Japanned wardrobes: flush toilets
Victorian Bournemouth (149) uncovers the middling upholstered, dream world available to aspiring inhabitants of Oxford Road. It finds a community, protective of its quiet world, living in the comparative comfort if not luxury of pianos, japanned wardrobes, and flush toilets.
Victorian Bournemouth (149): estate agents’ spin
A regular feature at sittings of the petty court and, later, the police court, consisted of cases about aggression, violence, and drunkenness perpetrated by Springbourne’s inhabitants. This area had grown up around the new station, to the east of Oxford Road. The cricket ground, first laid in Springbourne, soon moved north to Dean Park, enabling privileged people to enjoy the game in quiet. Thus, Oxford Road sat between these social bookends. Auctioneers worked hard to project a middling vision for its properties, located in a ‘favourite suburb’. They positioned it as near to the railway, intending travel convenience rather than for occupational opportunities. East Cliff, a select area, lay not far. Advertising copy emphasised the walled gardens, a reassurance of middling privacy over working communities. It also referred to carriage ways, houses set back from the road (unlike much of Springbourne), and pretty gardens. Surviving photographs this aspirational vision.
Quality fixtures and fittings
Two advertisements appeared early in the 1890s relating to the contents of 2 Priory Villas and Trinity Villa. Both operated as lodging-houses. The listing of items provides an indication of how both the interiors and furnished environments looked. Furniture used in the downstairs rooms consisted of walnut and mahogany, a collection of sideboards (chiffoniers) and chairs. Ornaments and pictures decorated the interior. At Priory Villas, guests could see themselves in pier mirrors. Upstairs, the bedrooms include brass bed fixtures, French and Arabian bedsteads, as well as feather mattresses. Japanned wardrobes also featured. Entertainment involved music, provided by an Alexandre harmonium and Hopkinson cottage pianos. According to these inventories, managers and guests enjoyed fixtures and fittings of some comfort, even perhaps a little luxury. The emphasis on the brands of musical instrument implies sensitivity to image and reputation. A sale suggests furniture ownership, not rental. Residents lived in comfortable, quality surrounds.
Victorian Bournemouth (149): the dream
Earning the dream
Surviving advertisements quoted rents for a villa situated on Oxford Road as costing about £20-£25 per annum. At the period’s end, occupation of 1 Milford Villas, however, had reached £40. The census shows that tenants named in the advertisements had the following occupations: laundress, joiner, carpenter (all Montpelier); coachman (Milford); naval pensioner, postman, maker of mathematical instruments (all Carlton). Builders or those working in related artisan jobs comprised several of the street’s households. Available information suggests that a bricklayer, a skilled job, might earn £1-£2 per week, or around £75 per annum, depending on seasonality and project opportunities. Thus, rent, as lead tenant, might account for a third to a half of the male’s income. The advertisements and the photographs suggest a pleasant life lay within reach of Oxford Road’s residents: nice gardens, flush toilets. Nevertheless, it seems plausible that, to reach the dream, they needed additional income.
Reaching the dream
As the advertisements have shown, the houses had an array of rooms. Even some of the downstairs rooms could have become accommodation space, if required. About a quarter of the buildings operated as lodging-houses at one time or another: Oxford, Cranstoun, Woodbine, Cromwell. Taking guests in these cases provided the main income. Lodgers, boarders, or even ‘visitors’, however, appeared in most of the street’s buildings during the period. Taking lodgers offered a way to generate additional income, if required. It also provided a way for a house’s senior female to obtain paid employment. Late in the period, an advertisement offered a bed-sit room for a couple staying in Oxford Road paying five shillings a week. On a permanent basis, each room might provide around £12 a year. Thus, letting two rooms a year might pay rent for an entire house. Entrepreneurialism perhaps flourished along Oxford Road in late Victorian times.
Victorian Bournemouth (149): identity
A sense of community
Evidence suggests that some, if not most, inhabitants wanted to preserve order and good circumstances prevailing in Oxford Road. More than once, they complained to the authorities. Complaints included insufficient lighting, only a lamp at each end of the street, and bad drainage leading to flooding. Residents could remember where puddles could accrue in the dark, but guests might not. Thus, the complaints perhaps also had the purpose of maintaining an amenable context where holiday visitors would feel comfortable. Another complaint stopped a fish salesman. He had taken to spending time in the street, repeating his call of ‘mackerel’ beyond perceived acceptability. People also complained about the street’s horse-dealing and stable business for bringing in unwanted types. Although some of the complaints had a commercial relevance, they nevertheless suggest that the residents, some of long standing, found conditions there worth protecting. A type of middling pride perhaps flourished.
A sense of stability and sameness appears to have existed along Oxford Road during the late Victorian period. Very few family names listed in 1871 reappeared in 1881, but thereafter residential continuity became established. Some residents lived in the same property for the period 1881-1901, if not longer. Others dwelt there for periods between five and ten years. This provides a genealogical support for the hypothesised sense of community apparent in attempts made to protect living conditions in the street. Barnard White and Frederick Brown, both carpenters, lived as neighbours for years, housed in 1 and 2 Montpelier Villas. A handful of the house names changed during this period, but the majority did not. Thus, continuity prevailed in both structures and residents. Edward Morris, a cab driver, remained in place, even after the property changed its name from 2 Park Villas to Dudley House.
Victorian Bournemouth (149) has explored socio-anthropological aspects of Oxford Road’s community towards the close of the nineteenth century. It suggests that some residents attempted to equip their household interiors with fixtures and fittings to match the villas’ middling exteriors. Thus, parts if not most of the community consisted of people living up to a middling dream, characterised by achievement and its markers of success.