Victorian Bournemouth (154)

Victorian Bournemouth (154): poor children

Lost and forgotten


Victorian Bournemouth (154) explores the lives of children found in the Christchurch Union Workhouse school at Tuckton in 1881. Against the background of considerable local change, the article charts the past and future lives of these children as well as their reasons for arrival. Bournemouth formed part of the Christchurch Union, taking increasing control during the 1870s.

Victorian Bournemouth (154): local poor relief background

New workhouse project

The Christchurch Union administered poor relief for several surrounding parishes including the two containing Bournemouth. During the 1870s, the Union supported perhaps five hundred poor through indoor and outdoor relief. Accepting that the existing workhouse had too little space, the Board of Guardians embarked on building a larger replacement. The project took several years, involving much discussion and disarray. A change in the Board’s elective structure had increased its quotient of men representing Bournemouth. As a result, constant squabbles for control between the new men and the Christchurch old guard disrupted the building project. Its cost, however, concentrated the Board’s attentions, their intention to spend as little as possible. Late in the development, the Board realised that their design did not allow for the separate quartering of children. At this time, the children occupied a building in Tuckton, a neighbouring village, which also acted as their schoolroom.

The establishment at Tuckton

Some Guardians resented the extra expenditure at Tuckton. Concerned at the size of the new workhouse, they felt that it should contain the children. Moral issues, however, prompted disagreements. The Reverend Pretyman thought, when the children before shared with the adults, ‘the conversation with the old men … quite injurious, as well as unpleasant at times.’ He wanted ‘to keep the children as far away from the aged men as they could, and also from the walls and associations of a workhouse which would prey on their minds in years to come’. Doing so, he thought, would keep them from poverty as adults. He thought they should occupy the old workhouse site. Others ‘thought they must do away with all sentimentality as regards the children, who were paupers after all that was said about them’. A workhouse tainted them no less than the receipt of outdoor relief.

Victorian Bournemouth (154): school management and pupils

Discontinuity and disruption in school management

Newspapers articles suggest that the management of Tuckton’s school had encountered some disruption. Finding appropriate staff seemed to test the Board’s capability. In October 1877, the teacher requested a testimonial of her character, which the Board provided. They seemed unprepared, however, when she resigned next February. The new appointment, an assistant at Holy Trinity, Bournemouth, failed her vetting, requiring them to repeat the process. Her replacement, Matilda Townsend, within two years caused the resignation of the schoolroom’s nurses. ‘They had been ill-used by the schoolmistress, Miss Townsend’ … who … ‘had complained to the matron of ‘the nurse’s manner’.’ Having to manage this extra establishment provided the Workhouse master with the opportunity to demand and receive a salary increase (£10). By now, indeed, the school had almost thirty children, according to a press article, almost the same number as the number listed by the 1881 census.

Survey of the children

Boys accounted for two thirds of the children present in 1881. About half had reached age ten or more. Where identified, the children’s fathers had labouring or craft occupations. Thus, the children had humble social backgrounds. Most had kinship with at least one other child, often sibling pairs. Two families, however, had consigned six children each to the workhouse. One sibling collection belonged to Thomas and Susan Bowditch, the other to John and Jane Holt. The Holt children shared kinship with another inmate, Frederick Sellers, their probable cousin. Other connections have not emerged, although John Holt had entered Christchurch workhouse at the same time as his children. No other children appeared to have had an adult relative present in the adult workhouse. Thus, the children would have had to rely on each other for emotional support or on whatever friendships they might form. 

Victorian Bournemouth (154): circumstances and later life


Genealogical investigation suggests that either of two catastrophes may have resulted in children entering the workhouse annex and school at Tuckton. On the one hand, either or both parents may have died, while, on the other, the father may have also entered a workhouse or vanished. The surviving partner perhaps could not support the young children. In two cases, the children’s father remarried but their stepmother appears not to have accepted care of them. Both John Holt and Thomas Bowditch had married much younger women, the union producing several children. By 1881, however, each man had entered a workhouse. In one case, the mother may have absconded, while the other mother remained at home taking care of a very young child, perhaps on outdoor relief. Two fathers appeared to have had long lives after losing their wives, perhaps choosing not to support their children or not having the ability.


Explorations of the children’s later lives shows that, while some died very young, others lived beyond the 1939 census. Adolphus Besant entered the merchant marine but drowned when his ship foundered in the North Sea. Two other boys found work connected with the North Sea, fishing or wharf work, living long in Cleethorpes and Grimsby. Others also survived their experience in the workhouse to live many years, in most cases marrying and even producing children of their own. They followed humble occupations as a rule. The occasional subsequent appearance of a girl lists them as domestic servants. Most of the boys worked as labourers or similar occupations. Harry Anderson, however, worked as a porter for the Crichton Club in London, before returning to Christchurch working as a butler by 1901. In other cases, the children vanished from the record, no records of marriage found in the case of the girls.


Victorian Bournemouth (154) has explored the backgrounds and subsequent lives of children which the 1881 census listed in the workhouse annex and school at Tuckton. Family catastrophes, the loss or one or both parents, most often to early deaths, seems to account for the entry of most. Children of humble backgrounds, if they lived to adulthood, they appear to have remained at this social level.


For references and engagement, please get in touch. Main primary sources: here and here (subscriptions needed). See also here. Thanks to Phillip V. Allingham for image.

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