A Brief History of Bournemouth

Despite being one of the largest towns in a historic area of the UK often associated with ancient fossils and geological marvels, the human history of Bournemouth is a relatively short one. The town was only officially founded in the early 19th century, and the oldest surviving dwellings date back to only the 14th century. Thus, this nonetheless fascinating seaside town is the perfect subject for a truly short history.

AD1: The oldest evidence of human settlement in the Bournemouth area has been found around the tiny village of Holdenhurst. Coins of the Durotrige tribe, who inhabited the British Isles before the Roman invasion of 43 AD, have been found here.

1600: Little is known of the intervening 1500 years in this area of Dorset. Most of the land was used for light farming, grazing and fishing with few permanent residents building any structures that would stand the test of time. Thus, the oldest surviving building in the Bournemouth area is a mud-built barn built sometime in this century. However, it might be not be for long as Bournemouth Council are today seeking to demolish it to make way for a new junction on the A338.

1809: The first known building of Bournemouth proper was built in this year. The Tapp’s Arms was named after Sir George Tapps, a local estate owner who owned much of the land that would later become Bournemouth at that time. The inn mostly catered to local smugglers and farmers, who would take advantage of the secluded beaches for their illicit activities.

1810: Now considered one of the key figures in Bournemouth’s history, this year marked the first visit of retired army officer Lewis Tregonwell. He came with his wife, bought 8 ½ acres and designed a grand house that is today part of the Royal Exeter Hotel.

1837: When Sir George Tapps senior died, his son, George Tapps Jr, inherited the land. He saw a business opportunity – to develop the unspoilt beaches into a tourist destination like Weymouth on the opposite Dorset coast. He built two large hotels and private pavilion accommodation over the course of one year, and in 1838 the first church in Bournemouth opened up for local residents.

1855: The origins of Bournemouth’s famous pier can be traced back to this year, when residents built a wooden jetty – mainly for fishing purposes. It was expanded in 1861 and then again in 1870, which was the same year train network reached the town for the first time. Around this time, between 1865 and 1870, the town also received running water and gas powered streetlighting.

1891: Between 1881 and this year, Bournemouth’s total population nearly doubled to just shy of 40,000 people. This super-fast growth would see the Bournemouth council area swallow up the neighbouring parishes of Boscombe and Springbourne. The first library and many other public services also started opening around this time.