Bournemouth is a seaside resort in the county of Dorset on the south coast of England. It is located about 107 miles southwest of London, at latitude 50.43N and longitude 1.54W. The town overlooks Poole Bay.
It was originally part of Hampshire but was ceded to Dorset in a 1974 local government reform. Evidence of this can be found at the roundabout on the Wessex Way called "County gates" where once stood the gate marking the divide between Hampshire and Dorset, and which now marks the border between Poole and Bournemouth. On April 1, 1997 it became an independent unitary authority.
Bournemouth is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the English south coast, because of its fine long beach, the wide range of accommodation and entertainment, the mild climate, and easy access to the Jurassic Coast, the Dorset and Hampshire countryside, and Devon. This section of the English coast enjoys some of the warmest, driest, and sunniest weather in Britain.
Rapid growth in Bournemouth has taken place (see History). In 1880, it had 17,000 people, 60,000 by 1900 and had reached 150,000 by 1990. In the latest census, the town had a population of 163,441. Bournemouth is part of a conurbation with, to the west, Poole (population 138,385 in 2001) and to the east Christchurch (population 44,865), the whole area being sufficiently populous to be one of the major retail and commercial centres in the south of England. Traditionally a retirement town, Bournemouth now houses many students who attend Bournemouth University, which is noted for its Media School, and the Arts Institute.
The town is an important venue for major conferences and the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC), which stands on the cliff-tops near the middle of the town overlooking the sea and the pier, is the town's main venue for large conferences including in 2003 the Labour Party annual conference.
Bournemouth (and Poole, the town immediately to the West) have several chines (e.g.,Branksome Chine, Alum Chine), valleys formed by the action of water, that lead down to the beaches and form a very attractive feature of the area. Bournemouth Central Gardens are a separate major park, leading for several miles down the valley of the river Bourne through the centre of the town to the sea (reaching the sea at the pier).
The Russell-Cotes museum is located just to the east of the Central Gardens near to the Pavilion and next to the Royal Bath hotel. The museum includes many fine mostly 19th century paintings and the family collections acquired when travelling e.g in Japan and Russia. It was Sir Merton Russell-Cotes , one of Bournemouth's most prominent Victorians, who successfully campaigned to have a promenade built; the promenade now runs continuously along the Bournemouth and Poole shoreline.
The Royal Bath Hotel, located near the sea and just to the east of the Central Gardens, has attracted many important visitors over the years, including Oscar Wilde, H. G. Wells, Richard Harris, Sir Thomas Beecham, Shirley Bassey, and prime ministers Disraeli (who stayed for three months to help his gout), Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George. Royal guests have been Edward VII and Edward VIII when each was the Prince of Wales, George VI when he was the Duke of York, Queen Wilhemina of Sweden and Empress Eugenie of France .
A new £9.5 million Bournemouth Library was completed in 2003, winning the Prime Minister's Better Public Building Award, in the British Construction Industry Awards competition in recognition of its relatively low cost and high fit with client requirements.
The main shopping streets in the centre of town are just behind the seafront on either side of the small Bourne river; indeed footpaths lead down to the sea (from The Square) through the lower section of Bournemouth Central Gardens.
The shopping streets are mostly pedestrianised and lined with a wide range of boutiques, stores, jewellers and accessory shops. There are major stores (Debenhams, Beales , Marks and Spencer, Bhs, Dingles ), modern shopping malls, Victorian arcades (including the elegant arcade in Westover Road), and a large selection of bars, clubs and cafes (that tend to appeal to younger people). About a mile to the west of the town centre, in the district of Westbourne, there is an impressive selection of designer clothes and interior design shops. About a mile to the east, in the district of Boscombe, there is another major shopping area including many antiques shops and a street market. North of the centre there is a new out-of-town shopping complex called CastlePoint with supermarkets, DIY stores and larger versions of high street shops.
Bournemouth barely existed at the start of the 19th century. When retired army officer Lewis Tregonwell visited in 1810, he found only a bridge crossing a small stream at the head of an unspoilt valley. An inn had recently been built at what is now The Square (centre of Bournemouth), catering both for travellers and for the smugglers who lurked in the area at night. Captain Tregonwell and his wife were so impressed by the area that they bought several acres and built a home, which is today part of the Royal Exeter Hotel. Tregonwell also planted pine trees, providing a sheltered walk to the beach. The town was to grow up around its scattered pines.
Bournemouth quickly became a destination for affluent holiday-makers and for invalids in search of the sea air. In the 1860s, meadows either side of the Bourne stream were turned into the town's Central Gardens. The immaculately tended gardens are still much-loved and the Central Gardens contain the town's impressive war memorial, guarded by four stone lions.
A large sanatorium, overlooking the Central Gardens, treated patients with chest diseases. It has recently been re-developed as Brompton Court, a complex of retirement homes, preserving its remarkable chapel. Next to the sanatorium was built the magnificent Mont Dore Hotel, which is now the Town Hall. In the hotel's heyday in the 1880s it was renowned nationally and internationally for its sumptuous luxury which included possessing one of the first telephones in England - the number was "3".
Although the number of invalids sent to the town dropped in the late 19th century, the resort was still booming and its population increasing rapidly. As Bournemouth's popularity increased, the town centre spawned theatres, concert halls, cafes, cinemas and more hotels.
The town's first large entertainment venue was the original glass Winter Gardens, built in 1875 as the home of the town's municipal orchestra, (now the internationally renowned Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra). Elgar, Sibelius and Holst conducted there, but the acoustics were reputedly poor. In 1935, the original Winter Gardens was demolished. Its replacement, opened two years later, was intended as an indoor bowls centre, but by chance turned out to have superb acoustics, and after the Second World War it became the orchestra's new home. Before the opening of the BIC, the Winter Gardens welcomed just about every major entertainer of the day, including Maurice Chevalier, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Morecambe and Wise. The building has been in decline since the late 1970s, and is now closed as the town council examines alternative uses.
The Pavilion dates from 1925 and was built on the site of the former Belle Vue boarding house, one of the town's first buildings. Theatrical legends, including Ralph Richardson and Trevor Howard, played the Pavilion Theatre in its heyday. The Pavilion faces the cinemas and upmarket shops of Westover Road, which prides itself on being the town's "Bond Street".
Westover Road's Odeon cinema began life as the Regent in 1929 and retains many of the art deco features of the era. It was known as the Gaumont from 1949-86 and used to host live performances as well as films. Stars who appeared there included Ella Fitzgerald, Dusty Springfield, Victor Borge and in 1963, the Beatles. The cinema now has six screens.
The nearby ABC cinema dates from 1937, when it contained one 2,600-seater auditorium. It has three auditoriums today, one of them boasting the areas largest cinema screen, and is the only cinema in the county capable of projecting epics in 70mm.
History of Bournemouth Pier
The first pier in Bournemouth consisted of a short wooden jetty that was completed in 1856. This was replaced by a much longer wooden pier, designed by George Rennie, which opened on September 17 1861. Due to attack by Teredo worm the wooden piles were removed in favour of cast iron replacements in 1866, but even with this additional benefit just over a year later the pier was made unusable when the T-shaped landing stage was swept away in a gale. After repairs the pier continued in use for a further ten years until November 1876 when another severe storm caused further collapse rendering the pier too short for steamboat traffic. The Rennie pier was subsequently demolished, and replaced in 1877 by a temporary structure. During the next three years a new pier, designed by Eugenius Birch , was completed.
At a cost of £21,600 the new Bournemouth Pier was opened by the Lord Mayor of London on August 11 1880. Consisting of an open promenade, it stretched to a length of 838ft (255.4m) and spanned some 35ft (10.6m) across the neck of the pier, extending to 110ft (33.3m) at the head. With the addition of a bandstand In 1885, military band concerts took place three times a day in summer and twice daily throughout the winter. Covered shelters were also provided at this time. Two extensions, in 1894 and 1909 respectively, took the pier's overall length to more than 1000ft (304.8m).
In common with virtually all other piers in the south and east of the country, Bournemouth Pier was substantially demolished by an army demolition team in the spring of 1940 as a precaution against German invasion. The pier was repaired and re-opened in August 1946. Refurbishment of the pier head was carried out in 1950, and ten years later a rebuild of the substructure was completed in concrete to take the weight of a new pier theatre. A structural survey of 1976 found major areas of corrosion, and in 1979 a -L-1.7m restoration program was initiated. Having demolished the old shoreward end buildings, replacing them with a new two storey octagonal leisure complex, and reconstructed the pier neck in concrete giving it the bridge-like appearance that it retains today, the work was completed in two years.
Bournemouth is located directly to the east of the "Jurassic Coast", a 95 mile section of beautiful and largely unspoilt coastline recently designated a World Heritage Site. Apart from the beauty of much of the coastline, the Jurassic Coast provides a complete geological record of the Jurassic period and a rich fossil record.
The section of the coast both to the east and to the west of Bournemouth was very important during World War 2. For example Poole Harbour was the departure point for many ships participating in the D-Day landings, and Studland Bay (just west of Bournemouth) was the scene of practice live fire beach landings in preparation for the Normandy Landings. Bournemouth itself was not a main target of bombing during WW2 but was on the route for other raids (e.g. on Coventry) and German bombers were known to unload their spare bombs on the town; 219 local people were killed by bombing during the war.
Just east of Bournemouth is the New Forest, designated a National Park in 2005. These popular tourist sites, as well as the Dorset countryside and the beaches, have helped keep Bournemouth's tourism based economy alive through the second half of the 20th century when tourism in seaside towns declined.
Bournemouth is in Hardy country, and is Sandbourne in Thomas Hardy's novels. Tess lived in Sandbourne with Alec d'Urberville, and the town also features in The Well-Beloved and Jude the Obscure.
Bournemouth is a unitary authority area, and is included within the lieutenency area of Dorset. Although Bournemouth was located in the county of Hampshire until 1974, the administrative boundary between the newly-created entities of the administrative counties of Dorset and Hampshire was made such that Bournemouth was within the administrative county of Dorset prior to its becoming a UA.
Bournemouth has a large student population and many young people are drawn there by its extensive nightlife. Its slang name in these circles is BoMo.
The conurbation of Poole, Bournemouth, Christchurch shows increasing congestion and some roads are very busy all day.
There is continuous motorway or dual carriageway from Bournemouth Town Centre to London and along the South Coast, via the recently improved M3, M27 and A31. Fast access may also be gained to the M4 north of Newbury, Berkshire.
National Express coaches serves Bournemouth Travel Interchange, Boscombe and Westbourne. There are frequent departures to London Victoria Coach Station. There are direct services to the West Country, Sussex coast (Brighton and Eastbourne), Bristol, Birmingham and the Midlands, the North West, and to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Flightlink serves Heathrow Airport with connections to Gatwick and Stansted Airports.
Bournemouth is well served by the rail network with two stations in the town, Bournemouth and Pokesdown to the East. Unfortunately, Bournemouth station is located some way from the town centre. The station was originally ¨Bournemouth East¨ with a second station serving the west of the town in Queens Street. (Poole station is by contrast near to Poole town centre). South West Trains operates a comprehensive service to London Waterloo with a journey time of as little as 97 minutes. This line also serves Southampton, Winchester and Basingstoke to the East, and Poole, Wareham, Dorchester and Weymouth to the West. Virgin Trains serve destinations to the North with direct trains to Reading, Oxford, Birmingham and the Midlands, Manchester and the Northwest, Yorkshire, Newcastle, and Edinburgh and Glasgow. South Central Trains 'West-Coastway' services are available by changing at Southampton Central. The Sussex Coastal towns of Chichester, Worthing, Hove and Brighton are served and trains continue to Gatwick Airport and London Victoria.
Bournemouth International Airport is a short journey from the Town Centre - enabling passengers and freight to be flown directly to destinations in the UK and abroad. Heathrow and Gatwick are accessible by car or coach. Ryanair operates scheduled flights to Glasgow (Prestwick), Dublin and Frankfurt (Hahn).
Bournemouth does not have its own harbour, but there are extensive ferry services to the Channel Islands and France (available from the Port of Poole). During summer, fast cat services operate to Cherbourg, Guernsey and Jersey, making it possible to enjoy the "booze cruise" that is more typically associated with the Kentish ports of Dover and Folkestone.
The Bournemouth area has long been a place wherein many unusual species of animals and plants can be found. Nearby Brownsea island is one of the few places in the south where the red squirrel still remains, and the ant Formica pratensis had its last stronghold in the area, although it is now thought to be extinct on the mainland. Although described by Farren White as "the common wood ant of Bournemouth" in the mid-19th century, the noted entomologist Horace Donisthorpe found only one colony of true pratensis out of hundreds of F. rufa nests there in 1906. In recent times the last known two colonies disappeared in the 1980s, making this ant the only ant species thought to have become extinct in Great Britain. It does, however, still survive on cliff-top locations in the Channel Islands. The rare narrow-headed ant also used to exist in Bournemouth, although it has died out in the area.
- In 1805 Edward Brayley wrote,... "the greatest part of this most dreary waste, serving only in the summer to support a few ordinary sheep and cattle, and to supply the neighboring villages with firing". At that time no houses stood within three miles of the mouth of the Bourne river.