From the time of Elizabeth I, each parish in the country was responsible for supporting its own poor inhabitants, so long as they were considered genuinely needy and not just idle. The wealthier citizens of the town were taxed to provide funds for relief in the form of basic shelter, food and clothing, and sometimes workhouses were built to house the most vulnerable poor. In 18thcentury Poole, some of the able-bodied poor were employed by Mr John Darby in making nets and ropes, as mentioned in a lease from 1700. In the 1740s, a workhouse ‘for housing the poor on parish relief’ was built in West Street at the cost of £400, the cost being shared between William Sherring and George Weston, merchants of the town.
As part of my research on the 18th century High Street, I have been looking at the lists of people eligible to pay the poor relief tax, known as the Church and Marshalsea Rate. The first existing list seems to be from 1751 and there is a new list every couple of years up to the 1780s. As the lists are arranged by street, they provide a record of the High Street inhabitants of the time – or most of them. I can see how the different properties are rated and pick out the wealthiest citizens. From the descriptions of the properties, I can tell whether they have a bakehouse or a garden or cellars attached. I can also see how the houses and shops change hands over the years as people die or move away.
The question is – who lives where? With no numbering, it is difficult to tell, but logic suggests that the properties are listed in a geographical order to make the list easier to manage. Armed with the list for 1751 and Sir Peter Thompson’s map of the same date, I decided to use the properties I did recognise to see if they seemed to be in a particular order. This was the result:
After some properties described as closes, gardens and tenements, the first house I can pinpoint is Mr John Master’s house, shown on the map at what is now Nos. 113 to 109, Volcano, Thompson Travel and Quicksilver. In the mid 18th century, this was one of the most important High Street houses. After a few more properties, is Mr William Barfoot’s mansion house, now No.87, Ma’s Pizza restaurant. Valued at £14 a year, this was the highest rated house in the street. The Bull Head Inn, now No. 75 is listed closely after, followed by ‘Hiley’s Orchard’ a group of properties probably just off the High Street in Old Orchard. A few properties later are the tenements, bake house and close owned by the widow of Urban Skinner, a possible link with Skinner’s Alley shown on the 1751 map. This has since been swept away by building of New Orchard and Old Orchard across the town.
The next page of properties is devoid of landmarks until we come to the King’s Arms, occupied in 1751 by John Oldmeadow. Today this is the Spotted Cow on the corner of the Quay. A few properties further on is the Old George, home to John Scaplen, the widow Durell and John Harrison and now known as Scaplen’s Court, followed by the Antelope, run by the widow Stanley, one building whose name has not changed. A page of properties later is the tenement owned by Benjamin Skutt, probably on the site of the present Latimer House in the corn market. John Fricker’s two tenements may correspond with Fricker’s Alley on the 1751 map (again swept away by new Orchard) and the next property of interest is Bowling Green House, which probably gave its name to Bowling Green Alley. Lastly, John Carter’s tenements were perhaps in the area of the present Carter’s Lane.
Some of these links and identifications are more definite than others but the evidence strongly suggests that the list was geographically arranged. It started in the upper High Street near Pitwines and came down one side (now the odds side) of the street to the Quay and then returned up the other side. The importance of this is that it means that we can tentatively locate other premises and people using the ‘landmark’ properties. For instance, the house belonging to the important merchant Samuel White is listed shortly after the Antelope and was probably one of the old Tudor mansions, No. 10, 12 or 14 High Street. The White Bear, an inn about which we know very little, seems to be in the vicinity of Carter’s Lane, and William Knapp, the hymn writer, probably lived in lower High Street, somewhere near the present Grand Parade.
There’s a lot more research to do on the 18th century High Street residents. What did they do for a living? What was their story? Nevertheless, the Church and Marshalsea Rate provides an interesting start. You can see the first few years of the Rate for yourself by logging on to Poole History Online at www.poolehistory.org.uk and searching for HSH or Marshalsea. (HSH stands for High Street History and includes other High Street resources).