Category Archives: House History

Victorian Extravaganzas at The Shelley Theatre, Boscombe

“Scenery, Machinery & Decorations”

Shelley Theatre Rear view Theatre website Aug 2012
Shelley Theatre 2012 – http://www.shelleytheatre.co.uk

On 27th December 1851, a report in the Illustrated London News, headed “Private Theatricals”, stated that “on the 18th inst.” Sir Percy and Lady Shelley had “…opened their pretty little private theatre, at Boscombe…” to the surrounding nobility and gentry. The evening’s entertainment, at what is now called The Shelley Theatre , included The Gentleman over the Way, “a translation from the French, by Percy Shelley” and an “extravaganza” called Candaules, King of the Sardes,  co-written by Sir Percy and Hon. Grantley Berkeley. All of the “scenery, machinery and decorations” had been “painted and arranged” by Sir Percy.

“Beautifully Lighted with Gas”

Sir Percy Shelley
Sir Percy Shelley

The London Evening Standard reported on 5th February 1856 that, during the previous week, the vicinity of Christchurch had been “enlivened by a series of theatrical performances”, both at the home of Colonel and Mrs Waugh on “Branksea Island” and also at “Boscombe House“, the mansion of Sir Percy and Lady Shelley. One of the plays performed at Boscombe, The Wreck Ashore, was said to be a “serious business for any private company to attempt”. The latest extravaganza by Sir Percy, entitled A Comedy of Terrors, was “much in the usual fashion – all scenery, traps, changes and dress, not much to act, but a good deal to look at…” The theatre itself was described as “the most complete thing of the sort attached to any of the residences of the nobility and gentry in the kingdom”. It had a green room and dressing room and was “beautifully lighted with gas”. After each evenings’ entertainment, members of the audience were treated to a “splendid supper” at the mansion.

Amateur & Charitable Performances

1885 Illus Sporting & Dram News 7 February Cast List
Cast List for “Time Will Tell” by Mr Herbert Gardner – Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News 7th February 1885

In the spring of 1867, “amateur theatricals” were being performed on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings “with much success”. It was noted that Sir Percy had composed most of the music for the productions. Many of the performances were given in aid of charity: in January and February 1872, money was raised for the building fund of the National Sanitorium, Bournemouth.

Sir Percy started building another theatre in 1879, close to his town house in Chelsea and opposite the studio of the artist, James Whistler. According to the Durham County Advertiser, the stage at Chelsea was going to be “fitted up with all those improved mechanical appliances so conspicuous at Boscombe”. Also, as at Boscombe, the Chelsea theatre was intended to be devoted chiefly to amateur and charitable performances.

Plays by Mr Herbert Gardner

1881 Our Bitterest Foe Programme 4 April Shoreditch
Extract from Shoreditch Theatre Programme for “Our Bitterest Foe”

At the end of January 1885, Sir Percy Shelley once again re-opened his private theatre, for a season of four nights. And again, much was made of the “scenery, machinery and mechanical effects”. The play itself, Mr Herbert Gardner‘s “excellent comedy”, Time Will Tell was given an enthusiastic write-up in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. The stage management and “the finish of the performance” were highly praised. The troupe were favourably compared with the renowned amateur dramatic group: The Old Stagers and The Windsor Strollers. Mention was also made of Gardner’s earlier, much celebrated play, Our Bitterest Foe, which had been premiered previously at Boscombe and had gone on to enjoy “three distinct runs” on the London stage.

“No More Enthusiastic Supporter of the stage…”

In an obituary to Sir Percy Shelley, after his death on November 5th 1889, the Yorkshire Post said that “in the whole ranks of the leisured classes there was no more enthusiastic supporter of the stage than he”.

Go along to The Shelley Theatre to see what’s happening right now at this wonderful historic theatre.

Contact Steph Woods to commission a History of your Home or Building: fully researched and referenced, written and illustrated and leather-bound. Read Steph’s other blog posts at Woods for the Trees Blog

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The Chine Hotel, Boscombe – Sun, Sea & the Stage in the late 1930s

Stars of Boscombe Pier & Hippodrome

During the late 1930s, The Chine Hotel was marketed very positively by the “Resident Proprietor”, Mr James Millar, especially in theatrical newspapers, such as The Sphere, The Era and The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. The hotel was much favoured by actors and theatre companies, who dined and stayed at the hotel when they were performing at Boscombe Pier or The Boscombe Hippodrome (now the O2 Academy).

A Culinary Virtuoso

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The Sphere 21st March 1936

Many of the ads themselves were theatrical. In 1936, The Sphere carried an advertisement headed “Good Living”, which painted a very romantic and appealing pen picture of the hotel’s ambience: “A glass of sherry and a cigarette before dinner…good company and conversation…colourful, comfortable surroundings and then dinner prepared by a culinary virtuoso. Such is a sample of life at the Chine Hotel.”

One of the Sunniest Hotels...

1937-picture-ad-the-sphere-26-june
The Sphere 26th June 1937

The hotel advertised in two very different publications in the summer of 1937: The Sphere (on 26th June) and The Yorkshire Post (on 2nd July). The words are the same. Both describe The Chine Hotel as “one of the sunniest hotels on the South Coast…” but the layout changes the message. The long, lazy style and wavy lines in The Sphere give a much more “laid-back” feel that was presumably more appealing to the less traditional, more artistic set!

A Hotel for Every Season

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The Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer 15th October 1937

The Chine Hotel was promoted as the ideal place to stay in every season, especially to people who lived in the colder climes of Scotland and the North East of England: “The Chine maintains at all times of the year a reputation for good food…”. On 3rd September 1937, The Scotsman encouraged readers to take an “Autumn Holiday” at The Chine Hotel with its “four acres of terraced gardens which lead direct to the water’s edge and the Undercliff Drive“. The “Winter?” advertisement in The Yorkshire Post of 15th October  1937 used single-word sentences to confidently extol the luxuries and pleasures to be found at The Chine Hotel and to sell it as the perfect antidote to winter.

Bournemouth’s 1,001 Entertainments

1938-ad-illust-sporting-dramatic-news-2-december
The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News 2nd December 1938

The more dignified ad and article in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of 2nd December 1938 seem to echo the less carefree national mood at a time when increasingly sinister events were taking place on the continent. The hotel is described by Mr Ashley Courtenay as “A Home from Home…” and the emphasis is on the consistency and quality of its food and wine, the long service of the staff, the splendid situation and its accessibility. The ad highlights “Bournemouth’s 1,001 entertainments”.

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The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News 2nd December 1938

A more upbeat style is back in February and March of 1939, when a repeated advertisement in The Scotsman is eager to persuade those north of the border that “It will be nice to get into a warm and sunny climate again”.

Visit The Chine Hotel to experience a gorgeous piece of Boscombe’s history first-hand.

Contact Steph Woods to commission a History of your House or Hotel: fully researched and referenced, written and illustrated and leather-bound. Read Steph’s other blog posts at Woods for the Trees Blog

 

 

Fred Tozer – A Determined Boscombe Schoolboy

The Old School House, Boscombe (Photo by Guy Wood)
The Old School House, Boscombe (Photo by Guy Wood)

Frederick William Tozer was born on 28th June 1885 in Liskeard, Cornwall, the third son of George Tozer, Superintendent of a Life Insurance Agent and his wife Ellen, who were originally from Plympton in Devon. George’s occupation was Superintendent of a Life Insurance Agent. Shortly after Fred was born, his family moved to Bournemouth and, on 5th April 1891 when the census was taken, they were living at No.1 Eaton Villas in Christchurch Road. Fred, then aged 5, was recorded in the census as a Scholar, as were his two elder brothers Ernest, aged 9, and Walter, aged 7, and his younger brother, Claude, aged 4. However, he was probably not attending the Boscombe British School at this time.

Boscombe British Schools Log Book Entries for June 1893 (By kind permission of Dorset History Centre)
Boscombe British Schools Log Book Entries for June 1893 (By kind permission of Dorset History Centre)

On 15th June 1893, when Fred was 7 years old, the Log Book of Boscombe British Schools recorded that “a little boy named Fred Tozer had been brought to school some time ago by his brother”. The Headmaster, William Jones, initially put Fred into Standard II and asked the class teacher, Miss Tickner, to report back after a few days on what he could do. After being assessed by both Miss Tickner and Mr Jones, Fred was found to be “backward in Reading and Spelling” and he was told he would have to go down to Standard I.

Some of the boys at Boscombe British Schools in the 1890s (By kind permission of Dorset History Centre)
Some of the boys at Boscombe British Schools in the 1890s (By kind permission of Dorset History Centre)

Young Fred became very upset; he cried and “declined to go”. Mr Jones asked his brother to leave him at the Infants’ School; however, Fred was determined and continued to turn up at his usual desk in Miss Tickner’s class. Mr Jones told him once again to go down to the lower class, but Fred cried so much and promised to be such a good boy that Mr Jones told the teacher to “enter his name on the Register and let him remain”.

The Sailor's Rest, Fowey, Cornwall
The Sailor’s Rest, Fowey, Cornwall

In 1901, Fred and his elder brothers were still living with their parents at 1 Eaton Villas. Ernest, aged 19,  was working as a “Chemist’s Shopman”and Walter, aged 17, was a “Chemist’s Apprentice” but no occupation was entered for Fred himself, now aged 15. However, by 2nd April 1911, Fred had become a “Mariner/Mercantile”. In the census of that date, he was a boarder at the Sailor’s Rest in Fowey, Cornwall; he was aged 25 and single.

Fast forward to September 1939 and we find Fred, aged 54 and still a “Merchant Seaman”, living with his wife, Ethel, at 29 London Fields West Side in Hackney. However, after all his seafaring, it turns out that in his later years, Fred returned to Bournemouth, where he died, aged 83 at the end of 1968.

Gladstone Road & Boscombe British School (Bournemouth Library Heritage Zone)
Gladstone Road & Boscombe British School (Bournemouth Library Heritage Zone)

Read more about The Old School House here and read other blog posts hereContact Steph Woods to commission a History of your House or Family: fully researched and referenced, written and illustrated then leather-bound. Also, do check out Co-Working at The Old School House; also the Bournemouth 2026 Trust and the present-day charitable work of the BFSS.

The Old School House, Boscombe, Bournemouth

Boscombe British and Foreign School

the-old-school-house
The Old School House, Boscombe (Photo by Guy Wood)

Currently enjoying a new lease of life as a fantastic co-working space for creative small businesses, The Old School House, in Gladstone Mews, Gladstone Road, Boscombe, Bournemouth, was originally built, in the neo-Gothic style, as The Boscombe British and Foreign School. The earliest part of the building is Grade II Listed and dates back to 1878, when the foundation stone was laid by Sir Percy Florence Shelley, Frederick Moser and others on 21st August.

Sir Percy Florence Shelley, of Boscombe Manor, was the son of poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of the Gothic novel, Frankenstein.

Blue Plaque at Old School House
Blue Plaque at Old School House

The British and Foreign School Society (BFSS) was formed to carry on the work of a young Quaker named Joseph Lancaster, who founded his first school in Southwark in 1798  to provide education for “the industrious classes”. Joseph Lancaster introduced a system of “mutual and self-instruction”, which included rewards as well as punishment and a non-denominational approach to religious education. When the Education Census of 1851 was taken, there were 514 British Schools in the UK and the movement also spread overseas.

The Education Act of 1870 established a new system of locally funded boards to build and manage schools. There were objections to the local rates being proposed and, in Boscombe as well as elsewhere, schools fought to keep their autonomy for as long as possible by seeking voluntary contributions. Eventually, however, the resources of the BFSS were diverted to teacher training and the building of teacher training colleges, with the schools themselves being absorbed into the new system.

In 1876, a Royal Commission recommended that education be made compulsory to put a stop to the use of child labour; however it took many more years for full school attendance to come about, even though it was made compulsory for five- to ten-year-olds in 1880.

Gladstone Road & Boscombe British School (Bournemouth Library Heritage Zone)

The British and Foreign School at Boscombe was therefore built at a time when a great deal of energy was being devoted to improving both educational provision and the lot of children generally. Boscombe was growing rapidly during this period and the school attached to the Church of St Clements was over-subscribed. The new British and Foreign School in Gladstone Road was opened in 1879 and it consisted of two rooms, the larger one to the south being for older children.

An enthusiastic supporter of the school was Alderman Henry Curtis Stockley of “Essendene, Christchurch Road, Boscombe”, who was school treasurer. In June 1895, an appeal was made in the press for funds to provide extra accommodation and the school was extended to the south a number of times between 1895 and 1903, when it became a council school.

Boscombe County Primary School (Bournemouth Library Heritage Zone)

The building continued to be used as a school until the 1960s, after which it became a children’s theatre and, in the 1990s, it was used for adult education.

Contact Steph Woods to commission a History of your House or Family: fully researched and referenced, written and illustrated then leather-bound. Do check out Co-Working at The Old School House; also the Bournemouth 2026 Trust and the present-day charitable work of the BFSS.

Mr William Bally of Bath, Upholsterer

1807 Bally & Bartrum Bath Chronicle 15 OctMr William Bally was born in around 1769 in the county of Somerset and he went into business as an upholsterer. In the first half of the 19th century, he was living and working in the city of Bath. He took on an apprentice, Thomas Peacock, in 1801.

William was in a business partnership with Benjamin Bartrum. The firm of Bally and Bartrum carried on a number of varied business activities from their upholstery warehouse at 10 Milsom Street. They were described as: “Upholsterers, Cabinet-Makers, Auctioneers, Undertakers, and House-Agents”!

1822 Bally Bartrum Ptnrship London Gaz Iss 17836 p 1196 20 JulBally & Bartrum regularly placed advertisements for auction sales in the Bath Chronicle, until their partnership was dissolved by mutual consent on 25th March 1822. On 13th May 1824, an advertisement appeared in the Bath Chronicle for a house to let at 19 Gay Street. Interested parties were to apply to the house agent or to Mr Bally of Sion-Hill. William Bally continued to work on his own account well into the 1840s.

1806 Marr Ann Wm Bally Upholsterer Bath Chronicle 5 JunWilliam married Matilda Payne at St. George’s, Hanover Square in London in June 1806; however, it is not known whether they had any children. On census night, 6th June 1841, William Bally, aged 70, who by then was of independent means, was living with his wife, Matilda, aged 55 at their home on Sion Hill. Also living with them were Elizabeth Payne, a relative of Matilda’s, aged 60, also of independent means; and James Payne, aged 14. They had three servants living in: John Sheppard, aged 45; Eliza England, aged 30 and Martha Manning, aged 25.

Mr William Bally died at his residence on Sion Hill, on 21st December 1848 at the age of 79.

Read more Bath stories here. Or if you would like to find out about your ancestors’ lives, contact Steph at Woods for the Trees.

Latterday “Robin Hood’s” Secret Larder

The largest surviving oak tree in Sherwood Forest is the Major Oak, estimated to be 1,000 years old; the oldest is thought to be the Parliament Oak. The now lost Shambles Oak was a latterday “Robin Hood’s” secret larder!

The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest
The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest

The Shambles Oak, was killed when picnickers lit a fire beside it in 1913 and it blew down in 1920. A story in the Derby Mercury of 4th June 1851 tells of a sheep-stealer named “Hooton”, who used the tree, which was thirty feet around, to hide the carcasses of his ill-gotten gains. People living in 1851 remembered his beam and hooks being in the tree, suggesting the hiding place, deep in the forest, was in use in the 17th or 18th century. Perhaps the culprit was one Samuell Hooton of Ollerton, who was christened on the 4th May 1633?

Whilst the newspaper report of 1851 says the trunk could contain fourteen people, the Nottinghamshire Guardian of 27th May 1864 tells us that “recently twelve persons from Nottingham” stood inside the trunk to sing the anthem, “Great and Marvellous are Thy Works”.

Butchers' or Hooton's Shambles near Ollerton, Sherwood Forest
Butchers’ or Hooton’s Shambles near Ollerton, Sherwood Forest

 

 

 

Let Woods for the Trees find your family stories in old British newspapers. And read other blog posts here.

20th Century House and Family History

1940s dressing tableFamily and house stories from the 1900s can be harder to piece together than those from the 1800s, because our old friend the UK census stops in 1911. What to do? Here are some great resource tips to help you make swift progress!

If you have an address, electoral registers are a great place to start. Find them at the County Record Office for the place you want to search. They are available for most years – not 1917, 1919 and 1940-44 – but remember that, in the early 20th century, not everyone was entitled to vote. Start with later years and work backwards.

The Absent Voters’ Registers of 1918 onwards are great for finding servicemen who were serving away from home as they give details like rank and regiment/battalion. Again, the local History Centre or Record Office is the best place to look. Use TNA’s “Find an archive” search tool for this and search by county name. London Metropolitan Archives have produced a useful online guide to the electoral registers they hold and this gives the boroughs and dates for which they have absent voters’ lists.

British Phone Books for years 1880 to 1984 can be searched on Ancestry, which also has various other street, commercial and post office directories covering dates up to the 1900s. For street directories, though, best to visit either the local County Record Office for volumes up to the 1970s or, for before 1920, the University of Leicester’s fabulous online collection of Historical Directories of England and Wales.

1912 Kelly's Directory Extract for Weston Park and Weston Road, Bath (Bath Record Office)
1912 Kelly’s Directory Extract for Weston Park and Weston Road, Bath (Bath Record Office)

Hard copies are great for flipping back and forth between…

  • pages by street name,

  • pages by surname and

  • advertisements for ancestors’ trades or professions;

…great for tracing the history of a house that used to be a business premises. If you are looking for someone who was in business, check out TNA’s Discovery pages to see if company records are at the County Record Office. NB:  to search for records held locally, don’t tick the two boxes below the search box, as that will restrict results to material held at TNA.

Bath Chronicle, 18 October 1947
Bath Chronicle, 18 October 1947

Find My Past has a great collection of British Newspapers for 1710 to 1953 that are well indexed and an excellent way to find stories about your ancestors and things that happened to them, even if, back then, their names were in the paper for the wrong reasons!

Find 20th century wills by searching Ancestry’s Wills and Probate collections. Have a look at: England and Wales National Probate Calendar for 1858 to 1966, which may turn up brief but often useful details about your ancestor like their address and to whom (usually a family member) probate was granted.

And of course, if your ancestor was alive or your house existed in 1911, search the UK census for 1911 on Find My Past or Ancestry.

Ask Woods for the Trees to uncover fascinating facts about your house or your ancestors! And read more blog posts here!