Five miles of England's best beaches dominate Poole, which is truly a beautiful place. It gives its name to Poole Harbour, which is possibly the largest natural harbour in the world. Although I suspect that the residents of Sydney, Australia may well disagree. Within it is Brownsea Island, now owned by the National Trust, but at the turn of the century, the birthplace of the Scouting movement founded by Baden-Powell. Poole is a major port, with cross-channel ferry links to France.
Poole developed as a port as Wareham declined due to silting in the river. As ships became larger and with the development of the wool trade, Poole's deep-water harbour became more suitable. Thus from the 13th century Poole became a port and fishing town. In 1406 Poole was raided by the French in retaliation for the exploits of the local privateer or pirate, (depending on your nationality), Henry Page. Despite this set back, by 1433 Poole had exceeded Weymouth in size to become the largest Port in Dorset.
Poole's importance declined with the Wool trade, but was saved by the Newfoundland trade. This was a three-cornered route whereby ships went out to Newfoundland loaded with salt and provisions, brought salt fish back to the Mediterranean countries and finally came home with wine, olive oil and dried fruits. From the beginning of the 17th century Poole was one of the main ports of the this trade. This trade declined in the early 19th century. The port was once again saved from decline when from the 1890's the growth of Bournemouth as a resort stimulated coastal trade at Poole with the import of building materials and so on for the new town.
Unlike Weymouth, Lyme Regis and Swanage, Poole did not become a resort in the 18th or 19th centuries, but Rockley Sands, Canford Cliffs and Sandbanks, (all now parts of Poole), are now resorts. Canford and Branksome Park developed as garden suburbs of Poole from the 1880's. All around Poole was barren heath land now covered with suburbs including Hamworthy, which was developed only after the first swing bridge was built across the harbour in 1835, (the current bridge dates from 1927), and Upton which developed even later.
Poole's older buildings suffered greatly between 1950 and 1972 when over half of the buildings built before 1850 were demolished, many of them were Georgian town houses of great charm. This act of vandalism was finally recognised and in 1975 part of the town centre was declared a conservation zone and demolition halted within it. This area is now a smart mixture of new house and flats, interspersed with renovated Georgian buildings.
St. James Church was totally rebuilt in 1820 on a large scale. Although the reasons for rebuilding the church have been lost in the mists of time it may well have been connected with the discovery of open coffins beneath the church floor which gave rise to some very unpleasant smells. Rebuilt during the later years of the Newfoundland trade its supporting pillars are unusually made from wood. These pine pillars are said to have been felled in Newfoundland for the masts of ships and were originally covered with plaster and painted to resemble stone. The church contains the mahogany and gilt rerados of 1736 which came from the earlier church.
Ever since the development of Bournemouth in the 19th century an intense rivalry has developed between the two towns and it is the amusing situations which best reflect the jealousies between Poole and Bournemouth.
Bournemouth, with health giving pine trees and an orchestra frequently broadcasting over international networks, became a world famous resort and the city fathers of Poole developed an inferiority complex, claiming that Poole was far more important than young Bournemouth. Further anger was caused when many Branksome residents started naming Bournemouth in their correspondence. The last straw was the Branksome Towers Hotelís insistence in their advertising that they were in Bournemouth.
The publicity officer at Poole was under constant pressure to keep writing to newspaper editors informing them that Branksome was in Poole. Poole had no need to feel inferior because she has become the fastest expanding Borough in the country and her population will soon overtake that of Bournemouth. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra now has its home in Poole.
This town pride in ancient charters (the first was granted in 1248 by William de Longespee) is nurtured by the Society of Poole Men. They regularly beat the land and sea bounds of the Borough. County Gates at Westbourne was one of their boundary points. They read their charter loudly so that the Bournemouth people on the other side of the road would hear it. When the authorities tore up the road at County Gates, making it unrecognizable with a large roundabout which served as an island home for an insurance company, the Society of Poole Men became perplexed, because they could not find the exact spot on which the boundary stone stood. It was an anti-climax when they found they had to carry out their ceremony in the center of the island car park belonging to the new office block.
Another amusing story concerns the boundary with Bournemouth. Before the Second World War, the aged Duke of Connaught spent an annual holiday at the Branksome Towers Hotel. Each day he descended to the sea front with his aide for a constitutional walk along the promenade. In those days the publicity committee of Bournemouth Council were generous to Press photographers, giving handsome bonuses for pictures mentioning Bournemouth which appeared in the national newspapers. So the cameramen used to wait on the Bournemouth side of the boundary for the Duke and could then truthfully say that he was holiday making in Bournemouth.