Peter Hiley was a 17th century Poole merchant, shipowner, property owner and brewer who served as Mayor in 1662 and 1669. When he died in 1673, an inventory was taken of his High Street house and its contents which allows us a glimpse of life for the better off in Poole three and a half centuries ago.
The house had three storeys, including the attics and seems to have had four rooms on each floor. The grandest and most comfortable room on the ground floor was the parlour which had a carpet and ten leather chairs, a glass ‘cage’ (open-fronted cupboard) and maps and a ‘press’ (cupboard) of books. The hearth was furnished with brass andirons, fire pan, bellows, tongs and a pair of small (fire) dogs. In contrast, the hall contained little of value apart from a clock. Passing through to the kitchen, the inventory makers found ‘pewter and brass of all sorts, two spits and a dripping pan’. Also probably on the ground floor was ‘the study towards the court’ which contained two writing desks, a chest and ‘half a hundredweight of ordinary cheese’! Obviously some rooms in the house were used to store goods for Peter Hiley’s business as becomes more obvious in the description of the upper floors.
The master bedroom or ‘great chamber’ was a large room, probably above the parlour. It contained a bed and bedstead ‘furnished’ (with hangings, bolster, covers etc.) a table board and a ‘case of drawers’. Also in the room were a large carpet, a dozen chairs, stools and cushions, three trunks, a cabinet with a frame, two looking glasses and a large screen. Perhaps it was in this rather cluttered-sounding room that Peter Hiley kept the ‘several pairs of plate’ worth £20 that the house contained. We do know that the inventory makers found ‘twenty dozen of worsted stockings’ stored there, surely for sale rather than for personal use. These were also valued at £20.
In the chamber over the hall were ‘a pair of brass andirons and four pictures’, an old box and a joint stool and three new herring nets. The kitchen chamber contained a bed and bedstead, furnished, two old trunks, four old chairs, a little table, three small boxes, a looking glass and a ‘cage’. The other room on the first floor was the maid’s chamber, simply furnished with a bed and covering. In addition the house contained ‘sheets, table cloths, napkins, pillowbyes and other napery’ worth £12.
Above the first floor were four attics or ‘cocklofts’. One of these at least was furnished as a bedroom with two bedsteads and a covering but most of the space was used for storage. In the cockloft over the great chamber were six bags and a hundredweight of ‘sorting nails’ and the other attics contained a dozen new herring nets, three dozen of line and four bushels of beans.
At the back of the house was an inner court, apparently surrounded by stores and outhouses. There were the malt lofts for the brewing part of the business containing an estimated fifty quarters (about 12 hundredweight) of malt worth £40, plus a shovel and scales. A dray cart, wheels and harness were kept there along with a ‘press of healing stones’. In the stable with its haylofts were two old saddle horses. Beyond the inner court was an outer yard where the ‘five fat pigs’ were kept along with stores of wooden planks and rafters. The salt store or ‘cellar’ held five quarters of salt and the new cellar ‘a press of malting coals and old nails’.
Altogether, the impression is of a fairly large, comfortable but slightly run down and disordered house. I wonder what it was like eight years before when no lesser person than King Charles II was entertained there? Charles visited Poole on 15thSeptember 1665, travelling from Salisbury where he was staying to avoid the plague in London. According to the Poole historian John Sydenham, the Mayor, aldermen and Sheriff ‘had the singular honour to attend on his Majesty at a dinner, provided for him at and in the house of Mr. Peter Hiley, set apart for that purpose.’ We can only imagine the frenzy in the kitchen as the women strived to create a meal fit for a king. Later, the King was entertained to a ‘stately banquet’ in the house of Col. William Skutt.
Where was Peter Hiley’s house and what happened to it? Sydenham goes on to explain that ‘the house in which his Majesty was entertained . . . was situated on the south east side of the corn market; but is not now standing, having been pulled down some years since to make way for a more modern edifice’. So by 1839, when Sydenham’s history was published, the house had already gone. Later a plaque was put up on the site to commemorate the king’s visit and it can still be seen in front of the present Sainsburys Local store. No equivalent plaque ever seems to have marked Col. Skutt’s house on the opposite side of the corn market.
As a curious footnote, Sydenham reports that ‘a part of his wardrobe was left by his majesty on this occasion, which has since been preserved by the Hiley family’. I wonder what it was?