Sunday, 10 October 2010

Poole Old Town

The Guildhall

Not everybody knows that Poole has a wonderful Old Town, but this walk, which can be downloaded from the Poole Tourism site, shows that it does. Alternatively, you can pick up a nice leaflet from the Welcome Centre on Poole Quay.

The walk starts rather prosaically by the bus shelter on the site of the old Fish Shambles (fish market) on Poole Quay. This is opposite the point where the Brownsea Island ferries depart - the location for yesterday's walk.

You walk along the quay past the 19th century Henning's Wharf (the big white building in the photo below), past the green tiled Poole Arms, parts of which are early 17th century. The tiles were made by Carter's of Poole, the forerunner of Poole Pottery.

Further on is the blue Portsmouth Hoy pub, where we later had an enjoyable lunch. A bit further along the quay you come to the fine Customs House, now a cafe-bar. This dates from 1813, but was a rebuilding of an earlier structure which burned down. Pevsner observes that it is clearly modelled on the Guildhall (see above).

The Custom House is flanked to the left by the splendid Town Cellars, a 15th century stone building which was apparently once 120 ft long.

And opposite the Custom House, completing a delightful group, is the one-time Harbour Office of 1822, now the local base of the Coastguard. On the right side wall is a cheerful relief of the bewigged mayor of 1727, one Benjamin Skutt.

Here you turn right along Thames Street, where you can see a lean-to stone structure adjoining the back of the Town Cellar. This is the former Poole Gaol, whose iron ceiling was designed to prevent escape. You really would not want to have been confined there - confined clearly being the operative word.

Further up Thames St you come to the Mansion House, a fine later 18th century merchant's house, which illustrates how some people in Poole grew rich on the triangular trade with Newfoundland and the Iberian peninsula.

Pevsner is rather sniffy about it: "the attempt to impress is rather naive". It seems to have weathered pretty well however. It has been a hotel for many years and is now the rather inviting Hotel du Vin.

Thames St leads into the delightful St James's Precinct, a Georgian Square surrounding the parish church. The church itself dates from 1819, but perhaps the nicest building in the square is West End House, which Pevsner says may date from as early as 1716.

You emerge into Church St and turn left to soon reach the St George's Almhouses, which date from before 1429 (Pevsner again). They could only be almshouses.

Church Street gives way to the narrow and characterful Market St, with the Guildhall coming into view at the end. It was built in 1761 and has a delightful double staircase which led up to the council chamber. It is now the Register Office, as evidenced by the confetti on the ground at the front.

The official route now turns right and then right again into the High Street. We turned left however along the part of the High Street which leads towards the unlovely 1960s central precinct and shopping mall. Immediately on the right is one single magnificent Victorian facade, sadly decayed but still wonderful. The right hand bust seems to be the Queen herself.

At the end there is an interesting little group of buildings. On the left is Beech Hurst built in 1798. Pevsner describes it as a "really magniloquent merchant's house". What a great word! Lazily googling it, I find's definition: "in a lofty or grandiose style; pompous". bombastic; boastful." Seems about right.

I rather like the curved Cafe Nero building as well. Nearby, in Lagland St is the red brick former Library, now a pub.

We traced our steps back down the High St and completed the walk which ends at the Poole Museum.

Conditions: surprisingly warm and sunny.

Distance: probably only a mile and half.

Rating: 4 stars. Wonderfully interesting and varied. Well done to the Borough of Poole for an excellent route and guide.

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