Victorian Bournemouth (162)

Victorian Bournemouth (160): municipal incorporation (2)

Change with continuity


Victorian Bournemouth (160) continues the articles studying the resort’s progress towards achieving incorporation in 1890. This piece analyses events concerning the three petitions made during the 1880s.

Victorian Bournemouth (160): legislative context

The Acts

During the nineteenth century, the government standardised civic legislature across urban settlements. Two acts, 1835 and 1882, introduced a uniform system of incorporated boroughs. Poole retained its charter after 1835, but Christchurch, then in a decayed state, received the status of an unreformed borough. Systematic building at Bournemouth did not begin until later in the decade, but by 1856 it acquired an Improvement Board, providing a basis of organised governance. In 1876, a royal commission address the unreformed boroughs, opening an opportunity for Christchurch to incorporate. The inhabitants underwent this process over several years. The Queen assented to the town’s municipal charter in 1886. The 1882 act increased municipal powers. In 1888, the government passed a Local Government Act. One of its features consisted of establishing county councils across England and Wales. By this time, Bournemouth’s commercial success had made it a bigger settlement than Christchurch. Interest in incorporation developed.

The implications for Bournemouth

Longer-settled inhabitants had witnessed Bournemouth experience spectacular growth. A few huts perched on the shore in the 1830s had grown into a settlement more populous than the other town within the parish, Christchurch. Bournemouth offered commercial opportunities that will have revived its neighbouring, unreformed borough. Instances of rivalry flashed on newspaper pages. In 1886, its Commission chairman suggested that, because of its superior condition, Bournemouth should replace Christchurch within the parliamentary constituency’s name. This drew returning fire on those inhabiting an area consisting of ‘a few ugly pines and a ditch’.  Further, ‘Bournemouth, except to its own inhabitants, is a place of no importance’. The town had outgrown its Improvement Commission’s capability. The municipal act (1882) may have encouraged some to promote incorporation. Perhaps, their unreformed neighbour’s moves to achieve the same objective, but in advance, provided a further spur towards higher civic status and a mayor’s regalia.

Victorian Bournemouth (160): initial applications


Initiative for incorporation developed in two camps. One lay inside the Improvement Commission, the other consisted of Bournemouth’s inhabitants and its media. The Bournemouth Guardian supported incorporation. Its editor, in 1883, ‘wondered whether the Board in future will continue to keep pace with its work or whether it will become a sort of second-rate debating society “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”’. To obtain a charter, a petition had to reach the Privy Council signed by a significant number of inhabitants. The Commission could shape opinion but could not apply. To some extent, its members’ debates reflected public opinion, though distorted by their status. Bournemouth had to submit three petitions before success. Each time, the tabulated balance for supporters and opponents tilted further towards the former. At the end, the defiant efforts of the ‘Vigilance Committee’ and some twenty-five landlords proved unable to protect the settlement’s existing civic status.

First two petitions

Enoch White, a Commissioner of humble origin, in business as a nurseryman, appeared as an early promoter of incorporation. He experienced opposition, but the gainsayers could not prevent a public vote. In January 1884, ‘200 affluent opponents’ arrayed against the promoters. They attempted a diversionary tactic with proposals to establish wards and increase the Commission’s membership. This notwithstanding, the Privy Council required a public enquiry at which a small majority voted in favour. The ensuing petition appears to have failed. The promoters persevered. Opinion grew in their favour. The opponents, however, although fewer, remained committed to their view. This time, the application appears to have occurred without a public enquiry. This submission, too, failed. The Privy Councillors appeared to think too little time had lapsed since the earlier petition. They did not believe that public opinion had tilted so far in so short a time. The promoters did not surrender.

Victorian Bournemouth (160): final application 

The third petition

Thomas Hankinson, a businessman having several enterprises, had long supported incorporation. He served as secretary of a Committee outside the Commission dedicated to this purpose. After the second failure, he seems to have led the movement, both inside and outside the chamber. The Local Government Act caused many opponents to favour incorporation. They shared the opinion of the promoters that Bournemouth should retain its identity. The new act, passed in 1888, could mean that Bournemouth became an administrative region within Hampshire County Council. Long-standing Bournemouth citizens featured among its Councillors elected to sit in Winchester, ready to protect the town’s interests. Nevertheless, the mood favoured preservation of the resort’s identity, independent of the County Council. Opposition consisted of the Reverend J. R. Pretyman and a few colleagues, but they could not prevent the third petition or another public enquiry. The process slowed, but in 1890 the charter arrived.

What happened next

The election resulted in both continuity and change. Bournemouth’s first municipal council consisted of some former Commissioners, but many who had not served. Of the previous Commissioners who stood for election about half lost. Some extended their political life, however, since they became aldermen. Two of the winners also became aldermen. Many new councillors appear to have had no previous political life at Bournemouth. Thus, the continuity consisted for the most part of aldermen, while the change comprised most of the councillors. Continuity remained at the helm, as the town’s first mayor, T. J. Hankinson, had served several times on the old Improvement Commission. The council had elected authority to manage the resort’s affairs. Furthermore, Bournemouth had a legitimate claim to equal status with Poole and Christchurch. The greater pace of its commercial success however perhaps gave it the lead in prestige and reputation.


Victorian Bournemouth (160) has reviewed the process through which promoters of Bournemouth’s incorporation achieved success after almost a decade. The executive command structure that emerged after the elections perhaps reflected the results of extending the franchise. Bournemouth’s council maintained some continuity with the Improvement Commission but included much change in the form of novice members.


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