Victorian Bournemouth (158)

Victorian Bournemouth (158): socio-economic trends (1880s)

Increase. Improvement. Importance.


Victorian Bournemouth (158) uses demography and genealogy to sketch the area’s socio-economic development during the 1880s. The article discusses population trends as well as reviewing the area’s economic and social structures. It finds that, while the pace of growth reduced in the 1880s, the area’s society continued to move towards greater improvement.

Victorian Bournemouth (158): overall development

A Population

Calculating the resort’s population had always encountered difficulties because of its ephemeral nature, both wealthy visitors and transient workers. In round numbers, however, from 1851 to 1891, the population of Bournemouth and its surrounding hinterland may have expanded by as much as twenty times. Although some census sheets for 1891 appear not to have survived, the population that year had perhaps reached around 50,000. Between 1861 and 1851 the population doubled. Ten years later it had done the same. The 1881 figures suggest that it had more than doubled, but in 1891 the growth fell back to twice during the previous decade. During the 1870s, therefore, Bournemouth and its hinterland experienced substantial growth. Over this period, the census required an increasing number of enumerators. In the early period, the area required only three or four, but, by 1891 the organisers recognised thirty-three areas needing an enumerator.

B Footprint

One of the noticeable characteristics during this period consists of the shift in distribution between Bournemouth, its suburbs, and the rural hinterland. In 1861, 57% of the area’s population resided in the resort, a quarter in the rural hinterland, while almost a fifth in the suburbs. These consisted of embryonic settlements in Moordown, Springbourne, Boscombe, and Pokesdown. Ten years later, much had changed. The population of the suburbs had climbed by six times, so that the residents now accounted for around a third of all in the area. The rural hinterland had dropped to below a tenth. Even though its population did increase towards the end of the century, in 1891 it accounted for less than a twentieth of all inhabitants. The resort continued to grow its population, but its share declined towards 50%. Meanwhile, the suburbs in 1891 had grown to just under half of the area’s total.

Victorian Bournemouth (158): economic development

A All male occupations

The working male population, aged >15, comprised both heads of household and others. Both residents and visitors form the analysis. Over the years 1851-1891, these people accounted for around a fifth of the entire population. Women and children comprise the rest. Some of the women did work or, as annuitants, had an independent income stream. Through distillation, the occupations listed have reduced to a dozen categories, ranging from elite, privileged men, through those involved in the professions or commerce, to the labouring group, divided into skilled and unskilled workers. Of necessity for the analysis some groups cover a range of activities. The professionals, for example, include not only physicians, lawyers, architects, and clergymen, but also clerks, sharing with them a practical level of working literacy and numeracy. In a similar fashion, the group of building artisans covers the range of construction trades.

B Trends

Throughout the period 1851-1891, the economic structure found in the resort, suburbs, and the rural hinterland experienced marked change. Even in 1891, unskilled labourers accounted for the largest category of employed males, but at 25% this had halved. A substantial change occurred by the end of the 1860s, when this proportion dropped to below 30%, then proceeding through shallow declines. In parallel, the trend in occupational patterns indicates that the economy underwent improvement and increasing complexity. The proportion of artisans (e.g. blacksmiths, tailors etc) and building artisans doubled over this period. Those involved in the professions or in commerce grew at a similar rate. Thus, an increasing number of participants in the economy delivered value-added goods and services in contrast to the provision of manual labour. The area’s society, therefore, increased economic wealth, providing the inducement of better living standards to further phases of immigrants. 

Victorian Bournemouth (158): social development

A Pyramid

The occupations listed in the census reports also provide the basis for a social categorisation of the area’s inhabitants. This analysis concentrated on the heads of household rather than the adult male employed population. Further grouping of the dozen occupational categories shows evidence of a social pyramid. The upper level remained at a similar level each census, taking about 10% of the defined population. The lowest level of working people in 1861 accounted for about 60% of the pyramid. Thus, at this point the pyramid had a flattened shape. Over the decades middling people and skilled working people increased their share of it, causing a more pronounced pyramid shape. Professionals formed the top end of the middling people, close to the elites. Some skilled working people, also, will have come close to the lower middling levels. By 1891, these two sectors now accounted for about 60% of the households.

B Civic participation

Although gentry continued to participate in Bournemouth’s Improvement Commission, much of the Board’s membership consisted of successful, ambitious middling people. Long-term members came from the leading building-developers, the successful retailers, and some professionals, often local solicitors, and clergymen. In the early days, the flatter pyramid enabled the gentry and other elites to maintain the resort in its original format. This took the form of a colony, scattered across the area having little collective civic direction. As the middling people increased their proportion of society, they pursued a shared objective whereby Bournemouth moved from colony to town to borough. Gentry fighting a rear-guard action to prevent this, sneered at middling mayoral ambitions having an appetite for regalia. They wanted to retain the Eden that first existed, but the growing numbers of middling people wanted their personal improvement to find an echo in the town’s trajectory towards successful civic status.


Victorian Bournemouth (158) has charted demographic changes occurring within the resort, its suburbs, and its hinterland during last half of the nineteenth century. In addition to an increasing population, the area’s society also underwent improvement. It experienced increase, improvement, and importance.


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