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History of Bournemouth

Bournemouth Winter Season guide c.1939  


The strength of Bournemouth as a resort has always been the beauty of its sea-front and gardens. The gardens date back to at least the eighteenth century, when the Lord of the Manor enclosed a few acres of land as a hunting ground and built a lodge - Decoy House – near where Debenhams now stands in the Square.

Lewis Tregonwell is generally accepted as the “Founder of Bournemouth”. He knew the area from the late 18th century, when his troop of Dorset Volunteer Rangers patrolled the area on the lookout for any Napoleonic invasion. He returned in 1810 during a holiday at Mudeford to show the area to his wife Henrietta. She allegedly then fell in love with the area and persuaded Lewis to buy land for a mansion, plus cottages for the use of staff and friends, to the west of the Bourne Stream.

The present wider Bournemouth area was then a place of solitude. The Queen Mother's ancestor, Mary Eleanor Bowes, then the richest heiress in England, lived at Pokesdown in the 1790s to escape the clutches of her second husband. This set the tone for Bournemouth, which turned into a select retreat, where the wealthiest people in society came to escape from the world. As the pines, planted by the early land-owners, grew, Bournemouth became a pine city by the sea.

The labouring classes were housed in distant artisans' quarters at Winton and Springbourne. Shops were banned in early Bournemouth; tradesmen were expected to call from Poole or Christchurch. When the leading citizens finally relented and allowed the railway to approach, it was permitted to do so only in a deep cutting so that it would remain largely unseen. However such lofty isolation was not destined to last. The early villa builders had not provided sufficient infrastructure, roads were poor, and the sewers inefficient. The saviour of the town was Christopher Crabbe Creeke - Surveyor of Nuisances for the Bournemouth Commissioners! He laid out gracefully curving roads around the chines, lined with grand villas, and improved the drains. Enterprising developers like Henry Joy built terraces of shops and covered arcades. Retailers like John Elmes Beale brought all manner of fancy goods into the town and the railways allowed the lower orders to enjoy a cheap day at the seaside.

By 1890, Bournemouth was recognised by Queen Victoria, who granted it the status of a Borough, complete with its own Mayor. The citizens of the town were able to take firmer control of their own destiny. An Undercliff Drive was laid out along the seafront (Kaiser Willhelm was one of the first people to drive along it) and Bournemouth's parks were laid out with drives and golf courses. A municipal orchestra was established at the Winter Gardens. Hospitals, schools, libraries and houses were provided by the local efforts of the people of Bournemouth. Much later in 1929, after years of discussion, the iconic Bournemouth Pavilion finally opened.

Bournemouth expanded at an astonishing rate, swallowing up Westbourne, Boscombe Spa and Southbourne-on-Sea, which had once been competing resorts. The outlying artisans' areas were quickly included within its expanding boundaries. During the 1920s and '30s many of the town's middle-class suburbs were established at Talbot Woods, Ensbury Park and Richmond Park. Bournemouth provided for itself a succession of transport systems, trams, trolley buses and diesel buses. By the middle of the twentieth century it was one of the major towns of England and it came as something of a shock when the local government re-organisation in 1974 transferred Bournemouth from Hampshire to Dorset, and removed many of its powers and responsibilities to Dorset County Council. The situation was largely reversed in 1997 when Bournemouth became a unitary authority.

In the course of its expansion Bournemouth took in ancient settlements at Kinson, Ensbury, Muscliff, Muccleshell, Holdenhurst and Wick, as well as the Iron Age port at Hengistbury Head. The town now faces the challenge of preserving the best of its built heritage, nurturing its natural resources which remain the key element in attracting visitors, and maintaining and developing the facilities needed to provide memorable holidays for visitors and a desirable environment for its residents.


In 2010 Bournemouth celebrated its bi-centenary.  The town has grown considerably since the first property was constructed by Captain Tregonwell near the Bourne Stream.  To celebrate the bi-centenary, the Streets of Bournemouth| website was created.  A book detailing the history of the town, 'Bournemouth 1810-2010: From Smugglers to Surfers', is available from the Heritage Zone| and all local libraries.  

Details of the growth of the population in Bournemouth is available through Bournemouth Statistics.

For further information, please contact the Heritage Zone| telephone (01202) 454848 or email|

Related Information


Postal Address Planning & Transport,
Town Hall Annexe,
St Stephen's Road,
Telephone 01202 451323
Fax 01202 451005
Minicom 01202 454728
Email Planning