By the 1840’s the golden age of coaching was coming to an end and the coach no longer set out daily from the Antelope Inn with maximum bustle and importance for the long run to London. Instead by 1842, according to Pigot’s directory, the Union coach which left the Antelope and the London Tavern at 7.00 am went no further than Southampton where it met the ‘Train’ for London, so that the passengers could complete their journey with greater comfort and speed. In 1847, the railway at last reached Poole (or rather Hamworthy) at the end of a branch from the Southampton to Dorchester line. This first station at lower Hamworthy served Poole and the growing town of Bournemouth for the next 20 years.
William Furmage, the landlord of the London Tavern Inn, was one of the people quick to see the opportunities of the railway. Kelly’s Directory of 1848 shows that a horse-drawn omnibus service from the London Tavern met every train ‘day and night’ and a daily omnibus went from the inn to and from Bournemouth. At this date, the Antelope’s landlord, George Knight, could still count on trade from the Wellington coach which left the inn 3 days a week for Bath, but the expansion of the railway was inexorable and soon put the coach out of business. In spite of the changes, however, the Antelope was still the town’s foremost hotel, and it was there that the 14-year-old Prince of Wales stayed on 24thSeptember 1856 when touring Dorset with his tutor.
By 1865, there were no longer any coaches leaving from the Antelope. ‘Bemister’s Omnibus’ ran from the Bull’s Head Inn twice daily to Bournemouth and to the railway station, but it was the London Tavern which had picked up the lion’s share of the trade. Their omnibuses met every train and brought the passengers back across the creaking wooden bridge from Hamworthy to the inn. They had a twice a day service to Bournemouth and also connected with all the night mail trains. The London Tavern was the official parcels office for the London and South Western Railway Company and the Somerset and Dorset Railway, with Mrs. Tamar Furmage as agent. Parcels and letters were sorted on the premises and delivered across the town.
The upper part of the High Street, known as the Parade, had tended to attract some of the more wealthy citizens ever since Samuel Rolles built Beech Hurst there in 1798 and there were still some well-to-do households in this part of the High Street. However the railway was about to bring its noise, smuts and disturbance to the Parade.
In 1872, a branch line was built to a new Poole station just to the west of the High Street. Then in 1874, a line was built to Bournemouth, cutting across the High Street itself, almost along the line of the old town ditch. The Poole and Dorset Herald reported the opening of the railway on 15th June 1874 as an eagerly anticipated event. ‘On leaving the Poole Station, the High Street is crossed and the occupants of the carriages get a momentary glimpse of one of the widest, if not busiest streets of Poole’. The level crossing and cast iron footbridge for pedestrians are still there today, 137 years later!
The fares to Bournemouth were 10d first class, 7d second class and 4d third class (or about 4p, 3p and 11/2p in modern currency). The paper expressed the hope that an early train ‘not later than six o’clock in the morning’ would be provided ‘for the benefit of the working class’, so that workers would no longer have to walk into Bournemouth. Obviously, the railway was going to change people’s lives considerably, revolutionising local travel as well as linking with the national network.
The alignment of the railway across the High Street and Towngate Street made the old town less accessible and had a major effect on the subsequent development of the High Street and the town. When the tram service from Poole to County Gates via Upper Parkstone opened in April 1901, the tram tracks obviously could not cross the railway line, and so the route stopped short of the High Street and the terminus was in Towngate Street. There was a proposal for a circular tram route to be built from the station down the High Street to the Quay and back via South Street and Mount Road, but this was never constructed, (perhaps fortunately because it would have made the town very congested).
The railway and the trams encouraged the growth of Bournemouth and the outlying districts of Poole. The focus of the town was changing. By the 1920s, Poole was promoting itself as a holiday destination based on the beauty of its scenery, harbour and chines. The High Street got a mention as one of the local ‘up to date and popular shopping centres’. E. M Coombes, the proprietor of the London Hotel, offered ‘Personal attention’, ‘Large Garage’ and ‘Electric Light Throughout’, and the Amity Hall was billed as having ‘The biggest and best programme in the district’.
By this time, the tram tracks were in need of replacement and it was decided to replace some of the routes with a motor bus service. The Hants and Dorset bus service from Bournemouth Square started in 1929, taking 20 minutes to reach the Poole terminus at library corner, just off the High Street. Later, the congestion at the terminus and the delays caused by the railway crossing made the bus company decide to build their new bus station north of the crossing in Kingland Crescent. At least the buses, unlike the trams did come up and down the High Street.
By the early 1950s, 100 years after the Antelope’s trade as a coaching inn ended, the hotel had found a new niche as ‘The Yachting House of Poole Harbour’. The 10 rooms were available at 11 guineas (double) and 51/2 guineas (single) per week. Where the London coaches used to stand for boarding, there was now a bus stop with a regular bus service to Bournemouth and Sandbanks.
Andrew Hawkes A Pint of Good Poole Ale
Kelly’s Directory of Dorsetshire 1848
Vic Mitchell & Keith Smith South Coast Railways –Bournemouth to Weymouth
Pigot’s Directory of Dorset 1842
Poole and Dorset Herald
Poole Guides 1929 and 1951
C.G. Roberts & B. L. Jackson Trams and Buses of Poole
Colin Stone Rails to Poole Harbour