Dorset Architectural Heritage Week - Poole Museums

16 November 2023

On Saturday 16 September, three guided tours of Poole Museum and Scaplen’s Court were conducted for the public, as part of the annual Dorset Architectural Heritage Week.   

 It was an important event, as the Museum had been closed for some months, prior to the commencement of major improvements.  It allowed access to some spaces previously not open to the public. 

DAWH 16.09.23  (1)

The tours were led by Poole Museum’s Project Manager Alison Smith, and David Watkins the History Centre Manager, with two representatives from Greendale Construction, the contractor’s appointed for Phase 2 of the Museum’s ambitious improvement works also on hand to cast light on the changes being made to the buildings during closure.  The tour covered the adjoining Town Cellars, the Sarum Street lock-up, Oakley’s Mill and nearby Scaplen’s Court. 

Exterior improvements already completed in Phase 1 include new roofs for Oakley’s Mill and the Town Cellars, improved insulation, and PV tiles with along with replacement (and additional) windows and doors. these will help bring down the running costs of the buildings, and in addition, much-needed replacement of rainwater goods, collectively improving the rooflines and elevations of these two buildings.    

The medieval Town Cellars (or Wool Hall) is a Grade 1-listed building, one of the longest of its type remaining in Western Europe. 

David pointed out the difference in the build of the north wall (picture below left) and the south wall, (picture below right). The un-coursed rubble, north wall is dated to around 1300 and the coursed Purbeck limestone south wall to a century later. So, some event necessitated the rebuilding of the southern wall.

One candidate is the 1405 raid by Spanish and French galleys led by Don Pero Nino of which we have a Spanish account that describes the destruction of buildings on the Quay.

North wall, Sarum Street
South wall, Paridise Street

The account also mentions the Poole pirate Harry Paye, scourge of the Spanish Main and some local historians have said that revenge on Paye’s raids was the reason behind the Spanish/French expedition, however, Poole was just one of many places along the south coast that was raided. 

The original interior proportions of the Town Cellar were to be reinstated.  The floor would be raised to its original level, the mezzanine floor and its lift removed, and the Local History Centre relocated to Oakley’s Mill.

Visitors could once again enjoy an uninterrupted interior view, showcasing both its full expanse and its roof timbers.  David remarked that a well-preserved ship’s timbers of the period would be displayed under the Town Cellar’s remarkable roof structure (similar to a ship’s hull).

DAWH 16.09.23  (2)

The attached Sarum Street structure, (lock-up), built from limestone ashlar with a slate roof, and so easily overlooked, was an overnight lock-up erected in 1820, once called ‘the Salisbury’.  It has an iron ceiling, presumably to prevent prisoners from breaking out. A small interpretation plaque would be erected as part of the improvements.  

During Phase 1 restoration work of Oakley’s Mill, a brick was uncovered revealing that parts of it were pre-nineteenth century, predating its designation as a Victorian grain store and mill.  Three differing bands of brickwork show how it had been repeatedly enlarged.  Its size is evidence of the importance of the grain trade in Poole of yesteryear and its enormous internal beams characteristic of structures built for storage

Phase 2 improvements would allow an additional floor of the central space to be open from the ground floor – three stories in all.  Originally it would have been open to the top (fifth) floor, grain moved up and down on gravity-pulleys.  Much of the internal divisions on the ground floor would be removed, and a new and larger wheelchair accessible lift would replace the old lift – (almost a heritage feature itself)!    

Scaplen’s Court is a medieval Grade 1-listed building, most notably, formerly the house of a Poole merchant and later the George Inn.  Architectural highlights featured in the tour included a stretch of wattle and daub wall, a kitchen fireplace, and the former living arrangements in the building.   

 The partially uncovered wattle and daub would be preserved and protected by barriers, becoming a feature of the new enlarged café and seating area. A view from the café of the garden would also be created.  

DAHW 16.09.23 Scaplen's Court wattle and daub wall

The incorporation of the large kitchen fireplace (probably within the George Inn) marked an early architectural innovation – this would have been too hazardous previously.  It reputedly, contains a rare centuries-old water boiler.  Accessing the upstairs via a ladder, and not providing heating (no hearths and fireplaces) in servants quarters seem incredible to us so much later in history.   

All three tours were well attended.  All questions asked by curious visitors were ably answered by their guides.  Imagine: in two years the same tour will be of a transformed Museum complex!  Make sure you don’t miss the tours.