In the early 18th century the old George Inn (now known as Scaplen’s Court) was home to an unusual and talented poet. Henry Price was born in London in 1702 and came to Poole when his father took over the George as innkeeper and brewer. An excellent classical scholar, Henry went to Christ Church, Oxford (surely unusual for a provincial innkeeper’s son?) and then started a career as a naval officer. In 1733, he married Mary Stagg and they had four children, all born in Poole.
Leaving the navy, he became a tide waiter in the customs service in Poole, inspecting incoming ships. Meanwhile he was writing poems on all sorts of subjects and translating poems from Greek, Latin and French. Some of his translations appeared in magazines in the 1730s which may have encouraged him to publish his ‘Poems on Several Subjects By a Land-Waiter in the Port of Poole’ in 1741. Whatever opinion was held locally about his poems, the list of local subscribers for his book was impressive and included some of the leading names in the town, Barfoot, Durrell, Linthorne, Lester, Olive, Phippard, Spurrier, Thompson, Taverner and Vallis and others, as well as notables from nearby towns.
He was a friend of William Knapp, the local parish clerk and hymn writer and wrote the following lines on the publication of Knapp’s first hymn book:
‘Long as the Sun’s enliv’ning Glories shine / So long shall last this deathless Work of thine / And future Worlds with one Consent agree / Where’er they sing of God, to mention thee.’
He could also write about his friend in a far less elevated style, perhaps as a result of being rebuked by Knapp and the sexton, George Savage for having a fit of hiccoughs in church (or so the story goes):
‘From pounce and paper, ink and pen, Save me, 0 Lord, I pray; /From Pope, and Swift, and such-like men, And Cibber’s annual lay. / From doctor’s bills and lawyer’s fees, From ague, gout and trap; / And, what is ten times worse than these, George Savage and Will Knapp.‘
Henry Price was a heavy drinker which may have been why he gave up the customs service and became a school teacher at Richard Corpe’s free school in Poole. He died in 1750 at the early age of 48. Having composed epitaphs for many worthies of Poole, mostly now lost, he also wrote his own: ‘Here lies the greatest of sinners, the least of the poets.’ The record of his burial in St. James’ church register on uniquely gives his profession: Henry Price. A Poet.