Victorian Bournemouth (125)

Victorian Bournemouth (125): hotels (1872-1881)

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Victorian Bournemouth (125) surveys the hotels present in the resort during the period 1872-1881. Over these years the number of establishments more than doubled. The article explores the social backgrounds of those who controlled or managed the hotels.

Victorian Bournemouth (125): venue survey

Holiday venues

For much of Bournemouth’s early years, the available hotels consisted of the Bath and Belle Vue. The latter’s assembly room made it a form of community centre before the Town Hall came to take that role. Both, however, accommodated holiday visitors. By 1871, competition had arrived in the form of Newlyn’s Exeter Park, the Stewart, and the Lansdowne hotels. They spread about the town, away from the Bath and Belle Vue. The Lansdowne may have catered to visitors travelling on a budget. During the 1870s, more hotels entered this market. The enormous Highcliffe Mansions, perched on the West Cliff and the well-capitalised Boscombe Spa opened, as did the Pembroke. Two lodging-houses, the Osborne and the Glenn, appeared to have a similar status as the main hotels, for they featured in the visitor lists. Thus, as visitor volumes continued to rise, appropriate accommodation increased in parallel.

Commercial venues

Anthony Trollope satirised Victorian commercial travellers through his portrait of Mr Moulder, on the road for Hubbles and Grease. He rules, with a rod of iron, the ‘commercial’ room at the Bull Inn, reserved for ‘lords of the road’. The scenes here illustrated the difference between commercial venues and those patronised by holiday visitors. Much of the difference depended on social factors. The London and the Victoria hotels had appeared at Bournemouth during the 1850s and 1860s. They appeared to cater for commercial types. A collection of other venues perhaps had the same market. Some of them consisted of inns with rooms available, for example, the Dolphin, the Tregonwell Arms, the Cricketers, and the Heathpoult (Railway). The Southwestern and the Queen’s, however, perhaps functioned more as hotels, each sited near one of the two new train stations. Also, at least one establishment accommodated teetotal travellers in response to the Temperance movement.

Victorian Bournemouth (125): hotel management


In the case of a few hotels, despite life transitions, the same family ran their business until the century’s end or later. William Bill’s widow kept control of the Belle Vue after his demise in 1869, thereafter becoming the third wife of a one-time porter, wine merchant and gentleman. His name became attached to the hotel, but it seems plausible that his wife ran it. Joseph Softlaw’s family remained at the Lansdowne after his death in 1877. The same applied to the Stewarts who ran their eponymous hotel until the late 1880s, their patriarch James dying also in 1877. At the Exeter Park hotel, the Newlyn family maintained its control at least until 1905. John Kilner stayed in place at the Highcliffe Mansions, his wife continuing after his death in 1895. Thus, management continuity distinguished these important hotels catering for Bournemouth’s visitor traffic during the late Victorian period.


Directories show that changes of manager occurred for other Bournemouth’s hotels during the 1870s. John Kilner had the Osborne, then adding Highcliffe Mansions. For a year, his name also appeared linked with the Boscombe Spa. James Hoare, once manager of the Criterion then managed it during the 1880s, despite having gone bankrupt early in his tenure. Stephen Short also moved hotels, found at the Queen’s then the Victoria by 1881. By the end of the 1870s, Joseph Dines appeared in charge at the Osborne. He kept it until the ill-health which had brought him to Bournemouth proved fatal. Two Dowells, father and son, built and held the Pembroke until 1875, when the lease went on sale. Carr Culmer Gibbs secured the lease, his son continuing to run the hotel after his death. Thus, considerable change in management occurred at some of the hotels as opportunities for improvement appeared. 

Victorian Bournemouth (125): hotelier profiles


Apart from Matthew Dent, son of a gentleman, Bournemouth’s hotel managers came from middling or even working backgrounds. Sons of a bricklayer, the Knight brothers built and managed the Westbourne and Dolphin. Joseph James Seeley, a servant’s son, managed The Glen. Joseph Dines grew up on a farm, but his father also kept an inn. Of other fathers, one worked as a toll collector, the other in the excise. In some cases, the hoteliers had previous work experience as servants. Stephen Short, for example, worked in Bournemouth as a butler at the time of his marriage. Later he would manage the Queen’s, then the Victoria hotels. In 1871, John Kilner listed his occupation as steward (domestic servant). Several had worked as grooms, at least one returning to work as a coachman after his stint as a hotelier. Many, therefore, had trade experience before taking up a Bournemouth hotel.


Nevertheless, this experience did not prevent bankruptcies. As mentioned, James Hoare went bankrupt after leaving the Criterion for the Boscombe Spa. Matthew Dent found much trouble during his short time at the Queen’s. He fell foul of his landlord and beer supplier after running up substantial debts. The magistrate had mentioned ‘tricks’ when the Howells had first attempted to obtain a licence for the Pembroke. Financial troubles may have caused them to abandon the business in a few years. Mysterious manoeuvres had also occurred during an attempted transfer of licence to the Southwestern. Arthur Briant may not have had sufficient capital to restore the Bath. The new owner, Merton Cotes, having the privileged background and wealth to transform it. The hotels which specialised in holiday traffic, however, controlled by families, did not appear to have suffered from financial issues. As mentioned, the families’ tenure lasted for decades. 


Victorian Bournemouth (125) has explored the landscape of hotels which blossomed at the resort during the 1870s. The old hotels continued, but their number now dwarfed by the new establishments. Many of the managers had relevant experience of sorts, but this did not protect them against financial problems. Others, however, established a continuity that made them part of the community for years.


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