A Glimpse of the Georgian High Street

The upper High Street from Sir Peter Thompson's map

In 1751, retired businessman and local historian Sir Peter Thompson commissioned a detailed street map of Poole, the first for over 100 years. In the same year, a rate assessment was drawn up listing the names and properties of people eligible to pay church rate and gaol money*. These two documents, together with other sources, provide us with a tantalising glimpse of the High Street in the reign of George II.

At this date, the built up part of the High Street stopped at the junction with Chapel Lane. Beyond here, the street continued for a little way as a track between fields before petering out altogether at a point near the present railway line where it was crossed by a rope works. The main route out of town was Towngate Lane which branched off from the High Street and curved round to the site of the old town gate.

William Barfoot's house today

The 1751 High Street was more residential than commercial although there were a few stores and workshops between the houses. Some of the most important citizens of the town lived here, including at least 4 recent mayors, Benjamin Skutt (Mayor in 1742), William Wise (1745), John Masters (1748) and David Durell (1749). The largest and most valuable property on the street was the mansion house belonging to timber merchant, William Barfoot, built nearly 50 years before. This was an imposing house of 7 bays, set back from the street behind a railed area. It is shown on Sir Peter Thompson’s map and still stands today as No. 87, although divided into two, and half hidden behind Yates’ building. Facing it across the street was one of the two Presbyterian Meeting Houses in the town.

The house of John Masters, the prosperous Newfoundland merchant, is also shown on the map on the site of the present Nos 109-113, (see previous post ‘A Lost Poole Mansion?). In 1751 it was only about 5 years old. Another large Georgian house of two storeys plus attics stood just north of the Towngate Street corner and must have been the home of one of the richer residents, but unfortunately, we don’t know which one. Much extended and altered, it is now occupied by Bon Marché.

Further down the High Street were older properties, built by the well-to-do merchants of Tudor and Stuart times. With the prosperity brought into the town by the Newfoundland trade, many of these were now being done up by their owners in the latest style with brick and stucco facades, sash windows, and pillared doorways with porticos and fanlights.

The lower High Street. Old houses with Georgian facades

One of the many residents whose houses are not identified was the recently widowed Susanna Green. Her husband, Young Green who was a rope-maker had left her his dwelling house in the High Street with ‘shop, garden, outhouses’, his rope walk and other properties and £1,000 apiece to her and each of his 8 children. The richest man in the street, however was probably the Newfoundland merchant, Joseph White. When he died in 1771, he left a fortune of £150,000. His will describes his ‘dwelling house and garden . . with the kitchen and loft over and the cooperage thereto belonging and also my two coach houses’.

There were also at least 7 inns on the High Street, including the Antelope, an important coaching inn run by the Widow Stanley, The Bull Head (Mrs. Dean), the Lamb Inn, the Queen’s Head, the King’s Arms (Mr John Old Meadow), the White Bear (John Stanworth’s widow) and the White Hart. Also mentioned are the George and St. Clement, which may not have been in the High Street, and a former inn, the Old George (now Scaplen’s Court). This was divided into three tenements, one occupied by John Harrison and two held by John Scaplen.

Behind the High Street properties, particularly on the south east side, was a lot of open ground in the form of gardens, orchards and closes. Many of the big houses had large formal gardens with coach houses and stables accessible from Lagland Street.  Beyond lay a patchwork of small fields and lanes crossed only by the rope walk at Baiter.

The Georgian High Street was a noisy and bustling place. We can imagine servants going about their duties, bewigged gentlemen strolling out to conduct their business or enjoy a glass and a pipe with friends, the coming and going of stage coaches, carts and wagons from early in the morning. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that only a short walk from the High Street, you could be out in the fields. 

Jenny

* Church and Marshalsea Rate 1751 – available on microfilm at the Poole History Centre.

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About Poole High Street Project

Contact: Jenny Oliver - j.oliver48@btinternet.com
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