Before Tregonwell decided to build his holiday home here in the early 19th century, Bournemouth was a vast heathland extending about six miles inland from Hengistbury Head to Poole. "The Great Heath", as it was known then, stretched inland for about six miles and was an ideal location for importing and moving contraband. The gently sloping fine sandy beaches, and the shelter offered by Hengistbury Head to the East, and the Isle of Purbeck to the West provided ideal landing conditions. The heath was perfect for concealing both the free traders and the contraband and provided access to Poole, Christchurch and other towns further inland.


The Bournemouth of today is part of a sprawling conurbation, but the original dwellings were sited at a place called Bourne Bottom, where the Bourne stream enters the sea. The first written reference to the area came from the Christchurch monks in 1407 who named it "la Bournemowthe" and it was not until the mid-19th century that the name Bournemouth was adopted. In the 18th century the Great Heath was patrolled against smugglers and French invaders by the Dorset Rangers under the leadership of Captain Lewis Tregonwell, who has often been referred to as the "Founder of Bournemouth".


Bourne Bottom


The earliest known dwelling to be constructed here was Bourne House, which was to be found near a duck decoy pond, possibly on the site now occupied by the Debenham's store. It was also referred to as Decoy Cottage and saw many smugglers throughout its history. The original dweller may well have looked after the duck decoy, as well as the various visitors to Bournemouth for the wildfowl. Decoy Pond also no longer exists, but was probably located near the war memorial, 300 yards from Bournemouth Square and about a mile from the present Coy Pond that was formed in the 1888.


Visitors to Bournemouth for the wildfowl may have stayed at the Tapps Arms, built by Sir George Tapps in 1809 where Post Office Road now joins Old Christchurch Road. This inn was later to be bought by Lewis Tregonwell and it is likely that it received a great deal of stock and custom from "Gentlemen of the night".


"The Battle of Bournemouth"


Bourne Bottom was the site of a violent attack on customs men in November 1787. A lugger was spotted by the Revenue cutter "Resolution" coming in for a landing where Bournemouth Pier now stands. The cargo was hastily sent ashore on seeing the cutter, and the lugger set sail to avoid capture. Captain Sarmon of the "Resolution" ordered away a jolly boat with an armed crew under his mate, Thomas Quick, and the smugglers on the beach panicked and retreated into the heath. The cargo was loaded on to the jolly boat, but by this time the smugglers had called for reinforcements, possibly from Decoy Cottage, and about 30 of them descended on the King's men on horseback. In the ensuing battle Quick was felled and beaten with cudgels, and one of his men, Anderson, was also felled and would have been shot, had the weapon not misfired. The smuggler contented himself by smashing in Anderson's teeth with the firearm. The Revenue men finally retreated, and the gang reclaimed the goods. The ringleader was eventually arrested, but Quick was unable to identify the accused with any certainty. Maybe Quick had lost his nerve, or had been intimidated into silence. Anderson, however, proved to be a far more reliable witness and John Butler, the accused, was hanged in Newgate Prison on 23rd April 1788.


Another story relates how, In 1803, Abraham Pike and a party of Dragoons left Christchurch barracks after being informed of a run at Bourne. 63 casks of spirit and a cask of tobacco were seized and taken to Poole Custom House. On the way back to Christchurch they came across a further two cases of cordials in the heath near Kinson.