Grocers and bakers made migrant stops at early Victorian Bournemouth, but a couple stayed to form a long standing engagement with the resort. The jobs involved different skills – baking and retailing – but they seemed to overlap on occasion. The varying longevity of these traders offers clues to the nature of early Bournemouth’s growing economy.
At its beginning, the settlement received deliveries of bread perhaps from Christchurch and Poole which together had about a hundred bakers and grocers. The rural villages of Greater Westover also supplied foodstuff. The 1841 census, however, listed a baker at Bournemouth, Thomas Beckingham, perhaps the unnamed man described the following year as ‘settled’ in the trade. An auctioneer’s advertisement (1842) described premises suitable for grocers and shopkeepers. Over the next few years, Matthew Cox and James Bell each started a grocery business in the resort. Three more men arrived during the early 1850s: Matthew Onslow (grocer), Charles Sweatland (baker & confectioner), and Robert Fryer (grocer). The latter married, advertised his business and looked for employees, seeming set for an established run in the resort. By the end of its early period, however, the resort appeared to have no more than three established businesses in this trade.
Social and geographic backgrounds
Of Bournemouth’s early grocers and bakers only Matthew Cox’s father had worked in the trade. The social extent of the traders’ families stretched wide: from a well-to-do farmer (Fryer) to an agricultural labourer (Sweatland) or a carpenter (Beckingham). James Bell may have come from a similar social background to Robert Fryer. From Poole, his family had connections with the town’s once successful Newfoundland trade, two of his children baptised on that island. Although all traders immigrated to Bournemouth, most did not come from far: Lytchett, Poole and Kinson; Havant and Romsey. Onslow, although born in Kenilworth, had come down via Wimborne, where he married his second wife. Little information has surfaced in which to find a pattern as to the social background of their wives. The traders appear not to have had kinship links with each other, a difference from several craft-based family networks that existed in Bournemouth.
Levels of success
Their household staffing numbers suggest that James Bell and Matthew Cox had good resources, since they employed servants and shop workers. James Bell had a journeyman baker as well as a domestic worker. Matthew Cox had enough trade for a shopman in addition to a house servant. Nevertheless, survival in the resort may have needed flexibility. James Bell, for example, not long after arrival, appeared to act as a contact point for real estate activities in addition to selling groceries. The spectacular bankruptcy of Samuel Bayly, occurring at the end of the resort’s early period, included seven grocers as creditors in addition to many other traders. Bell, Cox and Fryer numbered amongst the seven. Both James Bell and Matthew Cox continued to run their grocery stores for many years, but Robert Fryer may have become deterred. Others perhaps had less success or less capital than Bell and Cox.
Matthew Cox’s shop did well enough to employ a second counterman. By 1871 he had moved into wines and spirits, but three years later he sold the business to a chain, Leverett & Frye. He had worked as auditor for the Improvement Commission in 1858. Later, he served as a Commissioner, sometimes as chairman, always succeeding when elections had to occur. He had served on the Commission during the extended controversy about the drainage system which occurred during the 1860s. Bell served alongside Cox as auditor in 1858, also noted at the job in 1864, but does not seem to have reached as far as Cox. In his business, by 1861, he had added a post office to his grocery, his wife as postmistress sharing this role. A court case for theft showed he too sold wines in his shop. Towards the end of the decade, however, he went bankrupt.
Disengagement from the resort
The grocers and bakers who left Bournemouth soon after arrival may have made this choice for social rather than economic reasons. Thomas Beckingham did not settle long, for, by 1851, he moved to Wimborne as a schoolteacher. Robert Fryer opened his grocery with some press noise but, not long after marriage and becoming a Bayly creditor, he sold up and departed for Salisbury. Matthew Onslow may have left because he became involved in an assault case, summoning a local man. ‘The case turned out to be of a very trumpery nature, and the magistrates fined him in the mere nominal penalty of 1s. and costs.’ By 1861 Onslow had moved to Canford where he operated as a licensed victualler. He would return to Bournemouth as a baker by 1871. Charles Sweatland and his wife vanished from the record, his wife’s parents and then sister-in-law running the business up to 1861.
Some experience necessary
As the population of Bournemouth grew during its early period, opportunities for food sales should have increased in parallel. In the event, only the shops of Matthew Cox and James Bell appeared to have prospered longer term. The Sweatland and Clapcott family together combined to keep their bakery going until 1861, but perhaps not later. It seems plausible that the supply routes from the nearby rural villages kept going during this period, providing competition for people trying to become established in the resort. Cox and Bell grew up in families that made a living from retail and trade. That experience perhaps gave them an edge on the others. Robert Fryer, from a farming background, after selling his Bournemouth business, worked next as a grocer’s assistant. Perhaps he found building a new business too difficult. This analysis suggests, that while the resort’s economy burgeoned, it did not offer opportunity for everybody.
Early Bournemouth’s economy may have had few barriers to entry, for example gilds, but not everybody stayed the distance. This analysis of bakers and grocers illustrates how some immigrants became residents, but others kept going.
Thanks to Bournemouth_Grant for this picture of Leverett & Frye.