The Beckett Enterprises

The commercial centre of Boscombe was transformed by the work of Archibald Beckett. A native of Tisbury in Wiltshire. Beckett came to Bournemouth in 1888, at first living at Westbourne. However, within a year he had moved to Boscombe, which was to be the main centre of his activities during the next seven to eight years.

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Christchurch Rd New

The first of his projects, a colonnade block at the corner of Christchurch Road and Palmerston Road, was built in 1889. After this, Beckett planned a large development including a hotel, a shopping arcade, a theatre and a block of shops and offices fronting on Christchurch Road.

In 1890 the Salisbury Hotel was opened on the corner of Palmerston Road. Planned as a first class hotel, the Salisbury had 35 bedrooms and had cost about £12,000. The next instalment in the development was the Royal Arcade, completed in the late summer of 1892.

Lighted by electricity from August 1892, the Royal Arcade provided an all weather promenade and shopping centre. There were regular entertainments given from a balcony stage at first floor level and seating was provided for a small charge.

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Arcade new

Adjoining the Arcade was built a block of shops and offices named Boscombe Chambers, and the whole range of buildings from Boscombe Chambers to the Salisbury Hotel provided the centre of Boscombe with an impressive block.

Between the Arcade and Boscombe Chambers Beckett set about the building of a large theatre. Boscombe Grand Theatre was opened on 17th May 1895. The theatre covered an area of some 13,000 square feet. The outer walls were of brick and inside elaborate iron columns supported the balconies. On either side of the stage were three private boxes. A promenade nine feet wide ran around the outer sides, and there were two lounges and two buffets.

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Theatre new
ROYAL ARCADE (present day)

The entertainments offered at the theatre were wide ranging, including variety programmes with singing, dancing and comedy; there were dramas such as 'Trilby' and 'La Dame aux Camellias' and musical productions which included even opera. Beckett sold the theatre at the end of the 1890's and for several years there were high quality productions in the theatre, but in 1905 it became the Boscombe Hippodrome, a music hall. Until recently it was the Academy Disco. It is currently called the Opera House night club. (Ed. update 2002: Now called Royal Ballroom.   Update 2006: The Opera house is currently undergoing major refurbishment to restore this magnificent Victorian Theatre to its former glory  see  www.operahouse.co.uk)
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Whilst these projects were in hand, Beckett reached agreement with the Malmesbury Estate which gave him permission to make an undercliff drive from Boscombe to Bournemouth Pier. However, he later abandoned this right in favour of the Town Council.

It is though that the erection of a ‘devil’ gargoyle on the bank block opposite
looking towards the theatre was to object to the promiscuity of such a place in Bournemouth

next chapter Boscombe Reaches Maturity.
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