Cultural Capital section | Victorian Era Figures, 1837-1901
Culturally, the Victorian Age saw the rise of mass literacy, reflected in the spread of subscription and then public libraries, bookshops and stationery stores also selling magazines, newspapers and guidebooks etc. These outlets also began producing their own publications such as local guidebooks. Below is a sketch of Sydenham's first establishment in Bournemouth, by the Belle Vue Hotel at the pierhead. Even the new railway stations would have bookstalls, from 1848 on, courtesy of WH Smith's.


Christopher Crabb Creeke [1820 – 1886]
Architect, Surveyor

Christopher Crabb Creeke, for whom the Wetherspoon's pub Christopher Creeke at the Lansdowne is named, was the architect who became the town's first official surveyor, his planning facilitating the town's future development.
CCC moved down to Bournemouth from London, where he had trained as an architectural draughtsman, around 1850. He was commissioned by Sir Percy Florence Shelley of Boscombe Manor to help get the house ready for his mother Mary [author of Frankenstein]. However she died in 1851. before it was ready. CCC decided to remain in Bournemouth, partly as his wife was in poor health and he soon found surveying work with local landowners. These were finding themselves entangled in complications from the haphazard way properties had been allotted then subdivided without proper boundary surveys, resulting in often ruinous mortgage and other tenancy disputes. He became the town's first official surveyor, and is regarded as the man who made the town's development practical. He was soon able to design and have built houses of his own, such as Lainstone Villa, pictured below, where the first 'town hall' meetings were also held. (It stood on the site that became the town's main bus station, just off the Square.)
He also designed the town's cemetery and its chapel. He would be buried there himself, in a grave with a 'crusader' motif. This seems to have reflected his own crusading campaigns for the town to have planned roads, proper sewerage etc. His role as the town's first sanitary engineer is also gently lampooned in a statue erected in the 1990s in front of the International Centre: behind the statue of official town founder Lewis Tregonwell is CCC, seated on a lavatory.

Mary Elizabeth Dobell [1828 - 1908]
Poet

Elizabeth Dobell lived at "Streate Place" in St. Peter's Road, Bournemouth 1883-1889 and “Parkstone Heights” in Poole, 1892-1908, where she died, being buried in Parkstone Cemetery.
Also published under her married name Mrs. Horace Dobell, Elizabeth Mary Fordham Dobell was a prolific poet who had already published several anthologies. She continued to write after her move down to the coast, mainly for her 18-volume series In The Watches Of The Night (1884-88) containing 1,632 poems.
Some of these were inspired by their grandchildren’s visits, like the last volume, Songs And Tales For Children (1888). Though her works have been reprinted in facsimile editions [cf on Amazon], ED is not well known, and biographical details below are taken from her posthumously published 866pp Poetical Works With Biographical Sketch (1910).
ED and her husband had spent summers in Bournemouth, she having contracted TB, of which their daughter had recently died. They had a house built for them, where they lived for 7 years. (“No event in the life of the poetess had so great an influence on her works as this removal to Bournemouth.”)
There she wrote and revised well over a thousand poems, sometimes during their daily carriage drives. Then conventional medical advice re her husband’s ailments to avoid the sea air prompted a return to London. (This was despite the fact in 1886 he had written a book, Bournemouth And Its Surroundings, extolling the area in medical terms.)
This proved so unhappy that they moved back to the coast in 1892, to a new house they named “Parkstone Heights” in Poole, on Constitution Hill, which was supposedly above those damp sea fogs. However she had now retired from “the worry, excitement, and distractions of public literary work” and many poems written at Streate Place, her home on St Peter's Road, have remained unpublished, including another 26 volumes in her series "In The Watches Of The Night".

Lady Charlotte Guest (née Bertie) [1812–1895]
Translator, Art Collector, Literary Patron

Lady Guest was resident most of her adult life at Canford Manor [now a private school, though its theatre, the Layard, is open to the public]
A society beauty wooed by many including a young Disraeli, she married a Welsh industrialist. Lady Charlotte Guest then learned Welsh and became interested in Welsh literature. With the help of a pair of Welsh scholars, she managed to produce (despite having ten children) the first English translation of a collection of early-Mediaeval folktales which she published in 7 annotated bilingual volumes 1838-49 as The Mabinogion. This was a very influential work [still in print] and one of its Arthurian tales inspired part of Tennyson's Idylls of the King.
In 1846 her husband purchased the Canford Magna estate on the banks of the River Stour, whose lands included parts of what is now Poole. She refurbished it and began filling it with art collectables (later donated to the V&A). Her eldest son Ivor became the first Baron Wimborne, marrying an aunt of the young Winston Churchill. (On one visit, he nearly killed himself jumping from a footbridge across one of the chines on her property leading down to the sea).
She made two marriages which were somewhat scandalous in Victorian society terms: the first for marrying "into trade”; then after she was widowed in 1852, she became Lady Charlotte Schreiber, marrying a younger man in 1855 - her son's former tutor, a classics scholar who in 1880 became a Poole MP.
She also set up an in-house printing press to produce limited-edition books, such as Tennyson's The Window in 1867. Outliving her much younger 2nd husband, she died at Canford Manor, age 82.

 

Left: the first page of The Mabinogion.

Thomas Hardy [1840-1928]
Novelist, Poet

Though not a Bournemouth resident, Thomas Hardy put the town on the literary map with his writing.

While he never lived here, Hardy obviously knew the town from visits. For example, he stayed at a boarding house here in 1875 while waiting for the weekly boat to Swanage, where his new matrimonial home was located. A placard in the Lower Gardens quotes him as saying the town was" a good place to over-winter".
Later, he set parts of two novels in the town (fictionalised as “Sandbourne”), in The Hand Of Ethelberta (1876) and Tess Of The D’Urbervilles (1890). From these come his poetic descriptions of the new resort. The first novel features the pier, which would be the wooden pier swept away replaced by an iron one in 1880, dating its observations to the 1870s. The second novel describes the town as having two railway stations, which puts it in the later 1880s. Hardy describes it as ‘a city set in a garden’ and ‘a complete and extensive watering place ... The pines, the chines, steeply-rising cliffs, parks, gardens, heathlands, amusements, esplanades, sands, and sprawl add up to the strange unique character of Bournemouth. A fascinating, pine-scented phenomenon.’
Tess Of The D’Urbervilles has a longer description:

This fashionable watering-place, with its eastern and its western stations, its piers, its groves of pines, its promenades, and its covered gardens, was, to Angel Clare, like a fairy place suddenly created by the stroke of a wand, and allowed to get a little dusty. An outlying eastern tract of the enormous Egdon Waste was close at hand, yet on the very verge of that tawny piece of antiquity such a glittering novelty as this pleasure city had chosen to spring up. Within the space of a mile from its outskirts every irregularity of the soil was prehistoric, every channel an undisturbed British trackway; not a sod having been turned there since the days of the Caesars. Yet the exotic had grown here, suddenly as the prophet's gourd; and had drawn hither Tess.
By the midnight lamps he went up and down the winding way of this new world in an old one, and could discern between the trees and against the stars the lofty roofs, chimneys, gazebos, and towers of the numerous fanciful residences of which the place was composed. It was a city of detached mansions; a Mediterranean lounging-place on the English Channel; and as seen now by night it seemed even more imposing than it was.

This was the new resort's first appearance in a major novel, and Hardy's positive, evocative description would put it on the literary map of England.
Wm Mate & Sons [William Mate 1826-1907]
Publishers & Booksellers

WM was an employee of Sydenham’s [qv below] printing/bookselling etc business who bought Sydenham’s newspaper the Poole & Dorset Herald in 1846 when its editor and co-owner JS Jnr died. It was based in Poole High Street where he also lived [possibly at Nos. 12/14]. By 1861 he had over 20 staff and his sons (he had 7 children) became active in the trade and the firm became known as William Mate & Sons, expanding into Bournemouth with premises in Commercial Rd, Old Christchurch Rd and at Boscombe. This firm was re-founded in 1891, now run by the 3 sons Charles Henry Mate, George Augustus Mate and Sidney James Mate. As well as the newspaper, which lasted into the next century, they also published some of the first guidebooks to the area. Bournemouth 1810-1910, published by Mate & Sons Ltd for the town’s first official centenary, and co-written by Charles Henry Mate with borough librarian Charles Riddle, is regarded as the standard early reference on the town.
 Merton Russell Cotes [1835-1921]
Art collector, Museum Founder

Cotes, later styled with hyphenated name as Russell-Cotes, was an art collector who donated his clifftop gothic manor East Cliff Hall to the town as an art-gallery and museum. He and his wife Anie [1835-1920] had already attracted various public figures to the area, including some literary figures, when in 1878 he bought the Bath Hotel, which he enlarged and renamed the Royal Bath based on a royal visit in 1856. It became the town’s 5-star hotel where VIPs would stay, including Prime Ministers Disraeli and Gladstone, on Queen Victoria’s advice. Oscar Wilde also stayed here regularly, with Oscar's Brasserie and Wilde's Whiskey Snug named after him.
MRC also invited figures like Dracula author Bram Stoker to his clifftop manor. Stoker was working as manager-secretary for the theatrical magnate Sir Henry Irving (then regarded as England’s greatest actor), who was also a regular guest. (The R-C museum has a display of Irving memorabilia.)
MRC used his term as mayor, 1894–5, to promote art and literary causes, opening two public libraries and the town’s first two art schools. He bequeathed his Eastcliff villa, on the clifftop adjacent to the Royal Bath, to the town and it is now the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum. Today, ‘the Russell-Cotes’ is still Bournemouth's principal art-gallery and museum.

 

Annie and Merton Russell Cotes in their East Cliff Hall home which became the town's main museum and art gallery.

The Shelleys
[Sir Percy Florence Shelley 1819-89; Lady Jane Shelley 1820-1899]
Literary & Artistic Patrons


The son of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley [1792-1822] and his 2nd wife, Mary Shelley [1797-1851], PFS built the house variously known as Boscombe Cottage/ Alcove/ Lodge/ House /Manor/ Place, and later Grovely Manor, Shelley Manor and Shelley Park. The existing villa was converted as a retirement home for his ailing mother Mary Shelley (widow of the poet and herself author of Frankenstein), but this took nearly 2 years and though she reportedly visited, she died just before it was completed. Instead it was enlarged as the family home of Sir Percy and his wife Lady Jane, both enthusiasts of the performing arts. He built an extension for a private theatre, and he wrote spoof playlets and sang songs. Jane also sang solos and later she supervised publication of the poet’s papers and official biography. Shelley Manor became the local arts centre with its 200-seat theatre opened to the public from 1866 with famous actors of the day performing alongside literary figures like Tennyson.
It was a literary shrine to the poet as well, with a silver casket containg the poet’s heart (plucked from his funeral pyre) in an alcove lit by a ‘perpetual-flame’ red lamp. Relics relocated 1979 from Casa Magni, Shelley's Italian home at the time he drowned in 1822, made it the world’s only Shelley Museum until it was closed in 2001 due to the building’s dilapidated state owing to a cross-ownership maintenance dispute.
A small museum was maintained until 2001, though the silver casket with the poet’s heart (plucked from his funeral pyre), wrapped in one of his last poems, was buried in the family tomb when Lady Jane died in 1889. The building was renovated after falling into neglect, converted to flats and a medical practice, but the theatre was rebuilt as part of the planning permission arrangement with the Council.
We have a separate gallery page up on the family, here.

William Henry Smith [1825–1891]
Newsagent Chain Founder & Philanthropist


WH Smith, after whom the stationery chain is named, lived in Bournemouth 1859-65, and backed its development as a health spa.
WHS is remembered for the innovation of his family's newsagent business - setting up bookstalls in the new railway stations from 1848 on. These became a part of the spread of literacy in Victorian times, his railway kiosks and stalls becoming the nation's single largest distributor of newspapers. 'W H Smith' became a household name and he was able to translate this into political advancement. He became a career politician, holding various Cabinet posts after becoming an MP in 1868.
Locally, he lived at Walton House on Richmond Hill. He became a benefactor and governor of the National Sanatorium here, one of the first such institutions meant for treating TB and related diseases, and thus an important factor in the town's development as a health resort. His firm also published guidebooks to the area.
Walton House on Richmond Hill has since been demolished but "W H Smith’s" lives on. The Bournemouth branch was right downtown, on what was then Southbourne Terrace off the Square - now 9-13 Old Christchurch Road, where it is also now the town's Post Office.
Below: The Royal National Sanatorium, on Bourne Avenue where the Town Hall now is. It was built in 1855 using voluntary donations and later became the Royal National Hospital.

Robert Louis Stevenson [1850-1894]
Author

RLS was resident in Bournemouth 1884-7.

In 1884, the town’s new-found renown as a spa for consumptives (the pine-scented air was thought to be restorative) led to the arrival of the tubercular Robert Louis Stevenson. He and his American wife Fanny and his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, who went to school here, first stayed at the Highcliff Hotel and various boarding-houses, then settled in Westbourne in a house called Sea View that his father bought him at the top of Alum Chine - his only English and last British home, which he renamed ‘Skerryvore’. His time there was productive: RLS completed 6 books here, including Kidnapped and Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. He also began work on a story he completed later with his stepson, The Wrong Box, which has a New Forest sequence; the film version adds a Bournemouth sequence.
To get on with his writing, he socialised little, being ensconced he said, ‘like a weevil in a biscuit’. But 'Skerryvore' did see one regular literary visitor, for whom he kept a special chair ready: the American expatriate Henry James, who came here to visit his invalid sister. James’s 1893 story (reprinted in The Oxford Book Of American Short Stories), ‘The Middle Years’ is about a writer who visits the town as a spa.
The site of 'Skerryvore' [blue plaque], in Alum Chine Road, was blitzed in 1940 and since 1954 the site has been a Memorial Garden. (The reason the memorial is a miniature replica of a lighthouse is that his father, who paid for the house, had been, like his father before him, a lighthouse builder, ‘Skerryvore’ being a Scottish lighthouse.) There is also a plaque by the footbridge in Alum Chine just below where the house stood.

Sydenhams
[John Snr 1781/2–1864?; John Jnr 1807–1846; Richard 1827-82]
Newspaper Editors & Publishers

Sydenhams was another family firm in the newspaper publishing sector. Devon-born JS Snr became partner in his father-in-law Joseph Moore’s stationery, bookseller, circulating library, news-agency and printing business at 63 Poole High Street, taking it over in 1819. When in 1825 he and Moore’s son announced a Poole newspaper, the Poole & Dorsetshire Herald, the owners of the County newspaper, the Dorset Chronicle, instead let them take that over. In 1846, the Poole & Dorsetshire Herald relaunched at 105 Poole High Street with the son John Sydenham Jnr as editor.
John Jnr worked on his father’s newspaper the Dorset County Chronicle, becoming its editor in 1829 at age 22. He wrote many articles of a “literary and antiquarian interest,” his own personal interest being in local history and archaeology. Though born and educated in Poole, he moved to Dorchester, where he married and explored the antiquities of the surrounding area, excavating local barrow-mounds in southern Dorset. In 1841 he put together a massive book of antiquarian speculation: Baal Durotrigensis, which uses the Cerne Giant as an icon to explore a possible cultural background among the Durotriges tribe after whom Dorset is named. Of more enduring interest was another massive undertaking, his 1839, 534pp, History Of The Town And County Of Poole, which in a series of themed sections took the development of the port up to the start of the Victorian age and became a sourcebook for later historians. He still retained an interest in local politics and pamphleteering, and in 1846 became editor and part-owner of the Poole & Dorsetshire Herald, but died age 39, just under a year after its launch.
The P&DH was sold to employee William Mate [qv]. When JS Snr died age 81 in 1864, his surviving sons David and Richard took over the High Street business, described as ‘book and music seller, stationer, binder, printer and account book manufacturer, publisher of guides, maps and views of the district, circulating library’.
Richard Sydenham was trained in his father’s business and then went to London in the 1850s to acquire some journalism experience. Four years after he returned to Poole, his father died and he and his older brother kept the business going, which included the Poole & Dorsetshire Herald. In 1867 he launched a more lively monthly news-magazine, the Poole Pilot, which used the metaphor of the trusty harbour pilot as its title metaphor and in its two-year life campaigned “to clear every channel of mud and corruption.” RS denied however it was “ostensibly commenced as a political publication. It sought simply the literary improvement and the social amusement of the community.” It did in fact attract readers and contributors in London and elsewhere. After it closed, he returned to the Poole & Dorsetshire Herald.

Left: an early photo of Sydenham's in Poole, showing how library, stationers and bookshop functions were combined.

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