Creation of a new town by the seaside at the beginning of the 20th century

Did your family move to another part of the country during the late 19th or early 20th century?  As the middle class increased in numbers and wealth, there were many professionals or tradesmen who could afford to give up their business in the cities and retire to a quieter place. Frequently they chose an expanding town by the seaside.

West Pier, Brighton 1905
Originally made popular in the mid-18th century when sea-bathing and drinking of its water were recommended as a cure-all, in Victorian times it was believed that the bracing sea air was ideal for those suffering from respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis as a result of living in smoke-filled cities.  In consequence, in Bournemouth an “Invalids’ Walk” was laid out, connecting the town centre to the pier, which still remains today.

My grandparents, who were both the youngest of their family, accompanied their parents to Bournemouth during their teens, on the retirement of their fathers.  Bournemouth had been a sparsely populated area until the 1840s when Augustus Granville included the new town in the next volume of his popular book on the Spas of England.  Once the railway was connected to the town in 1870, high quality villas and elegant hotels were built and the population rose from 1,707 in 1861 to 37,000 in 1891 and 60,000 by 1900.

The postcards of Bournemouth in my Grandmother’s collection, record that initially her mother rented a house in the town for several weeks before deciding that she and her youngest daughter should retire there after the sudden death of her husband in the busy wharfs of Rotherhithe where he had been a barge builder. My great grandmother continued to live with her youngest daughter for the rest of her life, even after her daughter’s marriage.

My grandmother continued to exchange postcards with her friends in Rotherhithe, showing the beautiful surroundings of Bournemouth but also missing her theatre visits in London.  However she enjoyed the musical house parties and church functions, where she met my grandfather who, while training as an architect at Bournemouth Municipal School of Art, was living with his father, retired Chief Constable of Kings Lynn.  Two years after they settled in Bournemouth my grandfather’s mother and sister died but a few years later his father married a widow whom he had met in the drawing rooms of Bournemouth.

There were in fact many opportunities for entertainment in the expanding town.  In 1885 a bandstand was opened on the pier, designed by Eugenius Birch, which had been completed five years earlier.  In the summer, military bands would perform concerts three times a day in the bandstand and as there were covered shelters they also performed twice a day in winter.  The Bournemouth Symphony orchestra was established in 1893 and was conducted on occasions by Elgar, Sibelius and Holst.

In Boscombe, which attracted the wealthiest residents and holidaymakers, during the early 1890s, terraces of shops, the Salisbury Hotel, the Royal Arcade, and the Grand Theatre were built.  The famous actor, Henry Irving brought his company to the Grand Theatre for three nights, performing four different plays which filled the auditorium.  The Grand Theatre was renamed the Boscombe Hippodrome after refitting with furnishings from His Majesty’s Theatre in London.  At this point its range of shows widened to include Music Hall entertainment.  An alternative venue was the Winter Gardens’ Theatre built in 1876.  Between the theatres it was possible to see Gilbert and Sullivan light operas, West End musical comedies and Drury Lane society dramas.

In 1865, John Sydenham, one of the proprietors of The Poole Herald, who had established the Royal Marine Library moved it to Pier Approach, Bournemouth. There were reading rooms containing newspapers and magazines and it was possible to borrow books for a small subscription. Refreshments, stationary and sheet music were also available.

On a more practical note, in February 1877 the Royal Boscombe Hospital opened in Shelley Road, initially with beds for 12 patients.  It was later renamed the Royal Victoria Hospital.  There was a Sanatorium for those with chest diseases and the first cemetery was established in Wimborne Road in 1877.  St Peter’s church was the first to be consecrated in 1845, but there were also religious services held in the Assembly Rooms.  Public meetings, political gatherings and parties were also held in the Assembly Rooms and in the adjoining Belle Vue Hotel, billiard tables could be found.

On the warm sunny days, Bournemouth provided plenty of open space and beautiful surroundings.  Fields had been leased to the Bournemouth Commissioners in the 1870s which were set out as Pleasure Gardens.  Wide promenades gave excellent views of the sandy beach and the avenues were lined with trees.  Before her death in June 1899, Lady Shelley, widow of Percy Shelley the son of the poet, had gifted four acres of land which were laid out to form Boscombe Cliff Gardens and by the turn of the century Boscombe Chine gardens had been planted.  At Dean Park a new cricket ground was established.
The pier was extended twice so that by 1909 it was 1000 ft. (over 300 m) long.  There was a landing stage for pleasure boats at the head of the pier while smaller craft landed on one side.  The "Bournemouth Queen," a paddle steamer, commenced excursions to Swanage in 1909.  On the other side of the pier there were many bathing machines, made popular by their use at Osborne house, Isle of Wight for the Royal family.  Kept at the water’s edge, they gave essential privacy to the bathers.  Bournemouth wished to be considered a respectable resort with no high jinks or unsuitable behaviour.

By 1910 the boundaries of Bournemouth had expanded to include six miles of sea frontage.  Originally recommended by Augustus Granville as, “a winter residence for the delicate constitutions requiring a warm and sheltered locality in winter,” it had become a large established resort for holidays, retirement and even a lifetime home for many people.  

©Elizabeth Lloyd


  1. I love these pictures, when I went to university my first digs were on the seafront in Boscombe, I woke each day to a wonderful sea view.