As the most eye-catching and iconic building in High Street, Beech Hurst has cropped up quite a few times on this blog but surprisingly never as the main feature. For over 200 years it has presented its imposing façade to shoppers and passers-by as a testimony in bricks and mortar to Poole’s age of trading wealth.
It was built in 1798 by Samuel Rolls, Newfoundland merchant who was one of the main heirs of the White family, Quaker merchants and astute businessmen involved in the Newfoundland salt cod trade. Joseph White died in 1771, leaving a reputed fortune of £150,000, the equivalent of millions today. The ultimate beneficiary of the bulk of his estate was his nephew, Samuel White who died in 1797, leaving his money, business, ships and property in Poole, Newfoundland and elsewhere to his nephews, Samuel Rolls, John Rolls and Samuel Vallis and his great nephew, Samuel White junior. It was on the strength of this legacy, plus his own wealth that Samuel Rolls built his grand mansion.
The site was on the corner of High Street and Lagland Street, backing on to the swampy area of Pitwines. It was one of the few ‘green field’ sites left on High Street since the expansion of the built up area during the 18th century. Samuel leased the land from Sir John Webb, the Lord of the Manor of Canford and was negotiating to buy an adjoining field on which he had built a coach-house when Sir John died. The house was originally known as ‘White’s Place’, perhaps as a reference to the White family or for other historical reasons.
Its design was imposing and deceptively simple: a symmetrical façade of 5 bays with the central 3 bays set slightly forward and topped with a triangular pediment bearing the Rolls coat of arms. The windows diminished in size from the ground floor to the second floor, giving an exaggerated sense of height. The central windows were more elaborate in design than the outer ones, drawing the eye to the centre and particularly to the entrance and semi circular porch with its 4 columns, set six feet above the ground at the top of a flight of steps. Everything about the design said that somebody very important lived there! Inside a central staircase, lit by a skylight, rose through three floors. Like most of the Poole mansions, the house had a large cellar which could be used for storage of particularly valuable goods.
Samuel Rolls only lived there for 11 years before he died in 1809. He left the house to his wife Amey for her life and after her death in trust for his 2 unmarried daughters, Amey and Sophia, with provision for his married daughters, Sarah and Dove. In fact it was Dove who came to live there with her husband, Isaac Steele. By the first census of 1841, the occupants of the house were the next generation of Steeles, Jonathan, Isaac junior and Anne and their 5 servants. Although not the eldest, Isaac was the head of the household. He was active in Poole politics, becoming a Poole alderman and was involved with St. James’ church. Anne married in 1850 but Isaac and Jonathan remained bachelors and continued to live in the house until the 1860s, Jonathan dying in 1861 and Isaac in 1866.
The High Street was becoming increasingly commercial and less desirable for private residents. The 1871 census shows the property occupied by John Viant, a solicitor. Later it was apparently taken over by Dr. Alfred Crabb who died in 1875. By 1881, Philip E. L. Budge, another solicitor had established himself there. Meanwhile, the area around the house was changing rapidly. In 1874, the coming of the railway had brought noise and traffic, smoke and smuts. In 1887, the new public library was built on part of the grounds of the house, (although it could still boast quite a large leafy garden).
Philip Budge and his wife, Mina were to live in Beech Hurst for 30 years with their family of six children. Philip became increasingly involved in public affairs, serving on many public boards and committees. He was also Mayor of Poole in 1889, 1890 and 1895 and welcomed the Prince of Wales when he visited the town to open Poole Park in 1890. His second son, William followed in his footsteps and trained as a solicitor. Around 1909, Philip Budge retired from his practice and moved out of Beech Hurst to the suburbs. He died in 1915, still active on several boards and as Deputy Registrar of the County Court. At the time of his death, all four of his sons were serving in the forces. His eldest son, Hubert Lionel, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Scots was killed on the Somme in the following year and another son, Philip Prideaux Budge D.S.O. of the Royal Field Artillery was killed in France in 1918.
Beech Hurst was taken over by the Bournemouth Gas and Water Company as their office and showrooms. It was a time when gas heating and lighting were starting to impact on people’s lives in a big way and the company was eager to publicise the advantages of a hot bath without having to light the kitchen fire and the joys of a gas stove. The gas company was to occupy the premises for the next 60 years. In the late 1920s they built a new circular showroom alongside the old house in a modern style but with references to the past. The side wall of brick and stone and the classical columns echoed the design of Beech Hurst but the curving glass walls were startlingly contemporary. The company also reclaimed some of the marshy land at the rear of the property and built a gas works there. A few years after the war, the company was incorporated into the Southern Gas Board, Western Division.
Beech Hurst outlived its neighbour, the gas works. In the late 1960s it was briefly Tracy’s (Southampton) Ltd. house furnishers. Then it became the office of Philip E. Jacobs and Co., solicitors. Today, 40 years later it is still the offices of solicitors Jacobs and Reeves. The gas showroom is now Café Nero and works very well in that role.
Jenny – with thanks for research by Christine Ballantine