Bournemouth’s Lower Gardens

Lower Gardens

Lower Gardens

Prior to the Christchurch Inclosures Act of 1802, the area of central Bournemouth (then in Hampshire) was uninhabited heathland around a small stream, the Bourne, which discharged into Poole Bay at the head of a small chine. The result of the Act was that some 240 acres of the heath were given over to the then lord of Christchurch Manor, Sir George Ivison Tapps (1753-1835).  Soon after his acquisition, in 1809 he built perhaps the first building on the heath, The Tapps Arms (later the Tregonwell Arms, demolished 1885).

Even after Lewis Tregonwell had established himself in the area with the building of his mansion in 1812, traditionally cited as the ‘beginning’ of Bournemouth, there was little planned development of the town centre until the succession of Sir George William Tapps-Gervis, 2nd Baronet (1795-1842) to his father’s estate. Tapps-Gervis commissioned the Christchurch-born architect Benjamin Ferrey (1810-1880) to develop the area as a seaside resort, undoubtedly influenced by contemporary success of resorts such as Weymouth and Brighton. Ferrey commenced with the laying out of the Westover estate (1836, demolished early C20), a string of large Gothic holiday mansions along what is now Westover Road. Ferrey’s work at the time also included the Royal Bath Hotel (1837-8) and the Belle Vue Boarding House (1837-8, demolished 1928).

To complement the Westover development, Ferrey laid out the Westover Pleasure Grounds, located on the opposite side of Westover Road, for the private use of the villas. Dr A. B. Granville, author of the influential The Spas of England (1841), suggested that the whole area beneath the bridge over the Bourne (then located in what is now The Square) should be laid out as a ‘promenade-garden’, as he saw the nascent town as ‘the very first invalid sea-watering place and winter residence for the most delicate constitutions’. After this vote of encouragement, Tapps-Gervis employed Decimus Burton (1800-1881) to lay out part of the site. The Pleasure Gardens, which comprised a strip either side of the Bourne stream running over a mile inland, were completed under the aegis of the Bournemouth Improvement Commission by 1873. Burton’s designs for the Lower Gardens were added to by Philip Henry Tree (1834-1914) at this time and the finished article reflecting the ‘Gardenesque’ style.

View of Central and Lower Gardens after completion (1870s)

View of Central and Lower Gardens after completion (1870s)

The buildings in the Lower Gardens were intended to increase the grandeur of the resort and so its appeal to well-heeled visitors. In 1875 a glass pavilion was built on a site on the south of the Bourne, which would become The Winter Gardens. The designer was undoubtedly mindful 0f Paxton’s Crystal Palace (1850-1) and Burton’s Palm House (1844-8) and Temperate House (1859-63), the latter two at Kew Gardens. Sadly, the building was demolished in 1935 and replaced by a far inferior brick-built hall (itself demolished in 2006).

The Winter Gardens Pavilion, c. 1900

The Winter Gardens Pavilion, c. 1900

The south-eastern end of the Gardens had, until the early 20th century, been marked by Ferrey’s Belle Vue Hotel and adjacent Assembly Rooms, but in 1928 these were demolished to make way for the Pavilion Concert Hall (now Theatre), completed in 1929 in a somewhat restrained Beaux-Arts design by G Wyville Home and Shirley Knight. The theatre survives and dominates the beach end of the Gardens, particularly following extensions of the 1930s (notably the huge fly tower above the stage) and 1950s, the latter conceived in a sympathetic Empire style.

Pavilion Theatre (1928-9)

Pavilion Theatre (1928-9)

In essence, Bournemouth’s Gardens, which are now Grade II-listed, represent a well-preserved example of 19th century civic garden design as part of a master-plan of high-quality development of the town as a resort. In a town where, it must be said, successive Local Authorities have been, and occasionally continue to be, remiss in their preservation of  the town’s Victorian (and later) heritage, the gardens stand testament to the pride and ambition with which the town was conceived from its earliest days.

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A Case for Delisting

On many occasions I have been involved with buildings that are being proposed for inclusion on the National Heritage List; establishing special architectural and historic interest is something with which most of us who work in the historic environment will be familiar. On far fewer occasions, I am sure, will we be involved with removing a building from the List. I would suggest there are two principal reasons for this: first, there is perhaps a genuine reluctance to strip a building of its statutory protection, which in itself seems anathema to most of us who fight the heritage cause, ‘just in case’ it should need protection from some future development. Secondly, there are perhaps few occasions when one would confidently assess a building to have lost the very prerequisite that demands its protection: how does one define and rate special architectural and historic interest?

A recent project brought these considerations into sharp relief. We were instructed to carry out a Historic Building Appraisal of a small cottage in the heart of rural Essex to inform future proposals. The building is sited on a quiet, though rather large, village green that developed as a hamlet of the original parish core, now located about a mile north. Ostensibly the building was a fairly straightforward example of late 15th or early 16th century single-storey thatched hall house, with an attic half-storey at the southern (service) end and a perhaps an ad hoc mezzanine at the northern (upper) end. It is a type of small hall-house that has surviving counterparts in neighbouring villages in this part of Essex. On this basis, the building was listed Grade II in 1983, when the building was in a state of dereliction.

Essex Cottage

The cottage from the southwest

Sadly, disaster struck within a year of listing when the building was gutted by fire. Photos taken at the time of rebuilding revealed that, despite the loss of internal partitions and the external timber-frame infilling, a good deal of structural fabric had survived, including sole and wall plates, most principal posts, the southern hip and a number of common rafter pairs. The brick stack, a 17th century insertion, also survived. There was therefore every reason to conclude that much of this fabric has been incorporated into the new-build.

1984 before rebuild

During rebuilding (1984)

However, there were some features of the building which challenged this viewpoint: the current brick stack bore no resemblance to that shown in the pre- and post-fire photos and was of a noticeably modern brick, the exposed rafter feet were all identical in shape and mathematically-precise in spacing, with modern machine saw marks. Internally, there were indications that the wall plate had been removed, as two reused jowled posts showed a gap where the plate should be, whilst the tie-beams were in new, band-sawn timber and the square-section crown posts were clearly modern insertions. Reflecting on these details, it was fairly clear that the building had been a wholesale rebuilding, incorporating only a small number of reused timbers, only one of which was in the same place. On this conclusion, initial discussions were opened with the Local Authority to discuss an application to delist the property; initial support was given but further opening-up was advised to be sure that no historic timbers remained in the walls or roof. The opening-up revealed that the entire roof and the external walls were in modern timber-frame; the reused principal posts and tie-beam had been relegated to a non-structural function.

Therefore on the basis of our report and the opening-up, an application was submitted to English Heritage to delist the building, on the grounds that it was now nothing more than a replication of an early Tudor cottage and, though the rebuilding largely attempted to replicate the overall 3-cell plan and even the position of the original hall window, its special architectural and historic interest had been greatly diminished, if not wholly lost. The application was subsequently approved after further investigation by English Heritage and the building removed from the List. Though some might argue that the mere replication of the hall-house plan retained some historical interest, the scale of the rebuilding and near-total loss of fabric made this argument difficult to sustain. Such cases, where the building’s spirit has been lost and effectively forged later, are regrettable, and serve to remind us that the National Heritage List is there to protect those buildings that retain their history and spirit. To maintain statutory protection of a building no longer meeting the requirements, would, to my mind, do a disservice to those that remain designated.