One of the areas which I always have trouble recognising from old photographs is High Street Longfleet between the railway crossing and the George Hotel, an area which changed totally with the building of the George roundabout and the Dolphin Centre not to mention the bus station. There have been various posts on this blog about this bit of High Street including ‘Life before the Arndale’, ‘Research into 181 High Street’ and ‘Now and Then: the Port Mahon Castle Inn’. However this is a basic guide – and I hope it doesn’t confuse anyone even more!
Way back, from the mid 15th century onwards, Poole and Longfleet were separated by the defensive town ditch which cut across what is now Falkland Square, in front of Argos. By the early 18th century, the ditch was silted up or filled in but wheeled vehicles still had to exit the town via Towngate Street. Pedestrians could walk through a turnstile at the top of High Street (located in the middle of Falkland Square) and out into the Ladies’ Walking Field (Kingland Crescent / bus station area) but they had to cross a ropewalk which operated across the High Street.
It was not until the early 19th century that High Street was extended into Longfleet as a proper road for vehicles. The ropewalk was relocated to one side of the new road and houses and villas were built for people who wanted to move out of the crowded and none too healthy old town. As the suburbs spread further, many of the original houses nearest to the town were converted into shops. Then in 1874, the railway was built, creating a new partial barrier between Poole and Longfleet.
By 1911, High Street Longfleet was a well developed commercial community with over 50 shops or other businesses between the crossing and the George. Besides the usual traders – grocers, butchers, bakers, confectioners, tobacconists, fishmongers, ironmongers and outfitters, there were 5 hotels, 2 refreshment rooms, a post office and 2 hairdressers. Traditional trades such as blacksmith, saddler, brass finisher and mason were represented as well as modern ones like photographer and cycle supplier. There was also a dye works, a rope works and a laundry.
Taking a walk from the railway to the George the first landmark is of course the crossing. Although the footbridge is the same (just raised), the barriers are automatic instead of being operated by a railway employee, the train when it arrives is electric instead of pouring out steam and smuts and the waiting crowd is made up of pedestrians instead of vehicles. Just beyond the crossing on the right where the Cornish Bakehouse now stands, used to be the entrance to the Longfleet rope works owned at one time by Alfred Balston, mayor of Poole in 1876 and 1877. Three of his daughters married three sons of Jesse Carter, the founder of what became Poole Pottery.
Beyond the rope works was the White House Laundry which employed a bevy of women. In the 1930s, the Hants and Dorset bus company needed a terminus north of the railway to avoid the frequent delays at the crossing. They acquired the laundry site and built a ‘bus roadway’ between High Street and Kingland Road as a terminus for buses on the Bournemouth route. Now this is the pedestrianised Kingland Crescent. Beyond the laundry the old shops followed more or less the same line as the present Falkland Square shops from Argos to Marks and Spencer’s. No 181, (around the site of 3 phone shop) was converted into the Longfleet Congregational Church and in 1911, became the Poole Electric Theatre. This was shut in 1926 when the Regent Theatre opened. Beyond was the curio shop of Thomas Joyner, an interesting character and subject of another post on this blog.
Above the railway crossing on the left hand side was a row of shops leading up to the junction with Towngate Street. These included a boot maker, greengrocer, hairdresser and Frederick Cann’s confectionery shop with the Ansty Arms on the corner, opposite the Electric Theatre. The site of the pub is now in the middle of Falkland Square. After the junction, High Street continued on the same line as the present shops with the Rainbow Dye Works, a branch of Bacon and Curtis, ironmongers and Frank Holmes’ Temperence Hotel. This became quite an important hotel in the town and the building survived well into the 1980s as the Dolphin Hotel before the present shops (Waterstones, Monsoon etc.) were built.
Entering the Dolphin Centre and looking straight ahead we are looking up the line of the old High Street. On the right (Marks and Spencer’s) were Caleb Snook’s stationer’s shop and post office and Burden’s grocers and bakers, separated by the narrow side street Longfleet Place. Burden’s were proud of their hygienic bakery, making ‘superior machine made bread’ and many people remember the shop with its delicious smell of roasting coffee beans. Further along were a greengrocer, watch-maker, chemist and a branch of J. A. Hawkes, the boot and shoe-maker.
On the left was the old Port Mahon Castle Inn (BHS) and a series of small shops, a tobacconist’s, a coffee house and Frank and Ralph King’s cycle shop with Edwin Swyer’s blacksmith’s forge and Bailey & Beamont, pork butchers where Primark now stands. In 1926, the Regent Theatre was built on the site of the forge and its neighbouring properties. The splendid new theatre, covered with white Carter’s tiles, could seat 1000 people. Change overtook this area when the Arndale Centre was built. In the first stage, the south east side of the street was demolished, including Snooks and Burdens. In the next stage, the north west side disappeared, meaning the end of the Port Mahon Castle and the Regent.
At the far side of the Dolphin Centre, the High Street emerges into the open air in front of what is now the George roundabout. This was always a wide open space where the High Street split into two, the Wimborne Road going off to the left and the Ringwood Road to the right. On the right hand side of the road was the Blandford Arms, opened as a public house around 1873. At the junction of the roads, as now, was the George Inn. The original George dated from about 1823 and was rebuilt in the 1920s. In front of it was the toll house which once controlled the toll gates across the two turnpike roads. The gates were removed in the 1860s and the toll house demolished at the time of the rebuilding of the George. When bus services came in from the late 1920s, the George was a major bus terminus. The site of the toll house was occupied by a small traffic island and during the war an indicator was set up there during War Savings Weeks to show how fundraising was progressing. The creation of the roundabout and the bus station and the realignment of the roads means that the only remaining landmark in the area is the George itself.
Whether this has made anything clearer, I don’t know! I think it has been useful for me to pin down exactly where certain buildings were.