Explore Poole's beautiful Old Town just behind the Quay and head off along the Cockle Trail. You'll find a selection of fascinating museums housed in old medieval buildings around the Old Town. Poole Quay is a centre for tourist attractions, featuring striking tall and varied buildings which retain the historic character of a seventeenth century port. Visit the welcome centre on Poole Quay for useful guides and information including a Cockle Trail leaflet guiding you around the Old Town.
The Old Town is everything you'd expect from a seventeenth century seaport. You can just imagine the Red Coats running through the windy streets searching out smugglers and their booty! In fact the Custom House was the scene of an attack by smugglers in 1747 after a cargo of smuggled tea was seized. Sixty armed smugglers broke into the Custom House and made off with the contraband. Several of them were later tracked down and hanged. The Old Town has medieval roots, but was largely remodelled during the Georgian period by the wealthy Newfoundland merchants that settled here. Their trade was based on salt cod caught in Newfoundland and exported to Mediterranean countries from where olive oil, wine and salt was brought back to Poole. Several of their grand homes still stand behind the original wrought iron gates such as West End House. Its baroque decoration includes urns and pineapples at the top of the facade which were symbols of the wealth of the Newfoundland traders. This house was built for John Slade and then later was home to the Carter family who founded Poole Pottery.
Poole is famously the home of Poole Pottery which has produced a huge array of ranges from late Victorian through Art Nouveau and Art Deco and Modernism. The pottery started in the 19th century when the Carter family bought a derelict pottery on the site of today's pottery on Poole Quay. The clay from which pots were made came from an area north of the town and being located so close to the harbour made it an excellent choice for exporting his goods. At this time Poole Pottery was renowned for tiling and mosaic products.
It wasn't until the nineteenth century under the management of Charles and Owen Carter with the help of the Head of the Design Department, James Radley Young, that Poole Pottery developed its distinctive style. By the 1920s and 1930s collaborations with designers and artists outside the family led to the production of a wider range of domestic items distinctive for their bright decoration in a variety of styles. Some of the ranges were named after local places such as Studland and Purbeck. Still going strong today, Poole Pottery designs have a distinctive earthy feel with a variety of patterns ranging from elegant, virtually all black to vibrant, sunny colour schemes. All are hand painted and range from traditional to contemporary designs. You can visit the Poole Pottery Studio and see the modellers and artists at work as well as having a go yourself! There is also a factory shop that stocks Poole Pottery, including the Cats and Dolphins range which is only available through the Poole shop, as well as a range of other gifts, clothing and shoes.
The free entry Poole Museum sits close to the Quay. This contemporary building in the heart of the Old Town houses a range of themed galleries looking at boats and trade, the development of the port and town, the beginnings of the Harbour, Poole clay as well as how people lived worked and played. The star exhibit is the Iron Age long boat discovered off Brownsea Island in 1964. The museum features some stylish public spaces including a terrace and visitor lounge giving you panoramic vistas over Poole Harbour and Old Town.
Attached to the Museum is the Local History Centre in the medieval Town Cellars. This is a must for those researching local history or wanting to consult the archives. Just across the road from the museum is Scalpens Court, a medieval town house. This former merchant's house has been restored and has a walled garden and central courtyard. It is the most complete medieval domestic building in Poole. School children use it as a learning centre with its Victorian school room, pharmacy, toy room, kitchen and scullery.