The Dolphin Centre: the beginnings

In 1957 radical discussions began about opening a covered in shopping centre in Poole.  In 1963 companies were invited to offer draft schemes to develop a shopping centre and the Council selected the scheme from the Arndale Property Trust.  The ambitious project commenced in March 1967 when the Mayor of Poole, Alderman Ron Hart, dug the first turf.  This was the beginning of transforming the Ladies Walking Field into a modern shopping centre and bus terminus.

Eventually the scheme became even more ambitious and alongside the development of a 13 acre site at the top of High Street, proposals for new road layouts, a roundabout and pedestrian crossing were added.

The Arndale Centre was declared open by the Mayor of Poole, Alderman Lloyd-Allen at 10:30am on 1st July 1969 and he stated that “as Mayor of this town I am proud to be associated with the project.”

The Arndale Centre

This major development must have had an impact on High Street traders.  The arrival of supermarkets to High Streets had already diminished the traders in the 1950s, as the local food shops were soon put out of business.  When the Arndale Centre opened the supermarkets soon relocated to the more substantial premises and left almost no food shops on High Street.  This was a complete contrast to how the street would have been a hundred years previously, as in 1871 there had been the choice of over fifteen places to buy food.

An article in the Bournemouth Evening Echo from January 1982 was titled “Arndale ‘Threat to High Street Traders’”.  It discussed how at the time an expansion to the Centre- phase 2B would leave even more empty premises in High Street.  It claimed that “already a number of traders are closing down in the High Street, because the majority of shoppers use the Arndale Centre.”  Traders like Mr Judge and Mr Goff feared that their shops would be swallowed up by the development, however although they were worried about competition they were both willing to redevelop their shops. 

Another article from January 1982 portrays a different perspective.  In “The Last Piece in Poole Jigsaw” a report of a public enquiry stated “The completion of the Arndale Centre would bring stability and reinvestment to the High Street.” 

Wooden animal in the Arndale Centre

Despite a public enquiry, objections and impassioned speeches from the general public; “my arguments were backed by a gut reaction to try and stop what I, and many like myself see as the ruin of a place we know and love.” (2B or not 2B Ledger de la Bald, Coaster, Feb 1982), phase 2B was given the go ahead.  This meant that landmarks, such as the Ansty Arms would disappear, but 11 new shops, two stores and a car park would be created.  Additionally the new shops would be built around the newly created Falklands Square, the name chosen to commemorate the role of Poole people in that campaign.

In March 1984 the final stage of the development was topped out.  “This is history in the making for the town.  Poole is a wonderful town and it is gratifying to see the way it is developing.”  The Mayor Cllr Roger Buss stated at the official topping out ceremony.  Mr Ron Jennings, the deputy chairman of the developers, Town and Country Properties, filled in the highest point of the development and underneath the concrete buried a time capsule containing coins, documents and a copy of the Daily Telegraph.  He declared that the project had been a tremendous achievement. 

View from the top of the Arndale phase 2 just after completion. Taken by Paul Dowding

Looking back through all the newspapers and reports suggests that debate and differing opinions surrounded the development of what we now call the Dolphin Centre.  Do you have any memories of this time?  How did the centre change your shopping experience, if at all?  We would love to know what you think.


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4 Responses to The Dolphin Centre: the beginnings

  1. One abiding memory of that public enquiry (my first ever article for Coaster) was an altercation between the gentleman who owned the garden centre next to The Ansty and officials from the council. The gentleman in question was not only angry that his business was going to be pulled down, but also his home. The council insisted that there was no dwelling on the site. So there was an adjournment in the proceedings so the government inspector could go into town and see for himself. There was indeed a very prominent house which the gentleman and his family lived in and which the council had failed to notice when drawing up their plans. This one incident seemed to sum up the whole enquiry-it was a farce. Ledger de la Bald

  2. Kim Tilsed says:

    I was only twelve when the Arndale opened, but the main thing I remember was that it had a supermarket – Sainsbury’s – which was open on Saturdays. This was quite a radical step at that time, and it seemed perfectly understandable to me that it would only need to be open until 4pm on a Saturday, and that as it was open on Saturdays it would not open on Mondays – presumably to give the staff a weekend. Tuesdays to Fridays were, I think, 9 to 5:30.

    In my early teens we used to go into Poole on a Saturday and wander about the Arndale; I used to buy clothes in Van Allan and Richards in the centre and in Etam just outside. At that time Dorothy Perkins was a small shop for older ladies; I think it was just outside the centre and I remember it as being more like an old-fashioned haberdasher’s. It was quite a surprise when it suddenly became a fashion shop for teenagers. My friends and I would finish looking in the clothes shops and then go for ice-cream at “Forties” (Forte) just outside the centre. This was the time of pearly pink lipstick and thickly-applied bright blue eyeshadow whatever your colouring. These lazy and sociable Saturday mornings stopped when I was fifteen and started my Saturday job in Woolworths.

  3. Sheila Danks says:

    I don’t understand why they had to build a phase 2 of the Arndale Centre. Why pull down the old Dolphin Hotel, and the old houses that led up to the train gates. If you take a look at Falkland Square these days, it’s in a bit of a mess. OK, the market is held there etc, but half the shops are closed and the walk through that takes you to the train station is, and has been, an invitation for any handbag grabber. The Anstey Arms had character – look at what has replaced it. A concrete block of square faceless so called shops. They are mostly mobile phone shops, interspersed with a few other shops. Seats are provided to take a break but unless you want to be bothered by a pigeon or kids running around, don’t sit down. The small shops in Towngate Street were full of character, the book shop being the best. Despite a train crossing being situated in Towngate Street, there were no square faceless plain concrete blocks to look at. Even the replacement of the old swing gates in the High Street are missed, although I do agree the present ones are safer. I remember the old steam trains going through Poole, the bell would sound to warn people of the approaching train, swing barriers would close with an almighty crash and kids would try and make it to the other side. They made one almighty klunk when the gates met showing the whole world the red circle signs. There are too many clothing shops in the Arndale (sorry, Dolphin) Centre. You can buy anything that’s run of the mill but try and buy something that’s different or unusual and your attempt will be unsuccessful. Also, what a waste of money having a sports centre that nobody can use. Madness!! Pull the whole centre and bus station down.!! The bus station is a disgrace to Poole. It’s filthy, the toilets are a disgrace to mankind, cigarette butts greet your eyes if you look down to the pavement, kids are there everyday standing on the corners, annoying people with their incessant racket, elderly people are ignored and pushed aside – but to be fair this isn’t just Poole. What about Barclays Bank?? I remember before they started building it a little old lady refused to move from her terraced house and stood her ground with the planners. The cranes that were on site shattered the roof and ruined part of the house. The old lady had lived there all her life. I remember the old blue painted Unique Stores before they moved to what is now known as the Real China. The original blue shop was bulldozed to make way for the Bank.

  4. Gustavo says:

    Many thanks for writing this great idea

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