The purpose of this project is to delve into and tell the story of Poole’s Maritime Heritage in Early Modern Britain (C1580-1730); and to share it with as many people as we can. We have lots to do before we can do this in a complete manner, but it is what we intend to do by end August 2018.
The Nao Victoria: a replica of the Spanish vessel C1519 at Poole Quay 2017
What we will do in the next few posts is to summarise what we have found out so far in several pieces. In this one we provide some information about the project and the background to Poole in those days. Later posts will progress with information on:
• Poole’s maritime heritage and how our three leading men map onto it.
• Poole and its governance then and maritime security.
• Each of the three characters and their lives.
We will develop these aspects of the story as we progress and find out more. Eventually we will add a section to the storyline to explain what we think that all this meant for Poole’s development by the end of the period.
The story that we have uncovered so far is summarised in the next few pages. It is very much a first brief attempt to describe some aspects of life in Poole during this important and formative 150 year period.
Our title for the project, Pirates, Castaways & Codfish give an indication of the range of issues we expect to cover.
The story will change as we go along, perhaps two or three times. We expect to delve more into particular subjects as people tell us what they see to be the most important; those topics that they would like to know more about.
Primarily, of course, the story is set in the context of the sea. Poole was all about the sea; for fishing, for communications and travel, for people here and those living and working in the hinterland, as well as for visitors to these shores; and for trade – both here at home and internationally.
Our job in the project is to spell out what we know already, and what we can find out about Poole’s maritime heritage and the town’s development in the era. We selected the Early Modern British period because it covered the period of the lives of three characters who we think may have lent their names to three of the alleys on Poole Quay. Their lives testify to the astonishing experiences of seamen then and their exploits; the descriptions of their lives offer insights into what must have been the backdrop to day to day lives in Poole.
A community project we did in 2010-2011 led us to these three seamen. We surveyed the condition and mapped all of the many rights of way in central Poole including each of the alleys on the Quay.
Volunteers helping us with the work and people we met during the project were fascinated by the alleys, how and when did they come about and how they got their names? Our subsequent research led us to Button, Bennett, and Rogers; all names associated with alleys on the Quay in 1751. They all had relevance to the town in the C17th and certainly led very interesting lives.
Most of the alley names, going from west to east along the Quay, changed between 1751 and 2011:
Could Button’s Lane perhaps refer to Sir Thomas Button? Could Rogers Lane perhaps refer to Governor Woodes Rogers? Could Bennett’s Lane perhaps refer to Captain John Bennett RN? We think they may.
We will describe some of experiences of these three men in so far as they have a relevance to the development of Poole. Altogether it is an intriguing tale; the story covers a large range of topics to which we will add local material on smuggling, exploration, colonisation and settlement, privateering, merchant venturing, fishing for cod in Newfoundland, war and peace, slavery and seamanship.
During this project we will engage with many people from the local community and we expect to get a sense of where local people would like the story to focus. Our research later in the project will be directed by their interest.
The story is expressed in the following subsections, and while at present it is a sparse one, as the project progresses we will add a lot more besides:
• Poole’s maritime heritage and ways the three characters’ experiences map onto it
• Poole and its governance, particularly maritime security
• The three characters
Later in the project we will add a further section to this storyline: where this historical backdrop all led for Poole’s development in Georgian times at the end of our project period.
In the late 16th and early 17th centuries Poole was a port with only around 1400 people living here; a 1574 census found 1373 people. Life was hard with a short average life term when compared to today and it was the time that many people relying on the land for a living had to find a second income to suffice.
In 1526 Henry VIII had granted Poole a Charter freeing it from control of the High Court of the Admiralty and entitling the Mayor as “Admiral of Poole”. Subsequently there was one meeting of the Admiralty Court a year where people were presented for various offences and fines were levied but these fines were often not collected. The title, thought to be largely honorary, was less demanding than the duties associated with the Mayor’s role.
Piracy and smuggling were rife in those days and in 1577 Queen Elizabeth I appointed commissioners in ports to apprehend French and Spanish pirates in their waters. The Mayor, the Recorder and four others became Poole’s first Harbour Commissioners. It was a time when Barbary Pirates from the North Coast of Africa would prey on shipping, take ships and cargos and enslave any sailors they caught. People living in coastal communities in southwest England and southern Ireland were also at risk because the pirates would sometimes attack settlements and take people as slaves to sell them in North Africa.
Clustered around the port of Poole and the quayside there was the church, the wool house, the custom house and many narrow streets and alleys running back from the quay, with all the other places you might expect to find and more. The port had been granted the Wool Staple in 1433, an official monopoly on trade in wool. The wool was stored in the King’s Wool House next door (where the Local History Centre is today, in the Poole Museum).Wool and woollen goods traded through Poole were weighed in the Customs House and on the Town Beam. By the late C16th the wool and cloth were no longer such a major trade for Poole.
By this time the Wool House was called the Town Cellars and port accounts show a mixture of goods being stored there. The building extended across Thames Street as can be seen today by comparison of the building lines of it and The King Charles public house. There is some evidence (see the drawing below from the Cecil Papers C1598) that there may have been an archway in the Wool House along the line of Thames Street.
Down by the port and the Wool House it differed from today; the quayside was built out in 1620 so that more land became available for the Custom House and Town Beam we see today. As the drawing here shows there was just one line of properties along the Quayside including the Wool House and no land in front of them to speak of.The road layout along the promontory matched much of that of today, and the town was virtually surrounded by water. At Towngate, near where Hunger Hill Roundabout is today, there was a big ditch behind the town that stretched from Holes Bay through to the area now known as Poole Park and on to Parkstone Bay. This fact is very clear in the Bankes Archive Map from 1636.
From around 1400 English fishermen from the east coast of England went annually to the Iceland fishery for “stockfish”; dried cod. Bristol fishermen went there too as did others from the southwest coast including probably some from Poole. From the far west coast of southern Ireland it was around five days sailing to Iceland.
In the C15th these became longer trips each year to Newfoundland once it had been 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 on the Grand Banks had been sufficient to encourage the switch from Iceland, and the fishery attracted “migratory “ fishermen for nearly 300 years before resident fishermen took it on from the early C19th.
Maritime life was fraught with danger; besides the threat of weather-related risks and navigational difficulties there were the risks from pirates and others who saw the property being carried as fair game, especially when nations were at war with one another.