Although it may now be a little overshadowed by the larger town of Bournemouth, Poole is an interesting town with an important history dating back centuries, as Poole’s Old Town makes clear.
Located on the south coast of Dorset, England, Poole sits on the largest natural harbour in Europe, second largest in the world after Sydney Harbour in Australia.
Poole attracts visitors from around the UK for its beautiful surroundings, many of whom end up at Poole Quay, where you can watch the boats while looking across the water to Brownsea Island and out to the Purbeck Hills in the distance.
The Quay has always been of high importance to the residents of Poole. This was an important trading port with North America’s Newfoundland in the 16th to the 19th centuries; in the 18th century, Poole had the highest number of ships trading with North America in the whole of England. This brought much prosperity to the area, supporting the development of what is now known as Poole’s Old Town.
Also located here is the company Sunseeker, who produce luxury motor yachts, some of which have been used in the James Bond movie franchise. They are the largest privately-owned producer of these yachts in the world.
As I write this, I’m currently living on the outskirts of Poole. I love driving along the edge of Holes Bay, part of Poole Harbour, to get into town and I recently realised I didn’t know any of the town’s history, despite wandering through Old Town a few times.
So, I decided to take a walk around and really take some time to appreciate the old buildings around the Quay and into the town centre.
The Cockle Trail
There is a mapped trail that goes around Poole’s Old Town, and you can pick up the leaflet that goes with it at the museum. Unfortunately, the museum was closed when I did this walk, but there are brass plaques set into the ground which you can follow.
I won’t include everything on the Cockle Trail here, as I didn’t follow the trail exactly, but I will show you the main points of interest.
The trail starts on the Quay, at a small shelter once known as the Fish Shambles. It’s located at the top of the Old Orchard road, next to the Lord Nelson pub.
Poole’s Old Town
1: The Lord Nelson
One of many old pubs on the Quay, The Lord Nelson was built in 1764; however, it has only held its current name since 1810, when it was changed to honour Lord Nelson after his death at The Battle of Trafalgar a few years earlier.
From 1764 to 1810 the pub was named The Blue Boar.
2: The Jolly Sailor
This pub is located immediately to the left of The Lord Nelson, and is famous for one of its former landlords, who repeatedly jumped off the quay to save people from drowning.
3: Poole Arms
Yet another pub on the Quay is the Poole Arms. This one is particularly notable because it is the oldest building on the waterfront, dating back to the early 17th century.
It is easily recognised as the front is covered in green tiles with the Poole Coat of Arms near the top and the town motto: ‘Ad morem villae de Poole – According to the custom of the town of Poole’.
4: Custom House
The original Custom House was built here in 1747, but was rebuilt in the same style in 1813 after being destroyed by a fire.
There is an interesting smuggler story linked to the Custom House: in 1747 a gang of sixty armed smugglers broke into the building and stole a smuggled cargo of tea which had been seized and stored inside. Many of them were eventually caught and hanged but many also got away with it.
The building we see today is pretty impressive, with its double staircase leading to the first floor doorway. It is now used as a restaurant.
5: Town Cellars
In the image above, to the left of the Custom House, you can see the old Town Cellars.
It looks like an old building, and it is, dating back to the 15th century. Its foundations are even older, though, dated as 14th century or even earlier!
In the Middle Ages, the Town Cellars were used as a warehouse to store wool before exporting it to France.
The building used to be longer, but a new road was built in the late 1700s which cut through it. The road, Thames Street, is still there today.
6: The King Charles
The King Charles pub is on Thames Street and is famously said to be haunted.
The pub has two parts: the medieval hall on the left in the above image, which was actually the other end of the Town Cellar before the road was built, and the main area of the pub, which was built in Tudor times.
You can see today that both sections have the name of the pub on the outside, but the brick building is dated at 1350 and the timber framed building at 1770.
Inside the pub you can still see a lot of the original features, such as the beams and the fireplace.
7: Hotel du Vin
The mansion house which is now the Hotel du Vin was built in Poole’s Golden Age, when trade was booming with Newfoundland.
It was built in the late 1770s for the Lester brothers, a successful merchant family who made their fortune in the salt cod trade.
8: St James’ Church
This parish church was built in 1819 from Purbeck stone, but the site has held various churches for over 800 years. The building has evolved from what was likely a small wooden structure to the large stone one we see today.
Inside the church are huge wooden pillars; another benefit of the trade with Newfoundland.
9: West End House
This grand house was built for another Newfoundland merchant, John Slade, in the early 1700s.
You can see the stone pineapples and urns at the top which demonstrated the wealth of the owner.
The Carter family, who founded Poole Pottery and made the green tiles for the Poole Arms pub, owned this house in the late 19th century.
10: St George’s Almshouses
I consider Church Street, leading into Market Street, to be the most picturesque street in Poole’s Old Town.
The Almshouses on Church Street were built in the 15th century, but have been restored since then. The more recent brickwork is thought to be from the 17th century.
On the wall is a stone tablet, which was placed there in 1904 and says: ‘These Almshouses, first built in the time of Henry V and long the property of St George’s Guild, passed to the Crown in 1547 and were purchased for the Corporation in 1550. They have been devoted to the use of the poor for 500 years.’
11: The Guildhall
Continuing down Church Street and through the bollards where it becomes Market Street, there are some houses which were built in the 16th century.
At the end of the street is the impressive Guildhall, built in 1761. A double staircase leads up to the first floor; the ground floor used to be a market which opened out onto the street.
The first floor of the Guildhall was used by the members of Parliament for Poole as their chamber and courtroom; it is now the Borough of Poole’s Register Office, used for weddings and civil ceremonies.
The Angel Inn, next door, was frequented by the Poole Reform Party for meetings in the early 19th century.
12: The Antelope
Parallel to Market Street on the eastern side is High Street, which has long been used to link the Quay to the Town Gate. Heading back towards the Quay, on the lower end of High Street, there are many historical buildings; this area has been continuously settled for the past 400 years or so.
Towards the end of High Street is The Antelope, a 15th century building which for a long time was a coaching house. Coaches would depart from here for Southampton, Bath, Bristol and London.
13: Scaplen’s Court
This medieval building is now a museum and education centre, open to the public in August each year.
In the 17th century, this was an inn called The George and in the 18th century it was home to John Scaplen, who gave the building its name.
There is a beautiful walled herb garden at the back of the building; the whole area is available for hire for events and weddings.
14: Poole Museum
Opposite Scaplen’s Court is Poole Museum, which is in what used to be a Victorian grain warehouse called Oakley’s Mill.
The museum uses the first four floors to showcase items and information from prehistoric times to the modern day.
If you wander down the right hand side of the building on the outside, you’ll see each of the levels and the doors that were used during the days of the mill.
15: Salisbury Street Lock-up
At the back of the museum and the Town Cellar there is an old lean-to building with iron bars on the small windows and a great heavy door.
This was an old gaol used for locking up drunkards from the Quay. The stone above the doorway reads 1820, but there has been a lock-up structure here since 1601.
It was later used as a store and a larger door was fitted onto the end.
The street is actually Sarum Street; it’s believed that the building was called ‘The Salisbury’ as the original was provided by the Earls of Salisbury.
Final thoughts on Poole’s Old Town
I think it’s easy to overlook the interesting parts of the town that you live in, but I have really enjoyed getting to know Poole better, recently.
It was great to take some time to stop and actually look at my surroundings and find out the history behind them, instead of just taking them for granted.
And it didn’t take much digging for me to find out what a fascinating area this is! The history of Poole’s Old Town really brings out the character of the town as a whole.
So, whether you’re a local or visiting from further afield, I just know you’re going to love your trip to Poole in beautiful Dorset.
Have you been doing some exploring closer to home? Which building in Poole’s Old Town is the most interesting to you? Let me know in the comments! 🙂
Want more like this? Check out these articles:
- Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door loop walk
- The Purbeck Way: Corfe Castle to Swanage
- Snowdon Summit Route: The Pyg Track
All images in this post are the property of lastminutewanders.com
Pin it for later!
The pub tour in this blog is such a great idea! How is the music scene? I imagine a bit of music in each place but that may just be misconceptions. I love the history too – bars on windows!
The Lord Nelson definitely has live music nights but I don’t think the others do – at least not that I’ve seen!
Wow, what a lovely treat. The old buildings are so charming and have such history. I loved the green tiles building. Until I read and zoomed in on pic, I thought it was ivy -covered. The alms buildings are quite interesting. As is the prison. I never knew that the quay in Poole was the largest in Europe. I can only imagine the wealth of those towns folks when the harbor was at its peak!
All the old buildings are so interesting, especially now that I know the history behind them. Isn’t it amazing that the harbour is second only to Sydney?? Yes, I’m certain there were some extremely wealthy people here back in the old trading days! Thanks for your lovely comment 🙂
Ashleigh Hogan says
Love Poole, haven’t been since I was a child though. 100% will return as soon as it is safe
I love it too! I’m so lucky to be living here now. I hope you can make it back soon 🙂