Research into 181 High Street

Victorian – In 1870 the site of 181 appears to be an empty space, a gap between a raised three storey full height bay window house (no. 183), the front door approached up steps and a three storey building with a shop front (no. 179).  The gap had a high wall with an entranceway which may have concealed a garden or yard behind.  This was at a time when most of the High Street properties were houses and shops as such were few.  The gap was only four plots away from where the Bournemouth railway line would shortly cross the High Street and so would ultimately be considered to be in the Longfleet parish and a section of thoroughfare called High Street North.

Around 1880 the gap appears to be filled in with a large shop front having a rather plain centrally raised parapet frontage and with the adjoining properties remaining unaltered.  The large shop front had a central pier giving its rather square looking proscenium a theatrical, even cinema like appearance (a sign of things to come, perhaps!).  The incorporated building was, over the next 90 years, to have six principle commercial occupiers until it was demolished around 1970 to make way for one of the construction phases of the new Arndale Shopping Centre.

By about 1890 the site had become the premises of Samuel Baker’s Complete Furnishing Warehouse and large writing confirming this had been added to the façade.  The house next door at number 183 has had its raised aspect and lower level bay window removed in favour of a normal ground level shop front and so the continuous appearance of a commercial High Street was now taking place.

Shortly after this, in 1892, Samuel Baker having vacated the premises, the site had been acquired by Poole’s Skinner Street Congregational denomination now interested in finding somewhere to serve an expanding population north of the town.  The building was transformed into a chapel by Mr Robert Habgood, a builder of Poole, with seating for 200 people and the chapel was known as Longfleet Congregational Church.  It would seem that the rectangular first floor windows within the rather flat parapet frontage were made more gothic in appearance.  The chapel was opened by Rev. J. Fleming of London and Rev. G. B. Stallworthy became pastor.  Chief benefactors were Miss Green and Lord Wimborne.  In 1894 a lecture hall was erected behind the chapel.

Edwardian – Between 1901 and 1910 the buildings at number 181 High Street continued as the Longfleet Congregational Church.

20th Century – In 1910, following twenty years of being a church, the building was sold. For the next thirteen years the church met at Poole Liberal Hall until, in 1924, another purpose built church was installed further up Longfleet Road.  With the opening service conducted by Rev. J. F. Paul of Christchurch, an interesting feature of this new building was that it was fitted with ‘tip-up’ type seats, the first church in Poole to use them!

The Electric Theatre

In 1911, however, the pioneer of local cinema entertainment, Mr James Bravery, managing director of Popular Bioscope Syndicates Limited established the Poole Electric Theatre in the former chapel premises at 181 High Street.  Advertisements of the day informed the public that it was ‘near the tram terminus’ which was just around Topp’s corner (Anstey Arms) in Towngate Street.  The first programme at the Poole Electric included the film ‘Flying A Day’.  In 1923 the manager was Wm. G. Ferguson.  The building’s façade was altered yet again, the gothic style windows now filled in to provide a regency type décor and the square parapet at the top (which in Baker’s Furniture Store days had looked rather theatrical,) was now embellished with a dutch gable feature instead.  The Poole Electric Cinema continued to operate until the Regent Theatre was opened nearby in 1926 at number 204 High Street (just a little further up and opposite).  The final film presentation at the Poole Electric was ‘The Fighting Edge’ on the 30thOctober that year and so the cinema had exhibited fifteen years of film entertainment during what we now refer to as the silent film era (although of course most showings at this time had at least an in-situ piano musical accompaniment and the actions of ‘on screen’ characters were vividly expressed by the film actors of the period).

Heath's Jewellers

By 1923 Harold Heath had his jewellery and watch making business at this High Street premises.  It is wondered, therefore, as to just how his shop was incorporated into the Theatre side or frontage?  Heath’s the Jewellers, Clocks and Watches, were to be the sites longest occupier for almost half a century (around 49 years) right up to demolition when the business moved into the new Arndale Shopping Centre (upstairs near the bus station end) now the Dolphin Centre.

When the cinema closed in 1926 the theatre was taken over by Tew and Sons who opened their Billiard Saloon in 1927, an activity available for the next ten years at this address until 1937.

In 1938, after the closure of Tew’s billiards facility the building was taken over by Messrs. Oswald Bailey’s Outfitters who had moved up from number 103 lower down the High Street but it would appear that Oswald Bailey’s shop was given the address 181A High Street and Harold Heath remained at number 181.  In 1942, (During WW2), a Mrs Moore took up private residence somewhere within the 181 building but her address was 181A as well.

In the mid fifties (c.1957) the very first modern shopping precinct was built nearby called Kingland Crescent which had an early style supermarket in the line of shops along one side and the offices and stands of the Hants and Dorset bus station along the other which would have been behind 181 High Street.  Around this time Oswald Bailey’s were now Oswald Bailey (Southern) Ltd.

In 1961 Mrs Moore left her private residence and a Mrs Gates came to live at 181A instead.  By 1970 the whole block of shops and businesses extending round from the more recent Kingland Crescent to the older Kingland Road was needed for a later phase of the overall Arndale development plan and this spelled the end for number 181 as a building after 90 years existence.  High Street numbering as it had been known extending well past the 200s up into Longfleet now terminated at the railway crossing at number 175 and a similar fate awaited all the premises along the other side of the High Street including Towngate Street as well which was needed to construct the Towngate flyover.  H. Heath Jeweller’s and Watches moved into the new Arndale Centre but as a family business retired as the twentieth century closed and it is now J. S. Jewellery.  Oswald Bailey’s now modern camping store moved into one of the Kingland Crescent sites (almost exactly to the rear of its former 181 High Street premises).

21st Century – Today, the site of 181 High Street can be identified as being the entrance portion of the 3 Store mobile phone shop that faces Falkland square.  Under today’s numbering the address is now 40/41 The Dolphin Centre.  It is interesting to note that in the redevelopment of this part of Poole the original ‘building line’ of shops where number 181 once stood in the High Street has been reproduced in the now pedestrian precinct’s modern design.

Ann and Jack Bath

Sources: Poole Library

A Century of Cinema in Dorset 1896-1996 by Peter Dyson (p39)

A Portfolio of Old Poole by John Hillier (p138)

An Album of Old Poole by Messrs. Beamish, Dockerill, Hillier and Smith (Images 152-154 inclusive)

The Spirit of Poole 1953-1963 by J. Hillier & M. Blyth (p97- map)

Sources: Poole History Centre

Kelly’s Trade Directories 1923-1975

1937 Old Poole O.S map Scale 1:2500

1954 Half Map of Poole (O.S)

1952 Poole Borough Engineer’s Map- Scale 1:1250


About Poole High Street Project

Contact: Jenny Oliver -
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