Canford Cliffs | Chineland
Thursday 25th July 2024

Canford Cliffs


Canford Cliffs from beach

It was perhaps the wildness of the area that kept Canford Cliffs undeveloped for so long. The rugged empty coastline was long the haunt of smugglers, and when Captain Simpson arrived the only traces of man’s presence on the cliff top were the old coastguard station at Flaghead Chine (the name comes from their flagstaff, visible for miles) and the so-called ‘Martello Tower’, above Canford Cliffs Chine. This round tower was probably built either to keep an eye on the smugglers’ activities, or else to watch out for the French fleets which every nineteenth-century Englishman was convinced would one day sweep up the Channel.

There were early attempts at developing the area. General Payne, who fought with the Duke of Wellington in Spain, had a house at Poole Head, but it had gone well before Captain Simpson bought the estate. Around 1860, Martin Kemp-Welch, a prominent Poole citizen, acquired a sixty acre site which he optimistically called “Parkstone-on-the-Sea”. but he was ahead of his time. When he died in 1884, not a single house had been built. Captain Simpson, too, had plans for for what he called “my little wooded property”, but his no-frills approach to development failed to find sympathy with the house-buying public. “the place will be kept very quiet”, he declared, by which he meant that it would be free of such modern conveniences as public roads, drains and mains water…


Beach huts on Canford Cliffs Chine

The real history of Canford Cliffs begins in 1886, when a group of energetic Bournemouth businessmen, encouraged by the success of neighbouring Branksome Park, set up the Canford Cliffs estate. More in sympathy with the requirements of their clients than their predecessors, they laid out the network of streets south of Haven Road. Cliff Road and the Esplanade were among the first to be named: others took their names from the former squire of Canford Magna (De Mauley Road) and his trustees (Bessborough, St Clair, Beaumont, Bodley and Langdown (now MacAdam) Roads). Again taking their land from the Branksome Park, they created the pleasure-gardens in Canford Cliffs Chine, and laid out the area in large south-facing plots which soon found wealthy buyers. The ‘Martello Tower’ became the smoking-room for the Baronial mansion which took its name; nearby stood the Canford Cliffs Hotel, which vied with Branksome Towers for the custom of the well -to-do, and helped establish this part of the coast as “the Dorset Riviera”


Kite surfing in Poole Harbour

Other mansions soon followed, built mostly on the same lavish scale, and set in gardens so large that Canford Cliffs was once described as “a vast, private open space”, The Sanatorium in Haven Road (now St Ann’s Hospital) was built in 1911-12 as a rest home for genteel people with mental disorders, and its grounds long preserved the untamed feel of the cliff-top before development; but without much doubt the finest grounds are those of Compton Acres. Laid out just after the Great War by T W Simpson, a millionaire philanthropist, the gardens of Compton Acres, open to the public, have been called “the finest in Europe”. Mr Simpson’s head gardener, Mr Middleton, used to broadcast regularly on the BBC between the wars – a task which earned him the gratifying title of “the best known gardener since Adam”

From the beginning, Canford Cliffs has attracted the well-to-do; after the Great War, it was a sort of South Coast Valhalla for retired Army and Navy officers, and in recent years it has been called England’s Beverley Hills because so many people in showbiz have chosen to make it their home. Few of its residents, however have matched the flamboyant opulence of Lady Docker, the famous 1950s socialite. Lady Docker had good taste in husbands, she married three millionaires in succession, and only turned down the wealthy owner of Branksome Towers Hotel because he proposed to her in the potting shed rather than the Banqueting Hall. The Docker’s gold -plated Daimler was a familiar sight in Canford Cliffs, while their famous ‘floating palace’, the yacht, Shemara, was a frequent visitor to Poole harbour.


High Street

Many of the area’s original mansions have now disappeared. The Canford Cliffs Hotel was destroyed by a hail of incendiary bombs in April 1941, despite the combined efforts of fire wardens, staff and guests. The ‘Martello Tower’ was a victim of cliff erosion, ending up as a pile of rubble a few hundred yards along the beach from Simpson’s Folly. The house that was named after it was demolished in 1971, and many others have met the same fate. Quite a few remain, however: Carkeel, one of the earliest, is now the Norfolk Lodge Hotel in Haven Road, and the stable block of the Canford Cliffs Hotel became the ‘Nightjar’ pub in Ravine Road since renamed ‘The Cliff’.

Canford Cliffs with its little ‘high street’ in Haven Road, has a friendly, village like atmosphere. Lady Docker, who lived in a ‘beautiful house’ in Chaddesley Glen, said that she ‘always felt happy there’ and most of Canford Cliffs’ present residents would agree with her.

Together with Sandbanks and Branksome Park, Canford Cliffs is one of the most exclusive areas to live in Poole.  Controversy emerged not long ago as the local branch of the HSBC bank announced that the entire branch with all indoor services restricted to those with savings of £ 50,000, a mortgage of £ 200,000, or a salary of £ 100,000 and a mortgage of £ 75,000; otherwise the customer must pay £19.95 per month or use another branch.


Thermal surfer over Canford Cliffs

HSBC defended its decision, claiming “not everybody in the world is equal. Some people have higher incomes and need greater services through the bank. These customers demand a better service” and referring to its other branches in the Poole area, which remain free of charge. However, the move angered many customers and commentators; The Daily Telegraph quoted one account holder as saying “This is outrageous. It is particularly discriminatory against people who are house rich and cash poor. What happens if you are an elderly person living in a £500,000 house with no mortgage and no £75,000 salary?”, while the customer advisory service Money Supermarket expressed fears that it may be “thin end of the wedge”, saying “HSBC has given the green light to other high street providers to look at splitting their customers into first class and cattle class”.

It has to be said that the High Street itself is not particularly attractive these days as local planners have allowed shops to install plastic fascia signage often accompanied by neon lights which has removed much of the charm from ‘The Village’.


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