Victorian Bournemouth (178)

Victorian Bournemouth (177): early Moordown (1)

Rough broth


Victorian Bournemouth (177) charts aspects of how Moordown experienced rapid growth from an empty heath to a busy suburb. Sudden development of housing attracted a large influx of ‘Gastarbeiter’ from outside the area. This posed social challenges both for the few native residents and for the new arrivals.

Victorian Bournemouth (177): background

‘No workers here’

Migrants, unskilled and skilled, streamed to the rising seaside colony Bournemouth during the mid-nineteenth century. The apparent endless work opportunity offered by the settlement’s constant construction investment attracted them. At the beginning, the migrants installed their families in the neighbourhood of Terrace Road, creating an enclave of working people. Criticism of their living habits, not least the sanitation arrangements, publicised by middling and professional people appears to have curtailed such developments within the main settlement. Developers wanted to create quality buildings for letting at high rents to the privileged visitors – invalids and tourists – unwilling to risk the value of their investment through its adjacency to growing numbers of working people. As a result, attention turned towards peripheral areas as zones to house the working people. One such, Moordown, situated to the north of Bournemouth, an unsettled area, provided opportunities for such investment. Before long, the builders arrived.

One style of development

The Talbot sisters, having inherited substantial wealth from their father, settled in Bournemouth. Living conditions amongst the labouring poor motivated them to develop a model village located to the north of Bournemouth, on the edge of the Moordown area. They anticipated the Cadbury family’s development of Bournville by some years. Inhabitants of Talbot Village occupied new houses, each having an acre of land, a pig-stye, and a well. Other buildings included a school, a school-master’s house, and a small chapel. As part of their social contract for occupation, residents had to practise Temperance, eschewing the use of alcohol. Although a substantial development, Talbot Village did not have the capacity to house the number of labouring immigrants that streamed into the area. As development proceeded to the north of Talbot Village, it included public houses, a necessary part of the lifestyle for many working men. This caused friction with Talbot Village.

Victorian Bournemouth (177): early situation

The wasteland

During the early nineteenth century, the term ‘geographical expression’ perhaps best described the area known as Moordown. It clustered at the edge of wasteland that grew into Hardy’s imagination as Egdon Heath. Archaeology shows that Moordown had experienced continuous human presence for hundreds if not thousands of years. A few farms and cottages housing the associated labourers covered Moordown, Red Hill, and Muscliff. To the south, then part of Bournemouth’s parliamentary area, lay Winton. Around 200-300 people inhabited the area according to the census at this time. Counting surnames suggests that the area contained a small number of kinship groups or, perhaps, clans. These covered many families. Kinship connections between like-named people perhaps varied between close and far. These families appeared to play an influential role in local life. Little policing seems to have occurred within this area, the local clans perhaps performing that function instead.


The development of the area covering the Moordown and Winton areas appears to have followed the process which had earlier occurred within Bournemouth. A combination of land proprietors and developers prepared the way for construction on a large scale. To the south, in the Springbourne area, simultaneous development of a greenfield site occurred. It seems that the inhabitants, most men having experience suited to construction, built the properties which they would later inhabit. A similar process perhaps happened in Moordown. Here, however, established kinship clans, some listed in the Hearth Tax (1660s), had to address the influx of ‘Gastarbeiter’ arriving from around the middle of the century. The established families would have practised a lifestyle comprised of parochial customs evolving from close-knit modes of cooperation, a process of some antiquity as the Hearth Tax listings suggest. The early history of Moordown, therefore, rotates around such families seeing opportunity or challenge. 

Victorian Bournemouth (177): early Moordown society

Rough broth

In 1867, a man called at the house of Moordown’s wheelwright, Henry Andrews. He asked Henry’s wife, Elizabeth, about lodgings. ‘He then pushed the door open and caught the complainant m his arms, repeatedly kissed her, pushed her into a chair, and tried to take further liberties with her.’ Despite her cries for help, nobody answered, either from ignorance or disinterest. Press reports estimated 500 working men a day trekking into Bournemouth from Moordown and other suburban developments. Some went home at night, but others tended ‘to loiter in groups in the public thoroughfares during the evening to the inconvenience and annoyance of the public.’ Charges of drunkenness against the area’s residences trickled into the newspapers. Albeit at a distance, the suburban residents alarmed Bournemouth’s respectable population. Thus, the sudden juxtaposition of travelling labourers from different parts perhaps created a rough broth too hard for respectable people to swallow.

Disoriented natives

Esau Watton (1830-1890), born in the area, had twelve siblings. Twenty heads of household bearing this name appeared in Bournemouth’s 1891 census. Two included his brothers, with whom, on more than one occasion, Esau featured in press reports about alleged unlawful behaviour. This included brawling and assault, theft, and drunkenness. In the eighteenth century, the Wattons had drifted down from Ringwood to settle on the ‘moor down’, which they called ‘Marden’. With great effort, Esau signed his marriage register. He wrote his Christian name at twice the required size, the surname residing to the norm. His wife did not bother, using an X. One of their sons, Joseph, a bricklayer, could not sign his name, unusual in an artisan. The Wattons appear to have practised a form of local vigilante behaviour, perhaps to counter the uncertainties wrought by the sudden increase in immigrant population.


Victorian Bournemouth (177) has reviewed aspects of the immigrant rush which changed the built environment and native society in Moordown after the middle of the nineteenth century. The ordered and respectable initiative taken by the Talbot sisters when building their model village, a haven of temperance, covered a small part of the area. The rest grew up around labouring men who perhaps had little patience with Temperance or respect for the native population. A process of coping would need to usher in a more respectable and stable society.


For references and engagement, please get in touch. Main primary sources: here and here (subscriptions needed). Thanks here for the image of the ‘moor down’. See also here.

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