Et in Arcadia ego
Roger Guttridge tells the story of the Westbourne Arcade
Published in September ’10
You might think that a Victorian development as prestigious as the Westbourne Arcade would have opened amid a blaze of publicity, attracting crowds of shoppers, speeches by civic dignitaries and columns of coverage in the local papers. But the evidence offered by those same columns suggests there may not even have been an opening ceremony and that the opening of the first shop was all but ignored. The Bournemouth Guardian failed even to mention it, while the Bournemouth Visitors’ Directory managed a single sentence at the foot of a column on Saturday 17 January 1885. Even this reads more like an advertisement than a news item: ‘New Arcade, Westbourne. —Messrs Willis and Trantum, of the Argyll Co-operative Stores, Old Christchurch Road, have just opened a Branch Establishment at the New Arcade, Westbourne, where business will be carried on as at 60 Old Christchurch Road.’
A week later Willis and Trantum bought a whole column of space in the same broadsheet newspaper to advertise their wares, which included a ‘large and choice assortment of new pudding and dessert fruits, with many new varieties for this season’, a large stock of Tom Smith’s Cosaques (crackers), Feltoe and Son’s ‘Specialitie’ wines and spirits, as well as general groceries, patent medicines, toilet requisites and household goods.
The man behind the Arcade was Henry Joy, a journeyman carpenter from Chalbury, near Wimborne, who became one of Victorian Bournemouth’s most astute property developers. His other projects included the Bournemouth Arcade between Old Christchurch Road and Gervis Place, Southbourne Terrace, which today includes the W H Smith and Son shop just off Bournemouth Square, and the original Quadrant development near St Peter’s Church.
By the early 1880s Westbourne was a rapidly growing suburb of Bournemouth. ‘It contains many charming building sites not yet secured, whilst many good residences have already been erected,’ says one contemporary description. One of these was Henry Joy’s own home, Seamoor House, demolished in 1894 and replaced by the twelve houses of Eldon Place.
The same 1880s source gives the best contemporary description of Joy’s Westbourne development. ‘The Arcade has two fronts, one to the Poole Road and the other faces Seamoor Road. It consists of 24 shops and houses, each with a frontage of 24 feet to the central covered roadway, and contains basement, ground, first and second floors. The central roadway is covered with a glass roof, carried by wrought iron semi-circular ribs at a height of the top of the second floor. The pavement is laid with encaustic tiles. The buildings are of red brick with Bath stone dressings. The works have been carried out for the owner, Mr H Joy, at a cost of £18,000, from drawings made by Mr H E Hawker, architect, of Bournemouth.’
Joy was obviously proud of his project, for he had his name, along with the construction date of 1884, engraved in large letters in the stone arches inside both entrances. The inscriptions can still be clearly read. The Arcade also had seats and bicycle racks.
Until the middle of the last century, the Poole Road entrance had a glass canopy to protect the Victorian gentlefolk from inclement weather as they alighted from their carriages. It has always been assumed that the canopy was part of the original design but its absence from an early drawing of the Poole Road entrance suggests that it may have been a later addition – unless, of course, the artist was employing artistic licence to improve the look of the structure.
The indications are that Joy’s Westbourne project was not the instant and unqualified success which his Bournemouth Arcade had been a decade earlier. But then Westbourne was still in its infancy and lacked the obvious geographical advantages of central Bournemouth. The story handed down to the present generation of Westbourne traders is that Joy was forced to offer special inducements to attract businesses, and this is borne out by the evidence. Although the Arcade was built in 1884, it was mid-January 1885 before Willis and Trantum became the first occupants at 1 The Westbourne Arcade. By the end of 1885 there were still only five occupied shops out of 24 – clearly the traders of Bournemouth were not rushing to take up the chance to occupy Westbourne’s newest and finest shopping development.
Things gradually picked up, however, and it is clear from Kelly’s Directory that by 1890 the Westbourne Arcade was flourishing. Such was the diversity of goods and services on offer that it would have been possible to live quite comfortably without ever setting foot in any shop outside the Arcade! Dairy products were available from Charles Bastable at no. 4 and Frederick Hunt at no. 10, fruit, vegetables and flowers from greengrocer and florist Charles Pope at no. 12 and general provisions from Willis and Trantum. Clothing and linen needs were catered for by linen draper Mrs P Brown at no. 14, Mrs Sarah Mountjoy’s Berlin wool shop at 11 and costumier Mrs Whitaker Morley at 24. For a hair-do, there was Charles Whiffen’s salon at no. 21 and at no. 8 Walter Norris sold watches and jewellery. Shoppers with a sweet tooth had a choice of confectioners in Matthew Cherrett at no. 3 and Frederick Barrow at 16, while reading and writing needs were catered for by George Crisp, stationer and bookseller, at no. 6. For the aspiring house owner, there was also a carpenter and joiner, Alfred Price, at no. 19 and a cabinet maker, John Sharp, at 5, not to mention upholsterer Charles Boucher and china dealer George Stephens. And for your social and political needs you could always join the Westbourne and East Dorset Conservative Club at 23.
At some point in its early history the Arcade acquired a beadle, Mr Clayton, whose distinctive uniform included a peaked cap with gold braid. As recently as 1996, gents’ outfitter George Fullinger, then aged 79, told me he remembered Mr Clayton from his boyhood in the 1920s. ‘He was also the cleaner and used to swab down the decks in the morning,’ he recalled. ‘When he had finished his dirty work, he would put on his uniform. At 3.30 each day he would cross Poole Road to get his Echo from Oliver’s the newsagents. If you misbehaved in the Arcade, he’d clip you round the ear with a newspaper. And if you tried to push a bike through there he would turn you back. He was the lord of the Arcade in those days.’
The most dramatic incident in the Arcade’s history occurred during World War 2, when a bomb landed in nearby R L Stevenson Avenue. The explosion destroyed virtually all the glass in the Arcade roof, although the main structure fortunately suffered little damage. The glass was replaced after the war. Some people also believe that the canopy over the Poole Road entrance disappeared during the war, but others think that it survived until the 1950s or 1960s. The iron gates which once guarded the entrances were removed in 1972 because they had rusted through and been damaged by children swinging on them. Certain other original features remain, however, including gargoyles at the heads of drainpipes, said to represent water gods.
Since January 2010, the entire Arcade has been cloaked in scaffolding for a £300,000 scheme to restore the glass roof, including replacement of the steel ‘lantern’ or centrepiece. The work has inevitably affected some businesses more than others but Dee Noble of Dee’s Fashions says the Arcade’s two empty shops are due to the recession rather than the scaffolding. ‘It’s the first time in my seventeen years here that we have had empty shops but we are still a flourishing corner of the town,’ she says. ‘We benefit from a lot of foot-flow between Poole Road and Seamoor Road. People come up and down here all the time. We also have a lot of things going on here such as a Christmas fair, carol singing by two or three choirs and the Salvation Army, charity fund-raising events and the Westbourne in Bloom tabletop sale. All these things help.’
The Westbourne Arcade Association was disbanded a few years ago but Dee insists: ‘We always feel that we are a community within the greater Westbourne community. We know each other pretty well.’
At seventeen years, Dee’s Fashions is the third longest-established business in the Westbourne Arcade after Annabelle’s hairdressing salon, which dates from the early 1970s, and Don Strike Music, which has a pedigree dating back to 1926, when the late Don’s mother opened her wool and art needlework shop. Her son started selling musical equipment and teaching music upstairs before the war. He was succeeded by his widow, Rene. The business is now run by their son and daughter-in-law, Bev and May Strike, whose own son, Paul Strike, repairs musical equipment in the workshop. Such longevity is a good tribute to one of the most interesting and attractive shopping thoroughfares anywhere in Dorset.
1. Lansdowne Library
2-5. Sylvie Guttridge