In July 1850 a former Lieutenant in Queen Victoria’s Army waited outside a large house in London’s Piccadilly, where he knew the monarch to be visiting her mortally ill uncle, Prince Adolphus, The Duke of Cambridge. Robert Pate lingered at the entrance and, as the royal carriage made its way out of Cambridge House’s courtyard, he inexplicably struck the Queen on the head with the brass-topped walking cane that he habitually carried. Onlookers were shocked and immediately restrained him until the police took him into custody.
In March 1837, an amiable, elderly gentleman crept into court to defend a breach of promise claim. His name was Samuel Pickwick and, soon, the case of Bardell v Pickwick was a cause célèbre. For the next hundred years, the names of the plaintiff and defendant, the solicitors Dodson and Fogg, the barrister Sergeant Buzzfuzz and Pickwick’s servant Sam Weller, were woven into the cultural fabric of Britain.
Settlement in the Bournemouth area goes back thousands of years but, although it is now the largest town in Dorset, until the early 19th century it was still largely a remote and barren heathland, used only by smugglers and revenue troops. The area now called central Bournemouth was simply the mouth of the Bourne Stream. No one lived at Bourne Mouth and the only regular visitors were a few fishermen, turf cutters and gangs of smugglers who landed their cargoes of spirits, tea and tobacco on the deserted beach.
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