Infrastructure Problems in Early Bournemouth


During Bournemouth’s early period, infrastructure problems arose. They consisted of bad drains and roads as well as issues of design and layout. Some thought this happened because land proprietors and property developers lacked coordination. A deeper problem, however, a fault line at the site’s modern origin, may have contributed to the situation.

A stinking mess

Written complaints

Letters published in the press during the early 1850s illustrated Bournemouth’s infrastructure problems. One letter, part of a sequence written in 1854 by Dr Pinkerton, a resident physician, addressed issues of hygiene and air pollution. He referred to ‘sewerage, offensive and loathsome’ and ‘dense and stifling smoke’ coming from limekilns and other open fires. In his opinion, the open drainage would cause more damage on the resort’s population than the ‘most bitter winter’.  A letter, written a year earlier, concerned a row of cottages built along or near to the present Terrace Road. Working people lived here to whose presence he took exception. He feared their cottages would soon house ‘a population as dense, in proportion to the area covered, as in any of our large towns and cities’. He also referred to the condition of the drainage. It would soon, he thought, come to the attention of outside inspectors.

Labourers’ ghetto

The 1851 Census listed several households located in Terrace Road. Most of the adult males there had occupations in the building trade, including labourers. Some of the women worked at laundry, dressmaking, or in service. The writer of the 1853 letter may have had these labouring people in mind. According to Alan Miller, in 1850 Samuel Ingram, a builder, had leased a strip of land on the south side of Terrace Road. Perhaps he had constructed the houses described by this complainant. According to the 1851 Census, Ingram did occupy one of the Terrace Road tenements.

Limited building experience. Little joint consultation

The writer of the 1853 letter suggested two possible causes for the condition he described. On the one hand, he confessed to a ‘disappointment that the first buildings here [Terrace Road] should have been left to the taste and discretion of those whose experience would of necessity be limited in degree’. He also thought that the area’s proprietors should have worked in greater concert. ‘Reflecting that the entire place was originally in some four or five hands it strikes us forcibly that the wisdom would have been for these individuals to have consulted and taken joint action.’ This letter received a reply from John Tregonwell, whose family had the land on which stood the Terrace Road cottages. He provided some insight on the problem, whose existence he did not deny.

Incompetent lawyers and opportunistic builders the problem?

Mr Tregonwell’s answer

He theorised that illegal infilling had caused the conditions, which he recognised. ‘ … many cottages and buildings of various denominations have sprung up on land formerly leased, and intended only as ample garden ground to the houses on the Poole [i.e. Commercial] Road. The proprietor of the estate at that time, little thinking it would ever be turned to other account, and consequently neglecting to insert the usual restrictions in the leases, for the purpose of preventing any future buildings from being erected thereon.’ As a result of this unlawful building, the problem lay beyond his reach. ‘As to drainage, the great necessity of which I fully admit. All my building tenants, and those over whom I have any control, have (I understand) carried out the proper arrangements for that purpose. With regard to others, I can do nothing more than advise.’

Ineffective leases. Independent builders

In his word ‘control’, John Tregonwell perhaps identified the main issue, but he thought the reason lay in ineffective leases. He did not mention absence of coordination with other proprietors. The original letter writer may have made an oblique reference to what Tregonwell called his ‘building tenants’ when he used the phrase ‘experience … limited in degree’. Although no evidence exists to connect him with the infilling for the Terrace Road cottages, Samuel Ingram’s presence there may suggest his involvement. Other men became ‘building tenants’. John Hibidage’s estate contained many such properties. William Joy, the carpenter-builder, publican of the Royal Arms, may also have built it. The builders operated within a competitive, commercial market, where profit per unit finished would have provided their main motivation. Faulty leases or lack of coordination amongst proprietors became their opportunities. An additional factor, however, may have contributed to the site’s infrastructure problems.

Fault line in the seigneurial structure

The early land deal

In effect, a fault line ran through Bournemouth’s development area. After 1810, the Tregonwells acquired land west of the stream from the Gervis family. This transfer divided the valley. The families’ development strategies reflected contrasting visions. The Tregonwells scattered a few houses across their land, intended most for friends and family. In contrast, the Gervis family planned an organised settlement involving lines and crescents of villas. Part of the site’s original appeal, however, had consisted of its climate’s convalescent values. The medical perspective inclined to the Tregonwell idea of random distribution. Each could benefit from breeze lines and shade. No streets or villas came into that vision. Those interested in developing a commercial resort, where entertainment and society took priority over convalescence, would have liked the Gervis model. These contrasting views would have taken physical expression as the settlement grew into life, creating some of the infrastructure problems.

Inheritance issues

At this time also, the proprietorial families experienced private difficulties, perhaps reducing their interest for influencing Bournemouth’s development. After the death of Lewis Tregonwell (1832), his family faced financial infighting and legal challenges to their estate. His widow had to manage family business, including leases, for her final fourteen years. An early death (1842) consigned the Gervis estate to trustees until the heir’s majority. The Cooper Deans continued to wrestle with their enormous debts, a result of the family bank’s failure. It seems possible, therefore, that builders, acting as developers, may have taken advantage of proprietorial distraction.


The historical origins of the settlement, the division of the area between the two families, perhaps acted as a fault line making coordinated supervision of vision and building difficult. A possible hibernation of supervision, caused by the families’ passing through difficult life-stages, may not have helped. Competition amongst builder-developers could have played an important role in the site’s development. These three factors, therefore, perhaps caused much of early Bournemouth’s infrastructure problems as raised by contemporary letters to the press. As a response, Bournemouth’s Improvement Act (1856) would, in part, help to establish a central vision as well as supervisory control on the site’s future development.


  • Poole & Dorset Herald, Thursday 10 August, 1854, p. 7 (lime-kilns, Pinkerton’s letter).
  • Poole & Dorset Herald, Thursday 26 May, 1853, p. 8 (earlier letter of complaint).
  • Alan J. Miller, Old Bournemouth. The Story of the Bournemouth Tregonwell Estate, Bournemouth, 1996, p. 15.
  • Terrace Road appears to begin with the household of John Habgood. Census return, 1851. Class: HO107; Piece: 1667; Folio: 218; Page: 15; GSU roll: 193574.
  • Poole & Dorset Herald, Thursday 02 June, 1853, p. 5 (John Tregonwell’s response).
  • Christchurch Times, Saturday 12 March, 1881, p. 5 (John Hibidage’s estate).
  • Poole & Dorset Herald,Thursday 23 June, 1853, p. 8 (William Joy at Royal Arms).
  • Vincent May & Jan Marsh, Bournemouth 1810-2010. From Smugglers to Surfers, Wimborne Minster, 2010, chapter 2, passim (early settlement).
  • Alan J. Miller, ibid., pp. 1 (Tregonwell family history).
  • Charles H. Mate, Bournemouth. The Biography. 1810-1910, Stroud, 2014 (reprint of 1910 edition), p. 62 (Gervis death and estate administration by Trustees during minority).
  • George Bruce, A Fortune and a Family. Bournemouth and the Cooper Deans, Bridport, 1987, chapter 4 (financial condition of the Deans).

Why not try


Leave a Reply