Bournemouth is one of Dorset's newest towns in more ways than one. Prior to the 19th Century it did not exist, not one single house existed where the town stands today, and it was only after the 1984 local government reorganizations that it was incorporated into the county of Dorset.
In 1805 Edward Brayley wrote, 'the greatest part of this most dreary waste, serving only in the summer to support a few ordinary sheep and cattle, and to supply the neighboring villages with firing'. No houses then stood within three miles of the mouth of the Bourne. There was a decoy hut for wildfowlers, but otherwise travelers between Poole and Christchurch crossed empty heath land divided by narrow chines leading down to beaches where smuggling gangs landed their cargoes, as the following newspaper report from the Western Flying post in 1785 demonstrates.
That same year, (1805), much of the common land now occupied by Bournemouth was enclosed, divided and sold. 205 acres, including much of what is now the town centre, was bought by Sir George Tapps (1753-1835). Plantations of pine were planted, and the first building, an inn opened close to the Bourne, named after him. Five years later, Lewis Tregonwell, a Captain in the Dorset Rifle Volunteers, gave in to the wishes of his wife and paid £179 for 8½ acres near the river mouth. On it he built a cottage for his butler and a mansion for himself, the remains of which are now encased in the Royal Exeter Hotel. He followed this by building a handful of other houses - 'which he lets to persons who go for sea bathing'. Bournemouth had been born.
The presence of human habitation did little to curb the activities of the local smugglers, and there is some suggestion that Captain Tregonwell, or at least his staff were actively involved in this illicit trade. As evidence I quote the following extract from an article in the 25th August 1930 issue of the Times newspaper.
The report goes on to say that the thatched Portman Lodge, otherwise known as Symes's Cottage, was built by Captain Lewis Tregonwell for his butler, Symes, in 1810. It stood on the Exeter Road side of what became the Square entrance to the Central Pleasure Gardens.
"The underground chamber now discovered is about 10 feet long, 7 feet wide, and 6 feet high and the only entrance to it is a trap-door. It is a kind of arched chamber and was found about three feet below the level of the ground. When the earth and sand were cleared away from the sides of the walls they collapsed, and the space it occupied has now been filled in."
In 1835 Sir George Tapps-Gervis (1795-1842) succeeded his father as Lord of the Manor and began building the 'marine villas' that formed the nucleus of the new town. By 1841 Bournemouth was being described as 'not only a watering-place, but ... a winter residence for the most delicate constitutions requiring a warm and sheltered locality ...'
In 1870 the railway arrived and the towns future was assured. The population rapidly accelerated: 17,000 in 1880, 60,000 by the turn of the century and 150,000 by 1990.
Today Bournemouth is one of the most popular resorts on the South Coast of England. The centre is dominated by 2,000 acres of formal gardens, frequently judged to be the best in Britain.
Bournemouth has some of the best retail facilities in Southern England, ranging from large stores to arcades of specialist shops. Sandy beaches for the daytime are complimented by extensive night-time facilities, and there is a wide range of hotel and other accommodation.
Dorset's beautiful countryside surrounds Bournemouth, providing a suitable setting for this super town.
The town's piers have had a chequered history. The first, built in 1856, suffered storm damage and was replaced within five years.
The second, built of timber and 1,000 feet long, was unsafe by 1877, by which time which time the pier head had been swept away, gales had reduced its length and shipworm had weakened the piles.
The present pier dates from 1880, though much of it had to be rebuilt following the Second World War after the neck had been blown up to prevent the Germans using it to land invasion troops.
Although the paddle steamers no longer ply there trade from the pier, it is still one of Bournemouths premier tourist attractions and incorporates a theatre, restaurants, a discotheque and amusement arcades.