Victorian Bournemouth (163)

Victorian Bournemouth (163): Joe Weathercock

‘He’d jump at being mayor’


Victorian Bournemouth (163) explores a short-lived satirical column which appeared in the resort’s local press during the 1880s. ‘The Reflections of Policeman X’ poked fun at Bournemouth’s Improvement Commissioners during the time of the town’s first incorporation petition. The column took many shots at ‘Joe Weathercock’, the prominent local businessman Joseph Cutler. It provides an example of how satirical comment provided an edge to the media’s attempt to control local affairs while reporting them.

Victorian Bournemouth (163): media background

Local press roles

Media have two modes: mirroring and managing. The first presents its audience with a perspective and world which reflects their attitudes, opinions, and behaviour. In Victorian times, the media would portray paupers and the workhouse in a way that bolstered the respectable way of life sought by its middling and privileged readers. Mirroring confirms existing opinions. The second presents events and people in such a way to manage how audiences should change their opinions. A newspaper editor had several opportunities to use his pages to manage reader opinion. Readers would understand that a paper’s editorial expressed the opinions of its editor. They did not realise the extent that readers’ letters (sometimes written by the editor) and even the selection of stories comprised other aspects of the publication’s political and social stance. Within this context, a satirical column, for example ‘Reflections of Policeman X’, extended and added bite to editorial slant.

Policeman X

‘Reflections of Policeman X’ (and its summer replacement ‘Leaves from the Note Book of a Detective Off Duty’) flourished during the period when the incorporation movement prepared its first petition during 1884. Policeman X’s reflections consisted of a report given to his wife once home in the parlour. Rustic and vernacular in tone, the copy ridiculed Bournemouth’s Improvement Commission and some of its members. The copy accused them of indecision, waste of money, and borderline corruption. It portrayed a group deciding, rescinding, then rescinding once more. Furthermore, it made fun of the two groups contesting the possibility of Bournemouth’s incorporation. Policeman X named some people, but otherwise he adopted humorous nicknames. Many references occurred to ‘Joe Weathercock’. ‘ …a man that goes in for popularity, so he gets twisted about like a Weathercock, as they call him, there’s no knowing which way he’s going from one minute to another.’

Victorian Bournemouth (163): Joe Weathercock

The character

Joe Weathercock ‘would sign anything to get his name in the midst of half-a-dozen gentlemen, and captains among ’em too’. He had lost his Commission place in the 1884 elections, after which he stayed ‘at home learning elocution and finding out all the big words in the dictionary, so as to be ready for the fight … he isn’t a man to be beat’. ‘Joseph would never have put up the assessments if he’d known what would happen [lose his seat], nor would he have deserted the incorporation movement for the sake of seeing his name along of half-a-dozen swells if he had known.’ ‘ …he was at the first preliminary meeting, and took an active part and promised to second the resolution for incorporation and afterwards turned round.’ “Joey, we shouldn’t have put you on the committee if you hadn’t a lot of houses and [been] independent of business.”

The man

Policeman X comes closest to identifying Joe Weathercock when he accuses him of getting his name everywhere, including ‘Joseph’s Steps’. The town had acquired these on its West Cliff through a donation made by Joseph Cutler, a successful local builder and prominent member of Bournemouth’s community. A builder of some scale, he had survived bankruptcy without apparent damage to his reputation. It had taken several elections before he became an Improvement Commissioner but lost his seat during the first part of the incorporation movement (1884). He regained this after two years, but did not at first win a place on the Council. Cutler came from Christchurch, his father a fishmonger. He had lived in Australia. Despite much community service, Bournemouth society may have harboured doubts about him. Policeman X said ‘He’d jump at being mayor’ but Joseph Cutler never achieved this, reaching no further than an Alderman.

Victorian Bournemouth (163): analysis

Social civil war

Bournemouth’s embattled process whereby it achieved its Borough Charter formed a smokescreen to the resort’s long-standing social struggle. Founded as a resort, perhaps a colony, convalescent and pleasure, it first attracted wealthy people. The settlement’s commercial success, however, drew middling people, retailers and similar. The wealthy individuals wanted no change, but the middling types nursed civic ambitions, for self and town. Voting, however, depended on property ownership, multiple ballots controlled by a few wealthy residents enabling them to resist attempts made by other social types to change the town’s horizons and character. Policeman X perhaps reserved most of his bile for Joseph Cutler because he became a counter-jumper, gravitating from humble origins to gentle company. He served as the perfect agent for the reactionaries: many houses, but independent of business (i.e. the middling retailers wanting incorporation). His natural place lay with the successful retailers, but mayoralty’s hope turned his coat.

Satire’s impact

Despite more people supporting incorporation than opposing, the first petition failed. A second petition in 1886 did no better, even though the Weathercock had once again changed sides to re-join the supporters. Actions led by the Reverend Pretyman, heading the reactionary rump, continued to stave off Bournemouth’s Charter. In the end, threats that Bournemouth would become a division of Hampshire County Council frightened the last wealthy refuseniks to surrender. Bournemouth had taken almost a decade to become a Borough. Policeman X may have delivered early success and hope to the Incorporators. His ridiculing Joe Weathercock could have contributed to Joseph Cutler’s losing his Commission place in 1884. This perhaps demonstrates the effectiveness of satire as a media weapon. After the first petition went to London, Policeman X left his column, perhaps believing his job done. The wealthy residents’ reach into central government, however, meant he left the beat too soon.


Victorian Bournemouth (163) has analysed the satirical column published by the Bournemouth Guardian under the bye line of ‘Reflections of Policeman X’. Its sustained attack on the arch-politician Joseph Cutler, under the alias of ‘Joe Weathercock’, may have damaged his reputation and assisted those promoting incorporation for Bournemouth. Nevertheless, this apparent victory for newspaper satire, could not prevent their opponents from using political influence to delay its arrival for some years.


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