Two days after marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday there is the 80th anniversary of Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister on Sunday.
“Next to Downing Street itself, the busiest political centre in the world in those days was the cliff-top hotel in Bournemouth,” said political journalist Trevor Evans when he recalled the appointment of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister on 10 May 1940.
Bournemouth played a crucial roles in Churchill’s entry into politics and his eventual premiership.
As an 18 year old staying with his aunt Lady Wimborne at Branksome Dene he jumped from the Branksome Dene Chine bridge at the bottom of the garden and failed to slide down a pine tree. His companions rushed back to the house to report that Winston had “jumped over the bridge and won’t speak to us”.
Young Winston remained unconscious for three days whilst doctors called from London diagnosed a ruptured kidney and a broken shoulder. It was during his convalescence that young Churchill met leading statesmen, spent time in the House of Commons’ gallery and resolved to enter Parliament.
Winston was impressed by the respect that political opponents showed for each other and it was the respect of his opponents meeting in Bournemouth which gave him the premiership.
Churchill had been the rebel with dire warnings of the German threat during the Thirties. By May 1940 Britain was seven months into the Second World War and Norway had just been invaded with disastrous consequences for British forces.
On Wednesday 8 May, with the Commons in the middle of a two day debate on Norway, the national press began to express concern over the War leadership. The Labour Opposition decided to force a division in which many Conservatives abstained leading to suggestions that the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain should resign.
On Friday 10 May, with the overnight news of the German invasion of Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland, the War Cabinet met at 8am and again at 11.30am. Meanwhile those due to make the most important decision were heading for Waterloo Station and the 11.43am Bournemouth train.
The Labour Party Conference had long been scheduled to open at The Pavilion in Bournemouth on the following Monday and as usual the National Executive Committee was meeting in advance to settle final arrangements.
Labour Leader Clement Attlee went ahead with this out of London meeting in the belief that it would be easier to dislodge Chamberlain from Bournemouth than on the Prime Minister’s home ground where there would be appeals for unity in the national interest.
London County Council Leader Herbert Morrison, reluctantly staying in London in case it was bombed, saw the NEC members into their third class seats.
At Bournemouth reporters were told that a decision on joining the government would be known about 6pm. In fact it was made much quicker. The 25 strong meeting was convened in the basement of The Highcliff Hotel at 3.30pm and began discussions within ten minutes.
Soon news came through that Canterbury was being bombed. Although this report proved false -the bombs fell in the Kent countryside- they were the first bombs of the conflict. With minds concentrated, a statement was soon agreed: “The National Executive of the Labour Party have unanimously decided to take their share of responsibility as a full partner in a new government, under a new Prime Minister, which would command the confidence of the nation.”
Hugh Dalton had suggested the insertion of the phrase “under a new Prime Minister” to make quite clear their hostility to the Chamberlain administration.
At once Attlee prepared to go back to London and negotiate with the government. It was almost 5pm when Attlee, leaving the Highcliff to catch the 5.15pm train, was called back from the front door to take a call from Downing Street. Assistant Private Secretary Jock Colville asked if there was any reply to the questions Attlee had promised to put to the NEC: ‘Are you prepared to serve under Chamberlain?’ and ‘Are you prepared to serve under another?’.
Attlee replied “No and Yes” and dictated the NEC statement.
Within the hour Chamberlain was at Buckingham Palace. When he left at 6.30pm there was only a five minute gap before Churchill arrived. “I suppose you don’t know why I have sent for you” said the King. “I simply couldn’t imagine why” replied Churchill who then heard George VI say: “I want to ask you to form a government”.
If you can reach the coast path without using public transport you can still enjoy a walk during this difficult time caused by the virus.
It may that, for a very long time, the path will be important as a place for exercise, fresh air and mental refreshment for local people rather than long distance walkers or visitors.
The New Milton Advertiser reports a timely intervention by Desmond Swayne MP who has joined many others in expressing concern about the erosion of the coast path in the Taddiford Gap area west of Milford-on-Sea.
He is looking to Natural England to implement its published roll-back policy for this section.
It is a vital link. Using the nearby road is out of the question as anyone who walks up the Gap to visit the Old Hordle Church remains will confirm. It’s too busy and has no pavement.
The Aubrey Beardsley exhibition at Tate Britain includes work by the draughtsman and distinctive illustrator who, suffering from tuberculosis, spent crucial months from August 1896 to the end of January 1897 by the seaside.
Young Aubrey Beardsley came to Boscombe by accident. His doctor has chosen Dieppe for the ailing artist but he was scared about going having once failed to pay an hotel bill there.
His sister Mabel found the Pier View boarding house (now replaced by The Point flats) on the corner of Sea Road and The Marina . The coast path passes the building so one can begin to get a feel of the view of Boscombe Pier and the bay enjoyed by Beardsley from his first floor room with a balcony.
He became friendly with writer Eleanor Towle who promised to take him along the cliff to Shelley Park and meet Jane Shelley who might show him items once belonging to her poet father-in-law. Beardsley was known to be knowledgeable about Keats.
Later Beardsley was caught up in excitement caused by the discovery of a 65 foot long whale washed up on the beach below Shelley Park.
We know that he became familiar with Boscombe Chine and walked up to the East Cliff although he felt ill as he returned. He tasted the Boscombe Spa water available at the chine entrance.
Beardsley, having been sacked from The Yellow Book magazine was working from Boscombe as art editor of The Savoy magazine. His deadline was about a month ahead for each issue which usually carried a cover by him. The content caused WH Smith to refuse copies.
The Savoy editor Leonard Smithers visited from London and is depicted as a chain smoking dissolute in a Max Beerbohm caricature.
Smithers was also a pornographer and had commissioned from Beardsley explicit erotic drawings for Lysistrata and Juvenal’s Sixth Satire. They were to be for private circulation and few saw them at first since Beardsley always worked with curtains closed anyway.
He finished Lysistrata in Epsom a month before arriving in Boscombe in August 1896. At once he was working on the Juvenal series starting with Bathyhurst in the Swan Dance.Messalina Returning Home was followed by The Impatient Adulterer before the end of the month.
Beardsley had long thought about religion and in Boscombe visited Corpus Christi Church. The following year when living in nearby Bournemouth’s Exeter Road during February and March he visited the Sacred Heart Church several times. With encouragement from art patron Marc-Andé Raffalovich, who was always sending chocolates, flowers and books, Beardsley was received into the Church.
This may have led him to ask, on his deathbed in Menton, for Smithers to destroy all the sensational drawings. He did not and the Tate has devoted a ‘Curiosa’ room to them as part of the special exhibition.
Soon after arriving in Boscombe he was also working on the cover for his Book of Fifty Drawings which was published during his last month at Pier View. A reproduction with an introduction by Alice Insley, one of exhibition curators, is on sale at the Tate (£9.99).
During September he completed The Comedy of the Rhinegold frontispiece.
A picture taken in Beardsley’s last hotel room in France gives us a clue about how his Boscombe workroom might have looked. On the table are his two ormolu candlesticks. The wall of prints, like some furniture, travelled with him. In Boscombe he had so many books that when he left that a bookseller was called in to pack them.
The exhibition includes the paper knife which Beardsley would have used in Boscombe to slit open both good news letters from his publishers and angry final demands from creditors.
In Bournemouth during March 1897 he finished a hand wash of the first Mademoiselle du Maupin drawing.
Beardsley’s doctor thought that Bournemouth’s air was better than Boscombe’s but the patient was still in poor health after two months so Beardsley left by train just before Easter 1897 for Paris. He died in Menton a year later.
Beardsley souvenirs in the Tate shop include, a scarf, robe, bag, mug, fridge magnet and postcards.
Aubrey Beardsley is open daily at Tate Britain until 25 May; admission £16 (conc £15).
A hundred and thirty-five people gathered at Shelley Park in Boscombe on Saturday for the launch of a Shelley research project.
Shelley Legacies, headed by Dr David Coates of the University of Warwick, seeks to understand the connection between Sir Percy Florence who lived in the cliff top mansion and the Bournemouth area.
Guest speaker was Lord Abinger, Shelley family descendant and Keats-Shelley Memorial Association committee member, who spoke about his ancestor Floss. She was brought up at the house and lived there with her own children.
He also showed pictures of objects once there including a travelling writing desk where Shelley’s heart was said to have been kept.
In an interview filmed at Oxford, Dr Stephen Hebron of the Bodleian Library spoke about caring for and writing about the Shelley Collection which was once stored at Boscombe.
The day conference, sponsored by the University of Warwick, took place in the building’s Shelley Theatre where Sir Percy staged plays which he had written. He also painted the scenery acted.
The main drop scene depicted Casa Magni in Lerici which was the last home of Sir Percy’s father, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is claimed that the house at Boscombe was built to resemble Casa Magni on the Italian coast.
Themes for research, as well as the literary connections and Percy’s walking routes, are expected to include the Shelley family’s Boscombe estate which ran to the cliff and embraced Honeycombe Chine and Boscombe Cliff Gardens. Sir Percy was instrumental in the building of Boscombe Pier. Lady Shelley ‘drove the first pile’ in 1887.
Sir Percy had bought Boscombe Cottage, as Shelley Park was then called, in 1849 to be a home for his mother Mary Shelley. But she died before the massive rebuilding was completed. Dr Coates suggests that one research team should investigate claims that Mary visited Boscombe before her death.
Her body was brought to Bournemouth to be buried in St Peter’s churchyard in Bournemouth where she lies alongside her mother Mary Wollstonecraft who never saw Boscombe.
The heart of Mary’s husband was also buried there after being kept at Boscombe.
The bicentenary of Percy Bysshe’s cremation on the beach in Viareggio near Lerici is in 2022.
The University of Warwick is staging a Shelley heritage day at Shelley Park and inviting participation.
The Boscombe clifftop and Honeycombe Chine were part of the Boscombe Manor estate. Poet PB Shelley’s daughter-in-law had her summerhouse by the chine and supported the building of Boscombe Pier which opened in 1888.
Today the house’s theatre cafe is a drop in for coast path walkers.
The heritage day on Saturday 29 February will be in the Shelley Park house where PB Shelley’s son Sir Percy Shelley lived having intended his mother Mary Shelley to join him and his wife Jane.
Warwick University fellow Dr David Coates, the project organiser, will talk about the house and its theatre. The day will climax with the reading of one of Sir Percy’s plays 150 years after its Boscombe performance.
Dr Stephen Hebron, Bodleian Library special projects curator and Keats author, will be talking about the Library’s Shelley papers once at the Boscombe house.
Lord Abinger, a descendant of Lady Shelley’s family, will also speak.
His grandfather inherited Shelley Park and lived there for eight years. The present Lord Abinger’s father, the 8th Baron and chairman of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, visited in 1979 when the contents of Shelley’s last home in Lerici moved to the building for a short-lived stay.