Victorian Bournemouth (178)

Victorian Bournemouth (178): early Moordown (2)

Running faster to stay in place


Victorian Bournemouth (178) resumes exploring the early years whereby an area of heath underwent rapid urban development to become Moordown. This section concentrates on social and economic aspects of the process. It also examines how the native population reacted to the substantial changes occurring in their society. 

Victorian Bournemouth (178): Demographics


In the 1850s, 50-60 households comprised hamlets scattered around the moor, each containing five people on average. At this point, extensive immigration began. Although substantial infant mortality occurred, live births exceeded burials, thereby increasing the population. By 1891, the number of households approached one thousand. Natives of Dorset, elsewhere in Hampshire, but also from further parts comprised the immigrants. In 1861, almost three quarters of the area’s total population had consisted of natives (Moordown and surrounding hamlets), but, thirty years later, this had dropped to half. Furthermore, the number of native adults had decreased to about a fifth. Thus, families native to the area, sometimes for generations, would have experienced several pressures. The landscape had changed beyond recognition. They had become a minority, not only in numbers but perhaps also in stature. Competition for resources will have increased in intensity. Only adaptation would enable native families to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Native marriage practices

Before the immigration period, opportunities for marriage partners lay within inhabitants of the heath and its scattered settlements. This pattern changed during the Victorian period, in particular after immigration began, when Moordown’s young adults made marriages with native Dorset partners. The practice of local intermarriage, therefore, declined. The proportion of all married couples consisting of both partners as natives or originating nearby accounted for just over a third according to the 1861 census. The figure shaded down to below 30% ten years later. In 1881, however, this proportion had experienced a significant decline. Intermarriage between natives or those from nearby accounted for only one in every ten households containing married partners. By 1891, the figure had dropped to about half this proportion. A change of this nature will have transformed a tight, introverted and closed society into the opposite. New practices and ideas will have revolutionised local society.

Victorian Bournemouth (178): socio-economic developments 

Field labourers to shop assistants

Two thirds of those in active occupation in the heath area during the 1860s laboured, some on farms, some in other areas. As the area became a suburban zone adjacent to Bournemouth, the proportion of labourers declined, decade by decade. By 1891, the proportion had dropped below half. Furthermore, many of those so designated worked as assistants within the shops that grew along the Wimborne Road. In common with Springbourne, the second largest sector of those in work at Moordown found employment in constructing their built environment. Carpenters, joiners, plumbers, plasterers and other building artisans accounted for almost a quarter of the employed by 1891. Further economic variety existed as the number of people working in retail and other commercial activities increased. Craft artisans, for example blacksmiths or bookmakers, numbered about a fifth of the working population. Thus, the children of agricultural labourers became shop assistants.

Subtle economic apartheid

Analysis of economic activity conducted by Moordown and Winton residents by 1891 shows differences according to geographic origin. For example, over half of natives worked as labourers, but only a third of those who had migrated from outside both Dorset and Hampshire. Natives had a slight skew towards working in the building trade, but a much lower appearance amongst those who worked as commercial artisans. Furthermore, few natives became involved in other aspects of commerce, this falling to those originating from elsewhere in Hampshire or further away. Thus, to an extent, Moordown’s natives occupied the lower levels of the economy, for the most part selling their labour. Some, indeed, had acquired artisan skills providing a higher wage within the construction sector. Outsiders, it seems, provided those parts of the economy which added value and perhaps had a better access to wealth creation. Hence, these people occupied the higher economic levels.

Victorian Bournemouth (178): surfing the wave

New genes for old

Moordown society during this period included multiple households bearing one of a shortlist of surnames. Genealogical analysis of some suggests that kinship linkage existed for many of such households. For example, fifteen heads of household had the name Osborne in 1891. Study suggests that most of these sprang from at least three brothers born around 1800. Many of their descendants continued to live in the area. Several other families resembled the Osbornes. In total, at this period, 84 wives belonged to one of these families. Only a quarter had originated in Moordown or nearby. The majority of the men had married women born elsewhere. Thus, some established Moordown families realised that one way to adapt in new, severe circumstances lay in taking advantage of the new gene pool. To maintain vitality and to maximise opportunities, they pursued a shared strategy of recruiting natives of distant places as wives. 

Staying in position

Established families or networks within Moordown maintained their local presence, adapting to its shape and opportunities. Successive generations of the Osbornes, for example, appear to have found homes further south, residing on Winton’s new streets or even those in Charminster. With their ‘foreign’ wives, they produced many children, maintaining their presence within the population. Furthermore, several of the families’ later members developed artisan skills within the building industry. Thus, they achieved social flotation through improvement. It seems possible, therefore, that these close-knit, connected kinship groups maintained their ancestral, prominent position within the area’s society. Since William Osborne had married Elizabeth Vallence at Holdenhurst, 1782, their ‘moor down’ environment had undergone substantial physical and social change. Despite the tsunami of immigrants transforming heath into streets, the old families adapted to maintain their presence and position within the local culture. Even the old rebel, Esau Watton, left an estate worth £150.


Victorian Bournemouth (178) has looked further into the sudden immigration that transformed the ‘moor down’ into Moordown. It discussed the way in which native families, close-knit, having a lengthy position of local prominence, may have changed their marriage practices to enable them to adapt to the new social circumstances. This behaviour may also have pushed them upwards towards a measure of respectability.


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.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply