Lilliput | Chineland
Monday 20th May 2024



Salterns Marina

“Lilliput” is a name that has puzzled and intrigued generations of its inhabitants. Poole Council at one time slyly asserted that Jonathan Swift lived there while he was writing “Gulliver’s Travels”, which is why there is a mural of Gulliver and the Lilliput fleet in Poole’s Arndale Centre; but the name doesn’t appear until long after the great satirist had died. Lilliput House, first mentioned in 1783, was a sizeable country mansion, standing near the modern Minterne Road. It was probably the home of a humorous member of the Gulliver family, then numerous in the Poole area; and may have have belonged to the great Isaac Gulliver himself the ‘king’ of the Dorset smugglers.

It took quite a while for the name Lilliput to become generally accepted. Perhaps the local population, generally of average height, didn’t like the comparison with a race of people six inches high. It wasn’t until 1911, and then only after ‘considerable discussion’, that the local vestry settle on ‘Lilliput’

The older name, which the locals preferred, was ‘Salterns’. The Salterns, or salt marsh, was the island lake now known as the Blue Lagoon, which was from the Middle Ages used to produce sea salt. The Salterns continued to function until 1800 or thereabouts, and older residents maintain that the sluice used to drain the march still survives, near Salterns Pier

The reign of Queen Elizabeth saw an episode that could have come from the pages of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. In 1572, a consortium of aristocratic alchemists, who called themselves optimistically ‘The Society of New Arts’, took over the unsuccessful copperas mine near Lilliput Hill. Alchemists traditionally claimed that they could ‘transmute’ iron into gold, but the Lilliput entrepreneurs were a mite less greedy and settled for copper. Assured that, with the help of copperas, 600 tons of iron ‘should, by Boyling, make Five hundred tun of perfect Copper’, they plunged large sums of money into this venture. Their hopes were dashed – alchemists’ hopes usually were – and their noble backers pulled out, poorer but wiser. Others took their place, however and it was many years before the last disillusioned alchemist abandoned hope of making an easy fortune from the soils of Lilliput Hill

Salt-works apart (and there is no doubt the hard-headed locals took a good pinch of it with the the alchemists’ claims), Lilliput relapsed into a rustic backwater. The first houses began to appear two hundred years later, as wealthy Poole merchants succumbed to the charms of Lilliput’s leafy heights. Lilliput House was soon joined by The Elms, just north of the Blue Lagoon: ‘a house of beautiful Georgian elegance’, whose features included an attractive summer-house by the water’s edge. The Elms was still standing in living memory: Elms Avenue marks the site.

Lilliput House was in ruins by 1825, but other mansions took its place – Hortley Lodge, famous for its gardens, and later Salterns House, on Lilliput Hill; and Heathside, still standing in Sandbanks Road, and The Hive (the ‘bathing-house’ of a busy clergyman) on the seafront.

The first attempt at systematic development came in the late 1870s, when Lord Alington began to lay out his ‘South West Bournemouth Estate’. The noble Lord was rather ahead of his time; South West Bournemouth was separated from the rest of that town by a fair expanse of open heath, and it seems that only three streets were laid out; Alington Road, and Crichel Mount and Minterne Roads (named after Lord Alington’s estates elsewhere in Dorset). Nonetheless, ‘South-West Bournemouth’s’ fine sea views soon attracted some substantial mansions, notably the second Lilliput House, built in 1891. (The architect, not a modest man, was particularly proud of the stables: ‘a picturesque and attractive appearance, looked at from all sides’ he wrote.) Several of these mansions still survive, making ‘South-West Bournemouth’ the most aristocratic corner of modern Lilliput.

Although Lilliput’s history as a mining village was a short one, interest in what lay beneath its soil did not die out. Gravel was extracted in large quantities from the Luscombe Valley in the last century, and there was a small brickworks on the site of modern Lagado Close. A small pottery flourished for a while where Elgin Road now is, but it was overshadowed by George Jennings’ pottery just over the border in Parkstone. Jennings was world-famous for what Poole Council delicately called his ‘sanitary appliances’, and he built a sizeable factory at Salterns Way, in Lilliput: his ‘appliances’ were then shipped to a hygiene-conscious world from Salterns Pier.

In spite of its industries, Victorian Lilliput was a tranquil, rural spot. Lilliput Road was a ‘picturesque winding lane, overhung with oak and ash’ and the hamlet that grew up at the junction of Lilliput and Sandbanks Roads was appropriately small. One pub, the ‘Beehive’ in Sandbanks Road (since rebuilt), served the whole community: the church, described as ‘one of the smallest and prettiest in the neighbourhood’ was built in 1875. Rural Lilliput was for many years the source of Poole’s water supply. Part of the waterworks buildings, now known as Elm Tree Cottage, still stands in Lilliput Road, and the reservoirs are still there, on Parkstone Golf Course – ‘a particularly brilliant blue, whatever the weather’, according to Parkstone’s golfing ‘pro’, Peter Allis.

The Parkstone Golf Course was opened in 1911: by an amazing coincidence, part of the site was known as The Tee! It has preserved for posterity the attractive Luscombe Valley as an open space. ‘I have never tired of playing at Parkstone’ says Allis, ‘in part because of the attraction of heath, pine and silver birch’.

Lilliput’s rural flavour lingered well into this century. The open heathland near the golf course was ‘the scene of many scouting enterprises’ in the 1920s, and as late as 1929 Lilliput was still renowned for ‘its charming rural walks’, but development by then was just around the corner. The enterprising dairy farmer at Flag Farm, on Shore Road, tried to make the best of it, at first offering ‘non-intoxicating liquors’ to the trippers who flocked past his door on their way to the beach at Sandbanks, later selling milk to the local residents with the intriguing claim that he ‘kept special cows for invalids’ but he finally had to admit defeat. Most of his land now lies beneath Brudenell Road and the adjacent streets

Anthonys Avenue was laid out on the old Salterns House estate in the late 1920s, but Lilliput’s real growth dates from the Thirties. Captain Preston’s prestigious Poole Harbour Yacht Club and Hotel was built in 1934, which firmly established Lilliput’s modern reputation as a mariners’ mecca. The ancient Salterns marsh was renamed the Blue Lagoon, after H de Vere Stacpole’s famous novel, and by the time war broke out the estates both north and south of the Lagoon had been developed. Salterns Court, the distinctive ‘jazz-modern’ office block on Sandbanks Road, dates from 1935 and is still Lilliput’s most prominent building.

Lilliput today has a distinctly nautical feel. Yacht clubs and Salterns Marina line the sea-front, and the ships’ chandlers jostle with more ordinary stores – and estate agents rather garish signage, in the shopping area. But although the area is now fully developed, odd reminders of its rural origins still survive. A wild corner of Poole Heath still lingers on Shore Road, where the golf course sweeps down to the sea; just beyond, behind the cluster of pine trees at the junction with Brudenell Road twisted into fantastic shapes by the sea winds, stands Flag Farm. It is now just a row of houses, but it dates back to Elizabeth’s reign: a link with the days of the Alchemists.


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