and music was held to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of war. It was also the chosen location for flowers following the death of Princess Diana.

Dragon's tooth

Dragon’s tooth

During the World War II, the park was selected as the site for a large air raid shelter for 1,000 people and anti-aircraft gun pits were dug there. Some damage was caused when a bomb landed near the swimming pool, failed to explode and had to be detonated where it landed. Another casualty was the rustic bridge between the fresh water lakes which was destroyed by a bomb which also killed two ducks. A few days later, Lord Haw Haw claimed that the Luftwaffe had inflicted serious damage to installations around Poole Harbour. The most dramatic change on the park produced by the war was perhaps the removal of the railings for scrap iron in 1942. Today, one of the few remaining signs of wartime is the solitary ‘dragon’s tooth’ anti-tank barrier perched on the railway embankment near the keyhole bridge, part of Poole’s defences of 1943.

Railway and Swan Lake Café

Railway and Swan Lake Café

The post-war corporation was keen to develop Poole as a tourist centre and so welcomed the offer of George Vimpany and Southern Miniature Railways Ltd. to set up a miniature railway in Poole. The park was chosen as the best location and the railway was opened on 9th April 1949 with the steam locomotive ‘Vanguard’ which George Vimpany had largely built himself. The attraction was a great success right from the start with long queues forming to take a ride. In the 1970s it converted to a motor driven locomotive in keeping with the times and is now not far off its 70th anniversary.

PageantIn 1952, the park was the venue for the Poole Pageant celebrating the town’s long history. The script was written by the historian H. P. Smith and local writer Margaret Scott and a large number of local people took part, including council members. The following year was Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, celebrated with a procession, sports, entertainments and dancing in the park culminating in a torch-light procession and firework display, a sign that life was returning to normal. As prosperity returned the Edwardian tea-rooms were replaced by the modern Swan Lake café, run initially by Anthony Forte. Fresh generations of locals and visitors flocked to the park to enjoy its attractions, natural and man-made.

Weed busting on the lake

Weed busting on the lake

The park has had problems over the years. A zoo was set up in 1963, incorporating the old aviary, attracting many visitors but also complaints. It finally closed in 1994 after a rather sad history of protest. Not surprisingly with such a marshy site the drainage in the park has always been difficult and modern planners are still trying to find a solution. The shallowness of the salt water lake seems to attract unwanted and hard to shift flora and fauna from mosquitoes to poisonous algae and clogging weed. One of the saddest events was the destruction of trees in the hurricane of 1987.

An exotic visitor

An exotic visitor

Having been fortunate to live near the park, I have visited it in all seasons for all sorts of purposes. I have tried to list all the things I have done there with friends and visitors over the years but as I keep thinking of more, the following is not a complete list: boating, children’s playground, crazy golf, eating ice cream and meals, looking at birds, flowers and trees (including a tree trail), memorial services, photography, picnicking, riding on the miniature railway, using the sports apparatus, walking (including health walks), watching Boo Bamboo, bowls, concerts (including the BSO concert for the centenary), cricket, dragon boats, fairs, fireworks, ice skating, majorettes, marathons, model yachts, tennis, zorbing . . . One of my favourite activities is ‘visiting’ different trees at different times of the year (eccentric but harmless) and some of the most memorable events I remember are the World War I commemoration at the war memorial and the BSO concert for the park’s centenary.

In the 126 years of its existence, Poole Park has been a fantastic resource to the town. I’d love to know what you like best about the park and if you have a special experience of it to share.


Main sources: Borough of Poole Report Poole Park – The People’s Park 1989 / Ernest Bristowe, Poole Was My Oyster / Geoffrey Budworth Poole Park / Keith Guy Poole Park Railway The First Fifty years 1949-1999.



The Skutts Part 3 – Slaves, Kings and Law Suits

During the 1650s, George Skutt as Governor was often in touch with the Council of State. In 1658 he manned a vessel and successfully captured a shallop man-of-war which had been commissioned by James, ‘styled’ Duke of York, to attack local shipping. Having spent £57 manning the ship and caring for the prisoners, George asked for his expenses to be taken from the money remaining and the value of the ship.


Brownsea Island

The following year, in the disorder following the death of Cromwell, ‘Maj. Skutt Governor of Brownsea Castle’ had more instructions from Whitehall: ‘For the better preservation in this time of danger of the castle of Brownsea and the town of Poole, Council desires you to repair to those places, and empowers you to enlist and arm such of the well affected inhabitants of Poole as shall suffice to guard it, and to train, muster, conduct, and command them as cause and opportunity shall occur.’ These volunteers were to be furnished with arms and paid, by an order of August 17th.

Royal oakIn spite of being under suspicion by the authorities of connection with the Dorset insurrection of 1653, William Skutt remained prominent in Poole as a Justice of the Peace and served as Mayor in 1657/8. In 1660, when Charles II was restored to the throne, those that supported the monarchy were in the ascendancy. There were obviously widely diverging opinions in Poole. As a justice, William Skutt was in correspondence with the authorities about Sydrach Lester, captain of the Magdalen, who had been transporting goods for ‘Wm. Cole, a dangerous fellow and a plotter in the late rebellion, who fled to Holland, and perhaps may be in Lester’s vessel.’ Lester was also reputed to have spoken treasonable words against the king. He later managed to escape from custody in Poole and was believed to have also fled to Holland. William’s own opinions may be indicated by the fact that an inn which he owned called the Three Tuns in the Market Place was at some stage renamed the Royal Oak, a significant name because it commemorated the king’s escape from England after his defeat at Worcester in 1651. After Charles’s restoration, his birthday, 29th May, was declared Royal Oak Day.

In a tax list of 1662, Col. William Scutt is listed as owning a mansion house with brewhouse, (the highest rated property in the town), a house at the Quay with cellar and garden, another cellar at the Quay, two inns, and three tenements. He also rented two other cellars and a garden at West Butts. George Skutt owned a mansion house in New Street and rented another tenement, as well holding the lease for Brownsea Island. Both were therefore big property owners in the town.

Meanwhile, the younger Skutt brothers, Benjamin, Joseph and possibly also Thomas had set up in London as merchants importing sugar and other comodities from the colonies. They also hired out ships to the Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa which supplied negro slaves to the colonial plantations. Benjamin’s progress can be followed by the places of baptism of his 11 children from 1657 onwards. The three eldest were baptised in St. Lawrence Jewry and St. John, Hackney but from 1663, they were all baptised at St. Helen, Bishopsgate in the heart of the city. Joseph spent many years in Barbados where he bought Buckland plantation from Sir Thomas Modyford, but he retained his London base. This branch of the family therefore may have witnessed the King’s triumphant entry into London on his restoration, not to mention the plague epidemic of 1665 and the great fire of the following year which spared St. Helen’s church but devastated so much of the city.

Charter of 1667 granted to Poole

Charter of 1667 granted to Poole

It was on 15th September 1665, during the plague outbreak in London, that Poole received the ‘unparaleld honour and grace’ of a visit from the King Charles himself. The court had been temporarily exiled to Salisbury to avoid infection, when the day trip to Poole was planned. The King was accompanied by the Duke of Monmouth, other lords and members of the local gentry and was greeted by the Mayor, Peter Hall, Senior Bailiff, Edward Man, and others like William Skutt who had proved their loyalty. Those who were not supporters of the monarchy no doubt kept a low profile.

The royal party first dined at the house of Peter Hiley (all expenses paid by the mayor) and then took ‘coll. William Skutt’s boat to Brownsea, steered by the sayd colonel, and rowed by six masters of shipps, where his majesty tooke an exact view of the said island, castle, bay, and this harbour, to his great contentment’. On returning to the Quay, the party went on foot to William Skutt’s house ‘where was a stately banquett provided’ and learning that it was the season of mayor-making, the king ‘was pleased . . . to nominate and appoint the said coll. Skutt for the future mayor of Poole’. It was a gratifying moment in Skutt’s career, even though the Corporation, always jealous of its rights and privileges, was not likely to ratify the king’s choice.

The rear of the George Inn as it is today

The rear of the George Inn as it is today

William Skutt did not have long to reflect on his triumph as he died only five weeks later, leaving a widow, Elizabeth, and four children, Allen, Elizabeth, Melior and Jane. His prominence in Poole’s affairs had spanned one of the most tumultuous periods in the country’s history, through which he had steered a consistent, sometimes difficult course. His will was surprisingly brief, the only properties specified being the George Inn and the Plume of Feathers. These were left to Elizabeth his wife along with the rest of his estate, and she was made his executrix with the duty of discharging his debts and providing portions for the children. His brothers Benjamin and Joseph were made his overseers.

As well as the two inns named in the will, William’s widow inherited a dwelling house, two other houses and a brewhouse in High Street, two houses in Market Street and the Royal Oak in the market place besides his personal estate ‘consisting in shipping and stock tradeing as a marchant to a very great value’. It was potentially a very rich inheritance but according to a later statement by Benjamin Skutt, William also had considerable debts amounting to £3,000 and upwards. After the will was proved, Elizabeth ‘through age, grief and trouble’ was not able to manage the estate and it fell to Allen Skutt to settle his father’s affairs and debts, advised by his uncle Benjamin. For this purpose, Elizabeth transferred most of the properties to Allen’s ownership. Twenty five years later the two branches of the family would go to law over the remains of William’s legacy.

Skutt petition 1667In 1667, Benjamin Skutt was one of five colonial merchants petitioning Parliament against the monopoly enjoyed by the Company of Royal Adventurers to trade along the African coast. They argued in favour of the former system of ‘freedom of Trade for all His Majesties Subjects for Negroes on the whole coast of Guiney, by reason whereof the said Plantations have been plentifully supplied with Negroes of the best sort, and at an indifferent [ie. cheap] rate, to the great encrease of the said Plantations, and the advantage and profit of this Crown and Nation.’ This mutually beneficial state of affairs, they argued, had been destroyed by the Company’s actions, the supply of slaves was reduced, prices had shot up and the plantations were ‘at present much decayed and unless a timely remedy be provided, will speedily be brought to inevitable destruction.’

The Company replied point by point to the petition, but they were in financial difficulties and in 1672 were re-structured as the Royal African Company with a licence to operate along the whole of the Guinea coast. Benjamin Skutt was named in the charter as one of the trustees and Joseph Skutt as a member of the new company. It was a time when European sailors captured by Barbary pirates were frequently sold as slaves, and inhabitants of ports like Poole were familiar with appeals to ransom their relations or neighbours languishing in ‘cruell bondage and slavery’. However there was no attempt to apply these ideas to the fate of African slaves transported to the colonies, and even among men who would have considered themselves as God-fearing, the moral aspect of this very profitable trade did not feature.

‘Mr. George Skutt of Brownsea’ died in 1671, leaving a daughter, Mary. (I have found no trace of a will or administration for his estate.) In the spring of 1674, both Benjamin and Joseph were in Poole staying with their nephew, Allen who that year was following the family tradition by serving as Sheriff of Poole. Now Joseph fell ill and his friend, William Orchard, was called to help him make his will. After spending several hours in Joseph’s chamber, helping him to draft the will, William Orchard left the room to get witnesses and sealing wax. When he returned, Joseph was asleep and later died without signing the will. The document was nevertheless submitted for probate and Benjamin was required to give evidence. In his deposition he described the circumstances of making the will and said that Joseph owed most of his estate to Benjamin’s help and had often said that he would leave the bulk of his estate to Benjamin and his children. In the event, the will was accepted and proved in 1677.

BarbadosIn the will, Joseph (who presumably had no children of his own) left the George Inn and the Plume of Feathers to his nephew, Allen Skutt. Nine years before these had been part of William’s estate, left to his widow Elizabeth, so it is not clear how they came into Joseph’s possession. Perhaps he acquired them to provide Elizabeth and Allen with cash to settle some of William’s debts. Anyway, he now returned them to the branch of the family that originally owned them.

Half of Joseph’s interest in Buckland plantation, Barbados was left to his godson, Benjamin’s son Joseph junior and the other half was shared between Benjamin’s other three sons, William, George and Thomas. Joseph’s sister received £20 to repair her house and her daughters had £30 each to be paid at their marriage. William’s three daughters, Elizabeth, Jane and Melior received £300 to be divided between them. Benjamin was to be his sole executor.

In 1674 there was a mention in the records of Thomas Skutt, presumably the brother of Benjamin and Joseph: ‘Thomas Skutt now resident in the Island of Jamaica, Merchant’ was named in the 4th charter of the Royal African Company as one of the two attorneys managing company affairs on the island and overseeing its ‘Plantations, Lands, Tenements, houses, store-houses, Goods, Chattels, Stock, Servants, Negroes, Merchandize and all other the Estates and Estates, whatsoever, both real and personal’ according to Company instructions. Thomas must have died not long after this appointment because in Joseph’s probate law suit, Benjamin described himself as the only surviving brother.

In the next few years Allen followed the family pattern of public service, being Mayor of Poole in 1677 and serving on the council to raise money for the king. At the same time he was apparently still struggling with his father’s financial affairs and in 1684 was taken to court by James Gould over money matters.

Elephant and castle logo of the Royal African Company

Elephant and castle logo of the Royal African Company

Meanwhile, Benjamin’s business affairs flourished. He served three times as Assistant to the Royal African Company and became a Common Councilman for Bishopsgate Within, a Tory Alderman and a master of the Ironmonger’s Company. In spite of his busy life in London, he retained interests in Poole. In 1681, he was involved in the sale for the large sum of £800 of ‘the great house in Poole situated near the New Key’ with its quay and lands, another messuage near the ‘High Key’, lands at Sterte, and other Poole property. The buyer was Robert Helmes of London, an agent for the Royal African Company on Nevis. The house near the Quay may be the one owned by William Skutt in the 1662 tax list and the Sterte lands those inherited by George Skutt from his father in 1654. If so, it is not clear how they came into Benjamin’s hands.

The later years of Charles’ reign were troubled and in 1683 there was a conspiracy, known as the Rye House plot, to assassinate Charles and his brother James. Following the plot, Charles had took steps to tighten his control of the country by suspending the charters, rights and privileges of many cities and boroughs, Poole being one of them. The Poole corporation wrote an address to the king declaring their ‘constant loyalty and stedfast obedience’ in humble and ingratiating terms, and asked Benjamin Skutt as a London based Poole man to present it to the king.

Charles IIOn 4th October, Benjamin wrote a letter back to Poole describing how had obtained an audience with the king ‘and his majesty receiving us with a pleasant countenance, wee, accquaynting him with the occasion of our attendance, upon our knees delivered the addresse into his majesty’s hands, who receiving itt with all demonstration of kindnesse, gave it to one of the clarkes of the council to read itt’. The king seemed to be pleased with the address and directed that ‘the matter relating to your charter should be settled as you pray’d for.’ So the mission appeared to be accomplished. In the later part of Benjamin’s letter, it is possible to detect a slightly bitter, even sarcastic tone when he praises the submission of the Poole authorities to ‘so great a king and the best of men, who studdyes the good of his subjects, and whoever suffers under his government, it’s only from themselves’. The city of London has not been so compliant and now ‘all our libertyes, franchises, lands &c., are forfeited and seized into the king’s hands, and many thousands of widdows and orphans left in a most deplorable perishing condition’.

Monmouth trialsIn spite of Benjamin’s efforts and the king’s words, the judgement went ahead and in the following year, all Poole’s privileges were taken away. John Wyndham of Salisbury was appointed Mayor of Poole under a commission of the peace and Allen Skutt was named as deputy mayor. Charles died in February 1685 and was succeeded by his brother James. Only months after his accession, the Duke of Monmouth raised a rebellion in the West Country which was quickly defeated. After the so-called ‘Bloody Assize’ at Dorchester, the condemned rebels were sent to different towns, including Poole, to be hanged, drawn and quartered and it was Allen Skutt who was responsible for sending the quarters of bodies out to local villages to be displayed. Allen died in 1687 without leaving any issue and without making a will, having probably been dogged by financial problems throughout his career. Poole’s rights and privileges were restored by James II shortly before he fled the country in 1688.

Benjamin Skutt was doing well. In 1686, he was listed among the 30 top importers of colonial commodities into London, with imports worth over £7,500. However he was apparently discontented with the political situation in England and in 1687, he retired to live in Barbados. On the voyage he disagreed with his travelling companion and nephew, William Pendleton, so violently that the following year, Pendleton attempted to murder him.

One would expect Pendleton to be held to account for his attack but instead he accused Benjamin Skutt of speaking against the state. He said that Skutt had complained about the execution of Henry Cornish, the Sheriff of the City of London, condemned on possibly spurious evidence, and that he had insulted Pendleton’s father, Thomas, who had been a member of the jury. Obviously treason trumped attempted murder. The Attorney General of Barbados, Sir Thomas Montgomery, made a complaint about Skutt’s ‘highly criminal’ words to Lieutenant  Governor Edwyn Stede but Stede was inclined to believe Skutt and the witnesses he produced, who all swore that he had never said anything of the kind. After examining the evidence, Stede decided not to proceed any further without specific instruction from England.

The financial dealings between Benjamin Skutt and his brother William’s family came to a head in 1691 when Benjamin issued a bill of complaint against Elizabeth, William’s widow, her two daughters and two grand-daughters who were allegedly withholding from him a house and its contents granted to Benjamin by Allen Skutt in a bill of sale. In the complaint Benjamin described how he was ‘prevailed upon’ to lend Allen considerable sums of money and stood surety for his debts as he got deeper and deeper into difficulties. Allen was even confined for debt at one stage. Now, Benjamin argued, the family were combining to ‘defeat and defraud’ him of his rights.

The list of household goods

The list of household goods

In reply, the defendents claimed that Benjamin Skutt and Allen Skutt had possessed themselves of all or most of William’s estate which was of great value ‘and if there was any misapplication thereof these Defendents believe itt was done by the cunning and contrivance of the Complainant who governed the said Allen Skutt in the disposition of the said estate as he pleased.’ They claimed that Elizabeth frequently asked Benjamin for an account of her husband’s estate and debts, but Benjamin ‘having got the greater part of William Skutt’s estate into his hands and power went beyond the seas and there doth still remain’ while his agents collected the profits of the properties.

The inventory of goods attached to the bill of complaint suggests the contents of a large, comfortable and well furnished house. Eleven rooms are mentioned, not including the well house, and besides all the normal household goods and furniture are such refinements as pictures and ‘skitchings’, forty two books and two bibles, a set of draughts, a ‘Rock of Coriall’ and a globe. It is not clear which house this is, but it may well be George Skutt’s old house in the High Street, known as the Priory where King Charles was entertained in 1665.

Benjamin Skutt junior

Benjamin Skutt junior

Whether Benjamin Skutt was an unfortunate victim, helping his feckless nephew out of the goodness of his heart and becoming embroiled in his affairs or whether he was a cynical manipulator, exploiting his distressed sister-in-law and inexperienced nephew to line his own pockets, is now impossible to tell. Probably the truth was somewhere in between these extremes. What we can say is that William’s property was dispersed and some of it, such as the Priory, the George and the Plume of Feathers ended up in the hands of Benjamin’s sons.

Benjamin Skutt died in 1699 leaving an estate estimated to be worth between £10,000 and £30,000. Controversial to the end, he virtually disinherited his eldest son, William, leaving him only £10 because he ‘hath bin very unkinde to me and hath very unjustly dealt with me’. The rest of his estate in Barbados or elsewhere was left to his other five surviving children, Joseph, Thomas, Benjamin junior, Mary and Anne and they were all to be his executors. His gold, rings and plate were to be divided between his daughters, and as Thomas lived in Barbados, he had the duty of arranging his father’s funeral and sorting out his estate on the island.

Throughout the troubled 17th century, the Skutts were more than just helpless victims of changing fortunes. Within their sphere of influence, they helped to shape events and fought for their beliefs. In times of extremes, they steered course of moderation (mixed with self-interest) and they were lucky enough, in most cases, to emerge successful and prosperous.




Poole Railway Tales

In the middle of the 19th century the inhabitants of Poole, like many others across the country, experienced a transport revolution. Armies of navvies invaded to remodel the local landscape and section by section, the railway arrived, snaking across the heath, looping out to sea, leaping over roads and tracks on beautifully constructed brick arches, striding high over the Bourne Valley on towering viaducts and slicing through the busiest streets in town. Even before the first branch line entered the borough, the effects of the railway revolution were being felt in long distance travel. By the time the local network was finally pieced together, the change in people’s lives was dramatic.

The junction at Hamworthy

The junction at Hamworthy

The first line to reach Poole was the tortuous Southampton to Dorchester route which passed through the area of Corfe Hills (then just heath and farmland) before looping towards ‘Poole Junction’ (now Hamworthy station) and on towards Wareham. A single track branch left the main line at Poole Junction and came down the Hamworthy peninsular to a station right by the harbour’s edge. From here, passengers for Poole crossed the creaking wooden bridge to reach the main town. The line opened in June 1847 with immediate effect on local coaching services as reported in the local press. ‘The opening of this new line has turned some of our old friends, the stage coaches off the road. . . The Union, Southampton and Poole, performed its last journey down on Tuesday night, and up on Wednesday morning, much to the regret of its worthy proprietor and driver, Mr. George Wiltshire, and will, in a few days, be off the road altogether.’ Mr. Wiltshire’s customers raised a subscription as a testimonial to his nine years’ service, but he was soon appointed manager of the railway goods department. Meanwhile William Furmage, landlord of the London Tavern, High Street, had started a horse-drawn omnibus service from the new station to his hotel and another to Bournemouth, which had no railway station of its own.

During the next 25 years, local people took advantage of their connection to the national network, in spite of the sensational accounts of railway accidents which often featured in the press. Excursion trains were run to London for the Christmas market and the Smithfield Show. In 1850 it was reported that 54 passengers boarded an excursion train at Poole which was 44 coaches long by the time it reached London. In 1851, special trains allowed Poole people to join the national rush to visit the Great Exhibition. Other excursion trains took locals to Dorchester for the Candlemas Fair, to Exeter, to Southampton to see the Great Eastern and to the races at Weymouth and Goodwood.

Poole station staff

It was not until December 1872 that the railway reached the main town of Poole via a branch line from a new junction at Corfe Hills (later named Broadstone after a local farm). The new Poole station was located in Longfleet just outside the town centre and the line passed through largely undeveloped heathland before following the edge of Holes Bay into town. On the opening day, crowds of people visited the station and took the opportunity to visit the new junction. The Poole Station Master, Mr. Potter, was reported to have been connected with the South Western Railway Company all his life.

Building the High Street footbridge

Building the High Street footbridge

The next stage of the railway, from Poole to a new station west of Bournemouth, was much more challenging from an engineering point of view. Shortly after leaving the station, the line had to cross Towngate Street and High Street, both busy routes. The cost of creating embankments and either railway or road bridges was considered prohibitive and so after much debate, level crossings and footbridges were provided. This decision would affect access, particularly to High Street, right up to the present day. Beyond High Street the line curved boldly out to sea, or rather across the mudflats of Parkstone Bay on a low embankment. A sluice allowed sea water to flow in and out of the basin cut off by the railway. Then the line began to climb steeply towards ‘the pretty little village of Parkstone’, on an embankment about three quarters of a mile long and in places nearly 30 feet high, involving a number of bridges over roads and tracks. This stretch, sometimes reaching a gradient of 1:60, would prove a challenge for locomotives but provide travellers with a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. After the station at Parkstone, situated in a deep cutting, the line curved north and then south east to the new Bournemouth West station in what is now Westbourne.

Parkstone station

Parkstone station

The opening of the long awaited Poole and Bournemouth line on 15th June 1874 was proclaimed as a red letter day in the local press. ‘As may be supposed on Monday last the carriages of nearly every train between Poole and Bournemouth were crowded and large numbers of persons assembled near the Poole, Parkstone and Bournemouth railway stations to witness the arrival and departure of the trains.’ Temporary time tables were published and it was hoped that the permanent time table would provide ‘an early train for the benefit of the working class . . not later than six o’clock in the morning. Very many mechanics and others who work at Bournemouth are compelled, owing to the difficulty of obtaining lodgings in the place, to walk to and from Poole daily.’

Quay railwayAlso opened on 15th June was a street tramway from Poole Station to the Quay, providing an important link between the port and the national rail network. The single track ran down Nile Row and West Quay Road on to the Quay with a couple of passing loops. All sorts of goods coming in and out of the port, timber from Norway and the Baltic, coal, grain and fish, could now be transferred to the railway trucks for local or more distant distribution. Other industries were quick to see the value of the railway connection. In late 1874, Jennings’ South Western Pottery opened a goods line from their works to Parkstone Station about three quarters of a mile away. Another line connected to their private pier at Salterns, giving them excellent transport links to bring in coal and send out their pipes, bricks and other products. Later, other companies such as Sharp Jones and Co. Ltd of Bourne Valley Pottery developed their own private lines, linking to the railway network.

The line through Poole

The line through Poole

The railway became part of people’s lives, connecting places but also separating them with its cuttings, embankments, bridges, tunnels and crossings. The railway architecture of stations, goods yards, signal boxes and engine sheds became familiar. Railway hotels sprang up near every station, the Poole one being in Towngate Street. The small village of Broadstone began to grow up around the new junction with a few villas and cottages, a church, shop and school.


Branksome viaducts

Over the next couple of decades, the network was filled in with a line connecting Bournemouth’s two stations, via a curving viaduct of 10 arches over the upper Bourne Valley, which dwarfed nearby houses. In 1893, another viaduct was built to the west of the first, allowing trains to run directly from Bournemouth East to Poole bypassing the West station. A new station was opened at Branksome. Finally, the causeway carrying the line across Holes Bay was completed, putting Poole on the main line at last. Over 50 years there had been a major change in national and local infrastructure and decisions had been made which would affect people’s lives for decades to come.


Poole and the Newfoundland Dog

There is a story that when Napoleon Bonaparte was escaping from Elba, he fell into the sea. In the darkness, the sailors could not find him but a Newfoundland dog that was in the boat jumped into the water and rescued the drowning emperor. Had the dog not possessed such skill and tenacity, the battle of Waterloo might never have happened.

This remarkable breed probably originated from the ‘St. John’s’ dogs used by the native inhabitants of Newfoundland. By the time John Cabot landed on the coast of the island in the late 14th century, the Newfoundland dog had developed into huge animal with a black double coat, webbed feet and a massive head. Following Cabot’s voyage, European ships began to visit the island for the seasonal fishing and some of them carried dogs on board which bred with the native species. As Poole ships were involved in the fishing trade from the early 15th century, it is possible that Dorset dogs were among those transported across the Atlantic.

Landseer's picture

Landseer’s picture

Different varieties gradually appeared, including brown, grey and black and white dogs. One black and white animal was later immortalised by Sir Edwin Landseer in his 1838 painting “A Distinguished Member of Humane Society”. His subject was credited with having saved 20 people from drowning and was therefore adopted as a member of the Society. This variety soon acquired the name ‘Landseers’.

Life-saving was just one of the characteristics of the breed. Newfoundland dogs were intelligent, calm and loyal as well as being excellent water dogs and strong swimmers with a powerful instinct to retrieve objects and people. This made them invaluable to fishermen who would use them to haul in nets or retrieve fish. When fishermen were using a jigger (a weight with two unbaited hooks which was jiggled in the water), the fish would sometimes slip off the hook. The dogs were skilled at retrieving fish with their paws or jumping into the water to bring the fish ashore and pile it up as they had seen men do. They were also employed to pull sleds loaded with fish, nets, firewood, milk, mail and other goods across rough ground inaccessible to a pony. Trained dogs could even transport goods on their own without the owner having to go with them. It was said that a good dog could earn his owner’s keep during the winter months.

Jigger and line

Jigger and line

Not surprisingly, European captains began to bring Newfoundland dogs back with them across the Atlantic as a valuable side-line, demonstrating their skills at ports where they landed. The dogs were soon in demand for their novelty or as working and sporting animals. Portraits from the early 18th century onwards show the presence of Newfoundland dogs in wealthy households while sportsmen valued them for their ability to retrieve wildfowl from the sea.

The King's Arms, Poole

The King’s Arms, Poole

In the late 18th century, Poole was became one of the leading ports for the Newfoundland trade and a major supply centre for dogs. Col. Peter Hawker in his ‘Instructions to Young Sportsmen’, first published in 1814, wrote that ‘Poole was of late years, the best place to buy Newfoundland dogs; either just imported or broken in, but now they are become much more scarce, owing (the sailors observe) to the strictures of those — tax-gathers.’ However, fifty years later the Rev. Thomas Pearce was still writing in ‘The Field’ about buying ‘several excellent dogs out of the Mountaineer of Poole, on her arrival from White Bay, St. John’s’ and mentioned ‘ “Snow”, a dog I bought at the King’s Arms in Poole directly he landed in the autumn of 1859’. He also asserted that ‘those captains who pay any attention to dogs know very well where to procure good specimens and we who live near Poole know the right men to deal with’. Some dogs were brought in on commission and others sold at auctions or transported to London and elsewhere to be sold.

Newfoundland dogs were also used to pull carts as an alternative to horses or ponies. In the early 1800s, the dog-cart was ‘one of the usual sights of Poole . . . One two or three dogs were harnessed to a shallow cart of about two feet wide and a yard long, and these dogs were used for local haulage and domestic work around the narrow streets of Poole, as well as for fast relays in the delivery of fresh fish along the South Coast and even to London.’ Dog carts were a familiar sight in many towns but a rabies scare in London in the 1830s together with humanitarian considerations, caused them to be banned in the city in 1839. The following year, Poole’s first Liberal Council revised the byelaws to ban the use of dog-carts in Poole. However as late as 1853, James Bugden was prosecuted and fined in Poole Guildhall for using dogs for haulage. An Act of Parliament outlawed the practice throughout the country in 1855.

fishing-newfoundland-dogNewfoundland dogs were still being bred in the area and a large pack was owned by Mr Henry Richard Farquarson of Eastbury House, Tarrant Gunville, M.P. for South Dorset. He used to send carts down to Poole to collect dogs from the Newfoundland timber ships. Two kennel lads had the job of exercising the dogs and bitches in separate groups. One day around 1890, due to a misunderstanding, the two groups met up on Chettle Down. The usually placid dogs were not proof against the instinct to compete for the females and a big fight ensued. As a result, 45 dogs were killed or had to be put down.

The incident is a rare example of aggression from this amiable, hard-working breed. Today, Newfoundland dogs are still bred and kept in the vicinity of Poole but their days of arriving on sailing ships from the other side of the Atlantic or drawing carts through the streets of the old town, are long gone.

Jenny Oliver

Main sources: The Book of Newfoundland 1967 Vol. 3 The Newfoundland Dog by M. M. Nutbeam / The Newfoundland: A Complete Anthology of the Dog / Poole and Dorset Herald

Poole’s Other Town Cellars?

PM9 site today

PM9 site today

Pigs, cattle, sheep, ducks, geese, rabbits, deer, partridge, cod and haddock . . . recently our team of museum collections volunteers has been elbow deep in animal bones, the remains of meals consumed some 700 years ago. We have been re-bagging and recording finds from an excavation site known as PM9 amazingly rich in bones and medieval pottery. It was 40 years ago in 1974 that redevelopment in lower Thames Street gave archaeologists the rare opportunity to dig an area in the heart of the old town, only 10 metres north of the western section of the Town Cellars building (now part of the King Charles pub). What they found revealed new facts about Poole’s medieval development.

When Poole was growing from a tiny fishing hamlet, Thames Street was right on the foreshore and the natural ground surface was sand and gravel. Sometime from the 10th to the 12th centuries, a thin layer of oyster shells was spread over this beach surface, becoming crushed and compacted from the pressure of feet. Similar layers of oyster shells, varying in thickness, have been found right along the Poole foreshore and also at Hamworthy. Many of these show signs of having been harvested and seem to have been laid down deliberately to reclaim the beach area and provide a foundation for port buildings.

Town Cellars, rear wall

Town Cellars, rear wall

Around 1300 Poole’s prosperity justified the construction of a massive stone warehouse on the Quay, known today as the Town Cellars. The building was 36.5 metres long and about 7.5 metres wide with walls of carstone rubble over 1 metre thick. At around the same date another stone building was erected close by in Thames Street, part of which was revealed by the excavation. How long the building was we don’t know but it was 8 metres wide, the front wall of carstone blocks was at least 1.2 metres thick and the rear wall was 1.4 metres thick. The original floor of the Town cellars was limestone flags on a bedding of clay and mortar. The Thames Street building had a floor of thin yellow mortar and fine sand. Based on its known dimensions, the Thames Street building may have been as big as the Town Cellars and given the similarity of construction, was probably part of the same port development. If it was another warehouse as seems likely, the port must have been doing well and a high demand for storage was obviously anticipated by the merchants.

woolRecords do not show who built the Town Cellars and associated buildings but it may have been the contemporary lord of the manor of Canford, Henry De Lacy, Earl of Lincoln or one of his successors. (It was certainly owned by the lord of Canford in the 1460s when it was leased to the Corporation of Poole). In early references, the building is referred to as the Woolhouse or the King’s Hall, showing its connection with the important wool trade. In medieval times, the impressive stone building, full of valuable bundles of fleeces awaiting export, looked out on a sloping shingle beach where ships moored just off shore to load and discharge their goods. The Thames Street building was even closer to the sea, which lapped near its rear wall. Excavation revealed a series of post-holes across the beach, some still containing stumps of water-logged timbers, which were probably the remains of medieval jetties serving the building.

Ship sealA merchant ship of a kind familiar to the port in the early 14th century is shown on a Poole seal dating from around 1325. The ship is foreshortened to fit into the round shape, but still shows a lot of detail. It is a single-masted, clinker built vessel with a square sail and the latest refinements of a stern rudder and permanent upper decks consisting of a quarter deck and a smaller forecastle. These decks would act as fighting platforms if the ship came under attack. The small topcastle could be used for a lookout or to accommodate a couple of archers in the case of a fight at sea. It has been estimated that the seal ship could have been between 100 and 120 tons, around 22.5 metres long and 6.5 metres in the beam, the pride of Poole’s merchant fleet.


The old wall behind Thames Street

If the early decades of the 14th century were a time of commercial optimism for Poole, the rest of the century brought raids, war, plague and uncertainty. It was probably in this period that a castellated wall was built behind the properties on Thames Street for the protection of the Quay, although whether this extended behind the dig site is unclear. In changed times the Town Cellars survived but for reasons unknown to us, the Thames Street building seems to have fallen out of use quite soon after it was built. Pits were dug into the floor of the disused and possibly derelict building and a hearth was constructed in front of a former doorway to Thames Street. However the site was probably too central to remain unused for long. It was decided to level and reclaim the sloping foreshore further by in-filling the building and the beach behind it. For this purpose rubbish was brought in, probably by the cart load from a local waste dump. Two layers were laid down consisting of dark soil full of broken pottery, bones, smithy waste and other refuse dating to the late 13th or early 14th century.

butcherIronically this discarded material provided the archaeologists with lots of information on contemporary diet and butchery methods and contained the largest collection of medieval pottery from any site in the town. From the bones it was obvious that a wide range of species was eaten, including some game animals such as deer, rabbits and wildfowl. In the case of cattle and pigs, the remains of very young animals as well as mature ones were found. The sheep however seem to have been eaten as mutton not lamb. Some pig bones were probably from hams. The cuts of meat were quite small and the medieval butchers used both choppers and knives to joint them.

Most of the pottery owned by the Poole housewives 700 years ago was coarse local ware, cooking pots, bowls, skillets, pipkins and large Dorset ware jugs with a green glaze and applied red strip decoration (as on display in Poole Museum). However some kitchens could boast imported ware such as green glazed jugs from Saintonge in western France. Large quantities of Saintonge pottery was exported at this time in association with the development of the wine trade.

Thames Street c. 1885

Thames Street c. 1885

Some time in the 15th century, the Thames Street building was finally demolished and the stone no doubt put to use elsewhere in the town. Pottery which ended up on the site at this period included a curfew, a pottery lid used to cover and extinguish a fire while retaining the heat, (also on display in the Museum). In the late 15th or 16th century, a row of houses and cottages were built on all or part of the site of the building. Closest to the Town Cellars was a fine timber-framed house with a jetted upper storey and two gabled oriel windows. This became the New Inn and is now the King Charles public house. Next door were three small cottages, gable end to the street, the middle one being located on the excavation site. Each dwelling was only about 4 to 5 metres wide and 6 metres deep but even if they were pretty insubstantial, the cottages survived for about 400 years.

Map c.1597

Map c.1597

An image of the street on a map of c. 1597 shows the  gabled cottages, the Town Cellars and the King Charles in its previous existence as a private house and is not very different from a photograph of Thames Street taken about 1885 (see above).  The cottages were demolished around 1920 and replaced by an office building. Fifty years later, the demolition of this building allowed the excavation to take place.

The Thames Street dig raises lots of unanswered questions such as what the medieval building was for, what it looked like, how it related to the town wall and why it went out of use. It does however provide a fascinating glimpse of life and commerce in medieval Poole.


Sources included: Excavations in Poole 1973-1983 by Ian P. Horsey / The Poole Ship by John Armstrong / The History of the Borough and County of the town of Poole by H. P. Smith

Poole and the Swash Channel Wreck

It was probably in 1630 or 1631 that a large merchant ship, sailing between the Low Countries and the tropics, was wrecked on the edge of the Hook Sands at the entrance to Poole Harbour. How she came to be wrecked we don’t know but it seems that the vessel was intact enough to allow the salvagers to remove much of her cargo and some of her cannon. The ship sank on to the mud and was forgotten for four centuries. Then, in 1990 a dredger disturbed some of her timbers. After a brief excavation, the site was largely ignored until its rediscovery by a Wessex Archaeology survey in 2004 which led to the present Bournemouth University excavation. Now that parts of the wreck and some artefacts have been brought to the surface and put on display in Poole Museum, it is interesting to investigate what Poole was like 400 years ago when these objects last saw the light of day.

From Speed's Dorset Map 1610

From Speed’s Dorset Map 1610

The Harbour – Poole harbour is vast (around 8,650 acres or 3,500 hectares) but notoriously shallow with what John Sydenham in his History of Poole calls ‘immense banks of ooze, intersected by a great number of channels’. The men of Poole made a virtue out of this difficult waterway by trying to prevent anyone other than Poole seamen piloting ships in and out of the harbour. This was not only to preserve their trade but also to protect the secrets of harbour navigation from strangers and foreigners.

In the 1662, with the idea of draining and reclaiming all the mudlands of the harbour, a survey was carried out to find the extent of all the soft grounds which ‘are or lately have been usually overflown with the sea or salt waters and are for the most pt ozie, slubby or glibsey grounds’. The total area of such grounds was calculated to be 8,026 acres and a grant was made by Charles II to the Duke of Richmond and Lennox to enclose and reclaim them. However nothing came of this ambitious plan or another grant made in 1666 to Charles Gifford Esq.

Map harbour 1698At the end of the century, the war with France highlighted the need for improved harbours for the navy. In 1698, the Lords of the Admiralty ordered a survey of the south coast ports to find out whether they could be improved for naval use. Their conclusions about the local area were not very favourable. Of Poole harbour they reported that it was ‘Assisted by a Considerable Fresh from Dorchester, and is a Capacious Water when all its Shoale Grounds are covered with the Tyde Nevertheless not having above 8ft. Water for a great Space without the Mouth of it at Low water, and that the Rise of the Spring Tydes doe not exceed 8 ft. more, those very uncertain and remiss, The Shoales very large, and the Channells very Crooked; There are very few Vessells will venture into it when they can choose to doe otherwise, The entrance into this Haven is covered by Studland Point, The Town stands about 3 Miles within the Haven, wch: together with its Generall Scituation affords nothing in our Opinion proper or improveable for the Service of the Navy.’ The accompanying chart clearly shows the crooked channels and also the difficult entrance to the harbour with its sand shoals where the Swash Channel wreck had come to grief 70 years before. The key to the chart is as follows: a.a Sands under water / b. Shipps pass over sometimes [my italics] / c. Old Corbands / d. Brownsea Island & Castle / e. Parkson / f. Heakford / g. Ham / h. Passage / i. Owar River / k. Road to Christ Church / l. Road to Hampshier / m. Road to Wareham

Beacon shipThe Port – In spite of its apparent unsuitability for naval use, Poole was a thriving merchant port. An important part of the town’s trade was fishing voyages to Newfoundland, while other Poole ships traded with Europe or round the British coast. In the early years of the century, the Newfoundland trade was prosperous but the outbreak of war with Spain in 1625 meant the loss of a major market for fish and restrictions on trade. Pirates also took advantage of the war to prey on ships from the western ports. In 1628, the Mayor wrote to the Council, claiming that in four years, the town had lost twenty ships, totalling 1,465 tons and valued at £13,400. Where there had been twenty ships sailing to Newfoundland there were now only three.

In the same year, an inventory was produced of all the shipping, masters, mariners, sailors and fishermen of Poole. Twenty ships were listed, nine being in port and eleven at sea, although the inventory did not indicate their destinations. Ships ranged from 5 to 150 tons, the average size being 60 tons. There were also 24 ship’s masters, 50 sailors and 11 fishermen. The most prominent of the 15 ship-owners listed were John Bryard and Thomas Hill, joint owners of the 150 ton ships Garland and Dragon, Thomas Robarte, owner of the Concorde, Amity and Vintye, and George Skutt who owned the Desire, Seaflower, Primrose and Susanna and was joint owner of the Jeane.

Revenue came in to the Poole coffers from merchants using the Quay and its facilities. Charges included keyage (loading and unloading ships at the Quay), beamage (weighing goods on the town beam), cellarage (storing items in the Town Cellars) and cartage (use of the town carts). These were paid to the Water Bailiff and a ratal or charges list dating from 1579 exists in the archives, including such items as ‘Appelles the barrell’, ‘Copperas the tonne’, ‘Fyshe of Newfoundlande drye the C’ [100], ‘Leamonds and oranges the mound’, ‘Sugar the cheste’ etc.

Details of the port income frequently appear in the 17th century town accounts such as these from 1605/6:

‘Receved of the two flemons for ballasting of the 2 ships                       £3   0     0

‘For sellereg keg and pete custom for vinegar and plaister of parres     £0  12   00

‘Laden by Mr. William Hill viii packes of cloth mor 130 hh of wheat in the myrmaid of pooll John Fox Mr the xvi day of August 1606                                    £1   1    8

The Quay c.1597

The Quay c. 1597

The Quay – At the beginning of the century, the Quay was only 240 feet (73m) long, stretching from the Quay head, (just beyond Thames Street) to Measurer’s gap (an inlet in the shoreline near the present junction with High Street). The forward projecting area where the Custom House now stands did not exist and the limited space available for loading and unloading meant that congestion was a problem. In 1616, some leading merchants of the town signed ‘A benevolence for the building of a new key at Messurer’s Gap & a fish market this next year if god permits,’ listing the sums that they were willing to contribute to the project. In 1618 the building began and it was decided ‘that the key shall be set forthe 8 or 9 foot without Mr. Dackhams furthest wall and without his wall to make a slype to land horses and lad horses which slyp ther shalbe made of gods will . . .’ The accounts give details of chalk, gravel, paving stones, timber to make piles and iron shoes for the piles. This new quay set the precedent for later extension eastwards.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Admiralty CourtThe Admiralty Court of Poole was held once a year in the open air, either on the Quay or by the Broomhill Stone in lower Hamworthy. It was presided over by the mayor as Admiral of the Port, with the assistance of the Water Bailiff. All ‘masters of shippes, mariners and ffisher men’ were asked to attend by an announcement in St. James’ Church and on the day, a jury of around 24 men were sworn in. The jurisdiction of the court included such matters as the maintenance of the channels, buoys and moorings, pilotage, fishing regulations, the activities of pirates, felonies at sea and shipwrecks. The occasional perambulations of the sea bounds were also carried out as part of the Admiralty Court proceedings.

In practice the court gave ordinary users of the port and harbour a chance to voice their complaints and hold the town officials to account but it does not seem to have been very effective in inducing change. Some issues, such as the need to dredge the channel or provide more moorings, came up year after year. The proceedings of the court contain lots of interesting detail:

1607 – (Admiral and Mayor, Mr. John Bramble) – ‘Item wee finde and present nicholas Gibbins William Bramble and John Bramble of Poole for suffering their ship the Orang Tree to lie against measurers wall neare the channell most danngerous for shipps barckes and boats that usuallie come into and outto the kaie of Poole . . .’‘Item wee finde and present Nicholas Reekes for that he hath not placed sufficient posts at bulworcke, Maiden Waie and at the north west end of the kaye for moaring of shipps.’

1617 – (Admiral and Mayor, Mr. Thomas Francis) – ‘Wee present Nicholas Gibbons that his people have throwne out 5 or 6 loads of ashes from his water gate into the sea.’

1631 – (Admiral and Mayor, Thomas Smedmore) – ‘Mr Hill’s wracke doth lye in the fayre way for boats and barks to come to the keyes.’

The Trading Companies – The merchants of Poole were not just focussed on local matters. With their involvement in international trade, they must have been well aware of the global expansion of trade, exploration and settlement taking place in the early 17th century. European countries vied to set up trading companies which were given licences to settle in the new territories, to farm, trade and exploit the local resources. For forward-looking gentry and merchants, investment in trading companies was a fashionable business venture. Settlers were inspired to embark on the dangerous enterprise by a range of motives, religious idealism and commercial ambition among them.

Two major trading companies were the English East India Company, set up in 1600 and the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC), formed two years later in 1602. By 1630, the English company was well established with a trading post in Surat in India and ports in China and was engaged in fierce competition with the Portguguese and Dutch.The VOC had posts in Java and Kakarta and was developing a system of trade between Asian countries whose profits would be used to finance the European spice trade. It was to become an outstandingly successful multinational company.

arriving-jamestownThe European powers were also in competition to exploit the American continent. The Virginia Company was chartered by James I in 1606 to establish settlements on the North American coast. Some settlers chose the area around the James River and founded Jamestown but suffered near extinction from disease, starvation, Indian attack and other causes. Not all of the settlers were well prepared for the task which faced them. In 1622, a list was produced of the supplies which each settler family should carry across the Atlantic ‘for their better support at their first landing in Virginia’. This included clothing, tools, weapons, household goods and food including such items as ‘five Ells course Canvase, to make a bed at Sea for two men, to be filled with straw 4s’ and ‘two broad Axes at 3s. 8d. a piece’. The total cost of the listed items was £20, a sum probably beyond many families’ means. One success of the colony was the export of tobacco which earned the company good revenue. In 1624, the King dissolved the Company and made Virginia a royal colony.

In 1620, other colonists seeking freedom from religious oppression had landed from the Mayflower at Plymouth, Massachusetts in what became New England. The landing of the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ was to become part of the story of the founding of America but of more significance locally were a series of voyages from 1623 onwards under the sponsorship of the Rev. John White, the puritan rector of St. Peter’s and Holy Trinity, Dorchester. He helped to raise capital, involve local men of influence and obtain the necessary licence to settle in America. These colonising voyages laid the foundations of the cities of Boston, Dorchester and Charlestown.

The Dutch were also active in the Americas, forming the Dutch West India Company in 1621, modelled on the VOC. It was granted a charter for a monopoly of trade and navigation, conquest and commerce in the Western hemisphere, particularly West Africa and the Americas. The company hoped to eliminate trade competition in the West Indies, particularly from the Spanish and Portuguese and gain a share of the African slave trade. By 1630, the company had set up the colony of New Netherland between New England and Virginia. They also had trading posts in the Caribbean, Brazil and on the gold Coast of Africa.

The seasonal fishery in Newfoundland from a map by Herman Moll

The seasonal fishery in Newfoundland from a map by Herman Moll

Another of the companies affecting Poole very directly was the London and Bristol Company for the Plantation of Newfoundland. Merchants from western ports such as Poole had been operating a seasonal fishery on the island for around 100 years. Although the charter of the new company promised to protect the fishermen’s rights, the merchants feared that the settlers would squeeze them out of the best fishing harbours and establish a monopoly of the trade. The first settlement founded at Cupids Cove in 1610 was practical and well organised and high hopes were entertained by settlers and investors. A few years later, disillusionment began to set in. The fishermen were hostile to the colonists, hopes of finding minerals came to nothing, the climate was harsh and the cost of maintaining the settlements swallowed the profits. By the 1630s, the enterprise of the Newfoundland Company was more or less over but small intermittent settlements did gradually grow up around the island.

17th century pinnace similar to the Vliegende Draecke

17th century pinnace similar to the Vliegende Draecke

The Ships – The seamen of Poole would have witnessed some of this intense activity of the trading companies during their voyages across the Atlantic and to Europe. The town may have played a part in servicing the trade. Just beyond the harbour entrance, the English Channel was a great highway for the company ships, large and small as they headed out with supplies and settlers or homeward with the produce of distant lands. Some inevitably came to grief on their long journeys. In October 1627 seven ships of the Dutch East India Company loaded with Dutch silver daalders and Spanish ‘pieces of eight’ were caught in a gale, near the Needles. The 320-ton Vliegende Draecke, was holed and abandoned in Alum Bay after the crew had transferred most of the cargo to other ships. Another ship, the Campen sank just south of the Needles. Robert Newland, merchant and ship-builder of the Isle of Wight joined forces with a Dutch salvager, Jacob the Diver, to recover five cannon, 6,660kg of lead, and 2,635 coins. In 1630 as a result of a petition from the Dutch West India Company to Charles I, the King granted the company ‘right to all wreck of their vessels cast away in his Majesty’s dominions’.

Rudder carving

Rudder carving

This was the world in which the Swash Channel vessel embarked upon her last voyage. A large merchant ship of 300 – 500 tons, around 40m long, and armed with at least 26 guns, she must have been an impressive vessel. The rudder alone was over 8m high and topped with the exuberantly carved face of a moustachioed man. Other baroque carvings of cherubs and mermen decorated the rails and gunports. Tests have shown that the ships timbers were felled around 1628 on the Dutch / German border and the vessel was almost certainly Dutch, maybe belonging to one of the trading companies. The hull was covered with pinewood sheathing with a layer of tar and hair between, as was the custom with Dutch ships bound for the tropics. However this protective outer layer showed no sign of damage by shipworm and it could be that the vessel was on her maiden voyage when she found her last resting place at the entrance to Poole Harbour.

Jenny Oliver