Victorian Bournemouth (121)

Victorian Bournemouth (121): mob violence (3)

A clash of envy against ambition


Victorian Bournemouth (121) marks the third and final article analysing a riot which happened on Windham Road, Springbourne, in 1878. During this, a mob tried to harm Arthur Adams, tailor, a court witness, and set his house alight. This article explores the social profile of the victims or plaintiffs. In part, this may have stimulated the attack.

Victorian Bournemouth (121): background


Arthur came from Cranborne, a small town near Wimborne. In the eighteenth-century, frequency of this name occurred there. By the mid-Victorian period, five households, covering more than thirty people, bore this name. At least three of the households belonged to the family of Arthur Adams: his, his uncle, and his grandfather. The others may also have connected to this group through Arthur’s great-grandfather. The family remained active in Cranborne’s economy over several generations. In addition to him, others within Arthur’s direct line worked as tailors. People of this name, however, also operated the Cross Keys inn or ran a grocery. Arthur’s great uncle, Josiah, appeared often in the records as sexton or perhaps as parish clerk. He witnessed many weddings in the town during the early nineteenth century. Thus, this family group had achieved a widespread presence within this small town’s community and commerce by the middle 1850s.


Arthur’s eldest brother, William Pitt Adams, perhaps scouted the potential of the Bournemouth area for his family. He worked in Throop as a teacher during 1851 but moved away to run a tavern in Gloucestershire. During the 1860s and 1870s, Arthur, his other brothers, and his sister migrated to Bournemouth. After first living in the town centre, Arthur moved to Springbourne, occupying a house in Windham Road. Siblings Thomas, Harry, George, and Caroline also came to Springbourne. As at Cranborne, these members of the family played an active role in the area’s commerce: tailoring, drapery, photography, beer-retailing. They also lived in proximity to each other. Thomas, for example, from his beer-shop in Victoria Road, heard and saw the mob heading down Windham Road to attack his brother’s property. Reports of the riot also showed that Caroline, now married to a plumber, Thomas Head, lived next door to Arthur. 

Victorian Bournemouth (121): Adams network

Core family

Members of this family appeared to live in concert. Their marriage practices show this as did the riot. Arthur’s uncle Edwin, another tailor, married a woman having the same maiden name as his mother, albeit a native of Chalbury rather than Cranborne. In 1863, Arthur married the elder daughter of a wealthy, retired grocer, John Sweatman, another native of the area. This man, in his twilight years, married a woman about fifty years his junior, siring Arthur’s future wife and two other children. After the old man’s death (1864), Arthur’s brother Thomas married his widow. Thus, Arthur and Thomas acquired links of marriage and blood. The family also appeared to act together. Arthur’s sister, Caroline Head, entertained his son, 11, Walter, at her home next door when the mob first arrived. George and Thomas Adams also supported the family then, for Thomas sent his brother to bring the police.

Wider network

In 1881, Frederick Barrow, then an upholsterer, lived on Windham Road, Springbourne. A Cranborne native, he began his career as a tailor’s apprentice, Arthur’s uncle Edwin his master. Edwin’s grandson, Albert, in 1881, assisted William Goodfellow, a saddler, his premises on Commercial Road. The Goodfellows had links with the Adams people through his mother, a probable cousin of Edwin. William’s father took over the Cross Keys in Cranborne from his mother-in-law, Jane Adams, employing another Adams as an ostler in 1851. More than ten other adults, Cranborne natives, lived in Springbourne during 1881. It seems plausible that they may have continued an acquaintance with the Adams family once they all migrated to Bournemouth. Thus, while the Adams appeared to work hard at maintaining family links and practicing supportive behaviour once in Bournemouth, they may also have benefited from a wider network of Cranborne natives in the area.

Victorian Bournemouth (121): ambition and envy


Perhaps lured by the collective strength of their kinship group, at least two members ventured into property development, a possible route to wealth and social elevation. Arthur’s brother Thomas, erstwhile photographer, made false assumptions about his wife’s trust fund, part of John Sweatman’s estate, to build two properties in Springbourne, his neighbourhood. Denied the right to their leases by the trustees, he went bankrupt, the properties going to auction. Francis Wiltshire, brother-in-law to Arthur, publican at The Prince of Wales invested in doubling its size, giving it frontage on Commercial Road. He became subject to prosecution, charged with selling alcohol in unlicensed parts of the building. The case taxed legal minds, but he left the pub. Although unsuccessful in these projects, members of the group, rural immigrants, showed that they had the confidence to improve their situation. Press coverage of the cases advertised the appetite and ambition within the group. 


Disasters with property did not appear to shake them, however. Although unable to pay his rates for a while, Thomas Adams soon went into brewing (1881) before returning to tailoring. If involved in The Prince of Wales venture, Arthur seemed to suffer no social tarnishing. He stood up for respectability when he witnessed disorderly behaviour: Henry Cobb throwing fireworks and threatening a policeman. ‘Navvies’, he described such people, an elevated stance echoed by the endorsement of ‘roughs’ used by a press reporter. Springbourne grew as a settlement occupied for the most by working people, some engaged in crime for profit, amusement, but perhaps also to protest the established order. The members of the Adams kinship group had artisan skills and retail expertise, two attributes that, while easing social mobility, but may have fostered envy amongst local working people. This perhaps found expression in physical assault and arson.


Victorian Bournemouth (121) has explored the extensive and interconnected network consisting of the Adams kinship group and their friends. Evident in Cranborne, it appears to have blossomed in Springbourne. This network of active people, aspirant to become middling people, resolute in disaster, may have antagonised gangs amongst Springbourne’s working people. This spurred them into mob violence that despatched several members to hard labour in prison. Thus, the assault on Arthur Adams represented a clash between different social types and lifestyles.


For references and engagement, please get in touch. Main primary sources: here and here (subscriptions needed). The first article in the series, here. See here for another example of violence.

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