History Of Bournemouth

Submitted by: Susan Ashby

People have been occupying Bournemouth and its surrounding areas for centuries. It was a mere hamlet until early in the 19th century when Lewis Tregonwell, a retired army officer, arrived there in 1810. At that time, the only notable landmarks in the area were a bridge that led to Poole Bay and an inn which catered to weary travellers and a band of smugglers who operated in the vicinity. That inn is now the centre of Bournemouth, The Square.

Impressed with what he had discovered, Tregonwell built a home for his family in the area and purchased several acres of land. He planted several pine trees and constructed a sheltered walk leading to the beach. From these humble beginnings, the town of Bournemouth would soon arise.

It was not log until Bournemouth turned into a favoured holiday destination for the affluent. Once known as the Stourfield Chase hunting estate, the fields surrounding Bourne Stream were lined with shrubberies and walks in the 1840s to impress wealthy visitors.

During the 1870s, the Bournemouth Commissioners had leased all the fields in the area and converted it into what is now known as The Pleasure Gardens. Soon, a railway system was developed. The practice of vacationing near the seaside during the holidays quickly became a popular undertaking.


Two of the prominent figures credited with helping Bournemouth develop during this period were Sir Percy Shelley and Sir Merton Russell-Cotes.

Today, the Pleasure Gardens is one of Bournemouth’s premier landmarks, especially its Central Gardens, which houses the War Memorial, constructed in 1921. Two stone lions stand watch over the War Memorial, which was built around the same time as Saint Stephen’s Road bridge to give the town its unique identity. The memorial was designed by Albert Edward Shervey, the town’s deputy architect, and was inspired by the tomb of Pope Clement XIII.

Above the Central Gardens stood a large sanatorium which provided medical aid to patients with chest diseases. The sanatorium is now a complex of retirement homes known as Brompton Court.

Right beside the sanatorium was the Mont Dore Hotel, site of the current Town Hall. During the peak of its popularity, the magnificent hotel was famous around the world during the 1880s, especially for its luxurious setting. The hotel also owned one of England’s first telephones (its telephone number was ‘3’), a fact which spoke volumes about its prominence and the importance of its clientele. During World War I, the hotel also served as a hospital for wounded soldiers.

In the 19th century, a number of cafes, hotels, cinemas, theatres and concert halls were constructed in quick succession in the town centre.

Bournemouth’s population has also increased dramatically over the years. From a population of just 17,000 in 1880, the population rose to 60,000 by 1900 and to 150,000 by 1990. By 2006, the population had reached 163,000. With this surge in population coupled with the town’s continued progress and its increasing importance in the region, calls for the attainment of official city status have increased steadily beginning in the 1990s.

Aside from its booming town centre, Bournemouth was also renowned for its pier, which was first built in 1856 and featured nothing more than a short wooden jetty. In 1861, George Rennie designed a much longer wooden pier. In 1866, cast iron had taken the place of the wooden piles which had been severely damaged by Teredo worms. However, despite the use of cast iron, the pier was rendered unusable a year later when a gale swept away its landing stage. Following repairs, the pier was used for another decade until a storm caused part of the pier to collapse in 1876, making it unusable for steamboat traffic. The pier was soon demolished and a temporary structure took its place in 1877.

In 1880, a new pier was finally completed. Designed by Eugenius Birch, the new Bournemouth pier featured an open promenade. It was 838 feet long and was about 35 feet wide. A bandstand was added in 1885 and a series of concerts by military bands became a regular fixture at the pier, three times a day during summer and two times a day in winter. Covered shelters were also installed at the pier. A pair of extensions in 1894 and 1909 brought the pier’s total length to over 1,000 feet.

In 1940, as part of a comprehensive effort that targeted piers in the south and east, Bournemouth Pier was demolished to guard against possible invasion by the Germans. After massive repairs, it re-opened in 1946. Over the next three decades, the pier underwent major refurbishment to strengthen its substructure and address corrosion.

By 1985, Bournemouth became the UK’s first local authority to set up CCTV cameras in public places, beginning at the seafront. The town also has one of the UK’s leading libraries, the 9.5 million Bournemouth Library, constructed in 2003. The library is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award in the British Construction Industry Awards competition.

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