The Sandbanks area of Poole has been described as ‘One of the most valuable locations on Earth’, with even quite modest houses selling for over £1M. One hundred years ago the picture was quite different as this description published in 1905 by Charles Harper in his book ‘The Dorset Coast’ shows.
The Dorset coast, from the Hampshire border to the entrance to Poole Harbour at North Haven, may be said to be two miles long and a hundred yards broad, with one side facing the open sea of the Channel, and the other looking inwards, upon the inland sea of the harbour. It is, in short, a long spit of sand thrown up by many centuries of winds and waves, partly across the originally broad entrance to that inlet. Once, in the long ago, before the beginnings of history, it was merely a movable bar, covered with every flood tide and shifting with every storm, but now so heaped up and solid that it is looked upon as permanent. And permanent it is likely to remain, unless some exceptional hurricane, such as is rarely experienced in this part of the world, arises. Meanwhile, Nature is patiently striving to anchor it more securely in its place by growing coarse grass on the tumbled ridges and hollows, and an unconventional company of summer squatters have settled down in the wilderness and built a most squalid concourse of huts just above high-water mark. Here their domestic arrangements are fully exposed to public gaze, and their ragged towels and bathing costumes, and their patched stockings, flaunt all day long in the playful breeze, greatly scandalizing the passers-by.
The word ” bungalow,” covers, like charity, a multitude of sins. A bungalow may be anything, from a small one-floored palace to a large packing-case. At ” Sandbanks” it is the packing-case order of architecture that prevails, and thoroughly typical of the settlement in general is one called ” The Castle,” but more descriptively to be named ” the Egg-chest.” Another is formed of an old railway carriage, but, whatever the build, squalor reigns uncontested. Gardens in the sand are entirely out of the question, and, in any case, the Sandbanks population seem as reckless of gardens, as of tidiness .and the ordinary conventions of civilization. To this lonely stretch of blown sand come people who desire to make unconventional holiday, to be enlarged for awhile from the obligations of twentieth-century civilization, to live as they please ; and thus we shall, perhaps, not be assuming too much if we assume what we see as we pass by to be their ideal. Obviously, then, their ideal is a collarless and tie less, unbraced, unbuttoned, unshaven and unshorn life; and to go down at heel all their days, and to breakfast, dine and tea off table-linen a fortnight in use, is evidently what they understand by enjoyment.
The domestic arrangements of all are frankly open to view, and the curious may observe that Brown, who would shudder to think his next-door neighbour at his suburban home knew anything of his way of life, has a rasher of bacon frizzling in the open air, in a frying pan, on a primitive fireplace made of half-a-dozen bricks, outside his weather boarded shanty, while his neighbour is completing his morning toilet in public, and the domestic linen of both establishments is either fluttering from poles, or spread out to dry on the sand, or on a handy furze-bush.
Sandbanks is a little too far removed from the Bournemouth or Poole shops for the butcher to call very often or very regularly, and so the bungalow folk return to an earlier and simpler life by way of those ultimate efforts of a highly organized civilization—tinned provisions. Here they squat and pig together during the brief months of summer, each establishment the centre of a little patch of soiled sand embanked within a rising wall of empty tins, bottles and potsherds, which will some distant day, I doubt not, be unearthed by future antiquaries and deposited in the museums of the twenty-fifth or thirtieth century.
Such is the approach to North Haven, the sand-spit whence the pilgrim is put across the quarter of a mile or less of deep sea water forming the entrance to Poole Harbour. There, overlooking both the open sea and the beautiful stretch of water penetrating far inland, stands the North Haven hotel, threatened in these latter days by encroachments of the sea, which so long since gave, and now seems to be by way of taking away again. To attempt a stoppage of this inconsiderate and unexpected change of policy on the part of the inconstant elements, a poor old derelict barque has been filled with stone and brought to this point and sunk at high water, against the sea wall and the timber piles which the tides are threatening. According to the expert opinion of the ferryman who puts passengers across the harbour-mouth for sixpence apiece, and three pence for the bicycle, this attempt at a breakwater is not a success. In that case, it is an ill prospect for the future of the North Haven hotel, which of late years has had a considerable vogue among yachtsmen and those amateurs of the quiet life who do not go to the length of camping upon the sands.