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Bournemouth barely existed at the start of the 19th century. When retired army officer Lewis Tregonwell visited in 1810, he found only a bridge crossing a small stream at the head of an unspoilt valley (or 'chine') that led out into Poole Bay. An inn had recently been built at what is now The Square (centre of Bournemouth), catering both for travellers and for the smugglers who lurked in the area at night. Captain Tregonwell and his wife were so impressed by the area that they bought several acres and built a home, which is today part of the Royal Exeter Hotel. Tregonwell also planted pine trees, providing a sheltered walk to the beach. The town was to grow up around its scattered pines. Bournemouth quickly became a destination for affluent holiday-makers and for invalids in search of the sea air. The site of Bournemouth had once been a hunting estate 'Stourfield Chase' but by the late 18th century only a small part of this was maintained: the 'Decoy Pond Estate' (now know as 'Coy Pond' and being wholly in the neighbouring historic town of Poole) comprising several fields around the Bourne Stream. In the 1840s the fields south of the road crossing (later The Square) were drained and laid out with shrubberies and walks. By the 1860s the fields to the north were also laid out with walks by the owners of the Branksome Estate. In the early 1870s all the fields were leased to the Bournemouth Commissioners, by the freeholders. These fields now form The Pleasure Gardens, which run through the centre of the town; although the former name of The Lower Pleasure Gardens is no longer officially applied to the area south of The Square. The immaculately tended gardens are still much-loved and the Central Gardens contain the town's impressive war memorial, guarded by two stone lions.
The War Memorial was installed in 1921, when the Borough Council moved to the Mont Dore Hotel adjacent, which it still occupies. Various building works were carried out - such as the Saint Stephen's Road bridge, to stamp the municipal identity on this area of the town, the war memorial was one of them. It was designed by Bournemouth's deputy architect Albert Edward Shervey, who copied the two lions, one sleeping, the other awake and roaring, from Antonio Cavona's lions which guarded the tomb of Pope Clement XIII. A large sanatorium, overlooking the Central Gardens, treated patients with chest diseases. It has recently been re-developed as Brompton Court, a complex of retirement homes, preserving its remarkable chapel. Next to the sanatorium was built the magnificent Mont Dore Hotel, which is now the Town Hall. In the hotel's heyday in the 1880s it was renowned nationally and internationally for its sumptuous luxury which included possessing one of the first telephones in England - the number was "3". The hotel was then used during the war as a hospital to treat wounded soldiers. Among the people who contributed to the development of Bournemouth at this time were Sir Percy Shelley (son of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley) and Sir Merton Russell-Cotes.Although the number of invalids sent to the town dropped in the late 19th century, the resort was still booming and its population increasing rapidly. As Bournemouth's popularity increased, the town centre spawned theatres, concert halls, cafés, cinemas and more hotels.
The town's first large entertainment venue was the original glass Winter Gardens, built in 1875 as the home of the town's municipal orchestra, (now the internationally renowned Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra). Elgar, Sibelius and Holst conducted there, but the acoustics were reputedly poor. In 1935, the original Winter Gardens was demolished. Its replacement, opened two years later, was intended as an indoor bowls centre, but by chance turned out to have superb acoustics, and after the Second World War it became the orchestra's new home. Before the opening of the BIC, the Winter Gardens welcomed just about every major entertainer of the day, including Maurice Chevalier, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Morecambe and Wise. The building had been in decline since the late 1970s,and stood closed as the town council examined alternative uses. Then, despite a local vote and promises that it would be kept open, the hall was demolished in May 2006. The Pavilion dates from 1925 and was built on the site of the former Belle Vue boarding house, one of the town's first buildings. Theatrical legends, including Ralph Richardson and Trevor Howard, played the Pavilion Theatre in its heyday. The Pavilion faces the cinemas and upmarket shops of Westover Road, which prides itself on being the town's "Bond Street". Westover Road's Odeon cinema began life as the Regent in 1929 and retains many of the art deco features of the era. It was known as the Gaumont from 1949-86 and used to host live performances as well as films. Stars who appeared there included Ella Fitzgerald, Dusty Springfield, Victor Borge and in 1963, the Beatles. The cinema now has six screens. The nearby ABC cinema dates from 1937, when it contained one 2,600-seater auditorium. It has three auditoriums today, one of them boasting the areas largest cinema screen, and is capable of projecting epics in 70mm. Recent research has suggested that local residents, especially those of a younger demographic are keen to see a new live entertainment venue; easily accessible to the surrounding areas.
The Bournemouth Eye is located in the Lower Gardens a few yards from the Square. It is a tethered helium filled balloon in which the public can travel up to a height of five hundred feet, depending on the weather on any given day (in high winds it sometimes does not operate). There are good views to be obtained of the surrounding area, from the Isle of Wight round including the Purbeck Hills and Cranborne Chase.