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Our Forgotten Regency Resort 

The south-central region has a number of seaside resorts, Bournemouth being the largest and best-known. One early resort which flourished in the Georgian Regency era was Mudeford alias Sandhills, on the edge of Christchurch [map]. It was eclipsed when neighbouring Bournemouth came into fashion, and is today almost forgotten. Nevertheless, some of its elegant buildings survive, and it is well worth a visit for those with an interest in history.
The French Revolution and subsequent Napoleonic Wars ended the English upper class fashion for the European Grand Tour and holidays at continental spas. Instead, the new 'sea-bathing' resorts of Brighton, Lyme and Weymouth became fashionable Regency-era "watering-places," growing within a generation into popular tourism destinations. One resort however, despite meeting the basic requirements for a fashionable Georgian-Regency resort, and enjoying patronage from the nation's elite, never grew to become a household name.
Perhaps it was due to its having such an unpromising name that the Christchurch district of Mudeford together with neighbouring Highcliffe, in what was then southwest Hampshire never grew to be another Brighton or Margate. "Muddyford," as it was previously, does not sound as if it has much of a beach, which may have made it uninviting to the public who began to frequent seaside resorts when the railway age arrived. And Highcliffe was not adopted as a village name until 1892, the local hamlets being known before that as Chuton, Newtown, and Slop Pond. On the other hand, names such as Mude or Muddiford had the advantage for the fashionable set of discouraging strangers and keeping the resort exclusive, away from the hoi polloi. In fact, the district's other name was Sandhills, after the large dunes stretching along the shore.
Wars with France and other European countries over the Colonies, then the French Revolution and subsequent 'Terror' of the 1790s, and finally the Napoleonic Wars combined to put an end to the English upper class fashion for the European cultural 'Grand Tour' and holidays at continental spas, which offered mineral-rich water to drink and sometimes, mud-baths. In England, inland spas, notably Bath, were long established on the Continental model of health spas like Lourdes. George II's old Prime Minister, Pitt the Elder, for instance in 1768 retreated to Bath suffering from the flying gout - the age's polite label for mental-health problems. The new English sea-side resorts would come into popularity during the heyday of the up-and-coming Prince Regent, in the years between the Storming Of The Bastille in 1789 and Waterloo in 1815, which ended the French threat.
“Hydromania”
From 1789 on, George III suffered from mental-health problems which could not be concealed, and his re-appearance at Weymouth in the summer of 1789 to take the waters was a welcome sight, for the situation in France prompted a fear the English monarchy could also collapse. Watched by a puzzled and fascinated crowd, the King entered the sea from a bathing machine for his royal dip while a band played God Save The King. It was the King's regular public dips at Weymouth through the 1790s that helped popularise the new "spa" idea of salt-water sea-bathing had curative properties. Next, Brighton was made fashionable by the Prince Of Wales, who would become Prince Regent when the King was forced into retirement by his madness. Even Southampton became a 'spa town.' Mudeford would also soon join the short-list of fashionable new "watering-places” when it too received the necessary official hallmark of approval - the Royal visit.
At this time, Mudeford, previously known as a smugglers' bolthole, had just begun to acquire its first veneer of respectability after a former British Museum curator and retired director of the Bank of England bought up much of the district and began to invite members of the aristocracy down to stay. The house Gustavus Brander (1720-87) had built was in downtown Christchurch itself (in the grounds of Christchurch Priory, in fact), but as a keen antiquarian and naturalist, with a summer-house on Hengistbury Head, he would soon be showing various VIP visitors around the area. And the selling off, by the Brander family, of High Cliff estate to Pitt's retiring Prime Minister Lord Bute would lead to a new chapter in the growth of the resort.
The Highcliffe-On-Sea Saga
On the neighbouring High Cliff estate along the clifftop a mile eastward, a second aristocratic home stood, for a while anyway. Here until 1794 stood the stately home called 'High Cliff,' built in a mediaevalist style to a Robert Adam design in 1773. It was the seaside residence of George III's first Prime Minister the 3rd Earl of Bute, John Stuart (1713-92), who had risen to power through his connections with the Royal family. The ex- Prime Minister had retired here in 1770 after being brought down by a lengthy rabble-rousing press campaign. (This was led by the so-called father of radical British journalism, John Wilkes, who afer years of official persecution, took a seaside villa across the bay on Wight, where he died in 1797.)
Lord Bute was one of those aristocrats prevented by hostilities with France from continuing to enjoy European 'grand tours' to look at art treasures. As well as being an art enthusiast, he was also a keen botanist (a co-founder of Kew Gardens), and in 1779 he had paid the most famous landscape designer of the time, Capability Brown, to lay out a parkland on the High Cliff estate. The house itself was built on the clifftop "to command the finest outlook in England."
In fact it proved too close to the crumbling clifftop, and in the 1790s it had to be demolished stone by stone. Most of the estate was sold off following Bute's death, after being injured in a fall trying to pick wildflowers on the clifftop. In the meantime, the only house on the estate was a modest dwelling called Bure Homage. The 4th Earl of Bute, Lord Stuart de Rothesay, grew up there while contemplating his grand scheme to rebuild the family home lost to the sea. A diplomat serving in France, he bought back the rest of the estate in 1807 and began to build a magnificent house which he would furnish with stained glass windows from Rouen and other French art treasures 'rescued' from the aftermath of the French Revolution. This —the present, now-restored Highcliffe Castle— would not be completed until 1835, the eve of the Victorian era, but it would become the area's most fashionable house throughout the Victorian and subsequent Edwardian ages.
Before the Castle was complete, another set of 'royalty' came to the Highcliff estate. During 'The Terror', French aristocrats fleeing dispossession and perhaps the guillotine, such as the Duc de Bourbon, had settled in exile in southern England from 1789 on, until Napoleon's fall made possible the Royalist émigrés' repatriation. A generation later, in 1830, revolution again broke out in France, and the new King, Charles X, fled to Poole. Louis-Philippe, the Duc d'Orleans, was elected 'King of the French' by the new regime. He also became protector of the "Queen Of Chantilly" Baronne de Feucheres, alias Sophie Dawes, the Wight-born daughter of a local smuggler, who had somehow reinvented herself as a courtly femme fatale. She had escaped the poorhouse permanently in her teens while working as a servant in a Piccadilly brothel, where (it was said) she was won by the exiled Duc de Bourbon in a card game. She gave up her Nell Gwynn style London career as an actress and orange-seller, and taught herself French to make her way in the world as a courtesan. After a ménage a trois with the Duc and her husband the Baron de Feucheres was exposed, she was strongly suspected of faking the suicide of the aged Duc, by then a Prince, in order to obtain title to the vast Chantilly estate.
Though she was never tried, she became persona non grata to her former protector King Louis-Philippe. Ironically, both would end their lives in England. With the 1848 uprisings, the onetime “King Of The French” would flee here (disguised as a “Mr Smith”) and often stayed in the area, at Highcliffe Castle or with Gustavus Brander at Christchurch's Priory House, while the former "Queen Of Chantilly” bought Bure Homage in the 1830s. The still-wealthy social adventuress ordered it rebuilt in the style of a French villa, but died soon after.
"Pitt's Rose"
It was in the 1790s that the key residents in the story of Mudeford's rise to fashion appeared. In 1790 George Rose (1744-1818) became a Member of Parliament for Christchurch. Rose first served in the Navy, where he was twice wounded in action, but left when promotion failed to materialise, and became a civil servant instead. After buying Cuffnells Park (later a hotel, since demolished) in the New Forest near Lyndhurst, he became an MP for Lymington in 1788. Rose was by now such a close friend and supporter of the new Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, he was known as "Pitt's Rose." (Pitt, who became Prime Minister at age 24 after his father's retirement, himself had Dorset family roots.) Christchurch had two Members of Parliament, and from 1796 Christchurch's other MP was George Rose's younger son, William Stewart Rose (1775-1843). Rose's main family residence was in the New Forest at Cuffnells, where he wrote books on finance and policy, and from where he even tried to run his cabinet post of Treasurer Of The Navy.
He also entertained both Pitt and the King there. George III, an acquaintance since 1784 (the year Pitt swept to power), visited him at Cuffnells in 1789 on his first visit to Weymouth, and again in 1801, when he stayed for four days at Cuffnells the week both Rose and Pitt announced their retirements, and again in 1803. Pitt would return to office in 1804 for two final, killing years to engineer the political alliance needed to combat Napoleon, staying at Cuffnells for a last time the year of Trafalgar, 1805, Rose himself dining with Nelson just before he sailed.
Seaside Villas At Mudeford
In order to have a seaside residence for himself and his family to indulge the new fashion for sea-bathing, Rose around 1785 also built a house just east of Mudeford Quay, named Sandhills, behind the large sand dunes which then stood there. The two Christchurch MPs used their seaside properties as summer residences. Sandhills House was occupied by George Rose's eldest son, Sir George Henry Rose, who was elevated to the diplomatic service through his father's influence with Pitt (Sir George named his son George Pitt Rose). With George Snr at Cuffnells, and George Henry at Sandhills House, the younger son William Stewart Rose from 1796 lived during the summer in a row of seaside cottages completed in 1796 on the Sandhills estate, just east of the main house. This house, and in fact the entire row of white-washed seafront houses (which still survive), would be named "Gundimore," after which Gundimore Promenade between Mudeford Quay and Avon Beach is now named.
'Gundimore' And The Literati
The house's famous talking point was a room designed to look like a Persian tent, this feature being the outcome of WS Rose's interests as an amateur poet and translator. The Romantic Poets of the time often used exotic Eastern references (as with Coleridge's Xanadu), and dressing a room in Arabian Nights style and giving the house a Kiplingesque exotic name such as "Gundimore" (the heroine in a poem he translated) was in keeping with this literary fashion. One can compare the Brighton Pavilion, built for the Prince Regent in the style of an Oriental pavilion-tent with minarets and cupolas, and sometimes described, after a phrase from Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," as a Royal "pleasure dome." (It had a secret tunnel so he could receive his mistress - actually his secret Catholic wife.) Several of the surviving Gundimore row of houses today have low, round domed-roof rooms or extensions.
The Romantic poets also had a penchant for Mediterranean Romance-language works as well as Mid-Eastern exoticism, and the word villa seems to creep naturally into descriptions of these seaside houses. Pevsner's Buildings Of England notes a Mediterranean feature in the original Sandhills House: it was built up with exotic features in the form of a 2-storey Tuscan-colonnade verandah. W.S. Rose was himself translator of such exotic Romance-language European works as Orlando Furioso, Amadis, and Ariosto, of which a future Poet Laureate and visitor, Robert Southey, composed his own version.
Southey was just one of a series of writers to be invited down to Gundimore. While George Rose invited national leaders such as Pitt, Nelson and the King, William Stewart Rose preferred writers, and to Gundimore came distinguished literati of the day. Having writers on hand had been a feature of court life since the Renaissance established the idea of the patron, and even for the aristocrat not interested in the arts it was what we would now call a status display. The Prince set the example, and it became part of English Regency life, adopted officially via the still-current Poet Laureate scheme. Future Poet Laureate Robert Southey not only visited Gundimore, but took a pair of cottages at Burton a mile inland to use as a country retreat, 1797-1800. Sir Walter Scott was a Gundimore visitor, while working on his poetry ('Marmion') and later on his first historical novel (Waverley). Southey's brother-in-law, the decadent Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, visited Gundimore later on, in 1816, when William Stewart Rose had returned (with an Italian wife) from his two years of living abroad. Coleridge grandly planned a poem about the house, but (as with "Kubla Khan") never finished it - he was, as usual, recuperating from various ailments. Instead, Rose wrote a poem of his own, commemorating these, and other, visits by Coleridge and Scott, called "Gundimore."
The Royal Visits
When Southey later became Poet Laureate, his mandatory memorial poem for his late patron George III was ridiculed by Byron and others, who felt Southey might just as well depict the King entering Heaven in a bathing machine. While George III's favourite seaside resort had been Weymouth, he did visit Sandhills en route at George Rose's bidding. Rose had him stop over at Cufffnells on his first journey to Weymouth, on 29 June 1789, and some sources say he also stopped at Sandhills. He also visited Sandhills on 3 July 1801, but better known is his 1803 official visit. In 1803 Rose arranged an official Royal 'inspection' style visit to Mudeford, complete with military parade, on another stopover by the royal yacht en route to Weymouth. The Christchurch Artillery fired a 3-volley salute echoed by another on Wight opposite, while detachments of the Scots Greys and the local Volunteers stood lined up on the beach. So that the King should not get his feet wet as he re-embarked on the royal barge, the pier-less resort's three new bathing machines were laid end to end in the shallows. Sir Arthur Mee adds in his The King's England guidebook series, "After that Mudeford brightened and increased the number of its bathing machines" (apparently from three to seven). "...A picturesque little story which will, no doubt, ever be told of Mudeford," commented the Bournemouth Times & Directory.
Despite these claims, that was the end of George's public patronage. The Prince Regent seems not to have visited either: generally, he tended to steer clear of anywhere his disapproving father might be found. The Prince had privately married the Catholic widow of the owner of Lulworth Castle, but in 1795 he had to put aside his secret Catholic wife and remarry to help pay off his debts. This arranged marriage was disastrously unhappy for both parties. His new Princess Of Wales, Caroline Of Brunswick, did stay at Sandhills in 1796 before she moved back to the Continent. The King's brother, HRH Duke of Cumberland, also stayed with Rose on New Year's Eve 1803 to inspect, and thank for their service, the Christchurch Volunteers who had lined up for his brother, although in the event rain cancelled the official parade. However after he became King, the former Regent did visit Gundimore and Mudeford, in the 1820s.
An early Cooke's guidebook of circa 1835 refers to this visit: "the admired spot, the favourite summer residence of numerous families of distinction ... Muddiford, a beautiful village on the sea-shore, possessing every convenience for a watering-place, having good bathing machines, and a fine sandy beach. His late Majesty, George IV, honoured this spot with a visit, and his admiration of its scenery. The air here is salubrious.... These qualities were appreciated and emphatically remarked on by his Majesty George III, who with the royal family honoured Mr Rose with a visit at Sandhills."
The “Marine Village Of Mudiford”
Mudeford was classed as a “marine village,” a term which seems to have evolved for such small new, purpose-built seaside resorts. It sounds discreet and exclusive, with a small-is-beautiful implication in the word village. But inevitably, as seaside resort holidays became more common, there were expectations that Mudeford-Sandhills would grow. An 1820s guide notes what we would now call an attempt at rebranding with a name change, from Mudiford to 'the more appropriate name of Summerford.' (The adjacent modern district of Somerford is named after the medieval Manor of that name.)
A guidebook to Bournemouth and Mudeford of circa 1840 refers to a plan to build up to 90 residences as summer lodgings for 'families of respectability' on the Highcliffe estate, and comments, 'Nature has done much - art and capital, judiciously applied, will make Mudeford the first watering-place on the coast.” Another meaning of 'watering-place' was that traditional spas had healing wells or waters. Where Bournemouth had to import French mineral water, there was even a local well (Tutton's Well) nearby at Stanpit on the Harbour's edge, said to have curative properties.
New buildings appeared. The old smugglers' inn on the Quay, Haven House (in 1784, the year Pitt had come to power, the Navy had actually bombarded it in a bloody pitched battle) was converted to respectability. It became "a sea-bathing lodging house for fine company who came down from London for sea air," said Marchioness Louisa de Rothesay, who in 1845 took over Highcliffe Castle. An artist admired by Ruskin, Louisa was also the pioneer of a colony of artists drawn to the area's picturesque views. The adjoining estate, at Chewton Bunny, long notorious as a smuggler's rendezvous, became the home of a naval veteran turned children's novelist, Captain Marryat, where he wrote Children Of The New Forest. (He also did the original sketch of nude women bathers, bathing machines, and lurking voyeur, which the artist Cruikshank turned into an illustration that became the forerunner of the humorous seaside postcard -'Hydromania.')
The Castle would continue to host aristocratic guests through the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, including members of the English Royal family. There would come Gladstone and the future Edward VII (whose mistress Lily Langtry would retire to Bournemouth). Both the Prince and Princess of Wales in fact would visit by yacht, sailing direct from Osborne. The Royal Yacht would also bring their Continental cousins, relatives of the crowned heads of Europe. To Highcliffe Castle came the now-exiled Louis Philippe, and Queen Victoria's grandson King Wilhelm II, alias the Kaiser. However any plan to make Mudeford “the first watering-place on the coast” would come to nothing.
End Of An Era
The eclipse of Mudeford as the local resort was already well underway. In 1810 one of its summer residents had ventured over the heath to the west as Southey had done in 1800. But where Southey had complained he saw only "desolation," Lewis Tregonwell saw something else at Bourne Chine, the possibility of "an unreclaimed solitude" away from now-busy Mudeford. There, at the mouth of the Bourne, he bought land and built a mansion in the so-called "Strawberry Hill" style of Horace Walpole's country house of that name in Sussex, which a neighbour of Rose's at Cuffnells had adopted for what Pevsner calls the best “Gothick” house in Hampshire, Foxlease.
Tregonwell's manor house (now the Royal Exeter Hotel) became Bournemouth's first respectable residence. As a former High Sheriff of Dorset, based originally in Cranborne Chase and a guest and hunting companion of the Prince Regent there, he was respectable enough to attract wealthy visitors, and soon Mudeford had a rival exclusive resort, the "Marine Village of Bourne," with a cluster of cottages and guest chalets towards the sea.
The Georgian-Regency Era ended with Victoria's accession in 1838. Part of the failure of Mudeford to develop could be attributed in part to its lack of royal favour during this lengthy era. (Significantly, Bournemouth's premier hotel, the Royal Bath, opened the same day.) The young Princess Victoria had stayed at Highcliffe Castle with her family, one of her Ladies-in-waiting was Louisa de Rothesay's sister Charlotte, and her son Prince Edward visited several times bringing VIPs from Osborne on the royal yacht, but the Queen herself never visited Highcliffe-Mudeford. [See sidebar, “Victoria's Seaside Days”]
In the subsequent Victorian age of railway-driven mass tourism, the court set, including the young Queen Victoria and family, would flee the commuters and day-trippers on the mainland, retiring to Osborne across the Bay from Mudeford, and Wight likewise became a favoured retreat with the next generation's cultured set - Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Macauley, Swinburne, Turgenev, and the new Poet Laureate, Tennyson, after whom Tennyson Down across the bay was named. The Prince Regent's favourite watering hole, Brighton, became the premier seaside resort town, and even William Stewart Rose retired here, dying there in 1843. It had the advantage of being within commuting distance of London. In 1823, the journalist Cobbett noted it was home to London "stock-jobbers" who commuted daily by stagecoach.
Nor did it develop as a health spa. While Bournemouth's Mont Dore Hotel (now the Town Hall) imported French mineral water, and neighbouring Boscombe exploited a clifftop mineral spring to reinvent itself as Boscombe Spa, the local healing well on Christchurch Harbour was never exploited. Locally, it was Bournemouth that would become the popular resort of the general public, soon expanding to meet up with Boscombe Spa and another upstart rival, Southbourne-On-Sea, on the other side of Hengistbury Head.
With no spa waters, no ornamental gardens, and most importantly no pier for the steamers carrying day-trippers to land at, Mudeford and Highcliffe-On-Sea were bypassed, saved from the holiday-tripper and related development. Its attractions remained old-fashioned, one local writer complaining that in speech and manners it was fifty years behind fashionable Lymington. "Fashion has not made it a watering-place," added another, "it possesses none of the recommendations of modern dissipation." Even Highcliffe Castle fell on hard times and was sold. Gordon Selfridge, of Selfridge's stores fame, took it over in the 1920s. Not content with this 'fairy palace by the sea,' he planned to build a private castle of his own the size of St Paul's on Hengistbury Head. But his personal fortunes fell, and the Head was saved from privatization (and possible physical collapse from the weight of the prosposed edifice). Highcliffe Castle was sold and re-sold, set on fire (more than once), left derelict, vandalised, and looted of its magnificent artworks before eventually being restored, in the 1990s.
Epilogue
Thus, Mudeford never became a household name like Lyme, Weymouth, Swanage, Bournemouth, or Margate. And although its aristocratic Georgian-Regency heyday is now all but forgotten, this is not a tale of rise and fall, but is in its own quiet way a success story. As another 19th-Century guidebook put it, “The present inhabitants … possibly are not sorry that Mudeford did not develop into a second Margate.” It was an example of a remarked-on phenomena among seaside resorts, of an exclusive resort next to a 'mass-market' one, remaining content with being old-fashioned or behind the times - in the local motto, a place 'where time stands still.'
Today, despite all the day-trippers and their quarter of a million dogs to the adjacent ancient-monument site of Hengistbury Head, Mudeford retains much of its exclusive character. The bathing machines which the wealthy could hire for privacy have been supplanted, on the adjacent sandspit, by a line of beach huts which often feature in the national press for the record prices they bring in when sold. Originally owned long-term by local families who passed their huts on from generation to generation as family heirlooms, these are now increasingly bought up by wealthy non-residents, with the old-timers and local families being squeezed out again as the resort moves back upmarket. On the mainland side, the established residents of Mudeford village refer to the hut owners, however wealthy they are, as "sheddies."
Highcliffe Castle was restored to its former magnificence in the 1990s by the Council as a public amenity, while the one surviving fragment of Lord Bute's original 1773 High Cliff house, the gatehouse lodges, became an upmarket hotel and restaurant. Nearby, novelist Captain Marryat's former family home would become the area's other five-star hotel, the Chewton Glen. Muddiford House, once home to retired army officers, became the harbour-front's largest hotel, The Avonmouth.
In their 1937 retrospective piece about George IV's visit, the local newspaper, the Bournemouth Times & Directory, noted with surprise that the obscure term "Mudeford Beach" was used in the national press without reference to Christchurch or Bournemouth to indicate its location. This policy is long-standing, and continues today. Hengistbury Head, for example, is not promoted as a tourism attraction. Neither is Mudeford, even in free publicity - as when it made a TV appearance, in Bill Bryson's Notes From A Small Island 1999 ITV series. In it, Bryson, a former Bournemouth Echo reporter and now an English Heritage commissioner, interviews Victoria Wood, holidaying with her family in a Mudeford Sandbank beach hut, about English attitudes to seaside holidays. However to discourage anyone who saw the programme wanting to visit the place, the location was not identified. Even in this modern age, some standards of discretion are still maintained.   ***

Visit The Splendid New Marine Village Of Muddiford !
(*Also Known As Sandhills, Sandford and Summerford*)

Granny's first sea-bathe
* Favoured by Their Royal Majesties King George III and HRH The Prince Regent … And Many Other Persons Of Quality * Every Convenience For A Watering-Place * Fine Sea Bathing – As Recommended By The Medical Profession * Have The Salt-Water Cure – Take The Plunge – Drink A Pint A Day * No Mixed Bathing Allowed - Supervision By Respectable Matrons * Bathing Machines For Hire, One Shilling Per Person * Hot And Tepid Baths At Short Notice * Assiduously Attentive Tradespersons * Commodious Pleasure Boats Available For Aquatic Expeditions * Fine Prospects Abound * Ladies Have No Fear * Grand Time Guarant’d For All!

Caption: "Whip my ass, John"



In Regency times, there were still no bathing costumes. Privacy was supplied by hiring a horse-drawn 'bathing machine' - the forerunner of the changing-room chalet and the beach hut.

 



A detail from Cruikshank's famous sketch "Hydromania', which was based on a sketch by Captain Marryat of Chewton Glen, and was the forerunner of the cheeky seaside postcard.
Highcliffe Castle today
Highcliffe Castle today.
'Sandhills' House today
'Sandhills' House today.
Gundimore House today
Gundimore House today, on Gundimore Promenade.
Gundimore
Lord Bute hotel-restaurantThe Lord Bute hotel-restaurant is the only surviving remnant of Lord Bute's original High Cliff House - its gatehouse lodge.
 
 
view towards Wight from Highcliffe
The sea view from Highcliffe - "the finest outlook in England."
Osborne House
Queen Victoria's seaside residence on Wight, Osborne House, built in the Italianate style so fashionable at the time. See sidebar below for details.

Victoria's Seaside Days
Princess Victoria's father had originally chosen Sidmouth for a lengthy family 'sea air' retirement stay when she was an infant, but ironically he got caught in a blizzard on Christmas Day 1819 and died there of pneumonia, in the same week as his brother George III. Victoria spent her next seaside holidays on the Isle Of Wight, at Norris Castle near Cowes, from where she had begun her popular 'Royal Progress' trip of 1833 by yacht along the Dorset-Devon coast. Outbound, the 14 year old princess sailed straight to Weymouth.
The return journey was partly done overland, with crowds lining the roads to cheer the royal carriage with its cavalry escort. It was decided to visit one of the exclusive new sea-bathing resorts, so the party stopped over at Swanage.
Though an early industrial port serving the Purbeck stone-quarrying industry, the local landowner and MP, William Morton Pitt (a distant relative of Prime Minister Pitt and an official in his administration), was developing it as a resort. This 'retired little town' had never had a Royal Visit before, and the enthusiastic public reception to the Royal visit helped launch Swanage as a seaside resort. From Swanage's new pier, the Royal party sailed straight back to Cowes, bypassing Mudeford and Highcliffe-On-Sea, neither of which had a landing pier.
After she became Queen, Victoria had no need to visit any 'marine village,' since she soon had what was described at the time as her own 'marine palace' built overlooking The Solent. She and Prince Albert bought up the estate next to Norris Castle, at Osborne.
Just as George Rose had gone for Tuscan colonnades at Sandhills, so for their seaside villa Victoria and Albert went for an Italianate design which would give the place some of the appeal of a sunny Mediterranean resort. The Solent view reminded Albert of the Bay Of Naples, and they had the Georgian house there rebuilt in Palladian style, including campanile towers, a loggia balcony, a pavilion, and later a hall in the obligatory Eastern style, the Durbar Room. Terraced gardens with statues and fountains in Renaissance style cascaded down towards the seashore, where Victoria had her own bathing machine (rescued in the 1920s and put on display). The result was so attractive that the 'Osborne Style' would be imitated in the USA and elsewhere.
In any case, with her 100-plus entourage, staying at a marine village was unrealistic. At Osborne Victoria had a private estate guarded at times by up to 200 soldiers (and of course her fierce Highland gillie John Brown) who kept tourists as well as anarchists out. Her new Poet Laureate, Tennyson, also set up a home on Wight (hence 'Tennyson Down' across Christchurch Bay from Mudeford) - but was soon besieged by tourists.
Wight had the added attraction of making her relatively inaccessible to her elderly ministers of state. (Later, when her Prime Ministers, Disraeli and Gladstone, needed a rest cure, she packed them off to the new resort of Bournemouth.) The royal couple could also sail off on their new steam yacht as they did in 1843 to maintain the Entente Cordiale by visiting their Continental cousin, King Louis Philippe, at his summer-residence chateau in Normandy. Victoria would eventually die at Osborne in 1901.
Today, due to this Royal patronage the Cowes Yachting Regatta, originally frequented by Victoria's son the Prince of Wales and her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II, as dignitaries in their 'Royal Yachting Squadron,' is an international event. It being a tradition that Royal princes should serve a stint in the 'Senior Service,' Osborne became in part a Royal Naval College where future kings served as cadets. Osborne House became a major tourist attraction, now kept by English Heritage as much as possible as it was when Victoria died there.
• See Princess Victoria In Dorset, by J.F. Parsons [n.d., Bournemouth Local Studies Group, ISBN 1873887094], and Queen Victoria At Osborne by Arnold Florance [English Heritage 1987]

Top Ten Attractions In Area:

Christchurch Harbour Hotel [was the Avonmouth] [dining room, bar]
Gundimore Promenade [esplanade, view of Gundimore Cottages]
Hengistbury Head [ancient monument, viewpoint]
Highcliffe Castle [stately home, with tearoom]
Lord Bute Hotel [upmarket dining room]
Mudeford Quay [historic cottages, pub, restaurant, ferry etc]
Mudeford Sandbank [ferry from Mudeford Quay or landtrain from Hengistbury]
Sandhills [Rose estate now caravan park with gatehouse bistro]
Ship In Distress [popular seafood restaurant]
Steamer Point [woodland next to Highcliffe Castle, viewpoint]

Multimap Link: Mudeford area

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