A weeks holiday in mid-November presented the family with an important decision; enjoy a staycation to catch up on the ever growing list of chores, or escape to an exotic location for some much needed recuperation. A vote was taken, with the latter emerging as the surprise victor. Suggested factors for determining the destination included sun, sea, sand, softplay centres, swimming pools, sorbets & interesting architecture, leaving only one genuine candidate; Bournemouth! I’ll admit to there being some surprised, if slightly disappointed faces, when this news was broken, but upon being shown an official poster guaranteeing ‘Winter Sun in the Southern Sunshine and Warmth of Bournemouth’, I was given the benefit of the doubt.
Being completely out of season, accommodation prices were at rock bottom, and we were able to secure the penthouse ‘Kings Suite’ at the Cumberland Hotel. This turned out to be a wise move as it’s a fascinating old place in a prime spot. Situated on the East Cliff, and surrounded by a myriad of other boarding houses, the Cumberland is perhaps one of the more upmarket lodgings in the area. Built in 1937 as a luxury Jewish Hotel with in-house synagogue, it looks directly out to sea with distant views of the Isle of Wight to the East, and Sandbanks to the West. The hotel no longer has any specific religious leanings, and the synagogue is no more, but otherwise it has managed to survive the last 80 odd years relatively unscathed. The simple white rendered exterior, with stepped facade, black tracers and glass balcony dividers are all in a good state of repair, retaining the same grand presence it had when first built. After dark, residents are treated to a light show as the facade is lit with by ever changing rainbow hue of up-lighters. You can make your own minds up about this, but my 3 year old daughter loved it!
The interior retains some original features, such as the wonderful marble foyer with inlaid monogram and streamline banister rail. Elsewhere the Art Deco theme is continued with appropriate carpets, signage and mirrors. There is perhaps, more than a whiff of naff bling to some of the other interior decor, but I don’t want to be cruel, it proved to be very comfortable, and I’m not here to write a Trip Advisor critique.
I don’t believe I’d ever been to Bournemouth before, and having spent the summer hunting down the lesser spotted inter-war modernist architecture of my home county of Worcestershire (a fairly traditional, semi rural county not known for its progressive structures), it came as a bit of an assault on the senses to see what was on offer on the Dorset coast. Some basic homework had made me aware of the prevalence of Art Deco in the area, but witnessing such a large number of beautiful Jazz Age buildings scattered across this fairly compact town came as quite a pleasant surprise.
The East Cliff, a 1.5 miles stretch rising up from Bournemouth Pier before descending down to meet Boscombe Pier, appears to be the primary area for hotels and coastal apartments. A veritable pick-and-mix of architectural styles can be found scattered along the front. Some survivors from the golden Edwardian age of the English Riviera still exist, starkly contrasted by the minimal 30’s designs, and totally dwarfed by the towering post war behemoths. Each has its place, and it makes for an interesting stroll.
The tree lined streets running parallel to the front are generally filled with large leafy villas, some with expansive lawns, presumably in a bid to compensate for the lack of sea views. I’ve selected some choice buildings from this area, but alas, I’m unable to tell you anything specific about them at present.
Albany, a 1960’s monster that towers over the seafront.
The town centre surrounds the 3km long Central Gardens that follow the path of the river Bourne, from the North West suburbs, through to the central shopping district and ultimately out to the seafront. This coastal section features some of Bournemouth’s most iconic and well known buildings such as the famous Pavilion (currently wearing scaffolding for restoration work), Odeon cinema, former Ice Skating Rink and of course The Pier. The area was also recently home to a huge Imax leisure complex. Built in 1998 against huge public opposition, later voted Europe’s most hated building, and torn down in 2013.
Further into the town there is a fair bit of redevelopment taking place. Several large new structures were in the midst of being built, while more demolition was taking place on the periphery of the shopping area. It would appear, and come as no surprise, that the casualties were all ’50s-’70s office blocks, no longer in favour with the wider public and easy targets for developers. Thankfully the earlier inter-war style seems to carry more kudos and still plays a key role in the townscape, with many of the retail units still wearing their 1930’s facades with pride.
Rebbeck’s Corner with multiple shops to the front (1936), former Plummer Roddis Department Store (1938) behind.
The 1932 grade II listed Bournemouth Echo building by Seal and Hardy is well worth a visit. Once a beacon of the towns’ thriving local press, it was located on the main road into the centre. Thanks to pedestrianisation it now occupies a sleepier cul-de-sac backwater, and is probably better off for it, if now being somewhat overlooked by the average tourist. Only the upper floors are occupied by the Echo presently, while the ground floor is mixed use and semi-vacant.
Heading North-East on foot out of The Square on Christchurch Road you quickly come across George Coles’ pioneering cinema, retail and apartment block amalgamation. Built in 1937, it provided the modern town dweller with an embarrassment of facilities, perhaps never incorporated into the same single unit before. The cinema, run by Odeon, closed in 1974, with the chain later transferring to the former Regent Theatre nearer the seafront (as above). As so often is the case, its now a bingo house.
Situated directly next door is Beacon House, a small a-symmetric red brick office block with central tower flanked by curved three and four storey wings either side. I’ve not managed to find out a great deal about it presently, other than the original metal framed curved glass windows were replaced with the current UPVC units in the 1990’s. A small consolation, but thankfully the original stairwell glazing has been left well alone.
On a complete tangent, here’s Homelife House aka Avalon. Built in the 1987 this is just one of many chunks of Post-Modern architecture littering the outskirts of the town centre. I’m generally not a huge fan of this era of design, often finding it reminiscent of Lego, with brightly coloured exoskeletons and jarring choices of construction material. This however, is rather attractive (my wife even went as far as to label it ‘beautiful’) and has clearly taken design cues from Jazz Age motifs.
Lastly a few highlights from Boscombe, the coastal village suburb of Bournemouth. Standing right on the promenade is the Neptune Public House, part of the Harvester chain. The building throws up hints of its previous life as The Overstand, an area designed to offer shelter, changing facilities, and refreshments to sun seekers. The original 1930’s elements have been retained, with an interlinking single storey section cutting across the front. This in turn, appears to have had several face-lifts over the years and sports a mixture of different claddings, plastic windows and twee ‘coastal’ touches that are far from endearing. Beside this sits it’s replacement, a sizable mid-century double storey construction presumably designed to look like a ship (though more ferry than cruise liner). This also had a recent renovation and now wears an eclectic mixture of ceramic and wooden claddings.
Just up the road from Boscombe Pier are these stylish moderne coastal apartments. Some white, some cream, but all looking in a fairly good state of repair and oozing charisma.
If you’re unfamiliar with the area and appreciate good architecture from any era, I’d highly recommend you pay Bournemouth a visit. Yes, there are plenty of stereotypes concerning the place, some of which are true, but put prejudice aside and it’s actually rather nice. Perhaps we were just lucky, but it also seemed to occupy its’ own micro-climate, with air temperatures reaching highs of 18C in Mid-November, a whopping 10C higher than the midlands that week.
Apologies for the lack of information on some of the properties. If anyone is able to fill in any blanks I’d be more than happy to hear from you.
And to close.. I couldn’t resist including this little honey!