If you happen to go into Monicafé (formerly Nathan’s) for a coffee, you get a good view of the building across the street, now occupied by Volcano, Thomson Travel and Quicksilver. In spite of many alterations, it’s possible to see a once elegant house with bow windows on either side, an arched window above the front door and fine mouldings, perhaps originally the home of one of Poole’s leading citizens. In his mid 18thcentury map, Sir Peter Thompson named the building on this site as ‘Mr. John Master’s House’ and it is shown as a substantial building, set back slightly from the street with a large garden at the back.
John Masters was a wealthy merchant who made his money in the Newfoundland trade. In fact, he was born in Newfoundland where his father, John senior, was a settler or ‘planter’. In 1697, the father bought his wife and children back to his native town of Poole where he bought a ‘low, old house at the upper end of the High Street’. He was later killed out in Newfoundland and and his widow set up an alehouse in Poole called the Red Cow to support her family.
John junior was apprenticed in the Newfoundland trade and through hard work and enterprise, rose to become a successful merchant. By the 1740’s he was prosperous enough to return to Poole where he spent £1,500 rebuilding the old alehouse into the mansion shown on Sir Peter Thompson’s map. Masters was a forceful character with ambitions to enter Parliament. This he never achieved, probably because of his lack of diplomacy, but he did serve as Mayor of Poole and wield great influence in the town up to his death in 1755.
So is the building we see today actually the ‘low, old house’ / the Red Cow / John Masters’ mansion, or is it a more recent building on the same site? A map of 1888 shows the building in some detail, set back from the street behind a wall or railings, with bow windows, a front path and portico. There is one wing to the north, still visible today, but the south wing, if there ever was one, has gone. The large garden is also shown, stretching right back to Lagland Street. As far as I can tell the house looks like the one on 18th century maps as well as resembling the building of today, but I must admit there is not a lot of detail to go on. Does anyone know any more about this building or have any photographs of it in the past? I’d love to unravel this mystery.