The ancient house known as Scaplen’s Court is now technically in Salisbury Street but for our project we have elected it as a High Street property as it was for centuries. Setting out a few of the tales associated with one of the oldest buildings in Poole has proved lengthier than expected, so this is just part one!
In the late 14th century (according to the local historian, H. P. Smith), a wealthy Poole resident built an impressive house consisting of a south west range facing on to the High Street and a south east range, running backwards at right angles to the first. About a century later the owner invested in major reconstruction and the addition of two further ranges to the north west and east, enclosing a rectangular courtyard. The magnificent mansion, 61 feet wide and 80 feet deep had an impressive entrance porch and a fine perpendicular stone mullioned bay window, rising up two storeys. Inside, the house was equipped with fine timber ceilings, carved stone doorways and fireplaces and carved oak panelling. It must have been the home of one of Poole’s richest merchants.
H. P. Smith thought that this building might have been the ‘fair town house of stone by the Quay’ noted by the Tudor antiquary, John Leland, used by the town’s corporation before the building of the town house in Fish Street in 1572. However there is no definite proof of this. It has also been tentatively identified as the home of Alice Greene, the rich widow of merchant and former mayor of Poole, William Greene. In December 1598, Alice and her servant, Agnes Beard were found battered and stabbed to death in her house, with the corpses of her two little dogs alongside. Upstairs, her strong box had been broken open and the contents stolen. A man called Robert Hill was hanged for the murder but the suspicion that he had not acted alone caused a scandal that rumbled on for decades.
The house probably looked out on to an inlet in the shoreline, known in Tudor times as ‘Mesurer’s Gap’, which formed the eastern end of the ancient Quay. From time to time shipowners were ‘presented’ at the local Admiralty Court for mooring a ship in the Gap and impeding the approach to the Quay. It was also a tempting spot for householders to tip their rubbish. In 1618-20, Mesurer’s Gap was filled in to allow the building of the Little Quay, extra beer being given to the workmen for clearing the great ‘mixen’ (or midden) that had accumulated there.
In the 17th century, the house became the George Inn, no doubt requiring some alterations to the structure. Carved initials on some of the fireplaces date from the time of the Civil War when Poole was a Parliamentary garrison town. Trade tokens for the George were issued in 1666 bearing the intials IAH, probably for James A Hallybred. In a poor relief rating of 1697, the innkeeper of the George was listed as Milles Bownes.
By the early 18th century, the property was once more a private dwelling, belonging to Benjamin Skutt whose portrait appears on the wall of the harbour office on the Quay. He sold it to John Scaplen who remodelled part of the kitchen at the back of the house into a best parlour with a raised ceiling, fine panelling and a carved cornice. By 1751, the house was already divided into several tenements occupied by John Scaplen, the widow Durell and John Harrison. It was probably during this century that the bay window was taken down and the High Street frontage was brought up to date with a smart brick facade and Georgian sash windows.
In 1827, the will of John Scaplen Phippard describes four tenements, a large courtyard and blacksmith’s and cooper’s shops in the premises. It was the start of a long period of commercial use, division and decline of the property which would eventually threaten its very survival.
Jenny . . . to be continued!