The History of Poole

Poole harbour then & now

Poole harbour has many strings to its tourism ‘bow’- the shops, walks, views, nature reserves, beaches and sailing…in fact Poole is an incredible hive of activity, especially in the summer months (or ‘silly season’ as the locals know it!). A brief examination of local knowledge in the area gives the indication that Poole indeed is, and always has been, a popular destination for outsiders and weary travellers alike.


The Romans were among the first to successfully invade Poole Harbour and used it as a supply line for their invasion of Dorset in AD43. (Although archaeological findings suggest that human occupation of the harbour began as early as 295 BC!). It took the Saxon forces 400 years to reestablish their territory from the Romans and consequently a lot of places in and around Poole bear Saxon names (i.e. Wareham, Upton and indeed, Poole itself!). Poole was the subject of many a conquering force and was plundered and looted by the Danish fleet up until 876- Alfred the Great put an end to that!


Unfortunately not much changed for the residents of Poole. Pirates terrorised the locals in the 15th century, and relished in raiding the Kings cellars on the quay (which held their contraband- mainly brandy and tobacco). Harry Paye (commander of the Cinque ports fleet and privateer) who today is celebrated locally by the naming of the ‘Old Harry Rocks’ and also the annual ‘Harry Paye day’, is much loved by the locals and was considered a hero in the 15th Century. Harry Paye sailed to Spain and France and looted the towns there- burning churches and villages to the ground. Needless to say, they soon grew tired of his antics and France sent a fleet to attack Poole and kill Harry.


In Harry’s absence they killed his brother, and the town was completely ransacked! The men of Poole eventually drove the attacking fleet out of the harbour and were rewarded for their bravery when Harry got his revenge two years later by capturing 120 French ships (with all the cargo the vessels were carrying.) Although a favourite of the locals, Harry was not a favourite of the customs officers. Local knowledge records that one particular battle resulted in the channel between Brownsea and Furzy Island, running red with blood - denoted by the name ''Blood Alley’. This was thought to be no more than local legend until clam fisherman recovered hundreds of musket balls.

The harbour also played a vital part during the war effort by housing a Royal Navy Cordite factory on Holton Heath. Consequently all the islands took a lot of hits during the war in the German bombers attempts to hit the factory. Long Island (one of the 5 islands in Poole harbour) was sacrificed to friendly fire, and used as target practice - bombed from the mainland. Even today the harbour is still the proud home the Royal Marines aquatic training facility - known during the war period as HMS TURTLE, and the marines are regularly seen bombing about (legally!) above the 10-knot speed limit!


Today the hive of activity is VERY different. With the vast amount of upmarket new shops opening, Poole embraces a different kind of clientel to the pirates of the 15th Century! The town quay remains the busiest part of Poole. ‘Sunseekers’ empire has been steadily expanding on Poole Quay - and the production line of this incredible industry can be witnessed from the town quay wall. The luxury motorboat production has ensured that many locals have employment in these uncertain times and has helped to stabilise the local economy. Besides this, Sunseekers also brings some fantastic vessels into the harbour.


The quay is also occupied by passenger boats (who have been operating on the quay for the past 30 years), and these take people to; Brownsea Island, Sandbanks, Wareham, Swanage, Bournemouth and Jurassic Coast. Unfortunately, due to the town quay getting busier with passenger boats, navy ships, tall ships, etc. it is unable to house as many visiting yachts as it has in the past, disgruntled yachtsman are regularly heard shouting, “In the ‘good old days’ the quay could accommodate up to 140 yachts on a busy Saturday!” Now, it can accommodate approximately 24.
This is where the introduction of Poole Boat Haven is an important
asset to the town quay.


The boat haven was built in 2001, and is a visitor’s marina, operating up to 125 berths - ranging from dinghy’s to 35-meter motor cruisers and tall ships, invites ANYONE to come and enjoy Poole’s unique history!


The marina also boasts, on-shore power to all pontoons, and access to fresh water and showers. These facilities are something that the old town quay struggled to provide. The marina is constantly busy in the summer months, with throngs of bedraggled sailors wanting shelter from our lovely ‘liquid sunshine’- so the friendly staff at the haven welcome booking in advance. However, they will do their best to accommodate late bookings… as long as you’re not a pirate!!!


Lucy Perry