In her second post for Hotter, Bournemouth walking guide Hattie Miles takes you to the seaside, to buildings and places old and new, including the town’s very first house!
Hattie Miles is a photographer, writer and local historian who, for the past two years, has run Bournemouth’s popular guided walkingtalks tours. For 24 years she worked on the town’s daily newspaper and her walks aim to share her enthusiasm for the area and tell some of the history and hidden stories of this popular tourist destination.
We hope you enjoy this self-guided walk and would love to hear what you think about it and see your photos – just send them through to us at [email protected] .
Start outside the Hotter Shop in Old Christchurch Road, walk up the hill to your left and turn right into the arcade. This Victorian arcade was built by a man called Henry Joy in 1866, as two rows of shops. The glazed roof was added in 1872. More details about this arcade are included in my Walk with Hotter In Bournemouth: Part 1 blog post. Now walk through the arcade. At the end glance to your left to see the magnificent spire of St Peter’s Church which is 202 feet high (62 metres). The church was built over 25 years from 1854 and has some marvellous interior details if you should want to investigate further. But for this walk you will continue across the road at the pelican, turn right and cross again towards the Stable restaurant. You are now in Westover Road.
The Stable Restaurant was originally the Bournemouth Tourist Information Office that closed a couple of years ago. The new information office is now near the pier.
Turn left along the road with the gardens to your right and the shops across the street on your left. In the summer months you can nip into the open-air art gallery in the gardens or take a look at the aviary.
Westover Road used to be dubbed “The Bond Street of Bournemouth”. It was a truly glamorous place to shop and people would dress up to go there. Now it is rather faded but, if you look across the road at the shops, you can still imagine what a fine set of buildings they were. The canopy still has interesting details and there are shops and cafes including Franses jewellers, that has been run by the same family for four generations. Above you can see the curve of the terrace of buildings that would make a fine façade if restored.
The next building along was the last ABC cinema in the country. It showed its final film, “Back To The Future”, on 4th January, 2017. The film was chosen by locals and the cinema was packed with loyal film fans from all over the area. The cinema originally opened in 1937 as the Westover Super Cinema with the film “Shall We Dance” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to the music of George Gershwin. It became the ABC cinema in 1958.
Next to the old ABC is a strange looking building with tall windows that is now used as a gym. This was the town’s ice skating rink. It opened in the 1930s and proved hugely popular. Six decades of people enjoyed skating there including Olympic and European champion Robin Cousins, who came on holiday from Bristol aged seven, with his mum, and tried out skating for the very first time one rainy afternoon. Of course he never looked back. He was twelve when, in 1969, he won his first national title and he was British junior champion at fourteen. Sadly the rink closed in 1991 after various leaks occurred and it was deemed too expensive to fix.
The next building was the Odeon Cinema that has also recently closed, just a few days after the ABC – both cinemas were owned by Odeon (we’ll pass by the new ten screen complex later on our walk). This building began life as the Regent in 1929 and still has many of the art deco features of the era. It was known as the Gaumont from 1949–1986 and at that time hosted live performances as well as films. Stars who appeared there included Ella Fitzgerald, Dusty Springfield, Cliff Richards and the Shadows, the Rolling Stones and, in August 1963, the Beatles.
It was the year of “She Loves You, Yeh, Yeh Yeh” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, The Beatles were suddenly huge stars, and they came to Bournemouth for a six-night residency at the Gaumont, playing two shows a night. As you can imagine, Westover Road was packed with screaming fans, and rows of trusty policemen with linked arms held back the throng. The Beatles stayed almost next door, at the Palace Court Hotel, now the Premier Inn. Incidentally, the black and white photograph used on the ‘With the Beatles’ album cover, was taken in a hotel corridor by tour photographer Robert Freeman.
Look to your right, and you’ll see the Pavilion Theatre. This is where the town’s pantomime is performed each year, as well as jazz, rock, pop and classical concerts.
Walk on to the corner of the street. Opposite you is the Royal Bath Hotel that opened on Queen Victoria’s coronation day, 28th June, 1838. Many famous people have stayed here including authors Oscar Wilde and DH Lawrence, British Prime Ministers William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli and in more recent years Sir Richard Branson, Sting and Bob Dylan.
Turn right down the hill and cross the road at the pelican. Walk straight ahead between the Royal Bath and the car park to the cliff path and then turn right to go down the slope. (You can also turn left and walk a short way up the slope to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, which is well worth a visit and also has a good café).
As you walk down the slope pause to admire the view. Beyond the beach and Bournemouth Pier you look across Poole Bay to the chalk stacks of Old Harry Rocks, named after the infamous pirate Harry Paye who died in 1419, and the Purbeck hills where Enid Blyton based many of her Famous Five adventure stories. On a clear day, beyond Old Harry, you can make out houses on the edge of the seaside town of Swanage. Walk on past the top entrance to Harry Ramsden’s – this branch being the largest fish and chip shop in the world. There are 417 spaces to eat should you feel peckish.
Walk on down to the open area known as the Pier Approach. The new tourist information office is on your right. At the bottom of the slope, on the left, is a stone block that commemorates the opening of the Undercliff Drive promenade in 1907.
At this point you might want to make a detour along the Pier. There is a small charge to go onto the pier – but do keep your ticket as it is valid for a year. There are various things to see as you walk along the wooden walkway. You may be lucky and see surfers riding the waves, the old Pier Theatre where so many end of the pier shows took place is now Rock Reef, an adventure climbing centre. During summer seasons when the theatre was thriving stars such as Sid James, Arthur Askey, Eric Sykes, Les Dawson, Ruth Maddock, Terry Scott, Vicky Michelle, Britt Ekland and even Sooty appeared there. Look out for people whizzing past on the zip-wire that takes you from a tower on the end of the pier, over the sea, to the beach. At the end of the pier is the café/ restaurant Key West that makes a pleasant coffee stop. When on the pier, do look at the vista of Bournemouth – it gives a whole new dimension to the town and shows the mix of architecture from the town’s 200 year history.
Now back to the pier approach. Walk under the flyover, to the left, where you will find on the wall a display of coloured tiles. Each tile represents a life lost to AIDS in Dorset and they are all designed by school pupils from the area, who took part in HIV/AIDS awareness workshops. The project was the creation of Andrew Armstrong, now seventy, who found he was HIV positive in the 1980s.
Walk up the slope to the left past the Hermitage Hotel. You are now opposite the Bournemouth International Centre that was opened in 1984 and cost eighteen-million-pounds to build. Its first show was a concert by Johnny Mathis. Over the years it has hosted all the major political party conferences, sports events like the world snooker championships as well as major shows including River Dance and Starlight Express. Take That, Oasis, Rod Stewart, Kylie Minogue, Barry Manilow, Diana Ross, Leonard Cohen and Shirley Bassey are just a very few of the performers who have entertained millions of visitors over the years. Apparently the largest sound system ever used there was for The Prodigy who brought in six-and-a-half tonnes of PA speakers.
Look to the left of the BIC and you’ll see a statue of a man standing on a building. He is the man considered to be the founder of Bournemouth, Lewis Tregonwell. He built the town’s first house. (More about that when we encounter it a little further up the road). In 1910, Lewis Tregonwell brought his wife Henrietta to Bourne, an area of heathland with beautiful sea views. She was depressed following the death of their baby son and Lewis felt the lovely scene would brighten her. She loved the view and suggested that they should build a house there. They moved into their new home in April 1812. Incidentally, the Lewis Tregonwell on the statue is standing on the current Town Hall. You can also see he is holding a scroll with three names and medals displayed on it. These are the three Bournemouth men awarded the Victoria Cross.
Walk on until you reach the Royal Exeter Hotel on your right. This is where the Tregonwell’s house is and you will find a display plaque giving you some details. The building has been much enlarged over the years. It’s worth venturing inside where you will find the staircase and wood paneling from the original house. There is even a portrait of Lewis on the wall. The hotel’s “1812 Restaurant” is named, not after Tchaikovsky’s overture, but after the year the couple moved into their house. Remember when it was built there were no other buildings to spoil their view of the sea.
Continue across Exeter Park Road and walk on down the slope past the Sixty Million Postcards bar, towards the fourteen-story Hilton Hotel that opened in December 2015. The 172 bedroom hotel complex is the largest to be built in the town for more than a hundred years. Now go round the corner to the right so that you are opposite an old church. To the left of the church is a large mosaic plaque depicting an illustration by late nineteenth century artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872 – 1898). It is on the site of a house called “Murial” where he lived from 1896 to 1898. It was demolished to make way for the new road development in 1996. Beardsley moved to the town in a bid to help his frail health. He was found to have tuberculosis when he was only seven years old and his mother described him as being “like a delicate little piece of Dresden China”. He was only twenty six when he died.
The former St Andrew’s Presbyterian church was built in 1887. It had its spire removed after WW2 as a result of bomb damage. In recent years it has been variously used as a club and small concert venue.
On your right you will find a very modern building. It is the brand new ten screen Odeon Cinema complex that opened in February 2017. 23,000 people saw films there in its first week and more than 888 hours of films were shown over its first weekend.
Walk on to the Square, so named because it used to house the square shaped building that was the tram stop. Of course, the Square is actually round and the junction of various roads. To your right you’ll see a palm tree avenue leading into Bournemouth’s Lower Gardens, but we are going to venture into the pedestrian area in front of the Obscura Café.
Look on the top of the café for a weather-vane fish and spire-shaped structure of the roof. The box on the top is actually the “eye” of a camera obscura. This projects a view of the town centre into the room above the cafe … on some days it is possible to go upstairs to see it.
Look at the ironwork of the balconies on the Debenhams building. There is a ‘B’ woven into their design indicating that the department store opened as ‘Bobby’s’ in the early 1900s.
Now look at the paving and you will find a mosaic made of pebbles depicting whirlpools, waves, Neptune and various sea creatures designed by artist Maggy Howarth. Beside it is a fifteen-foot high metal stand with a sphere on top. This is Bournemouth’s Eternal Flame and was a gift to the town from local churches to mark the Millennium. Originally a naked gas flame burning perpetually, it was realised that it not only cost thousands a year to keep going, but that its emissions were environmentally inadvisable, so in 2008, the flame was replaced by an LED globe.
Walk East across the entrance to Richmond Hill, past WH Smith where Bournemouth’s main Post Office is now. William Henry Smith founder of the stationary shop chain built Walton House near the top of Richmond Hill for his retirement. He lived there until his death in 1865. As you approach Old Christchurch Road, do admire the two Art Deco buildings on the right hand side of the street.
Now walk up the hill into pedestrianised Old Christchurch Road. To the left, on the corner of Post Office Road, you will come to the Lush cosmetics store. The first Lush store opened in 1994 and the company was founded in nearby Poole by Mark and Mo Constantine and has proved a huge commercial success. But look beyond the soaps, hand-creams and shower gels, at the Victorian building that is very fine indeed and has recently been restored. The shop originally opened as Oliver’s Shoe Shop in the 1880s and the whole block was, and is, very grand indeed.
Continue up the street until you come, once again, to the Hotter Shop, which should be on your left. There are more than eighty Hotter shops nationwide. The company was started in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, nearly sixty years ago and it is still run by the Houlgrave family. They make over two million pairs of shoes each year. I highly recommend Hotter’s range of walking shoes. I wear them for my walks and find them really comfortable, offering just the right amount of support and not being too heavy.
Look out for more of my Bournemouth area guided walks, details can be found on walkingtalks.wordpress.comPrint This Walk
Discover Hattie’s first guided walk here.