High Street Dig

Some of the demolished properties

Some of the demolished properties

There have been very few excavations in High Street but one took place in the mid 1970s on the south east side of the corn market. In the 1960s, Nos. 39 to 57 High Street consisted of a row of shops including Cullen’s Stores, a hairdresser, a shoe repairer, Morris’s greengrocers and Sattele’s tobacconist shop. According to the inspectors of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, the buildings had been built as houses in the 17th and 18th centuries and much altered over the years. One of them stood on the site of an earlier house belonging to the merchant and businessman, Peter Hiley who entertained King Charles II to lunch there in 1665, (as mentioned more than a few times on this blog!). A plaque with the details of the visit was on display on the wall of the later building. According to the historian Joseph Moore writing in 1788, the house was then occupied by Thomas Young Bird, a mercer (cloth merchant) and draper.

In the mid 1960s, this row of shops and the buildings behind them in Castle Street were demolished as part of the clearance programme in the old town. It was planned to build a block of offices there with a car park at the back, and in the 1970s, a rescue excavation was carried out in advance of construction. In fact in the latter part of the dig, the buildings were going up as the diggers were still going down! It was a rare chance to investigate the older history of part of High Street.

The dig in progress

The dig in progress

The dig proved that the area had been inhabited from at least the 13th century, the earliest traces being medieval ditches and pits containing fragments of pottery dating from 13th to 15th centuries. There were also the substantial foundations of several stone buildings with hearths and cellars which pre-dated the demolished buildings on the site. These 15th or 16th century houses were built with their long sides to the street, suggesting that space was plentiful along the main street at the time. In the complex of buildings behind High Street there were also several wells, 12 to 15 feet deep, containing water that was still pure and drinkable.

Dutch cockerel dish

Dutch cockerel dish


The site produced a rich collection of finds including lots of local and imported pottery. Besides medieval cooking pots, jugs, pancheons and pottingers there were German Bellamine jars, Dutch cockerel dishes and bowls from Spain and Venice. One pit contained a mass of clay pipes ranging in date from 1630 to 1835 but mostly from the late 17th to early 18th century. Smoking, of course, was a favourite pastime from the date of the introduction of tobacco, and clay pipes were easily broken and highly disposable. There were also lots of hefty glass bottles and fragments of delicate drinking glasses.

All sorts of individual finds hinted at the lives of the people who lived there over the centuries, scraps of leather shoes, iron keys, a child’s wooden spinning top, the handle of a fan, buckles, a spur. It is intriguing to think that a few of the objects may have belonged to Peter Hiley or Thomas Young Bird.



About Poole High Street Project

Contact: Jenny Oliver - j.oliver48@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to High Street Dig

  1. Andrew Hawkes says:

    I took part in those digs one project I took on was to dig out one of the wells, the top part was mostly bricks stones and general rubbish then we got to the middle part where the well had ceased to be a well and had become a cess pit this was mostly easy digging with the occasional chamber pot with a broken handle which we suspected that broke off by energetic empting, on one occasion I was splashed by the dirt and got a mouthful! And was very ill for the next week but luckily soon recovered. When we reached the bottom of the well it was a large flat rock on a bed of sand presumably a filter of sorts I lifted the rock and underneath was some green leaves which looked very much like mint, but by the time they reached the surface they had lost its green colour and turned brown. Once we had cleared all the dirt the water ran clear and fresh. Well water in Poole was fresh and free of salt because the water pressure in the ground was higher pressure than the seawater trying to get in. Well water became unsafe to use when the population increased and the greater number of cesspits contaminated the clean water.
    Andrew Hawkes

  2. mike roberts-butler says:

    this is what I fear about the Fracking process too.

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