Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Branch History

Branch History

By Robert Hill, published 5th January 2011

History of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Branch of the Historical Association

The Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole branch of the HA was founded in December 1922 and has been in existence ever since. Its history can be followed in the annual reports sent to HQ, in the complete set of committee minutes going back to March 1923, and also in the publication of a pamphlet, ‘A Short History of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Branch of the Historical Association 1922-1972', written by Mr J.J. Dodds. Initially entitled the ‘Bournemouth' branch of the HA, its name was changed to the ‘Bournemouth and Christchurch' branch in July 1943 and subsequently at the Annual General Meeting held in April 1968 to the ‘Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole' branch.

After a preliminary gathering, addressed by the Principal of University College, Southampton, the December 1922 inaugural meeting drew up a simple constitution. Mr G. Guest became the first President, Miss R. L. Benns the first Secretary, Miss M. R. Dacombe the first Treasurer, and an enthusiastic committee arranged a series of lectures and an excursion to Wareham. The branch's original members, twenty in number, were chiefly drawn from the teaching profession. Membership of the branch was never large and it was not until after the Second World War that the figure of a hundred members was reached. Most of the meetings took place either in the old Bournemouth School building in Portchester Rd or at the Bournemouth High School in Norwich Ave. Joint meetings were occasionally held with other local societies.

Lectures have always played an important part in the branch's activities and addresses were given on a wide range of subjects, not only by local members but also by speakers from further afield. The period between 1927- 1939 was very similar in pattern to that of the initial four years of the branch's existence with meetings held at regular intervals, although attendances were often small. Prominent roles in these years were played, in particular, by Miss C. F. Stocks, the Headmistress of Bournemouth High School, who occupied the position of President from 1928 -1938 and by Mr F. J. Weaver, former Vice- President of the Association and a noted historian, who had retired to the Christchurch area. Mr Weaver not only delivered lectures but also gave the branch the benefit of his great historical knowledge and organising capacity. His death in 1943 was a great blow to the branch.

The branch went through a difficult period in the early war years of 1939-42 but meetings continued on a limited scale and were held in local cafes and at members' houses. However in 1942 Miss. U. V. Laidlaw was appointed Secretary and she remained in post until 1948. Due to her indefatigable efforts to obtain new members the branch began to develop significantly, with most of the meetings between 1942- 1944 being held in the Unity House at Christchurch. In these years a regular programme was again organised with Sir Charles Grant-Robertson, President of the Historical Association from 1938-43, giving notable lectures and providing valuable guidance on local branch affairs. Another prominent figure in the 1940s was Dr Duncan Coomer, who was responsible for re-starting branch meetings in Bournemouth and for inviting the Historical Association to hold its 1947 Annual Conference in the town - a landmark in the branch's history. By kind permission of the local education authority most of the conference meetings were held at Bournemouth School for Girls. A tremendous amount of work for the conference was carried out personally by Dr Coomer, but he was assisted by Miss Laidlaw and by Miss M. G. Key, headmistress of the school. The Mayor of Bournemouth gave an Official Reception and Dance at the Pavilion and excursions were made to Wareham, Corfe, Wimborne and Badbury Rings.

Membership of the branch continued to rise and for the first time in 1952 exceeded 250 and in the 1955/6 season it reached a record of 296. For some years the branch had the largest membership roll outside London. In January 1952 it, however, suffered a great loss with the death of Dr Croomer, its President for the previous eight years and a man who had also played an important part on the National Council of the Association. He had seen the branch reach a state of prosperity and local prominence not known before or since. Mr J.J. Dodds took over the position of President from 1952-1957 and he was succeeded until 1961 by Miss M.G. Key and then by Miss Stocker up to 1967.

Following Dr Croomer's death the branch was effectively held together in the 1950s and 1960s by the efforts of a formidable trio of women committee members, Miss Mabel Churchill, Miss M.E Cleeve, OBE, and Miss Stocker. They each occupied at some point the post of Secretary before becoming President of the branch. Miss Churchill, before her death in 1962, took a prominent part in every aspect of branch activity and acted as host on many occasions to committee members at her Glenn Rd flat. They were assisted by Mr R. H. E. Bishop, who acted as Treasurer from 1957- 71 placing the branch on a sound financial footing, and by Miss W.M. Cox, who took on the role of Secretary from 1966-1972 guiding the fortunes of the branch with great skill.

By the time of it's fiftieth anniversary in 1972 the branch was holding monthly meetings every year from September to March at the local Teachers Centre in Lowther Rd, Bournemouth, with the addition of summer excursions to places of local interest such as Christchurch, Wilton House and Uppark. These trips were mostly arranged by Mr Arthur Lloyd, a noted local historian, who published a string of valuable articles and pamphlets relating to the district. Since 1922 the branch had arranged nearly three hundred lectures, over ninety of which had been delivered by the branch's own members on general and regional subjects. It had also entertained, since 1952, no fewer than seven Presidents of the Association and had been addressed by a whole number of distinguished historians with a national reputation - Professor E. F. Jacob, Sir Herbert Butterfield, Sir Frank Stenton, Mr Nigel Nicolson, Mr A. J. P. Taylor, Professor Dorothy Whitelock, Professor Asa Briggs, Dr J.J Scarisbrick, Sir Steven Runciman, Professor A.Cobban, Professor D. Johnson, Professor G. Barraclough and Professor G.Medlicott.

In the 1970s the continuance of the branch was maintained due to the efforts, in particular, of Dr F. Jones, who served as President from 1974-80 and as a member of National Council, and of Mrs E. Holdsworth, who acted as Treasurer for over a decade from 1972-1983. During these years, because of rising costs and falling numbers, it was felt necessary in 1972 to abandon the Annual Luncheon at the Anglo-Swiss Hotel and in 1983 the running of summer excursions. New changes, along with the alterations in society, were also implemented after the appointment into major offices of a new generation of younger committee members. Mr Keith Perry, a lecturer at the local university, after serving as Secretary from 1977-1980, took over the post of President from 1981-1982 and again from 1987-1990. Mr Ian Anderson served as President from 1983-1986, before becoming, alongside Mr Perry, a Vice-President of the branch for a number of years. In 1990 Mr Robert Aitkenhead was elected as President and has held the office ever since for an unprecedented period of twenty years. Also unprecedented in the branch's history is the time in office held by Mr David Aldersey as Treasurer since his appointment in 1986 and that of Dr Robert Hill as Secretary since his election in 1981. Robert Aitkenhead and David Aldersey are both former students of the local boys grammar school, Bournemouth School, and are graduates in History from Oxford colleges, whilst Robert Hill was Head of History at Bournemouth School for twenty years and is an internationally published art historian.

Due to the variable quality of speakers talking on local history and the competition from local history societies in Christchurch, Poole and Christchurch, Dr Hill adopted a more academic approach to the lecture programme by inviting university dons, many of whom enjoy an international reputation. The branch has continued to invite all serving Presidents of the Association to speak in Bournemouth (eg Mrs Irene Collins, Professor Barry Coward and Professor Anne Curry), whilst other well-known speakers have included Professor Frank Barlow, Dr David Starkey, Mr Philip Zeigler, Professor Conrad Russell, Professor Geoffrey Elton, Professor David Stevenson, (Lady) Anne Somerset, Dr Edgar Feuchtwanger, Professor Michael Hicks, Professor Peter Heather, Professor Munro Price, Dr Alan Sked and Professor David French. Due to falling numbers at the Saturday afternoon meetings the Committee decided in 1984 to move half of it's yearly meetings between September and May to a Tuesday evening and from 1998 these have been held at the local university. Saturday meetings since 1987 have been held as joint meetings with the local Bournemouth Natural Science Society in order to share financial costs, maintain high audience numbers and to take advantage of the excellent audio-visual facilities at the BNSS.

As with other branches, however, constant alterations to the curriculum, the introduction of league tables and OFSTED inspections, and changes in home and social life have made it increasingly difficult to encourage history teachers and A/S and A/Level students to become involved in the life of the branch. It has also become much harder to persuade branch members to join the committee and to take on any of the major offices. Nevertheless the branch is confident that it will survive into the new decade and that it will still be prospering when it celebrates its hundredth anniversary in 2022.