Being born and bred in the beautiful town of Poole, I am only too well aware of the sweeping changes that have occurred to the area during the post war years. Indeed, if anyone, having been absent since the 1960s, were to return and take a walk down the High Street they would be astonished at how very different it now is compared to the scene of forty years ago.
In June 2011, shopping guru Mary “Queen of Shops” Portas was called in by the Government to look at the British High Street and to come up with some effective ways of arresting its decline in the 21st Century. It seems that there are more empty shops than ever with only the large corporate names appearing to thrive in our modern “clone towns”.
It was around thirty years ago that Poole saw the opening of its first out of town superstore as building of theTower Park complex at Manning’s Heath neared completion and the Tesco store opened. This retailer though, had long been a presence in Poole’s High Street, initially in a new building at No 131 the site of the old Globe public house. In 1968 it then became W H Smith’s first Poole shop, as by this time Tesco’s had outgrown these modest-sized premises and moved to No 103, finally moving yet again to the second phase of the Arndale Centre (but still a High Street address!) in 1981. It would be another twelve years before this national giant finally abandoned Poole High Street altogether and relocated to its current home at Fleet’s Corner.
Although today the story of failing local businesses and the extinct corner shop is being heard throughout the country, it was in fact as early as the 1950s thatPoole’s planners were considering some rather unsettling ideas for the development of the town’s shopping area, amid growing opposition from many locals.
A case in point is the tale of Ladies Walking field; not as you might think, a picturesque park for well-heeled ladies to take a Sunday stroll, but rather, a somewhat muddy (at the wrong time of year), rough recreation ground, once used for women working at the nearby rope factory to ‘walk’ out the lengths of rope. Locals fought fiercely in the ‘sixties to retain this rather dubious beauty spot, but eventually progress won the day and the field disappeared under the Arndale Centre, a new bus station and garage, and multi storey car park. Originally, Kingland Road emerged at a point approximately opposite the Regent Theatre, but was realigned to join a new, large round-about in front of the George Hotel, which would also be able to handle the extra stream of traffic coming from the new Towngate Bridge.
The new bridge or ‘flyover’, would certainly solve the traffic hold-ups that Poole had experienced as a result of having two railway level crossings in the town, though again, progress came at a cost, and a large number of houses in the Hunger Hill and Towngate Street area were demolished to make way for these improvements. I can recall my grandparents’ 30 year-old home being bulldozed as part of this redevelopment. It is hard to believe now, but up until this time, High Street had been fully open to two way traffic along it’s entire length. Following the aforementioned redevelopments and traffic rerouting, and because buses would no longer needed to enter High Street, barriers were placed at its junction withTowngate Streetat the Longfleet end, and New Orchard at the Quay end, only permitting entry of vehicles at certain times for making deliveries and loading.
Today’s typical High Street scene is one of frequent change and high turnover of traders, as struggling businesses often fall victim to the difficult economic climate. However, the post war period from the 1940s through to the ‘60s seemed to be marked by considerably more stability, with well-loved and heavily patronised local retailers remaining as part of the landscape for many years. It might be a good idea at this point, to take an imaginary stroll down the Poole High Street of the post war years and recall some of those now long-gone household names. I have to confess that my first-hand knowledge and memory of this subject is somewhat limited, so to enhance the historical information that I had researched, and to bring it to life, I decided to enlist the help of some Kelly’s Directories, and my Mum, Nell, a lifelong resident of old Poole.
Beginning at the Northern end of High Street, a row of shops known as Longfleet Place ran along the site which is now fronted by the Marks and Spencer store. The first shop in the row was Burden & Sons Limited, also listed in Kelly’s Directory for 1950, at No 203 High Street, as “grocers & wine and spirit merchant”. My Mum can well recall the smell of freshly ground coffee as she walked past the store, usually on her way to Lewis’s the Chemist (No. 209) to buy a bottle of her favourite perfume; “Picot No. 5”! Immediately next door at No 211, was a branch of Hawkes’s Shoe Shop, which had also been trading since Victorian times from larger premises further down the street at No. 99. (Any child of the ’sixties from Poole will remember being taken to Hawkes’s for a fitting, enduring a foot x-ray, and being placated by the fish pond and bird aviary in the children’s department). Curry’s Ltd, cycle agents had their premises just over the level crossing on the left, while on the right, Butler’s house furnishers traded from their imposing Victorian building which during the 1960’s became the home of Newbury’s (also furniture), and currently, Burger King.
There was a large number of butchers shops in Poole during the post-war years (Ridout’s, Victor G. Goulding, Eastman’s to name but three). On the other side of the North Street junction, stood Chas E. Wyatt, whose butchery business was listed in the 1950 Kelly’s at No 132 High Street, and was still there in the late 1970’s.
I can remember as a three or four year old, feeling immense excitement at arriving outside Woolworths, and champing at the bit to get at the toy department! Woolie’s sold an exclusive range of toy cars known as ‘Husky’, each one in a blister-pack, well-made and brightly painted models of all the latest famous cars, lorries and other vehicles of the day. If I was really good, I would sometimes get one to add to my collection. By this time, Woolworths had already moved across the street from its original premises to No 123/125, previously the site of the Amity Cinema, which like the Regent, was owned by South Coast Theatres Ltd.
Curiously, Kelly’s for 1950 shows another Wyatt butcher’s, this time Joseph E. Wyatt at No.119. It is likely that they were related. Bright and Son carried on a bakery business from the very ornate shop at No. 117. Joseph (later Alderman) Bright, moved from Wimborne to Poole and set up business, twice being recognised as “Britain’s Champion Baker”, and also held office as Mayor of Poole throughout the entire Second World War. I must mention Saturday tea-times at Gran’s, which were always an occasion with a box of Bright’s fancies or a lardy cake on the table, and who remembers Bright’s marzipan traffic lights? I wonder if the bakery that now occupies the same premises could be persuaded to make them again, just for old time’s sake?
Further down on the same side, Marks and Spencer’s original Poole store was at No 105/107, moving up into the first phase of the Arndale Centre circa 1970. Arriving at the corner ofCastle Street, the firm of Buckley’s china and glass shop, established during Victoria’s reign, had long ceased trading by 1950, the premises now being occupied by A. G. Goff & Son who in their advert proclaimed themselves to be “Specialists in comfortable furniture at keenest prices”. It seems that at some time in the 1960s Goff’s had additionally purchased the premises across the road on the corner of New Street, for their perambulator business. If your preference and pocket was more inclined toward ‘pre-loved’ furniture, then you may have been drawn back across the street, where Jack Valentine had set up his “Open Store” during the 1930’s. My parents were married in the mid ‘fifties and certainly would have made this place their first port of call, as they like many others furnished their new marital home on a tight budget.
Having reached the end of our mile-long walk down memory lane, we still have time to spare to pop into the Antelope! I hope this brief interlude has brought back some pleasant thoughts of your childhood if you are a Poole local, or maybe if you only visit Poole occasionally you will now have cause to view the High Street in a different way. The sights, sounds and smells of any town are constantly changing, and not always for the worse; the young locals of today will in the future be able to recall the pervasive perfume of a certain cosmetics shop with the same fondness as my Mum remembers delicious coffee aromas emanating from Burden’s all those decades ago.
This artcile was first published in the Hospital Radio Bedside magazine 2011/2012 edition and has been reproduced here with their kind permission.
Images from the collection of Poole Museum Service