Hard Hat Tour of Poole Museum and Scaplen's Court

22 February 2024
Poole Museum, Oakley's Mill Feburary 2024


Even the day’s downpours couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Alison Smith, Poole Museum’s Project Manager and Jacqui Arnold, Museum Collections and Engagements Officer, as they led RNLI staff on a hard hat tour of the Museum complex, explaining building renovations, outlining future exhibitions and celebrating funding arrangements and collaborations secured or under discussion from local, regional and national bodies.

Accessibility within the Museum complex would be much improved with an enlarged lift in the Museum and a new lift in Scaplen’s Court, the installation of new accessible toilets and all floors uniformly level throughout. New flooring would be a variety of natural stone, timber and Marmoleum.

Brighter modern lighting and new environmental and energy efficiency measures would improve the visitor experience and protect exhibits. A host of new interpretation boards, signage and audio-visual displays would complement exhibits, some of them hands-on.

Our tour started at the top of the building to avoid parts of the site that were inaccessible due to building activity.

Oakley’s Mill

5th Floor

The floor is much brighter and more welcoming since enlarged dormer and Velux windows were fitted. Some are newly opened shuttered window spaces, giving better views of the Old Town and the Quay.

The, as yet, unnamed, the floor would become a multi-functional community space, available for hire, equipped with a projector and screen, catering for a variety of groups and activities. The themes of exploration and adventure would be reflected in some fittings, such as the rowing boat overhead in the rafters and the pirate’s cabin, mast and rigging.

5th Floor in Oakley's Mill - Poole Museum

4th Floor

This floor has been opened-up, adding a whole new floor to the museum experience - a ‘white box’ gallery, a temporary exhibition space.

It was hoped to book the first of a series of art exhibitions for its inaugural opening continuing the pattern of popular touring exhibitions which had captured the public imagination in recent years.

4th Floor Oakley's Mill Poole Museum - Gallery

3rd Floor

“We expect this floor to be a flexible and dynamic space”, Alison enthused. “In good weather the roof terrace could also be used for public events.”

It would house an enlarged ceramics gallery, at its core the Poole Pottery collection, which has always been a major visitor attraction. Complementary temporary displays would feature related themes.

Depending on the outcome of funding bids, exciting initiatives, such as a potter’s studio, an artist-in-residence and other exciting opportunities for public participation were under discussion, potentially with the support of local potters and artists. Continuing collaborations with one or both of Bournemouth’s universities were also a possibility.

3rd Floor Oakley's Mill Poole Museum view across the rooftops from roof terrace.

2nd Floor

The central 'well’ – historically through-floor haulage when it had been a working Victorian grain mill – had been expanded by one more storey, stretching now from the ground-floor to the second floor. It opens new views from above and below enticing visitors to explore further for longer.

Two new attractions would be a glass-fronted collections lab in one corner, allowing behind-the-scenes viewings of Museum collection and conservation work, and a glass-fronted ‘hub’, the former Poole History Centre.

26.3.24 1st floor OM (9)

The latter would be spread over the 1st and 2nd floor. It would highlight how research undertaken by staff and volunteers had been used to support the Museum’s objectives and specific exhibits. A reading room would contain the Museum library and archive, hosted a local history librarian and the base for research. Some elements would be self-service, others might include programmed activities, such as workshops. It would also be the base for the Museum’s oral history project.

1st Floor

The third of three maritime history exhibitions would be located here, covering four main themes: ‘Setting Sail’ (life on board ship in previous centuries); ‘Sail and Navigation’ (showcasing past and present forms of navigation); ‘Fears and Foes’, (stories, myths and legends of pirates and smuggling, with many interactive exhibits for children); and International Trade (including historical trading links between Newfoundland and Poole). An interactive screen would display detailed research undertaken by staff and volunteers, such as shipping movements in and out of Poole Quay in centuries past.

As the ‘Shipwreck’ Gallery, the second of three galleries, it would house the centre pieces of the Museum’s maritime heritage: the Swash Channel wreck’s rudder mast; objects from the World War 1 wreck, the Kiara; the Studland Bay Wreck and the Mortar Wreck.  The last is the oldest ship (c. 1250-1260) but the most recently discovered marine archaeology.  If all goes to plan, an underfloor digital interactive would allow visitors to watch video of the undersea recovery of large Purbeck stone grave slabs (not yet recovered), as if looking through a glass-bottomed boat.  

The Recreation and Leisure section would include artefacts loaned from the RNLI’s own museum collection. RNLI staff attending the tour said, “We’re so pleased that some of our historic objects, currently stored behind the scenes in the RNLI, will be on public display within Poole Museum in future." Exhibits would tell the story of RNLI crews, Poole’s 1865 lifeboat station and the Institute’s relocation to Poole in the 1970s. Visitors would be signposted between each institution, potentially increasing the footfall to both.

The large sculptural artwork, echoing core themes within the Museum, rises from the ground floor through the ‘well’ up to the second floor.


Ground Floor

The second of three galleries, Harbour Life, would feature exhibitions about The Development of Poole (including a tactile map of the harbour); Trade and Extraction Industries (about the exploitation of the area’s many natural resources); Poole’s Maritime Industries (boat building and chandlery supplies too); Military Poole, (the Poole Harbour flying boats and military activities during both World Wars); Fish and Ecology (including historic and current ecological and sustainability issues); and a Birds of Poole Harbour sponsored exhibition (featuring the historic reintroduction of osprey and the protection of the harbour’s bird species).

To generate greater interest and more income, the Museum shop was being redesigned by specialist shopfitters. Attractive new displays would contain a wider range of goods, some of which might be produced by local artists and makers, many reflecting iconic Museum exhibits.

26.3.24 g.floor OM (5)

The Wool Hall (aka the Town Cellars)

“Within the Museum complex”, said Alison, “the Wool Hall has undergone the greatest transformation. After decanting the History Centre’s library, removing its fixtures and fittings and demolishing the lift and mezzanine floor, its scale had reappeared. Gangs of stonemasons have replaced crumbling stonework and repointed the walls with vast amounts of lime mortar. The quality of its restoration is exceptional.”

Its poor condition prompted funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to properly conserve the Grade 1-listed building, helping to attract grants for other elements of the Museum’s transformation.

November 2023 Wool Hall Poole Museum
DAWH 16.09.23  (2)
February 2024 Wool Hall Poole Museum

Scaplen’s Court

Hazarding the heavy rain, the party walked across to Scaplen’s Court to continue the tour. On re-opening, it would match the Museum’s opening hours. The paving between them would be re-laid to signal the connection to each other.

Most of the building conservation work had already been done, including repointing interior walls. Additional funding had recently been identified to repoint the rear exterior walls too. Below-floor ducts for improved lighting and other services had been installed. Purbeck-stone window ledges would be laid in newly conserved and re glazed windows.

SCG RAMP 26.2.24

“Nothing energises a building quite like a welcoming café,” said Alison. “We can imagine Scaplen’s Court buzzing with activity.” The building’s 1986 bay window would shortly be replaced with a newly designed entrance, opening into a welcome area and beyond it to a much-enlarged Museum café. One of its two connecting rooms would have a new entrance to Scaplen’s Garden.

New food preparation facilities for catering were planned for the ground floor, integral to plans to attract more visitors and for public/private events, boosting Museum income.

In the rain, the garden was looking rather drab. The clipped box hedges had been dug out recently, due to a box caterpillar infestation. New patterned paving there would create an attractive circulation area. The gazebo would be repainted, new benches fitted, fresh planting installed. Its season for public access would be extended. Interpretation boards, a garden trail and a colourful guidebook were also planned, and gardening workshops will be provided.


Watch out for further updates on the Museum’s transformation, as it progresses towards its 2025 grand reopening.