Victorian Bournemouth (176)

Victorian Bournemouth (176): infant mortality (3)

More mean streets


Victorian Bournemouth (176) finds infant mortality a constant factor throughout the resort’s developing eastern suburbs. Parish registers for Springbourne, Boscombe, and Pokesdown show how much this problem blighted the population growth in these areas, inhabited for the most part by working people. The analysis finds a similar picture to that reported for Moordown and Winton.

Victorian Bournemouth (176): background


In parallel with Bournemouth’s rapid growth during the mid-Victorian period, settlements became established in the east. Boscombe grew in part because of developers’ plans to create a spa to compete with Bournemouth. Further east, Pokesdown grew around the mansion house built during Georgian times. Closest to Bournemouth, Springbourne advanced as the railway moved westward reaching the resort in 1870. Springbourne and Boscombe came within the ambition of Bournemouth’s Improvement Commission. The board members planned to extend the resort’s drainage system to expel waste into the sea around Boscombe beach. In the mid-1870s, supported by the Local Government Board, the Commissioners annexed Springbourne and Boscombe. A preference for independence flickered amongst some inhabitants, but not strong enough to withstand the Commissioners. By this time, a new church, St Clement’s, served both Springbourne and Boscombe. St James’s in Pokesdown had appeared a decade earlier. Burial registers survive for both.


Boscombe and Pokesdown grew as waypoints on the main road connecting the new resort with Christchurch, the ancient town. Springbourne, however, expanded within a tight grid-iron of streets, laid out much as developers had shaped Winton. The first two settlements flourished around installations made by wealthy families, for example, the Shelleys. Their social structures combined both working and privileged people. The latter in time liquidated their holdings for building development. Springbourne, however, a Greenfield site, had always housed working people. Analysis of the Petty Sessions and Police Court hearings shows repeated appearances in both made by Springbourne residents. The area had a reputation for drunken, brawling people of both genders. Concerns about the drainage infrastructure in all three areas made periodic appearances in the press. Some Springbourne residents kept pigs in their gardens, often resisting attempts by the Commissioners to prevent this. Parts of the area thus became health risks.

Victorian Bournemouth (176): birth and death


The population of the settlements experienced rapid growth during 1871-1901. Part of the increase came from plentiful baptisms. The 2,000 baptisms conducted in St Clement’s during the 1890s exceeded the earlier number fourfold. St James’s also increased its number of baptisms, the community needing an additional church during the 1890s. By comparison, Moordown’s baptismal volume at this period placed it between the two eastern areas. Analysis of paternal occupations recorded on baptismal records shows that working people, both unskilled and skilled, accounted for much of the population. Labourers predominated in the early period, building artisans running at a very similar rate. Over time, however, new social groups entered the structure. The registers record more children born of artisans working outside the construction industry and of men working in commercial sectors, for example retail. This direction of social improvement also appeared in Moordown and Winton.


As with Moordown, infant mortality appeared here at a high level. During the 1870s, infants accounted for almost half the graves dug for St Clement’s. They died at five times the rate of adults aged over 65. A similar condition applied at Pokesdown. There, infant burials outnumbered those for elderly people by three to one. These rates reflect those found for Moordown and Winton. Over time, these rates declined somewhat, so that during the 1890s infant mortality had reduced to below 400 in every thousand burials. When compared with baptisms, however, differences separated Springbourne-Boscombe and Pokesdown. Infant deaths per thousand baptisms recorded by both churches in the former declined from 200 per thousand in the 1870s to around 100. In Pokesdown, by comparison, this rate increased from 120 to 180. Although the number of baptisms conducted at St James’s did grow each decade, its rate slowed behind those at St Clement’s. 

Victorian Bournemouth (176): Springbourne and Boscombe

Mean streets, again

St Clement’s, Springbourne’s church, transacted lifestage events for some living in Boscombe in addition to its local population. Overall, St Clement’s processed more Springbourne than Boscombe residents, but differences in ratios occurred for lifestage events. Thus, baptisms for Springbourne residents outnumbered those for Boscombe people by a ratio of 1.30:1. For all burials, the ratios widened. Springbourne burials outnumbered those for Boscombe residents by 1.55:1. For infant burials, however, the ratio widened once more – 2.0: 1. This suggests whereas more births occurred in Springbourne than Boscombe, a much greater proportion of those born in the former died. Hence, new children born in Springbourne lived at greater risk than those for Boscombe. A similar difference occurred for the adjacent settlements of Winton and Moordown. The tight urban design of the former compared to Moordown’s rural layout emerged as a possible reason. Such a difference applied to Springbourne and Boscombe.

Social differences

For both Springbourne and Boscombe, around half the new children belonged to labouring households or those of building artisans. During this period, however, the latter declined in proportion, while baptisms for fathers working on the railway increased. Although this category included skilled workers (engine drivers) it included some labouring occupations. Construction workers appear to have moved away also from Boscombe, but commercial employees and artisans outside building appear to have replaced them. Thus, although both areas had similar social origins, Boscombe experienced greater improvement. More of its residents perhaps aimed towards respectability and middling values. Springbourne, however, may have remained rooted in its labouring origins. As with Moordown and Winton, therefore, Springbourne and Boscombe residents differed in their economic horizons and levels of wealth. The latter could afford better environments in which to raise their new children as well as paying for medical support if troubles arose.


Victorian Bournemouth (176) has found in Springbourne, Boscombe, and Pokesdown a similar pattern of infant mortality to that established for Moordown and Winton. Children of labouring people had greater likelihood of dying soon after birth than those born in other social categories. Minimal financial resources may account for this. Perhaps, also, the unhealthy nature of the area’s early drainage infrastructure contributed to this social blight.


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