Victorian Bournemouth (116)

Victorian Bournemouth (116): Improvement Commission 1870s (3)

All types together


Victorian Bournemouth (116) continues the series of articles which cover the activities and identities of the Improvement Commissioners during the 1870s. This article explores their social backgrounds, their connections, and their role in the community.

Victorian Bournemouth (116): social

Working and middling people

Since the Commission’s establishment in 1856, its Board had included men from working or middling origins. They reflected the local economy’s contemporary bias towards construction and retail. Men of these occupations continued to join the Commission during the 1870s. New builders included Henry Joy, James Cutler, and William Toogood. Joy had built several major commercial properties located in the town’s centre. Retailers – a poulterer (Briggs), an outfitter (Evans), and a wine merchant (Beechey) – joined them as new men at this time. Other new members having commercial occupations included merchants (Jennings, Cassels) and a postmaster (Laidlaw). Some of the earlier members having similar occupations continued to serve on the Commission. Peter Tuck and James McWilliam, builders, illustrated this continuity. Matthew Cox, a grocer, and William Rogers, a draper, provided examples of established Commissioners having retail backgrounds. Thus, several of the Board shared common social touchpoints.


The Commission had always included men having an affluent background. This aspect continued during the 1870s. Clergymen served, albeit for brief periods. Military officers and lawyers also featured. As with their working and middling counterparts, these men often took the paternal occupation. In some cases, they might have other connections, for example, culture or imperial. James Haggard, for example, belonged to an established Norfolk family, his father a barrister, his mother an author. Younger brother Rider authored King Solomon’s Mines, She, and other books. James married the granddaughter of a Bombay civil servant. Captain Walker had won renown during military events which happened in India but before that he had served with distinction in Canada. Men having this background had received training which qualified them to speak in public as well as taking command. Their personal networks might also reach into London’s political and financial communities.

Victorian Bournemouth (116): kinship


Several of the early Commissioners had kinship relationships with each other. These continued during the 1870s. A probable marriage link connected the Rebbeck family with that of developer Robert Kerley. W. E. Rebbeck had established the resort’s first estate agency. After his retirement from the Commission, his son E. W. Rebbeck began a long stint as a Board member. James McWilliam, a Commissioner of some duration, connected with Peter Tuck through his first wife and with Thomas Hankinson with his second. Hankinson’s public service would lead him to the town’s first mayoralty. A younger member of McWilliam’s network joined the architectural practice of Christopher Creeke, responsible for laying-out much of the town, including its drainage system. Another type of kinship connection concerned Thomas Beechey, wine merchant. He married a former Commissioner’s widow, Helen Bill. William Bill, also a prominent Commissioner, had managed the Belle Vue hotel. 


Deductions from the available sources suggest that these two networks might have exerted considerable influence through the resort’s commerce as well as decision making by the Commission. Kerley appeared at critical points in an influential role. He steered the first ratepayers’ response to the Commission’s tax tariff. During the drainage crisis of 1865 he spoke with some force. He donated land to Bournemouth, once for a church, once for the archery grounds. Rebbeck and he would have had substantial stakes within the property business. The same would have applied to McWilliam’s connections. He played an active role on the Commission, speaking often in debates. Thus, to an extent, a blurred line may have separated family business and the Board’s activities. Rebbeck’s son and Creeke’s last business partner belonged to the next generation. Their presence illustrates how these networks remained in place over extended periods of the town’s development. 

Victorian Bournemouth (116): community

Wider commitments

Several Commissioners received lengthy obituaries after their deaths. The short biographies sketched the individual’s commitment to community affairs beyond the Commission. Two other quasi-political bodies existed at this time: Holdenhurst’s vestry and the Christchurch Union’s Board of Guardians. Bournemouth straddled both Holdenhurst and Christchurch parishes. As the resort expanded its footprint eastwards, attention turned towards both bodies. Over time, interested people based in Bournemouth began to serve on them as well as on the new Burial Board. Commissioners also had deep involvement with religious institutions, some Churchmen, some non-Conformists. They served as churchwardens, helped to found places of worship, and so on. The obituaries also listed party political affiliations where this occurred. Some had belonged to the Liberals, some Conservatives. This may have governed their decision-making on Board matters.


Commissioners perhaps served for various motives. A few men secured selection to achieve a specific end. The ‘eastern new men’ seemed driven to ensure efficiency for the drainage system under their location. Military men in retirement perhaps wanted to keep active. Some may have performed the traditional paternal role adopted by men of independent means. Both Haggard and Sandars, who appeared to take leading roles, perhaps followed this model. Others perhaps secured election as part of a wish for public service. As discussed, several men sought places on other bodies that took decisions on behalf of communities. No doubt, several found their position on the Commission advantageous for furthering their commercial lives. In this respect, membership perhaps resembled that of a masonic lodge. Indeed, several Commissioners did belong to the local lodge. In particular, the Commission provided a means for men from different social positions to share decision-making. 


Victorian Bournemouth (116) has explored the lives of some Commissioners who served on the Improvement Board during the 1870s. It found men of various social ranks present. Many had humble origins, but their efforts and commercial success had raised them closer to their affluent, privileged colleagues.


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