This photograph, full of fantastic details, shows the relaying of the tram lines just before the First World War in High Street, Longfleet. A queue of horses and carts is forming a traffic jam as they wait to squeeze past the road works. Can you spot the two girls with old fashioned prams, the dog at its ease on a pile of sacks on the back of the cart, the postman who has stopped to observe the scene and the workman’s bicycle propped up in a shallow trench?
In the distance on the left hand side is the Ansty Arms public house on the corner of High Street (curving off to the left) and Towngate Street (to the right). The shop in the left foreground is Burden’s, Grocers and Wine and Spirit Merchants. On the right hand side of the street is the Port Mahon Castle Hotel and a number of small shops including two tobacconists, one run by Miss Alice Lily Davis and the other (with the blind) by Edward J. Brown.
In the last 200 years, this area of the High Street has twice changed beyond recognition. Before the 19th century, the High Street stopped short in the vicinity of the present railway crossing (the line of the old town ditch and wall). Beyond the ditch, old maps show a few cottages, one of which might have later become the Port Mahon. In the late 17th century, the towngate and walls were demolished and the town ditch largely filled in, but Towngate Street remained the main route out of town. In 1708, during the War of the Spanish Succession, British forces took St Phillip’s castle at Port Mahon on the island of Minorca, inspiring a few pub names across the country including this one in Poole. Sir Peter Thompson’s 1751 map of Poole shows the Port Mahon standing in solitary splendour just outside the town, looking out on the waters of the remaining portion of the ditch. Beyond here was the thinly inhabited rural area of Longfleet.
A few years later when the roads were made into turnpikes, the Poole turnpike gate was located on Towngate Street and the High Street ended at a stile. It was not until the growth of population in the first two decades of the 19th century that the well-to-do began to build their villas outside the town and Longfleet started to change its character. The High Street was extended northwards, incorporating the Port Mahon in a row of houses. In the next few decades, many of these houses were converted into shops to serve the expanding Longfleet community which grew from a population of 504 in 1801 to 4,159 in 1901.
Burden’s was established in the 1850s and continued in business for 100 years with their own ‘model steam bakery’. Many people remember the shop with its enticing smell of freshly roasted coffee. Next door, on the other side of a small side street called Longfleet Place, was the shop of Caleb Tom Snook, described in the 1891 census as a ‘picture dealer and local Wesleyan preacher’. The business continued into the early 1950s under Snook’s son, Caleb Ewart Snook, as a stationers, picture framers and sub post office. In the mid 1950s it was taken over by John E. Hartnell. On the other side of Burden’s was Kingland Road and then King’s Cycle shop from whose upper window the first picture was probably taken. Later, the Longfleet post office was located here.
Across the road, the shops on either side of the Port Mahon Castle were occupied at different time through the 1800s by a grocer, a harness maker, a painter and decorator and a fruiterer before becoming tobacconists which they remained until the 1950s. The Port Mahon itself was an inn from at least the 18th century and was listed in several 19th century directories. In 1871, the innkeeper of the Port Mahon, John Lacey, also worked as a builder, employing three men and two boys. In the 1920s one end of the building was demolished to add an extension on quite a different scale from the original old building.
It was from the 1960s that the area was destined once again to undergo a massive change with the construction of the first phase of the Arndale Centre. After a century of trading, Burden’s was swept away with the other shops on the eastern side of the road and replaced by Marks and Spencer, Beales and other stores. The new the shopping mall was roughly in line with the vanished Longfleet Place and a large gas main which ran between Burden’s and Snook’s had to be reinforced for the building of Marks and Spencer’s. The areial view shows the High Street crossing the railway and running up to the George roundabout with the shopping centre on one side and Towngate Street and the old shops (including the Port Mahon) on the other.
In the 1970s, the next phase of development, meant the end of the old buildings including the Port Mahon castle whose site was occupied by Tesco’s (now BHS and neighbouring shops). Today the site of the old inn is virtually unrecognisable as no landmarks remain. The only link with the past is the Longfleet post office, still more or less on the same site as the old post office, and the custom of keeping the mall open at night along the route of the old High Street.