Rural shopkeepers trading in Victorian Bournemouth’s hinterland appear to have chosen different survival strategies as the resort town grew bigger. They may have competed with the town’s suppliers for a while, but their opportunity disappeared longer term. In the early Victorian period, their numbers remained level, perhaps sustained in part by the burgeoning resort. By 1871, however, the town’s numbers increased while their rural counterparts’ total reduced. Some, like Henry Miller, left early, changing his career. Start-ups came and went. Those that remained appeared to depend on wide family networks for continuation.
Escape from the country
A rural economy
Rural Greater Westover, an artificial region created for analysis, consisted of villages sited to the north and east of Bournemouth’s growing settlement. The villages followed the line of the Stour River. In administrative terms, they lay in either Holdenhurst or Christchurch parishes, whereas Bournemouth sprawled across both. According to the census, most local men laboured for the neighbouring farms and estates. Early Victorian commercial directories show an agricultural economy leavened by a handful of craftsmen and retailers. In addition to its eight farmers, Holdenhurst, for example, in 1849, had three shopkeepers as well as two bootmakers, a beer retailer, a maltster, a smith, and a teacher. Iford, lying to the east of Bournemouth, also had a varied economy, supporting a wheelwright, a pub, builders, an ironmonger and two shopkeepers. In Wick and Tuckton, however, two villages just below Iford, the directories at this time listed only farmers.
William Henry Miller
Born in Holdenhurst, or, perhaps, Muscliff, William Henry Miller laboured in nearby Muccleshell, according to the 1841 Census. Twenty years before Miller’s birth, his grandfather, Joseph, a migrant worker, underwent a settlement examination in Canford. Directories for 1849 and 1851 list a Henry Miller amongst the rural shopkeepers in Holdenhurst. After that, he disappears from directory listings, but, in 1851, the census shows a man so-called serving as a policeman in Fareham, near Southampton. His wife, born in Southampton, gave him children in Holdenhurst from 1844. The third child arrived in Alton, Hampshire, in 1851. Success came: he rose to become Police Superintendent in Camborne, Cornwall. After forty years of policing, he become Deputy Chief Constable, a level of professional success. At the end he left a good estate. While he chose to leave the area, others stayed, in part, perhaps because of their wide family support system.
Family network support
Mary Read, an aged widow, kept a shop in Muccleshell at least from 1841, but perhaps longer. Her daughter, Ann, 40, shared then the residence, but without listed occupation. In 1851, however, Ann worked there as a baker, her mother still grocer. In the next decade, Ann supervised its transition to a Post Office, her mother having passed. A niece had succeeded to the Post Office in 1871, Ann, now 74, having the status of ‘former Post Mistress’, perhaps an element of pride in her reported occupation. The niece disappears from the found record but her elder brother, George, has the occupation of grocer according to the 1881 census. Thereafter, distant cousins, the Lockyers, may have kept the shop into the Edwardian period. Several Reads resided in Holdenhurst at this time, perhaps adult children of Mary, one of whom ran The Jolly Sailors. A Lockyer had married the local miller.
Mary Hibberd’s husband, John, agricultural labourer in 1841, by 1849 had become a rural shopkeepr in Iford. He died soon after this, however, so, at aged 66, his widow, Mary, became the village grocer. At that time, her married daughter, Elizabeth Pope (and child) appeared to help with the business. Later she and her husband would move away. The eldest of Mary’s children, William, had already established his own home in 1841, working as an agricultural labourer. A decade later, he combined his field duties with running the store and supporting his mother. Thereafter, the store took all his time, until his retirement during the 1870s. Mary Hibberd may have come from the area’s extensive Troke clan, a young female member helping as servant in 1851. As the Reads and Lockyers had together kept a village grocery for several decades, a similar process applied to the Hibberds’ store in Iford.
Multi-tasking and dabbling
Greater Westover supplied dairy products and other consumables to the resort during its early days. For those willing to take the risk, the growing resort represented an opportunity without, like Henry Miller, having to leave the area. By comparing names and occupations contained in the census and local directories, it seems that a few men living in the Greater Westover settlements became rural shopkeepers as a side-line. For example, John Langridge, a local agricultural labourer, attested in the Census as such between 1841 and 1871, had a shop in Holdenhurst (or Throop) between 1849 and 1871 according to trade directories. The 1861 Census recorded John as an agricultural labourer, as before and as after, but on this occasion only listed his wife, Louisa, as the shopkeeper. Once John’s death (1874) occurred, the trade directory (1878) acknowledged his widow as the shopkeeper, she perhaps by then having moved the business to Boscombe.
A similar pattern seems to apply in two other cases, both local carpenters. John King, appeared as a carpenter and victualler in 1851, but before and after he concentrated on woodworking. Later in life he became a farm bailiff. The trade directory recorded him as a shopkeeper in Holdenhurst (or Throop) between 1849 and 1855. James Whitcher, lford, also worked in wood, a carpenter and wheelwright. He seemed successful at this work, since between 1851 and 1871 he had to employ staff. According to the 1851 trade directory, however, a man of this name kept a grocery store in addition to his wheel repair business. Their grocery time did not seem to last. Perhaps they did not have supportive family networks. They wanted a better lifestyle but did not choose to emigrate as had Henry Miller. Multi-tasking between grocery and other work did not seem successful long term.
Success as rural shopkeepers in Greater Westover seemed to become hard as the Victorian period continued. The Reads and Hibberds did succeed perhaps through family support but others, such as Henry Miller, saw no opportunity in the trade. A few tried becoming a rural shopkeeper as a side-line, but perhaps without success.