The Sanatorium: early Victorian Bournemouth’s prize

The Sanatorium: early Victorian Bournemouth’s prize


The Sanatorium, opened in 1855, represented a watershed in early Victorian Bournemouth’s positive national reputation. Once mooted, the project engaged the attention and efforts of the great and good, both local and in London.

The Sanatorium arrives in Bournemouth

Main steps

London’s Royal Brompton Hospital decided to establish a branch sanatorium at a south-coast watering place, their climates considered good for health. Bournemouth won the competition, beating Hastings amongst other candidates. Within two years, work began on its foundations. By the middle of 1855, the first stage had reached completion. In October of that year, Bournemouth’s Sanatorium opened. This represented a significant achievement for the resort, given local unrest about its inadequate drainage and overcrowding caused by its uncoordinated construction activities. Not until the next year would Bournemouth establish its Improvement Commission. The project also illustrated the extent to which interested people, for the most part affluent and privileged, could organise and raise funds. This process marked a success for paternalism, since patients staying at the Sanatorium would come from the poorer sections of society. Amongst the affluent resort visitors there arose an asylum for poorer types suffering adverse medical conditions.

Problems during development

At first, land for the Sanatorium lay on the Gordon estate. In the late 1830s, he had begun developing the northern part of the settlement on a lavish and destructive scale. Before long he ran out of funds, uncompleted structures blighting the town for some years after. The M.P. Charles Packe acquired part of this estate, including the site designated for the Sanatorium. Before long, however, a new site appeared, part of an intended fresh development. Matters settled after this, but before its opening the Sanatorium suffered another setback in the death of Dr E.V. Mainwaring. An affluent, residential physician, Mainwaring played a prominent role in the town’s society and cultural activities. By chance he happens to have occupied a house on or close to the old Gordon estate. He had won selection for the post of Sanatorium physician but died before he could take it up.

Early importance of the Sanatorium

A local social reference point

In the autumn of 1854, a steamer bringing an estimated 200 passengers from Weymouth failed to make a landing on Bournemouth’s shore. The incident also hampered fundraising for the Sanatorium, since the passengers had embarked to attend a bazaar dedicated to that purpose. The quantity of passengers indicates the contemporary importance assigned to the Sanatorium. Another clue to the building’s significance appeared in an advertisement. Misses Lance and Burt moved their young ladies’ school to Bournemouth. They had chosen the resort on account of ‘Bournemouth having been selected as the best site for the Sanatorium’. As mentioned, because of its lack in funding, the Sanatorium attracted the attention and energies of the local great and good. They absorbed the project into their established collective social behaviour, arranged around balls and bazaars. The events’ press reports took care to note the names of important attendees, stamping social authority on the Sanatorium.

Wider circles of social significance

Amongst supporters of the Sanatorium numbered Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Together, they put on a series of amateur dramatic events, proceeds from which went towards the Sanatorium’s building fund. In some cases, these productions appear to have occurred at the London mansion of Colonel Waugh. Waugh hove into sight after military service in India. Becoming a director at the London and Eastern Bank, presenting himself to society as a wealthy man, he acquired Brownsea Island and castle. Following the steamer fiasco, he offered to host a Sanatorium bazaar here. Waugh may have had a larger agenda, since Brompton Hospital had the Queen as patron. Press whispers about a possible royal visit delayed the bazaar to the summer’s end, but she does not seem to have attended. Perhaps a different whisper had begun to circulate. Exposed as a swindler on a Dickensian scale, the Colonel soon absconded to mainland Europe.

The Sanatorium’s success

Early days

In due course, the Sanatorium opened. Its inauguration included the chanting of psalms around the building, perhaps a contribution from the Reverend A. M. Bennett. A more prosaic inauguration appeared in the form of an advertisement to secure a cook and housemaid. Constant funding problems had dogged the project from the outset. The Madeira Fund voted by the Brompton Hospital for the purpose proved inadequate. During the late 1850s the press carried constant references to the Sanatorium’s need for additional funds, but an indication occurred early after opening. The Illustrated London News carried an advertisement placed by Miss Frodsham, the Superintendent. ‘A part of this [Sanatorium] being unoccupied by Hospital Patients, will be devoted during the ensuing winter, to the reception of persons who are suffering from delicate chest or a tendency to consumption, and who are willing to pay a weekly sum for their board, &c.’

Patients of 1861

In this year, Miss Frodsham still at the helm, the Sanatorium could afford five servants. The census listed twenty-one patients, analysis of whose social data shows a fulfilment of the objective to take patients who did not come from privileged backgrounds. The male patients included clerks, soldiers, drapers’ assistants, a servant, an apprentice, a groom, as well as a watchmaker. The census listed amongst the females a saleswoman, an upholstress, a teacher, a nurse, servants, and a dressmaker. Their ages ranged from teenagers to people who had reached their forties. Analysis of the birth or baptismal places shows that the later designation as a National Sanatorium could have applied even then. Patients originated from the four compass points of the country, although this may reflect London’s ability to draw people from far and wide. None of the patients had the background typical of the great and good.


The Sanatorium capped the success achieved by Bournemouth at the end of its early Victorian period. It won a prominent place both within the town and within the town’s image. Patients from poorer social segments benefitted from funds raised by affluent people, the Sanatorium, therefore, acting as a bridge between the two.


Thanks to Alwyn Ladell for his photo collection. Click here for references and comment.


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