The purpose of the project was 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 possible.
The Nao Victoria: a replica of the Spanish vessel C1519 at Poole Quay 2017
We knew when we developed the project proposal quite a lot about Poole in those days. We had not appreciated quite how small is was then; at 1373 people in the 1574 census, it was not much larger than one of today’s large secondary schools!
And yet it had already had centuries of trade with the channel islands and other ports in this country and overseas. Fishermen were used to going out for several months at a time to catch and process the cod in Newfoundland 2,300 miles due west of here.
Our title for the project, Pirates, Castaways & Codfish indicated the range of issues we expected to cover in the project. It proved to be an excellent oversight of some of our findings.
The story is set in the context of the sea. The sea was all important to the people of Poole. Poole was all about the sea: for fishing, for communications and travel, for people living in the town 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.
In the project we spelt out what we found 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 lifetimes of the three characters who we thought might have lent their names to three of the alleys on Poole Quay: John Bennett, Woodes Rogers and Thomas Button.
Did they perhaps lend their names to some of the Alleys? In our earlier work to survey the public rights of way in Poole in 2011, we had wondered; in this project we might be able to find out.
The lifetimes of these three men 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. And clearly it was not just about the life of the men; for them to be able to do what they did, the women and families too had also to play very important roles.
Poole’s Quayside Alleys
Volunteers helping us with the work and people we met during the earlier project were fascinated by the alleys, how and when did they come about and how they got their names?
Most of the alley names, going from west to east along the Quay, had their names changed between 1751 and 2011, one did not – Button’s Lane:
Could Button’s Lane perhaps refer to Admiral Sir Thomas Button? Could Rogers Lane perhaps refer to Royal Governor Woodes Rogers? Could Bennett’s Lane perhaps refer to Captain John Bennett RN? We thought when we began that they may possibly have lent their names. And the project helped us to decide.
The story unfolds
We describe something of the lifetimes and experiences of these three men in so far as they had a relevance to the development of Poole. What emerged was an intriguing tale.
The story covered a large range of topics to which we added local material on smuggling, exploration, colonisation and settlement of the New World, piracy and privateering, merchant venturing, fishing for cod in Newfoundland, war and peace, slavery and seamanship.
During the project we engaged with many local people while we were carrying it out. They gave us a sense of where they thought the story might focus. Our research later in the project was directed by their interest.
In the late 16th and early 17th centuries Poole was a port with only around 1400 people living here. 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 C15 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 C19.
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.