CHAPTER III. POOLE, WIMBORNE AND THE ISLE OF PURBECK

The South of England generally is wanting in that particular scenic charm that consists of broad stretches of inland water backed by high country. The first sight of Poole harbour with the long range of the Purbeck Hills in the distance will come as a delightful revelation to those who are new to this district. The harbour is almost land-locked and the sea is not in visual evidence away from the extremely narrow entrance between Bournemouth and Studland. A fine excursion for good pedestrians can be made by following the sandy shore until the ferry across the opening is reached and then continuing to Studland and over Ballard Down to Swanage.

Poole town is a busy place of small extent but containing for its size a large population. The enormous development of industry in the surrounding districts during the Great War must have brought the number of folks in and around Poole to nearly 100,000, thus making it the most populous corner of Dorset. This figure may not be maintained, but a good proportion of the work concerned with the waste of armaments has been transformed into the commerce of peace. One cause for the modern prosperity of this old town is its position as regards the converging railways from the west and north as well as from London and Weymouth.

Poole, like a good many other places with as much or as little cause, has been claimed as a Roman station. There seems to be no direct evidence for this. The first actual records of the town are dated 1248, when William de Longespee gave it its first charter. This Norman held the manor of Canford, and Poole church was originally a chapel of ease for that parish. The present building only dates from 1820 and for the period is a presentable enough copy of the Perpendicular style. Poole was a republican town in the Civil War and sent its levies to help to reduce Corfe Castle. The revenge of the other side came when, at the Restoration, all the town defences were destroyed, though the king was not too unforgetful to refuse the hospitality of the citizens during the Great Plague.

The only remarkable relics in Poole are the Wool House or "Town Cellar" and an old postern dating from about 1460. The Town Hall, with its double flight of winding steps and quaint high porch was built in 1761. Within, as a commemoration of the visit recorded above, is a presentment of the monarch who must have had "a way with him," since his subjects' memories apparently became as short as his own.

But Poole's most stirring times were in the days when Harry Page, licensed buccaneer and pirate, made individual war on Spain to such good purpose that the natives of Poole were astounded one morning to see upwards of one hundred foreign vessels dotted about the waters of the harbour, prizes taken by the redoubtable "Arripay," as his captives termed him. Nothing flying the Spanish flag in the Channel seemed to escape him, until matters at last became so humiliating that the might of both countries was brought to bear on Poole, and the town underwent a severe chastisement, in which Page's brother was killed. This spirit of warlike enterprise descended to the great grandchildren of these Elizabethans, for in Poole church is a monument to one Joliffe, captain of the hoy Sea Adventurer, who, in the days of Dutch William, drove ashore and captured a French privateer. In the following year another bold seaman, William Thompson, with but one man and a cabin-boy to help him, took a Cherbourg privateer and its crew of sixteen. Both these heroes received a gold chain and medal from the King. Another generation, and the town was fighting its own masters over the question of "free imports." In spite of the usually accepted fact that smuggling can only prosper in secret, Poole became a sort of headquarters for all that considerable trade that found in the nooks and crannies of the Dorset coast safe warehouses and a natural cellarage. So bold did the fraternity become that in 1747, when a large cargo of tea had been seized by the crown authorities and placed for safe keeping in the Customs House, the free traders overpowered all resistance and triumphantly retrieved their booty, or shall we say, their property? and took it surrounded by a well-armed escort to various receivers in the remoter parts of the wild country north-west of Wimborne. The leaders of this attack were afterwards found to be members of a famous Sussex band and the incident led to tragedy. An informer named Chater, of Fordingbridge, and an excise officer - William Calley - were on their way to lay an information, when they were seized by a number of smugglers and cruelly done to death. For this six men suffered the full penalty and three others were hanged for the work done at Poole.