Victorian Bournemouth (150)

Victorian Bournemouth (150): Oxford Road (5)

Sociable, social protectorate


Victorian Bournemouth (150) speculates that established residents formed a collaborative social protectorate to improve Oxford Road’s society. This informal cooperation discouraged working people and their stereotypical lifestyle, while attempting to attract a more respectable, better sort of resident.

Victorian Bournemouth (150): beginnings of change

Situation in 1871

According to the 1871 census, each building contained two households on average. One, perhaps both, of Woodbine Villas served as a lodging-house. A third of the household heads worked in the building trade. If the labourers present worked with them, the building trade produced income for half the households. Since leases for some plots, perhaps all, had begun in 1866 or 1867, half the street may have consisted of an extensive building site. By 1881, however, the construction appears to have finished. Oxford Road’s identity had perhaps already begun to change, as signalled in the replacement of numbers by names applied to each building. The use of the buildings, however, appears not to have changed, its 1871 pattern replicated down the rest of the street. This conclusion, in part, rests on the average household numbers per house, which in 1881 remained the same as in 1871: almost two.

Situation in 1881

The demographic profile of Oxford Road’s population shows noticeable differences in age. In 1871, people aged under 15 accounted for over 40%, but within ten years the proportion had fallen below a third, even though their absolute number had increased. In part because of this trend, the average age of the entire population went from 23 to 27. As an overall characterisation, the site during 1871 perhaps took the form of an extended labour camp, young parents during the early years of family building. Ten years later, older people, either annuitants or retirees, began to find their way to Oxford Road. Such occupants, perhaps, had in mind a longer period of habitation than their counterparts in 1871. Nevertheless, the residential practice remained little change, the dwellings continuing as households of multiple occupation. The enumerator noted five heads of household in 1 Cranstoun Villas, seven others containing at least three.

Victorian Bournemouth (150): significant social change


Analysis of occupations listed for heads of household living on Oxford Road during 1881 suggests a varied economic, and thus, social range. The builders continued their number, but reduced share, while a small artisan community appeared, makers of footwear, furniture, jewellery, and textiles. Transport workers – coachmen, cabdrivers – appeared in the same number as the builders, more than in 1871. The street now had two lodging-houses. People living on un-earned incomes also appeared in relative numbers. Meanwhile labourers diminished in number. While the application of the term ‘annuitant’ has some variety, the combination of builders, cabdrivers, and gardeners alongside them may suggest an element of social uncertainty. The Oxford Road community, perhaps, existed in a more fluid condition than the working neighbourhood of Springbourne or the privileged enclave living around Dean Park. Thus, a form of social manoeuvring may have occurred as people decided between staying or going.


Now, the households had reduced in numbers, the average approaching one per dwelling. Furthermore, continuity of occupation had developed. Almost half of the households listed in 1891 had remained there since at least 1881. Indeed, about a third of families occupied their dwellings 1881-1901. Of those who left during 1881-1891, more than half moved elsewhere within Bournemouth. Many went to live in Springbourne, others to The Triangle. Outdoor servants operating their employers’ coaches had gone, as had most of the other cabbies. Labourers dropped almost to none. This suggests that the social manoeuvres hypothesised may have resulted in wins and losses. Working people may have felt pressure, social or economic, to move elsewhere. The high number who remained living in Bournemouth suggests they found it better to live elsewhere while continuing their economic activity. Working people in household of multiple occupation perhaps no longer fitted the Oxford Road model.

Victorian Bournemouth (150): a move towards gentrification


After 1881, although some houses changed names, their design may not have altered since construction. Advertisements in the 1890s refer to water closets. They may have featured at time of building, but leaseholders may have improved the properties. The reduction in the pattern of multiple household occupation, however, suggests a form of gentrification had occurred. Tenants who could afford all the rent replaced them. In some cases, the tenants operated at commercial risk, as they operated the buildings as lodging-houses. Nevertheless, this surrogate version of multiple occupation appeared more acceptable than having many tenants on low incomes. The exact roles in the setting and collecting rent played by leaseholder and tenants, main or sub, remains unclear from the information. Leaseholders may have seen an advantage of having fewer tenants, who had a higher worth, as a protection against defaults. If so, they perhaps contributed to the street’s apparent gentrification after 1881.


After 1881, continuous occupation over decades became a noticeable feature amongst residents. Over time, acquaintance and friendship, a sharing of objectives, may have contributed towards creating a group whose influence brought about a form of social protectorate around the street. Rent manipulation or policy changes about target tenant profiles may have enabled this occurrence, but the possibility exists that the tenants, the street’s residents, caused this to happen through a form of social pressure. Oxford Road existed in limbo between Bournemouth and Springbourne. Its cluster of working people living in the street at its beginning may have drawn it within the latter’s orbit. Court records show how often some Springbourne residents received convictions for anti-social behaviour. The area perhaps acquired a reputation. Middling people resident in Oxford Road may have wanted to prevent this happening. This perhaps caused them to cooperate in improving their street’s social fabric.


Victorian Bournemouth (150) speculates that pressure from landlords, i.e. lease-holders, may have influenced changes in Oxford Road’s social profile, but raises the possibility that the residents may have also played a role.


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