Victorian Bournemouth (98)

Victorian Bournemouth (98): solicitors

Professional and public facilitators


Victorian Bournemouth (98) analyses the professional and personal lives of solicitors active during the resort’s second period. The men appeared often in press accounts of the resort’s legal, civic, and cultural events. Genealogical analysis suggests that, in addition to their shared professional interests, kinship connections may have existed between some. According to their surviving probate records, the majority had accumulated healthy estates during their lives.

Victorian Bournemouth (98): solicitors at work

Courts and property

The press’s attention on courts often brought solicitors to its readers’ attention. Misdemeanours and more serious crimes would have contributed to their revenue. A range of opportunities, however, lay in the constant property development that characterised Bournemouth then. Property offered a legal man several chances to make a living beyond leases. They often acted as surrogate estate agents for properties coming to market. Many appear to have acted as financial advisers, bringing together developers (often builders) and lenders. It seemed acceptable for the lawyer sometimes to provide building money from his own resources. Another opportunity to derive revenue from property activities occurred during the builder’s bankruptcy. This occurrence increased in frequency at the end of the 1860s. It affected not just small holders but also large builders and speculators. The builder Joseph Cutler as well as James Bell, the grocer become speculator, featured amongst bankruptcies of the time.

Other activities

In addition to courts and property, solicitors participated in the town’s infrastructure. James Druitt, for example, acted as secretary to the Improvement Commission. Matthew Webb, however, served on its board. Druitt also worked as a coroner. The records show that lawyers also served as Poor Law Guardians and churchwardens. Several lawyers belonged to the Hengist Freemason Lodge, transferred from Christchurch for relaunch at Bournemouth during the early 1850s. The membership rolls show how lawyers rubbed shoulders with builders and bankers at lodge meetings. Whereas masons concentrated on fundraising, its milieu provided a secluded opportunity for interested parties to discuss projects of mutual benefit. As the resort’s respectable people grew in number, they developed various cultural events, often held for raising funds for charities. Names of lawyers flittered through press reports of these events. Thus, solicitors, in addition to their professional involvement with the town, played roles in its society.

Victorian Bournemouth (98): social profiles

Origins and geography

The solicitors practising at Bournemouth shared a geographic commonality. Despite its Hampshire location, all had or appeared to have strong connections with Dorset. Two came from Poole, one from Wimborne and another born in Hooke. William Reade’s father, a Dorset man, moved his family to different places, one Bath, the birthplace of his son. William Lacey, born in London, had a large estate near Wareham. James Druitt, born in Christchurch (Hampshire), married in Wimborne, his father’s birthplace. Not all the lawyers who practised in Bournemouth lived there during this period. Lacey’s centre lay in Wareham, William Reade’s practice in Ringwood, but directories listed them for Bournemouth. Thomas Rawlins, who had a well-established practice in Wimborne, had a Bournemouth connection as early as 1859. Hence, Bournemouth, as it grew, attracted the attention of several enterprising Dorset lawyers, who saw it as an opportunity for additional revenue and connections.

Background and connections

In most cases, the solicitors’ fathers also worked in the law. For example, William Reade’s father practised as a barrister. Henry Aldridge’s like-named father had a solicitor’s practice in Poole. James Druitt’s father, a Christchurch lawyer, also served as its mayor. Thomas Rawlins, in contrast, grew up on a thousand-acre farm in Dorset. Third son of Samuel, a gentleman farmer, Thomas married Anne Webb, daughter of a Wimborne maltster. Matthew, her brother, featured often on Bournemouth’s legal and social scene. Marriage connected two other legal families: the Aldridges and the Kemp-Welches. This linkage included not only a lawyer but also a physician. James Druitt married the daughter of a Blandford solicitor. Other marriages connected the solicitors with people of a similar background. Albert Nelson Everett married a naval captain’s daughter first, second a gentleman’s daughter. Matthew Webb’s wife, a clergyman’s daughter, had first married a physician.

Victorian Bournemouth (98): evaluation


As seen from documentary sources, most of Bournemouth’s solicitors experienced wealth throughout their lives. They had rich, successful fathers; they left healthy estates at the end. Thomas Rawlins left over £12,000, about the same sized estate as his father-in-law, the maltster, and his elder brother, the farmer. William Lacey left under £18,000. The estate of James Druitt reached almost £40,000, three times that of his father, the mayor. Henry Aldridge left a comparable estate, but his wife, a Kemp-Welch, left almost £70,000. Altogether, their children left around £3,000,000 in the middle third of the next century. The Druitt children also left reasonable estates. Hence, in financial terms, these lawyers had respectable wealth, a couple elevating their families to a significant level. Active participation in Bournemouth society and culture, moreover, would have added connections to their wealth. The law had extended their wealth and brought prestige, cementing an elevated social position.


Matthew Webb, a wealthy brewer’s son, brother-in-law to Thomas Rawlins, appeared often in Bournemouth society at this period. His wife, twice a widow, may have contributed £30,000 to their union. He perhaps played a role in cleaning up the collapse of Poole’s Ledgards’ bank in the early 1860s. Webb served as a lieutenant in the local militia (artillery). He often attended or gave performances at meetings held by the Bournemouth Institute. His name appeared at a variety of events: celebrator dinners, cornerstone laying, various balls, Odd Fellows. He served on more than one occasion on the Improvement Commission. He acted as secretary for a local building society. Often, as building bankruptcy details showed, he advised and invested in developers’ projects. In the 1870s, however, he went bankrupt under suspicious circumstances. He departed from Bournemouth, a litter of cases in his wake. Later, he may have taught school in Eastbourne.


Victorian Bournemouth (98) has explored the professional and personal profiles of solicitors active in the resort during this period. They had similar social backgrounds and geography. Kinship may have connected several. Most lived affluent lives, participants in the urban societies of eastern Dorset. Most experienced financial and social success. The case of Matthew Webb, however, illustrates how, even with such a background and connections, success came with no long-term guarantee.


For references and engagement, please get in touch. Main primary sources: here and here (subscriptions needed). See here for early property development at Bournemouth. See here for local bankruptcy.

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