Only about twenty years after the construction of the flamboyant mansion, Beech Hurst, another large house was built nearby which later became known as Ivy House. It was built by the Quaker merchant and businessman, George Penney after his marriage in 1817 to Sarah Horne. The couple moved in shortly before the birth of their first child in 1818. In comparison to its eye-catching neighbour, Ivy House was plainer in style, a narrow house of three storeys and cellars with semi-circular headed windows on the ground floor.
George’s father George senior had risen from serving as a sailor on the Newfoundland ships to being a shipowner, coal merchant and agent for the clay trade. By the time he died in 1805, George senior had amassed a business and estate worth £4,800 according to his inventory. His property included a farm at Creekmoor, the brig Mary, ketch Betsy half of the ship Hope and the hull of a new sloop Perserverance. His death was very sudden. He was found dead in the road near his farm at Creekmoor having apparently suffered an apoplectic fit. His widow Katherine continued to run the business for a few months until articles of association were drawn up to bring her son into partnership.
George junior was only 21 when he succeeded so suddenly to the business and he always considered himself rather deficient in business skills as a result. The times were difficult with the long war against Napoleon still raging. This was emphasised when the Mary (value £1,100) was captured by the enemy in 1806. However the business survived the transition and George was doing well enough by 1817 to embark on the building of his new house in the fashionable Parade part of the High Street.
George and Sarah’s marriage was a one of ‘harmony and cordiality’ and they had nine children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. One of their pleasures was sailing their yacht Ann in the harbour. George was a Quaker and a regular attender at meetings of the Friends. According to a later account of his daughters ‘he was a decided Friend but not a strict one. He attended the Friend’s meeting all his life. He was rather tall and handsome – a perfect gentleman and Christian, thoroughly true and honourable and very kind-hearted.’
It was a description which might have been disputed by some of his political opponents. It was a time of bitter political division in Poole and George Penney was a leading member of the Poole reform party, taking a stance against the long established power of the Tories. He and some of his fellow Quakers took part in an act of civil disobedience over a period of 20 years by refusing to pay the Church Rate. This had been established by Act of Parliament in the early 1820s to pay off the debts incurred in taking down and rebuilding the Church of St. James and its tower. Penney and the others of course, did not worship at St. James and between 1821 and 1843 they refused to pay the rate (amounting to only a few pounds) and also failed to appear in court to answer the complaint of the church wardens of St. James. Penney was a member of the Corporation from 1830 and played a key role during the in-fighting which surrounded the introduction of Parliamentary and municipal reform. (The story of this turbulent period can be found in John Hillier’s Ebb-Tide at Poole.) In 1838 he was invited to be a magistrate and in 1840, he became the first liberal mayor of the town. During his year in office, he was reputed to keep the mayoral regalia packed up under his bed.
Towards the end of his life, George Penney suffered from what was described at the time as ‘tic-doloureux’, an intense pain in the back of his head and across his shoulders. A medical report gives a description of him as being 5ft. 9ins tall, ‘rather stout made but not much flesh’, pale in complexion and mild in disposition ‘but is rendered irritable & nervous from pains’. Today we might wonder whether his condition was the result of a violent fall from his horse at the age of 22 when he struck the back of his head hard.
George Penney died in 1853 at the age of 69 and Sarah died three years later, surrounded by her family. Their eldest son, George Robert continued the business and set up a passenger boat service between Poole and Swanage. With his brother, Robert Horne Penney, he also established a tug boat in Poole Harbour, the Royal Albert. He was also a J.P. and a member of the Council until retiring in 1880. George Robert was cared for by his three spinster sisters, Catherine, Elizabeth and Mary and it must have been a major upset to the family when he married Emily Wanhill in 1882, being then in his 60s. He died without having any children. The three Penney sisters lived in Ivy House all their lives. They followed the family tradition in attending Quaker meetings but later became members of the Skinner Street Congregational Church. They were also very interested in education and held classes for women and girls in Ivy House for many years. All three were in their 80s when they died, Catherine in 1902, Mary in 1910 and Elizabeth in 1913.
By the time of the death of Elizabeth, there were few purely residential properties left in High Street. Ivy House was soon adapted for use as a doctor’s surgery, first by Dr. John Olivey, physician and surgeon, Hon. Surgeon to the Cornelia Hospital and Medical Officer and Public Vaccinator to two districts of the Poole Union. He was succeeded by Dr. Noel Adeney, Dr. Norman Hatfield and others. During the war, the house was damaged by bombs which partly destroyed the surgery at the back. By 1955, the premises had been taken over by the Westminster Bank and today it still houses the Nat West. In fact for a High Street property, the building has seen remarkably few changes of use in its 204 years of existence.
Sources included: My Ancestors by Norman Penney 1920, Ebb-Tide at Poole by John Hillier / census returns and street directories. Thanks to Roger Hopkins for improving the photographs of the Penneys.