Poole Old TownPoole
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When Poole was undergoing urban renewal in the 1970s it was realized that many of the historic buildings would be lost if a conservation area was not created. Thankfully, 15 acres (6.1 hectares) of the old town on the peninsular jutting out into the harbour was preserved.
Full of Grade I and II listed buildings; the Old Town and Poole Quay are a reminder of Poole in its heyday when it was one of the busiest ports in England. Maritime merchants made wealthy by the lucrative Newfoundland trade built magnificent mansions and elegant town houses.
The trade with Newfoundland was based on the exploitation of immensely rich fishing grounds. Poole ships brought salt for preserving the fish and took the cargoes of dried salt cod to the Catholic Mediterranean countries and the Caribbean sugar plantations as food for the slaves. From the Mediterranean the ships returned to Poole with cargoes of olive oil, wine and salt.
The heart of Georgian Poole is centred on High Street, Church Street and Market Street.
Customs House
The splendid Custom House (now a restaurant/bar) marks the oldest part of the Quay. In medieval times the Great Quay was surrounded by large stone buildings of which only the 15th century Town Cellars, Poole remain.
Archaeological excavations under this area have revealed a thick layer of oyster shells. It is believed that a thousand years ago fishermen used the shore as a centre for an oyster fishery, leaving millions of shells that became buried under later reclamations.
At the end of the quay can be seen ‘Poole Lifting Bridge’ which connects the industrial area of Hamworthy with the town centre.
If you turn right up Thames Street you will see, opposite the Custom House, the Old Harbour Offices, built in 1727 as a reading room for the town merchants, and rebuilt in 1822.
Next to the Town Cellars is a black and white Tudor hostelry called the King Charles Inn, Poole reputed to be haunted and well worth a visit. The black doors to the side of the pub give entry to an old storeroom which is still used as a yearly store for a French onion seller.
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Old Poole Gaol
Pause, and look back towards the Town Cellars - the lean-to building was the old Poole Gaol. Its iron ceiling was supposed to prevent prisoners from escaping.
Further along Thames Street is Hotel du Vin, built in the 1770s for the wealthy Lester family. The Lesters made their money by trading with Newfoundland and in the dining room the fireplace is decorated with marble fillets of cod as a proud reminder of the source of the family's fortunes.
In Church Street is a fine collection of Georgian domestic architecture with an occasional medieval building such as St George's Almshouses dating from the 15th century. The Georgian brick built houses have fine proportions with a wealth of authentic architectural details such as fanlights and boot scrapers.
West End House was built in the early 18th century for Newfoundland merchant, John Slade. It is still surrounded by its original iron railings and the top of the façade is adorned with urns and pineapples – renowned symbols of the extravagant lifestyle of many of the Newfoundland traders of the period. This house was also the home of the Carter family, founders of Poole Pottery.
St James' Church
The old stone St James Church, Poole is known as the Fishermen’s Church. The interior of this early Georgian church is quite unique and is a must see.
A little diversion around the back of the church, up the narrow St James’ Close reveals a small grassy area that was an overspill graveyard and reputedly haunted. No. 22 is The Rectory built in 1765.
18th Century Guildhall
Church Street runs into Market Street where you can see the beautiful Guildhall built in 1761. In the 18th century the ground floor housed an outdoor market while the upstairs floor was Municipal offices and courts. It has had a varied history and is now the Register Office, used for marriages, civil partnerships and civic ceremonies.
Not all the buildings in Market Street are 18th century – a couple are a lot older. Numbers 6 and 8, Byngley House and Mary Tudor Cottage were built as a single dwelling in 1567.
Fork right at the Guildhall steps and walk up the side of the building. The Angel Inn at 29 Market Street was built in the 18th century to service the mail coaches running through Ringwood to London. It was also a meeting place for the Poole Reform Party who would hold Election Day breakfasts within shouting distance of the electors voting at the Guildhall.
18th Century Blue Boar Inn
In Market Close is the 18th century Blue Boar Inn. It is a genuine free house which means it is not tied to a particular brewery chain; it keeps an excellent selection of cask ales. The walls are adorned with a vast array of diving memorabilia and down in the cellar bar live music is performed.
On the left-hand side of Market Close is the Lodge of Amity - home of the oldest Masonic Lodge in Dorset.
Also in Market Close is the flamboyant mansion house built in 1746 for wealthy merchant Sir Peter Thompson. This three storied brick and stuccoed building now houses offices.
Back in Market Street turn right along New Orchard, a modern road cut through Market Street in the 1960s. The single storey shops on the right retain their Victorian shop fronts.
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High Street
Next, turn right into High Street which leads back down to Poole Quay. In ancient times High Street was the main thoroughfare linking the Quay with the Town Gate. The buildings lining the street are of varied ages and fabrics.
The lower part of the High Street shows 400 or 500 years of continuous settlement, alteration and reuse. Many of the shops and restaurants such as Cinnamon House are deceptive – built about 400 years ago but with an 18th/19th Century façade. Number 14, Hardy's Restaurant, is a Tudor building with a Georgian façade and an early Victorian shop front.
16th Century Antelope Yachting Inn
The Antelope Yachting Inn at 8 High Street is an old pub dating from the 16th century. The Inn has exposed ceiling beams and two massive 16th century fireplaces, one in the bar. In the 19th century coaches left The Antelope for Bristol, Bath and London. It had its own horses, coaches, smithy and even funeral vehicles. At one stage it even brewed its own beer.
The King’s Head at 6 High Street was the haunt of sea captains. When it was renovated at least five hidden passageways were discovered, thought to have been used by smugglers.
Poole Museum
Next to the King’s Head is the medieval Scalpen's Court, Poole townhouse, now used as an education centre for Poole Museum. The interior is only open to the public during August. Hidden behind the building is a Tudor Physic Garden. Poole Museum itself is housed on four floors of an 18th century warehouse. The history of Poole is beautifully presented.
The Borough of Poole has an excellent guide to the Old Town and Quay called ‘The Cockle Trail’.
To download a PDF copy of the trail go to:
Website   The Cockle Trail    External Link
Google Map - Poole Old Town 

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