While researching the history of High Street, one important source impossible to overlook is John Sydenham’s History of the Town and County of Poole published in 1839. The Poole and Dorset Herald (first issue 1846) and the short lived Poole Pilot are also treasure troves of countless articles, adverts and editorials. All three can be attributed to the Moore and Sydenham families and have their roots in Poole High Street.
Joseph Moore was a stationer, bookseller and printer on the High Street from the late 1700s. He also sold lottery tickets (‘Moore’s Lucky Lottery Office’), dispensed patent medicines, ran a circulating library and acted as an agent for information about sales and other events. John Sydenham, originally from Devon, was one of his employees and also a relation as he later referred to Moore as his uncle. In 1805, Sydenham married Moore’s daughter, Elizabeth and eventually became his business partner. Besides running the business, John was active in local affairs as a Freemason, a churchwarden and Overseer of the Poor. He was also involved in organising the 1814 peace celebrations after Napoleon’s abdication and was a trustee for the rebuilding of St. James’ church in the 1820s.
In 1819, Joseph Moore died at the age of 83. John Sydenham and Joseph Moore junior put a notice in the Journal that ‘the printing, bookselling and stationery business, carried on by him for upwards of half a century . . . will be continued by them on the same premises, High-street, Poole.’ These premises were in the vicinity of what is now No. 63, on the corner of Old Orchard. The area has been much altered by the widening of Old Ochard, but The Royal Commission volume on Poole describes Nos. 63 and 65 as having been built as one house in the 17th century with rear wings added in the 18th century.
The Sydenhams had 8 children of whom 4 died quite young. The oldest surviving son, John junior, went to school in Poole and was trained in the business which by now included journalism; Moore’s acted as local correspondants of the Salisbury and Winchester Journal. In 1825, Moore and Sydenham announced their intention of publishing a Poole newspaper to be called ‘The Poole and Dorsetshire Herald’, but this did not materialise. The owners of the Dorset Chronicle probably feared the competition because they seem to have done a deal by which Moore and Sydenham became part owners of the Chronicle instead. John Sydenham junior worked on the Chronicle as a journalist and in 1829 (aged 22), he became editor.
John junior was a man of many talents, interests and activities, in spite of suffering bouts of ill health through asthma. As a journalist, he was deeply involved in the issues of the day, including parliamentary reform. He was interested in antiquities, being an early member of the British Archaeological Society, and published two books on local archaeological sites. He was also a keen local historian and began researching and writing his history of Poole at this time. In 1833, he married Anna Christiana Zilwood and they had 3 children, John Zilwood, Anne and Mary. The History of the Town and County of Poole was published in 1839 and is still a vital source of detailed information on Poole’s past. It covers a remarkable range of topics, maritime, municipal, social, church and natural history and has been used by all later Poole historians including H. P. Smith.
In 1842, John Sydenham senior sold his interest in the Chronicle and his son left to work on the West Kent Guardian for a while before returning to Poole in 1846 to prepare for the launch of the Poole and Dorsetshire Herald. John Sydenham senior was to be the proprietor and his son, the editor. The first edition came out on 9th April 1846, giving Poole at last a truly local voice. Sadly, John junior died only a few months later at the age of only 39.
After his son’s death, John senior, who was now in his 60s, felt unable to continue with the newspaper and sold out to an employee, William Mate. He continued with his stationery and bookselling business and in the 1851 census is described as a printer employing 4 men. His youngest son, Richard (described as a bookseller) was still living with him and working in the business. Later, Richard Sydenham went to London to gain experience in journalism, returning in 1860. In 1864, John Sydenham died at the age of 81, having survived his son John junior by 18 years. Richard joined his elder brother David working in the business as ‘book and music seller, stationer, binder, printer and account book manufacturer, publisher of guides, maps and views of the district, circulating library and depot for the Christian Knowledge Society’.
The Poole and Dorset Herald in the meantime had established its place reporting on the tangled affairs of the town in the mid 19th century. In the 1861 census, William Mate was living in lower High Street, probably at Nos. 12 / 14 with his wife and 7 children. He is described as a bookseller and printer employing 7 men, 3 boys 10 apprentices and 3 female apprentices. His partner, James Tribett lived next door with his 2 children. This building later became known for a while as the Herald building.
This was a bad time for Poole, when bitter political divisions more or less paralyzed the town. According to Richard Sydenham, ‘Poole had been allowed to move along the dreary road to ruin, in order that members of the ‘cliques’ and their relations might batten on the public purse.’ Richard thought that the Herald had become too bland and uncritical and decided to publish his own monthly magazine of news, comment and criticism, the Poole Pilot. He promised that the Pilot would ‘devote itself to all that is good and true and . . . will be found the determined enemy of all that is base and false.’ The newspaper was launched in 1867 and ran only until 1869 but during this time it certainly stirred things up. The paper attacked many things that Richard saw as abuses, – stagnation, corruption, in-fighting and the activities of such leaders as Charles Waring, railway contractor and M.P. for Poole whose schemes he saw as a way of growing rich on the losses of local people.
In 1869, the Pilot closed having made its mark and won both friends and enemies. After this, Richard concentrated on the family business. The Herald continued well into the 20th century reporting local news.
Sources – Census returns / John Sydenham the Author (Poole Historical Trust 1986) / Salisbury and Winchester Journal