Middling street life
Victorian Bournemouth (147) introduces a short series exploring Oxford Road’s physical and community growth 1871-1901. The articles cover its geographic positioning and the built environment; demographics of the street; its socio-anthropology. It finds a stable, middling community, living in perhaps some comfort, pitched between the working people of Springbourne and the gentry of Dean Park.
Victorian Bournemouth (147): Oxford Road, then and now
As it was
Oxford Road’s many children could play in the street with each other. Little danger existed, except getting in the way of the stable’s horses. Occasional trouble might happen, though. Barnard Best watched a thief steal boxes of biscuits from the back of a grocer’s delivery van. Some days, residents could hear the fish-man establishing his presence by his constant cry of ‘mackerel!’. Some thought he did this too much, though, disturbing their world. A sense of uniformity stretched along Oxford Road. A similarity in house design gave it an ‘estate-feel’. Two rows of semi-detached villas lay across from each other. Similar types of people dwelt inside, stepping into respectability as far as possible. They could tend their gardens, large ones at the back, smaller at the front as the houses sat back from the road. People settled. Families grew, some children departing, others staying. Some change, but much continuity.
As it is
Oxford Road featured in a later period of Bournemouth’s development. The town had already taken shape, social zones evolved. Leases for Oxford Road dated from the mid-1860s. Developers had the first part of the street up by 1871, houses crammed with builders and their labourers. Construction of the villas completed by 1881. Generations of the same families remained on site. That has all gone now, slashed and burned by a fresh set of developers and planners. The road remains as a reminder of the street’s former life. Instead of two opposing rows of pleasing villas, uniform design, there now stand office blocks, various appearance, reaching upwards, across from each other. As an accident left by a glacier’s progress, there remain two villas – Finchley and Sunderland – preserving Oxford Road’s architectural heritage. The sense of community and its increasing continuity has evaporated, but opening the archives can restore it.
Victorian Bournemouth (147): mapping Oxford Road
Much of Bournemouth’s central development had occurred before Oxford Road came into existence. Holiday villas for the elite, swathes of lodging-houses, growing numbers of hotels comprised the town. Social zoning began. The elite spreading along the East Cliff and inland. To their north emerged the extensive development in Springbourne, a working people’s estate, a continuation of old Madeira Vale. More elite houses grew to the north, circling around Dean Park. Several roads, parallel to each other, as if remnants of a Roman town, connected the Charminster and Holdenhurst thoroughfares. Their rows of semi-detached suburban villas resembled those either side of Oxford Road. Thus, Oxford Road grew within the space left between Dean Park, Madeira Vale, and Springbourne. Two stations, police and railway, acted as bookends for the villas. The development appears to have formed a quiet after-thought to its busy neighbouring streets, perhaps even conceived as a backwater.
As Bournemouth expanded its footprint during the middle of the century social zoning evolved. Springbourne offered a new version of the old working people’s concentration on Terrace Road. Wealthy people spread their ilk on the East Cliff, ring-fenced by privilege, at times on the verge of declaring independence. These zones had clear social charters, evident from their creation. A sense of diffidence, perhaps a lack of focus, accompanied the early developments along Oxford Road. During its first fifteen years, the dwellings operated as multi-household, temporary resting places for builders and labourers, a version of Springbourne. In time, however, change happened. Single household occupancy became common, if not the standard. Artisans, small-scale entrepreneurs, even such professionals as teachers and musicians came to board. Residents combined to voice complaints or make demands from the Improvement Commissioners. Located between elite and working zones, Oxford Road’s identity became that of a middling place.
Victorian Bournemouth (147): Oxford Road’s buildings
The cursory details of Oxford Road’s listings captured in the 1871 census do not provide a clear picture of its built nature. It records thirteen names, but some of these could have referred to more than one building. For example, Woodbine Villas listed there in later years would consist of two semi-detached buildings. Also, some buildings had neither number nor name. Perhaps a maximum of twenty buildings stood on the road then. Considerable building activity during the 1870s increased the houses by perhaps the same quantity. By then, a sense of identity prevailed, as each of the buildings had a name. Surviving photographs suggest that builders had applied at least two designs. The majority consisted of the semi-detached pairs, for example, Woodbine Villas or Montpelier Villas, but a few free-standing buildings also featured. The latter clustered on both sides at the road’s middle, the semi-detached villas as if their wings.
Advertisements placed through the late Victorian period provide details for three properties: Carlton, Milford, and Montpelier Villas. The latter had a frontage of 80 feet, a depth of 205 feet, producing a site covering about one third of an acre. The advertisements stressed the ‘large’ or ‘nice’ or ‘capital’ gardens. Each of Montpelier Villas contained five bedrooms plus a dressing room on the first floor. Downstairs the rooms consisted of a drawing, dining, and breakfast room. Facilities included a kitchen, larder, two water closets, and coalhouse, the latter perhaps outside. Montpelier Villas also had attics. Milford Villas resembled Montpelier, but Carlton Villas only had four bedrooms upstairs. Each of the six buildings paid the same ground rent: £2-10-0 per annum. 1 Montpelier Villas had a carriage entrance and ‘ample space for erection of stabling if desired’. The houses stood back from the road, protected by front-gardens.
Victorian Bournemouth (147) has introduced the lines and life characterising Oxford Road during the late Victorian period. Its opposing semi-detached villas delineated a road that lay between the neighbouring elite and working social zones, within which evolved a middling community.