Victorian Bournemouth (121)

Victorian Bournemouth (118): the Queen’s raid (1881)

Legal approval for illegal violence


Victorian Bournemouth (118) explores a court case reported in close detail concerning forcible entry into a tenanted house by the landlord. It shows high drama occurring in both the event and the court hearing. Genealogical analysis suggests that the event involved a clash between power, exercised by a wealthy arriviste, and the established privilege of gentry. Despite their having a similar social background to the plaintiff, the bench ruled in favour of the defendant, clear evidence of his illegal use of violence notwithstanding.

Victorian Bournemouth (118): background


Matthew Dent, late fifties, had taken a lease on the Queen’s Hotel, Bournemouth, at the West Station, from Frederick Styring, the owner. He appears to have fallen into arrears (£800), but, as part of his negotiations, gave up the tenancy, instead settling for the site’s refreshment rooms at £200 a year. He also transferred his household goods to Styring as part of the debt but appears not to have owned them. Styring, continuing to regard Dent as a debtor, lost patience. He organised a gang of men, led by a Poole auctioneer, charged to use force, if necessary, in taking possession of the refreshment rooms. On the evening of September 1st, 1881, this vigilante force ‘swarmed down upon the premises’, invading the refreshment rooms ‘in a very menacing way’. They manhandled Dent, damaged the premises, and helped themselves to drink without payment. Dent took the assailants, including Styring, to court.


The case had interest then but also at a distance. It caught the attention of reporters and editors, for it received substantial coverage in the press. Apart from following the excitement of both the event and the court hearing, contemporary readers may have pondered over the bench’s eventual assessment of might over right. In perspective, it seems puzzling how magistrates, charged with supervising order, might choose to validate the use of disorder to further commercial aims. Observers perhaps would not have expected a former mayor to sanction the use of personal assault, but his local prestige and power overrode questions of propriety and legality. The violence committed against an individual having a privileged, if tattered background, also reflects the extent to which Bournemouth had advanced to a stage where such actions might occur. The former convalescent colony, built for the gentry, had become a town where violent crime might prosper.

Victorian Bournemouth (118): protagonists


Matthew Dent, (1822-1884), baptised in Newington, Surrey, had a gentleman as father. His career, however, may have pushed his family into social limbo. Early on, he arrived in Norwich, where he married a local lady in 1844. In 1847 he worked there as a tailor. Thereafter, he turned to teaching, migrating to several places. Later, he entered hospitality, keeping a hotel in Hereford during 1871. By 1878 the family had come to Bournemouth, where, with his family, he managed the Queen’s Hotel at West Station, but encountered financial troubles. His estate (1884) would have a lower worth than his wife’s (1885). Documents described their son sometimes as a gentleman but also a grocer. Dent, already white in hair and beard, had perhaps gone beyond caring or following accepted behaviour. In an apparent disregard for court decorum, during questioning, he left the witness box to rush at the defence attorney.


In 1851, Frederick Styring (1820-1897), a yeoman’s son, native of a parish bordering Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, came south, farming 355 acres at Lytchett Minster, increasing later to around 7,000 acres. He married a Lytchett farmer’s daughter (1849). In 1858, a baker received three years for burning one of Styring’s ricks. Poole became the centre of Styring’s activities beyond farming. He served as mayor four times. He chaired several companies: a ferry, a twine company, and a building society. His brewery, Styring & Co, took him into real estate, but he had trouble with tenants in Bournemouth. As well as Dent, he became a creditor to a bankrupt lodging-house keeper there. As Mayor he supported a railway link between Poole and Bournemouth. His investment in the Queen’s Hotel, sited at West Station, reflects that interest. In 1881, Styring joined the local magistrates’ bench. Thus, Styring stood amongst Poole’s wealthy and powerful.

Victorian Bournemouth (118): sequence of events

The raid

In his statement, Dent claimed that ’40 roughs’ had invaded his refreshment rooms. Their leader, from the dock, set the number at ‘only 14’. They stormed into the building, expelling the customers. Refused drinks, they resorted to self-service. During the evening they nailed closed the access points, but not before expelling Dent through one of the windows. According to the census, Dent’s adult children served in the refreshment room. At least one, Edith, had witnessed the events, for she gave evidence after her father. The gang may also have removed Dent’s household goods to storage. One of the men informed him of this and his liability for storage costs. Although called, the police refused to attend. The defending attorney, Trevanion, seems also to have featured in the events. The gang leader claimed, ‘if there had been any difficulty, he should have sent a message through Mr Trevanion’s telephone’.

The trial

Local newspapers reproduced a verbatim account. The event had attracted public attention. Coverage verged on theatre. It highlighted the chief defendant’s kid gloves, Dent’s ‘venerable white beard’, his excited running around the court room, and the posturing adopted by the attorneys. Reporters heard much laughter. The balance of the account showcased Dent’s position, reflecting his testimony lasting half the hearing’s length. Trevanion, the defence attorney, appeared to survive personal involvement in the evening’s events, albeit at arms’ length. He adopted an aggressive and hectoring approach when questioning Dent. The Bench, after discussion, pronounced on the evening’s irregularity, but decided against sending the matter for trial. A later hearing concentrated on aspects of Dent’s bankruptcy, foundering on microscopic details about the relevant law. Thus, the matter ended. Dent’s indebtedness, acknowledged by him, remained. According to his probate record (1884), he had left the Queen’s, taking up residence elsewhere in Bournemouth.

Victorian Bournemouth (118): discussion

Robert Cribb

Although the press reports contain vivid accounts of the Queen’s raid, they also leave items unexplained. For example, the vigilante gang included a man called Robert Cribb, described as a Bournemouth hotel manager. Genealogical research suggests that this man, a mariner, son of a customs official, born in Poole, lived in Australia for a while. The Australian Police wanted him for deserting his first wife and children. After her death, Cribb returned to England, where he remarried and worked as a brush-maker. A man so named appeared in the 1881 census as manager of Bournemouth’s Queen’s Hotel. Thus, the raiding party included the man who kept the hotel which Dent’s refreshment rooms adjoined. Perhaps, therefore, he had personal motives for joining Styring’s gang. After Dent’s eviction, Cribb perhaps could have absorbed the refreshment rooms into his care of the Queen’s Hotel. The press, however, failed to make a connection.

Charles ‘Captain’ Gibbs

Genealogical exploration also raises a question about Styring’s gang leader, Charles Gibbs, auctioneer. He had displayed aggressive behaviour during the raid. A mariner’s son, married to a labourer’s daughter, Gibbs appears to have had social pretensions. His father-in-law disliked the way Gibbs signed his auction posters as ‘C. H. Gibbs, esquire’. During the hearing, Gibbs sported kid gloves. During the invasion, he had spurned beer in favour of sherry. Such actions suggest an attempt to imitate a respectable lifestyle. His nickname ‘Captain’ came from a brief stint with the Salvation Army, encouraged by his wife. Within a month, however, Gibbs would return to the courts, charged with violent assaults on his wife, his father-in-law, and bystanders. He wanted a divorce. Overall, his behaviour suggests a man experiencing extreme personal tension capable of tipping him into violence. His selection as leader may suggest that Styring always wanted aggression against Dent.

The bench

Not a participant in the raid, Styring accompanied the defendants in the court, though the press attributed no statement or comment to him. The presence of such a man – wealthy, landed, a former mayor – may have unsettled the five magistrates. They too belonged to the wealthy and privileged. Some had attended university while most had landed income.  One had an army career, but his probate record suggested independent wealth. Wives, if they had them, came from similar backgrounds. Probate records listed large estates for most, the highest valued at £100,000. They often worked in concert throughout the Hampshire court system during the 1870s. Thus, social factors, for example peer group loyalty, would have placed them in a difficult situation when faced with Frederick Styring as defendant. Dent’s inability to pay rent gave Styring cause, but his methods had resulted in disorder, a severe charge at the time.


The justices decided that ‘irregularity’ had occurred, but insufficient to warrant a trial. They verged on criticising Styring, but matters went no further. The legal mechanism of Dent’s bankruptcy would give Styring possession, severing their business connection. Styring continued his life of power and local prominence, returning to act as mayor four times in total. Based on his behaviour in the court, Dent appeared a difficult person, perhaps not an ideal tenant for a landlord. Nevertheless, several incidents on his land, including rick-burning, suggest that Styring may not always have enjoyed good relationships, commercial or social. Dent’s possible gentle origin may have persuaded Styring of his trustworthiness, so the fierce response – men armed with clubs – to his arrears perhaps signals a sense of class betrayal. Overall, such disorderliness not only attracted local interest, but clashed with the routine peacefulness that drew visitors to the resort.


Victorian Bournemouth (118) has explored the incident when armed vigilantes evicted Matthew Dent from the refreshment room he managed at the Queen’s Hotel. A failing business relationship lapsed into disorderliness in the space of a few hours. Peer-group loyalty with Frederick Styring, a gentleman defender, may have persuaded the bench to brush the affair under the mat. Aggressive violence found a place at a blossoming sea-side resort.


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