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Winterborne Anderson – The Churchyard

The church at Winterborne Anderson is redundant, the churchyard overgrown.

The church at Winterborne Anderson is redundant, the churchyard overgrown.

Winterborne Anderson – The Redundant Church

The redundant church at Winterborne Anderson.

The redundant church at Winterborne Anderson.

Lewis Tregonwell – the soldier who ‘invented’ Bournemouth

As may be surmised the name of Tregonwell is of Cornish origin, though it is a moniker that has come to have a singularly significant resonance for east Dorset. By the 16th century this noble family was in possession of the Milton Abbey estate after having been granted to Sir John Tregonwell by Henry Vlll in 1539. Nearly a century later a scion or branch of the family arose which came into possession of the Anderson estate near Winterbourne Zelston when that estate passed to Sir John from Sir George Morton of Milbourne St Andrew in 1620. Tregonwell then built Anderson Manor on the site of a former Turberville residence in 1622.

It was at Anderson that Lewis was born in 1758 and given the full baptismal name of Lewis (alternatively spelt Louis) Dymoke Grosvenor Tregonwell, the son of Thomas Tregonwell of Anderson. As a young man Lewis enlisted in the Dorset Yeomanry and soon rose to the rank of Captain. His first wife, Katherine, was the daughter and heiress of St. Barbe Sydenham of the Devon/Somerset Sydenhams. By her Lewis had a grown-up son called St Barbe, who followed his father into the army and became a lieutenant. After the early death of Katherine on February 14th 1794, Lewis married Henrietta Portman, the wealthy daughter of Henry William Portman of Bryanstone House near Blandford.

By 1796 concern over the possibility of an invasion from Napoleon had become a major preoccupation in southern England. The Tregonwells were then living in Cranborne when, accompanied by his son Lieutenant Tregonwell, Captain Tregonwell was assigned the task of leading a detachment – the Dorset Rangers Coastal Division – to patrol and guard the coastline in the area of Poole Bay until 1802. This however was an early warning measure against an invasion that never materialised. In 1807 Henrietta gave birth to a son the couple decided to name Grosvenor, but the baby suffered a sudden tragic death on the very day he was to be baptised.

At this point the story goes that the distraught mother became ill from grief. On retiring from the Army in 1810 Tregonwell took his wife with him on the 14th of July that year for a stay by the sea at Mudeford, partly in the hope that she might regain some measure of health and contentment but also from nostalgia for the area he had come to love when guarding this part of the coast just a few years earlier. While there Lewis took Henrietta for a ride across Bourne Heath for a view of the sea. The couple stayed at the only inn then existing in the area, which may be identified as The Tapps Arms (later The Tregonwell Arms) completed just a year earlier. It was this nostalgia sojourn by the sea that would have far-reaching consequences in the years to come.

In the first decade of the 19th century the future site of Bournemouth was known as Poole Heath, an area of acid sandy soil and gorse criss-crossed by tracks, with a stream called the Bourne draining into the sea and wooded dells (chines) cut by other streams. The only settlement of the area was by cows, gypsies, and a few fishermen living in rickety timber-framed cottages. Much of the land was in the possession of Sir George Iveson Tapps-Gervis, Lord of Christchurch Manor, who acquired 445 acres after the passing of a local Inclosure Act in 1802 and an inclosure Commissioners Award in 1805 transferred the land into private ownership. Tapps-Gervis was responsible for the landscaping of some public gardens, but the only other home of any size recorded nearby by 1762 was Decoy House, a haunt for smugglers.

As it happened Henrietta was so captivated by the area that Tregonwell readily acceded to her suggestion that they should make a second home there. He duly set his sights upon an eight-and-a-half acre parcel of land overlooking the Bourne, situated between Decoy House and the sea, which he purchased from Lord Tapps-Gervis for £179. On this plot Tregonwell built a house which, when completed in 1812 he named The Mansion or Bourne Cliff. This was effectively the earliest building in the future Bournemouth. Although it is known from Henrietta’s diary that they did not occupy the house until 24th April 1812, her sister Charlotte recorded in May 1811 that: “a party of pleasure to Bourne Cliff…dined on cold meat in the house.”

Tregonwell also built a number of smaller homes in the grounds for his staff; one of these, called Portman Lodge, built for his butler, was destroyed by fire in 1912. Inspired by a popular Regency notion that the turpentine scent of pines had health-restoring powers, the captain planted a number of these stately conifers in the area. It was these trees, salt water and a balmy climate that in the 20th century would establish Bournemouth as a fashionable health resort.

The first eight years from 1812 saw Tregonwell inviting several high society figures to Bourne Cliff including the Prince Regent, later George lV, with whom Lewis apparently became acquainted. The Tregonwells would be living alternatively at Bourne Cliff and Cranborne Lodge for some years to come, the former serving as the family’s summer retreat. Later Tregonwell leased the home to the Marchioness of Exeter, whereupon it became known as Exeter House. Further extensions were added over the years so that today it is fully developed as the Royal Exeter Hotel.

In 1820 Prince George became King and from that year on Tregonwell bought up more land from Tapps-Gervis for building a number of cottages and stylish villas set along newly-laid streets for leasing to holiday-makers. These holiday retreats of course would establish the core function of the developing resort. By this time Captain Tregonwell was a JP, Squire of Cranborne Lodge and had been made Deputy Lieutenant of Dorset.

Development of the resort was continuing apace when in 1832 Capt. Lewis D.G. Tregonwell died, leaving his sons to carry the landlord-ship and property development process forward. Yet growth was initially slow. In 1836 George Tapps-Gervis Jr, who by then had successes his father, commenced the building of a row of villas on the east side of the Bourne. By the mid-1840’s most of the land west of the Bourne was in the possession of the Tregonwells, but by the end of the decade Bournemouth was still little more than a community of cottage-homes and villas which had not exceeded the status of a village. At the time of the 1851 census the resident population of the heath was still under 700, yet ten years later it had tripled!

Tregonwell was at first buried at Anderson but his widow later arranged to have him exhumed and re-interred in a vault in St. Peter’s Churchyard in Bournemouth. Evidently this move did not come a moment too soon, for just three weeks later Henrietta herself was dead.