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Cliff on Boscombe Promenade - - 1034884.jpg
Beach huts against the cliffs on the promenade
Boscombe is located in Dorset
 Boscombe shown within Dorset
Population 20,719 (2 wards 2011)[1][2]
OS grid reference SZ115920
Unitary authority Bournemouth
Ceremonial county Dorset
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Bournemouth
Postcode district BH1 and BH5
Dialling code 01202
Police Dorset
Fire Dorset
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament Bournemouth East
List of places

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Boscombe /ˈbɒskəm/ is a suburb of Bournemouth, England. Historically in Hampshire, but today in Dorset, it is located to the east of Bournemouth town centre and west of Southbourne.

Boscombe developed rapidly from a small village into a seaside resort alongside Bournemouth after the first Boscombe pier was opened in 1889.[3] There are numerous architectural styles within Boscombe, ranging from the elaborate Victorian style of the Royal Arcade, notable examples of Art Deco such as the Motabitz store in Christchurch Road and the modernist 1950s styles of the pier and Overstrand buildings. Alongside these are modern flats developments such as The Reef, The Point and Honeycombe Beach.

Geography and administration

The area upon which Boscombe is situated, between the somewhat older village of Pokesdown and Bournemouth Square, was part of the great heathland which covered much of western Hampshire, and extended well into eastern Dorset. From Norman times it was within the Liberty of Westover. From the beach and cliffs the whole of Poole Bay stretching from Hengistbury Head in the east to Poole Harbour entrance in the west, and on to Studland and Swanage bays to the south can be seen.

Boscombe was originally an independent settlement, separated from Bournemouth by dense wood and moorland, it was incorporated into the boundaries of Bournemouth in 1876 (against the wishes of Boscombe residents).[4]


In 1273 a reference is made to "Boscumbe" suggesting that the name may well have derived from the Old English words meaning a 'valley overgrown with spiky plants' perhaps a reference to gorse.[5]

Reference to Boscombe is included in Christopher Saxton's 1574 survey made of possible enemy landing places on the coast of Hampshire; this mentions...

"Bournemouth within the west baye at Christchurch...We finde more a place called Bastowe within the said Baye". Saxton's map of 1575 shows a Copperas House at Bascomb"

This refers to the manufacture of copperas or ferrous sulphate which took place in the district, particularly in the last quarter of the 16th century.

At the beginning of the 19th century Boscombe was described as an extensive common covered with furze and heath, more the haunt of smugglers than anyone else. One of the early landmarks was the 'Ragged Cat', a wayside inn dating back to 1850, later renamed the 'Palmerston' and then 'Deacons', it was renamed back to 'The Ragged Cat' in 2009 before being closed down.

Boscombe Manor

In 1801 a modest sized house called Boscombe Cottage was built as the residence of Mr Phillip Norris.[6] The Christchurch Inclosures Act 1802 increased the estate size to 17 acres (6.9 ha). This property became the nucleus of the Boscombe Manor Estate.

The large estate owned by Mr Norris changed hands several times during the first half of the 19th century. After Norris's death it was acquired by Robert Heathcote, and on his death the estate was put up for auction The estate was purchased by James Dover, in whose possession it remained until 1841; then it was sold to Major Stephenson.[6]

Stevenson sold the estate in 1849 to Sir Percy Florence Shelley who bought the Boscombe property mainly with the intention of it becoming a home for his mother Mary Shelley, but she died in London on 1 February 1851. Sir Percy and his wife liked the place, and decided to make it their home, dividing their time between Boscombe and their London house at Chelsea.[6]

The house at Boscombe was extensively rebuilt for Sir Percy, and extended to include a 200-seat (later 300 seats) theatre, to the designs of Christopher Crabb Creeke, who later became surveyor to the Bournemouth Improvement Commissioners and was responsible for both the layout of much of central Bournemouth's roads, and for several local buildings. It was long maintained that the heart of Percy Florence Shelley was kept at Boscombe Manor – either stored reverently in a candle-lit alcove, or sewn lovingly into one of Lady Shelley's cushions.[7] Later, it was supposedly interred in the grave of the poet's mother-in-law, Mary Wollstonecraft, at St. Peter's Church in Bournemouth.[8]

It may be noted that the name of Boscombe Manor changed several times over the years. First recorded as Boscombe Cottage, it was then for a time called Boscombe Alcove and then Boscombe Lodge. By Shelley's time it was Boscombe House, and he and his family later renamed it Boscombe Manor. In the present century it was Groveley Manor for many years, taking the name of the school which then occupied it, but now it is known as Shelley Park, most of the building being taken up by the Shelley Manor Medical Centre in Beechwood Avenue.[6]

To supplement the existing plantations of pine trees on the estate, Sir Percy added a large number of deciduous trees. There was a drive to the house from the main Christchurch Road, which followed the line of the present Chessel Avenue, and there was a lodge at its entrance. A second entry was from Sea Road, along a roadway flanked with lime trees – the present Percy Road.

By the beginning of the 1860s Boscombe consisted of the Shelley estate and some cottages, one of which is known to have stood at the top of Boscombe Hill, near the present Drummond Road.

From 1865 the development and expansion of the area to the end of the 19th century, and beyond, was very rapid. Starting with a proposal by the Malmesbury Estate to develop the 'picturesque Village of Boscombe Spa' to make available building plots for the erection of marine villas to be let on long leases.

The Spa was related to a natural spring of mineral water containing properties similar to Harrogate which had been discovered near the foot of the hill; this would be available for invalids and could combine the advantages of a Spa with those of sea air and bathing.[9]

The scheme was not implemented; instead about 19 acres (77,000 m2) of land was obtained by Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, on part of which he built a house for himself named Boscombe Towers, in 1868, Sir Henry became closely associated with the development of Boscombe Spa for a considerable number of years. Wolff sought to develop 'Boscombe Spa' as a resort to rival Bournemouth and it was he who created the Boscombe Chine Gardens. In order to encourage the taking of the mineral water from the spring at the mouth of the Chine, a small thatched-roof building resembling a summer house was erected over the spring, and for a time this became a fashionable meeting place. The Chine itself was partially laid out and a broad pathway provided. A rustic bridge was constructed across the Chine.[9]

The census of 1871 showed that there was a population of 212 people in 19 houses in the Boscombe Estate, and a further 70 people in 9 houses at Boscombe Spa. [10] During the 1870s development of Boscombe was such that the population at the census of 1881 had grown to 1,895 – a more than sixfold increase.


In 1875 a 160,000 gallon water tower was built in Palmerston Road, at this time it was stated that there were 244 houses in Boscombe. In February 1877 the Royal Boscombe Hospital (later called the Royal Victoria Hospital) opened in Shelley Road, it initially had beds for 12 patients.[11] In 1880 Boscombe Land Society was formed purchasing 13 acres of land in November of the following year. This was in the area of the present Knole Road, there were initially 73 plots. Much of the Shelley property in the area to the east of Sea Road was developed in the next ten years amounting to a further 70 plots. In 1883 Pokesdown station opened on the LSWR Brockenhurst to Bournemouth line.[12] In 1889 Boscombe Pier opened (see below). The commercial centre of Boscombe had a major boost with projects by Archibald Beckett including blocks of shops, the Salisbury Hotel, the Royal Arcade, and a Grand Theatre, which was to become Boscombe Hippodrome, then the Royal Ballrooms and today the O2 Academy. These were all built between 1888 and 1895, shortly after opening in 1892 the Royal Arcade was lit by electricity.[13] On 29 May 1897 Boscombe railway station was opened. On 19 August 1893 the Burlington Hotel opened; it was designed in an Italian Renaissance style and had 200 bedrooms. By the turn of the century the remainder of the Shelley estate had been sold, Boscombe Chine gardens had been laid out and there was little remaining vacant land within Boscombe. Before her death in June 1899 Lady Shelley had gifted four acres of land which were laid out to form Boscombe Cliff Gardens. In the 1901 census the population was 9,648.[14]

20th Century

St John the Evangelist's parish church, designed by John Oldrid Scott and CT Miles and built in 1893–95

The coronation of King Edward VII and his Queen, Alexandra of Denmark was scheduled to take place on 26 June 1902. to mark the occasion, Bournemouth Council agreed on 20 May 1902 to rename common No 59 as "King's Park".[15] Boscombe thrived with the growth of the English seaside holiday. Between the wars Boscombe was one of Bournemouth's wealthiest areas with many large Victorian and Edwardian family houses. In 1935 construction started on the San Remo Towers block, located between Sea road and Michelgrove Road, the Grade II listed block of 164 flats was designed by Hector Hamilton,[16] in a Los Angeles Spanish style. Post war there was a boom in the seaside holiday market and Boscombe with its large number of smaller guest houses enjoyed this period of prosperity. In 1965 Boscombe railway station closed.

It was in the 1970s and 1980s with the decline in the traditional English holiday market that Boscombe's fortunes began to wane. Many of the small guest houses and large family houses became HMOs,

"By the 1970s this transition in character was attracting vulnerable people, people on low incomes and those in receipt of benefits to the area ... With this increase in less affluent, vulnerable people came an increase in transience in the population, a more 'chaotic' environment in Boscombe and the beginnings of a drug using community in the area. This was coupled with an influx of Liverpudlian drug users and dealers to Bournemouth in the 1970s. Bournemouth was becoming an importer of people with drug and alcohol problems, and the drugs market expanded around these circumstances. By the 1980s this was being further stimulated by the setting up and proliferation of treatment centres for drug misuse."

Boscombe saw an increase in social problems during this period with drug and alcohol dependency levels well above the national average. In 1990 in an attempt to revitalize the shopping centre Christchurch road between Palmerston road and Ashley road was pedestrianized and the Sovereign shopping centre opened. In 1993 the Royal Victoria Hospital was largely demolished. A replacement hospital, the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, was opened in Castle Lane in 1989.

Present day

A man buying a copy of the Big Issue from magazine vendor in Boscombe precinct

New development of the area around Boscombe was approved under the Boscombe Spa Development Plan in July 2006. This project was intended to turn the seafront into a spa village complete with artificial surf created by Boscombe Surf Reef. Completed in autumn 2009, the reef was constructed as part of the restoration work that also included the Overstrand buildings. Reports on the reef's performance showed that it was failing to meet its performance criteria.[18] In 2011, the reef was closed for safety reasons; in 2012 the contractor went out of business and in 2014 the reef was re-branded as a Coastal Activity Park. Funding for the development had been through the sale of the local seafront car park, to Barratt Homes for 169 seafront apartments, at Honeycombe Chine. As well as these flats there have been a number of other large developments of flats such as "The Reef" in Boscombe Spa Road and the renovation of Shelley Park into a medical centre and flats development.

In May 2007, for the first time, a property in Boscombe sold for £1 million. The property was a flat with views of the coast, and was the main headline in the Bournemouth Daily Echo.[19] Boscombe gardens underwent a renovation project and was substantially remodelled; a public art trail was also installed around Boscombe as part of the renovation project.[20]

The nickname Bos Vegas[21] has gained popularity in recent years and occurs with slight spelling variation in the names of two Boscombe businesses.[22]

Boscombe is home to AFC Bournemouth, who play at Dean Court. Many fans still refer to AFC Bournemouth as Boscombe, a reference to the original names of Boscombe St John's and Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic FC (the word Boscombe was dropped in 1972).

There is a thriving street market in the High Street on Thursdays and Saturdays as well as a vintage market on the first Saturday of every month.[23]


In the 1870s a small school attached to St Clement's Church was too small to meet the growing demand and Boscombe British school was established by Mr Frederick Moser and Sir Percy Florence Shelley who laid the foundation stone in 1878. The school opened in 1879. The Christchurch Times reported that the building was "to be one of the most ornamental as well as useful buildings in Boscombe."[24] The school was built in a Neo-Gothic style in Gladstone Road and later when transferred to the local authority was renamed St. John's Church of England Primary School. The senior section of the school moved in 1940 to the newly built Boscombe Bilateral Secondary Modern(now King’s Park Primary) on Ashley Road. In 1960,a local teacher Leslie Williams formed the 'Bournemouth Children's Theatre' in the old school buildings and it became the Drama Centre, a very successful and award winning initiative which inspired many to further education. Dame Sybil Thorndike became the patron of the centre and visited frequently. During the 1980s the Drama Centre was renamed the Bournemouth Centre for Community Arts (BCCA) to reflect its extension into other arts.[25] Award winning fashion designer Graham Fraser attended and when it became known as the Bournemouth Centre for Community Arts (BCCA), Gareth Malone attended later going on to be known as the Choirmaster on BBC televised programmes.[25] When it was closed in 2007, under threat of demolition Friends of the BCCA contacted English Heritage to save the building; it was Grade II listed by English Heritage in 2008 particularly in reference to the Gothic design and in the larger schoolroom with its complicated roof.[26] In June 2012, despite 938 objections,[27] and claims the Planning Board had been "misled",[28] planning permission was obtained to restore the listed rooms, to build 11 affordable homes for local people (10 houses and 1 accessible bungalow), a community orchard and allotments.[29] leaving only 3 rooms for a "creative hub".

A "soft demolition" began of the BCCA in September, 2013, with the main demolition commencing in October, 2013.[30] A New Orleans mock funeral was held by protesters hoping to stop the demolition.[31]

Other schools in Boscombe are St James's Church of England Primary, Corpus Christi Catholic Primary (next to Corpus Christi Church), Bethany Primary, Portchester and Avonboune comprehensive schools.

Boscombe Spa

Boscombe Chine, the ravine breaking through the sandy cliffs, comprised several small valleys draining the land around Boscombe. Several of these originated in Springbourne, but they all eventually confluenced near to Christchurch Road. The southern end of the chine was laid out as pleasure gardens with a surface water stream as a picturesque feature. Towards the foot of the Chine, near to Sea Road, a chalybeate spring was discovered, no doubt fed by the water draining into the chine. A small thatched hut was erected over the spring and was given the name Boscombe Spa. The water was sufficiently foul-tasting that people would make a special trip to drink the water for any health-giving properties that it may contain.

Boscombe Pier

Boscombe Pier in 2003
The pier in 2010, after restoration

A pier was proposed in 1884 as a visitor attraction. In September 1888 the contract for its building was awarded for £3,813, and for making the pier approach £938. The pier was 200 yards (180 m) long, and built in spans of 13 yards (12 m) each with a continuous wrought iron girder frame, which carried timber decking 11 yards (10 m) wide. The pier head was 40 yards (37 m) long and 13 yards (12 m) wide, with a landing stage on each side, at which excursion steamers could call. At the entrance were two toll houses with turnstiles. The architect for the pier construction was James Stuart Campbell McEwan-Brown (1870–1949). His family were originally from Kintyre, Argyll and were closely connected to the Duke of Argyll. It is no surprise therefore, that it was opened with considerable ceremony on 29 July 1889 by the Duke of Argyll.

The pier head was not added until 1926, and like most piers it was partially demolished during World War II to combat the threat of invasion. The pier remained derelict for a number of years and was only fully reopened in 1962. The borough architect, John Burton, designed the modernist 1950s style entrance building.[32] This building was Grade II listed in 2004,[33] The heritage minister said:

"The Neck Building at Boscombe Pier is a rarity amongst municipal entertainment structures of the period. It was designed with real conviction and flair. The vivacity of this structure clearly illustrates the revitalisation of the British Seaside Resort in the 1950s."

The building at the pier end was initially reopened as the Mermaid Theatre and then a roller skating rink before becoming an amusement arcade. It closed in 1989 and the pier became progressively more derelict over the next 19 years.

On 30 October 2005 the pier was closed as it was deemed unsafe. The Grade II listed pier entrance building was externally restored in 2007 together with a restoration of the pier neck. New decking, lighting and central windbreak screen was added together with a new viewing and fishing platform end section, replacing the derelict Mermaid Amusement Hall. The pier re-opened in May 2008. To the east of the pier is Europe's first artificial surf reef.

Since the re-opening of the pier in 2008 a Friends Association has been established, organising art exhibitions and live music performances.[35] In 2009 website Nothing To See Here named it Britain’s coolest [36] with the National Piers Society voting it Pier of the Year 2010.[37]

The pier also has its own dedicated angling club, The Boscombe Pier Sea Anglers, founded in 2002 for out of hours fishing.[38]

The Boscombe Devil

The Boscombe Devil is a gargoyle located facing the Boscombe Grand Theatre (now the O2 Academy) (see above), placed there in the 1920s by the Lord’s Day Observance Society to show disapproval at the theatre's decision to open on Sundays.[39]


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External links