Monks, merchants, kings and gas fitters

Some of the old timber roof still remained when the property was demolished in 1972

On the north east of the corn market, at no 44 High Street, the site later occupied by the ironmonger Bacon and Curtis, was once an old house with stone mullion windows. This building was known as the Priory and in his history of Poole, H.P. Smith speculated that it might have had some connection with the monks of Bradenstoke Priory which owned the parish of Canford and Poole from the 12th century.

Whatever the origin of the name, in the mid 17th century the property belonged to George Skutt, a wealthy merchant and leading citizen of Poole during the civil war. He was mayor of the town several times and also M.P. for Poole when the previous member, William Constantine, was arrested for throwing his lot in with the royalists and trying to persuade the town to do the same.

George Skutt was a brewer and ran a trading business with his two eldest sons ‘consisting of parts of shipping adventures at sea’. He also owned property in Grey’s Inn Lane, Middlesex, land at Sterte, a farm at Thickfurzes (Heckford), a cellar (store), brewhouse and two dwelling houses in Poole. In his will of 1653, George left his houses to his eldest son, William and his other property to his second son, George. The rest of his 6 sons and 5 daughters each received sums of money ranging from £100 to £500.

William Skutt had been captain of the local volunteers during the civil war and retained his military title of colonel after the war. A tax assessment of 1662 shows Col. Skutt’s ‘mansion house and brewhouse’ as the most valuable property in the town. It is not surprising, therefore that when King Charles II visited Poole on 15th September 1665, he was entertained at this house (in spite of its owner having been a leading local apponent of the King’s father).

King Charles II

After having lunch at the house of Peter Hiley (see a previous post on this blog), the party took ‘Colonel William Skutt’s boat to Brownsea, steered by the said Colonel and rowed by six masters of ships’. When they returned to the Quay, the King and his entourage walked up High Street to Skutt’s house ‘the sheriff going before and the Mayor and Edward Man, Senior Bailiff bearing their maces before him’. There they enjoyed a ‘stately banquet’ and the king ‘was pleased there and then to nominate and appoint the said colonel for the future mayor of Poole’. When the king left, however, in a shower of compliments and good will, the Corporation quickly reversed this appointment in case it infringed their rights to appoint the mayor themselves! H. P. Smith identified the room where the banquet probably took place in what was by the 1950s, part of the Grosvenor Dining Rooms.

The probably scene of the banquet, 300 years on

Over the next century, the property passed to Allen Skutt and then Benjamin Skutt, William’s grandson. Eventually Benjamin sold it to John Watkinson of Ringwood, a mercer (or cloth dealer) and in 1764, his heirs sold it to Thomas Jubber. In the indenture of sale, the property was described as ‘all that capital messuage or tenement called the Priory with the garden yard or backside thereto belonging, situate and being in High Street in Poole’. To the west of the property was a house occupied by Peter Street while the house to the east and an ‘old house’ and void piece of ground to the north had all belonged to Benjamin Skutt and were now owned by Thomas Jubber.

The property under Norton, Ironmonger

Sometime in the early 19th century, the property was extensively altered and the National Provincial Bank  was built, replacing the houses next door. In 1841, the premises seem to have been occupied by a pastry cook, Samuel Simper and in 1861 by the corn dealer, Edwin T.W. Oakley. By 1871, it had been taken over by the master ironmonger, George S. Norton, employing 2 boys.

In 1881, the property was occupied by Walter James Bacon, described as an engineer and ironmonger employing 10 men and five girls. He came originally from Ipswich and his wife Alice from Barking. The couple had 6 children ranging in age from 18-year-old Frank who was an assistant in the business to 2-year-old twins, Charles and Percy. Judging by the birthplaces of the children, the family had moved about a lot before coming to Poole. Here, however, they were to settle and build up a very successful business.

By 1885, they were listed in directories as ‘Walter J. Bacon & Co. Wholesale and retail ironmongers and water fitters’ with premises in Poole and Bournemouth. Walter Bacon became a borough magistrate and helped to found the Bournemouth and District Ironmongers Association, a society to promote the mutual benefit of the trade.

In 1897, the premises was damaged in an accident involving a horse and trap. Between 6 and 7 o’clock in the morning, a young man was driving a trap around the corn market and up and down the High Street to try out the horse’s paces (an early form of joy riding?). When the trap’s wheel dipped into the gutter, the driver was thrown out and the horse crashed through the plate glass window of Bacon’s shop, badly injuring its legs. The driver was taken into James Marshall’s shop and revived by Dr Turner. The terrified horse, a valuable animal said to be worth £160, had to be destroyed.

Bacon's shop

Bacon's shop

Around the turn of the century, Walter Bacon took a partner and the business became Bacon & Curtis Ltd. When gas lighting and heating and later electric power came available, the business evolved to become ‘electrical, mechanical and hot water engineers, wholesale and retail ironmongers, gas-fitters and plumbers’. The company was one of the first subscribers to the telephone system, having the number Poole 4. They also took advantage of the growth of Longfleet by opening a branch at 162 High Street.

Walter Bacon died in 1905 aged 70 but the business continued for another 60+ years until 1972 when the old building was finally demolished. During the demolition, some remaining ancient timbers were revealed in the building and No 46 next door. It was replaced by the modern block known as Latimer House.

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About Poole High Street Project

Contact: Jenny Oliver - j.oliver48@btinternet.com
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3 Responses to Monks, merchants, kings and gas fitters

  1. Goosey says:

    Really interesting post, I have been trying to find out about the Skutt family recently and this has all I wanted to know.

    • To Goosey

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. The Skutt family seems to have been in Poole from at least the 16th century and were very important and wealthy in the 17th. There is probably a lot more information about them at the Poole History Centre, and actually a portrait (of sorts) of Benjamin Skutt on the side of the Harbour Office on Poole Quay.

      Regards

      Jenny

      Jenny Oliver Reading & Learning Librarian Central Library Dolphin Centre Poole BH15 1QE tel: 01202 262434 e-mail: j.oliver@poole.gov.uk My working days are Tuesday to Thursday

  2. Nick bacon says:

    Very interesting article. I have learned a little about the old family business

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