Project to Promote Poole’s Maritime Heritage in Early Modern Britain


map of poole

Plan of Poole, 1636 © National Trust: Bankes of Kingston Lacy family and estate archive, deposited at Dorset History Centre

Our project has been awarded funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and we must thank, particularly, all who play the National Lottery and make these awards possible.
Within this project, we are going to explore and celebrate Poole’s Maritime Heritage within the period 1585 to 1730 with the help of volunteers and people interested in local history. We will share what we find out with as many people as we can.
A few years ago, the Rotary Club of Poole Bay did a project to map the rights of way in Old Town. People were curious as to how some of the Alleys on the Quay got their names, some research was done and 3 names stood out in the C17 that could perhaps have had Alleys named after them:

Button - colour Copyright

Sir Thomas Button

Admiral Sir Thomas Button – A Welshman who, for many years, protected the fishing fleets out of Poole and other ports in south west England from pirates. Sailing to and from Newfoundland every year, the main danger came from the Barbary coast.


Captain John Bennett RN – who was Poole born and bred, a Captain in the Royal Navy. He is thought to have lived in a tenement on Bennett’s Lane.

Governor Woodes Rogers – a Poole boy who at the age of 28 commanded two ships on a round the world voyage in 1708. He went as a privateer and later in life, became Governor of the Bahamas.

Their lives are well researched and documented but we think there is still more to learn. Since this was such an important era in the development of Poole, we think these stories of seamanship and how Poole and its port grew and changed should be revisited and brought to a wider audience.

To this end, a year-long project is underway, facilitated by members of Poole Bay Rotary Club together with volunteers and involving other organisations with wide-ranging interests.

Pirates, Castaways and Codfish: Poole’s Maritime History


In the late C16 and early C17, Poole was a port with less than 2000 people living here. Clustered around the port and the quayside was a church, a wool house, a Customs house and many narrow streets and alleys running back off the quay. It had a road system similar to today and the town was virtually surrounded by water. There was a big ditch behind the town that stretched from Holes Bay through the area known as Poole Park and through to Parkstone Bay.

Life was hard with an average life span of 28 years or thereabouts. Many people who worked the land for a living had to have a second income in order to survive and many became fishermen.

For centuries, fishermen from Poole, and other ports in the south west, sailed to Iceland on fishing expeditions. These trips became longer, annual expeditions once Newfoundland was discovered by Cabot in 1497. Reports of men being unable to row their small boats across the sea for the packed shoals of huge cod, were sufficient to encourage the fishermen to switch from Iceland to Newfoundland and they fished there for 250 years.

Maritime life was fraught with danger in those days; besides the threat of weather–related risks and navigational difficulties, pirates were a constant danger as were others, who saw the cargo as fair game particularly in times of war.

In the first map of Poole in 1740, to describe the area in some detail, three of the Alleys on the quay were named Button’s Lane, Bennett’s Lane and Rogers Lane.

Interest in these three names arose during our Poole Bay Rotary community project to survey the condition of and map the rights of way in central Poole in 2010/11. Volunteers helping us and people we met in speaking about the project, were curious about these names and their origins. Our subsequent research led us to three people who may have lent their names to these alleys and who all certainly had a relevance to the town in the C17. These characters were Sir Thomas Button, Captain John Bennett and Governor Woodes Rogers.







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