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



map of poole

In 2017 Rotary Club of Poole Bay’s project, Pirates, Castaways & Codfish, was awarded funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and we thank, particularly, all who play the National Lottery and make these awards possible.

Within the project, we explored and celebrated Poole’s Maritime Heritage within the period 1580 to 1730 with the help of volunteers and people interested in local history. 

We share what we found out with as many people as we can.

A few years before, in 2010-2011, Poole Bay Rotary Club 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 C17th 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 Royal Governor of the first colony of the Bahamas.

The mariners’ lifetimes were fairly well documented and each was extraordinary in its own way. We chose to use their maritime experiences as a metaphor for Poole’s maritime history in those days.  This was a very important era in the development of Poole, we felt these stories of seamanship and how Poole and its port grew and changed across the period should be re-visited and brought to a wider audience through our project.

To this end, the year-long project was successfully undertaken and completed by August 2018. Facilitated by members of Poole Bay Rotary, together with several community volunteers, it involved several other organisations local historians for whose help we are very grateful.

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 were the church, the wool house, a Custom house and many narrow streets and alleys running back off of the quay. It had a road system recognisable 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 today as Poole Park and through to Parkstone Bay. The ditch was said then to be no longer than an arrow’s flight, and to fill with water at high tide.

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 and others, who saw the cargo as fair game, particularly in times of war.

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