Pokesdown: the name.

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Earliest known written records with the name “Pokesdown”:

Year: c.1586. Evidence: Richard Morris of Pokesdown, Christchurch on a list of people fined for buying pirates’ goods (part of The Cecil Papers).124d

Year: 1660. Evidence: Henry Mantle of Pokesdown elected a churchwarden of Christchurch Priory.

Year: 1662-63. Evidence: churchwarden accounts record the receipt of one shilling from Henry Mantle of Pokesdown in payment “for a place for his wife where his mother did sit”.125

Year: 1734. Evidence: Christchurch Poor Rate Book, includes the line “The Lady’s Mews for Bugby’s at Pokesdown“.126

Year: 1800. Evidence: the will of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne, Stourfield House – she left an annuity for the Widow Lockyer of Pokesdown Farm.127

1870 map of Pokesdown showing earliest recorded settlements of Pokesdown Farm (date unknown, but pre-dates Stourfield House) and Stourfield House (est. c.1766). See Sources note 128.

Where did Pokesdown get its name from?

Pokesdown Pixie
This is Pokesdown Community Forum’s ‘Pokesdown Pixie’
(designed by ‘Definitely Mary’)

There is no definitive answer about the origins of the name “Pokesdown”, but the different theories are:

  1. It might be a corruption of ‘Peaksdown’ – ‘Peak’ – a high point in the downs (‘down’ meaning low hills covered in grass);129
  2. It may have been a persons name associated with the down – ‘Pocs’ Down’, or the Old English surname ‘Puca’, as in ‘Puca’s Down’ has morphed into ‘Pook’ in Middle English, as in ‘Pook’s Down’;130 or if derived from the Saxon personal name “Pok” or “Pokok” then Pokesdown would mean “the hill of the Pok family”;130a
  3. It could be from ‘Pooks Down’ where ‘pooks’ is the local dialect word for ‘haycock’ (cone shaped pile of hay). But Coates says “the 13th century with a medial ‘-s-‘ speaks against this”;131
  4. It’s from ‘Pig’s Down’, from the days when people were allowed to keep pigs at will, before it was banned as part of the urbanisation;131a
  5. It was an area for “poor souls stricken with the pox” = “Poxdown” (but I haven’t found any corroborating evidence);131b
  6. The most popular (if unsubstantiated) theory is that Pook’s (or Puck’s) Down was referring to the fairies or pixies or goblins living on the downs! ‘Pook’s Down’ is Middle English for ‘Goblin’s Hill’.132

The fact that the “pig theory” is only in the newspapers and isn’t in any of the history books makes me think, either (a) it’s a theory made up by residents with local knowledge, but rejected by the academics, who are carefully analysing the etymology (the study of the origin and history of words); or (b) the academics were studying the name “Pokesdown” fifty-years-plus after the locals who could remember pig keeping at Pokesdown had passed, but years before the British Newspaper Archive was online with a searchable database of newspapers reporting on Bournemouth life, and therefore missed this titbit.

The theory about “Pox-down” comes from the Holdenhurst Village History website, which says “It is recorded that there was a Leper Hospital in Christchurch, the owners of which owned land and a cottage at Holdenhurst during the reign of Edward III [1312-1377] – it is thought that centuries ago poor souls stricken with the ‘pox’ were brought from ‘Poxdown’ (Pokesdown) for treatment at the then named ‘Hospice of St Mary Magdalen'”. But I have been unable to find the source of this theory, or any corroborating evidence, and it’s not mentioned in the history books. If you know of any information backing this theory, let us know!

Pooka, Puck and Pixies…

When it comes to the favourite theory, Your Irish Culture explains:133

The meaning of Pooka, pronounced poo-ka, is from the old Irish word ‘púca’, which means ‘goblin’. There are many variations of the spelling Pooka including Púca, Plica, Phuca, Pwwka, Puka, and Pookha all of which are totally acceptable. It is possible that the origin of the word Pooka may come from the Scandinavian word, Pook or Puke meaning ‘nature spirit’… A Pooka is a shapeshifter and can take any form it chooses. Usually, it is seen in the form of a horse, dog, rabbit, goat, goblin, or even an old man.

The Pooka has been imagined in cinema as the large rabbit-type creature, called Harvey, in the 1950 James Stewart film, and a far more disturbing rabbit-type creature in the 2001 Jake Gyllenhaal film, Donnie Darko!

But, going by the newspaper articles which discuss the name “Pokesdown”, where there are references to folklore or mythological creatures, it’s not giant, scary, malevolent rabbits (Pookas) that people are imagining, but rather, “Puck” and his fairies!

Tracing the etymology or folklore wandering path(s) that led from “pooka” to “puck”, the Encyclopedia Britannica says of “Puck”:

Puck, in medieval English folklore, a malicious fairy or demon. In Old and Middle English the word meant simply “demon.” In Elizabethan lore he was a mischievous, brownielike fairy also called Robin Goodfellow, or Hobgoblin. As one of the leading characters in William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck boasts of his pranks of changing shapes, misleading travelers at night, spoiling milk, frightening young girls, and tripping venerable old dames. The Irish pooka, or púca, and the Welsh pwcca are similar household spirits.134

But why would people be “seeing”, or thinking about, pixies/puck/pooka specifically in Pokesdown??!

Being “pixie-led” (or “piskie-led”) refers to being mis-led, lost in familiar surroundings, losing time, never arriving at your destination. Such as what happens if you spot a light in the dark of night, somewhere there are no sources of manufactured light about, and head towards it, thinking the light is guiding you to a safe place…. But the light keeps moving, and in trying to follow it, you end up more lost than ever.134a

Rudyard Kipling says Puck is living in Sussex!
Published in 1906. Source: Good Reads.
“Puck” outside the Folger Shakespeare Theatre, USA. Source: David Flickr.

I feel like I’m being pixie-led, trying to back-trace the stories behind the theories of the origins of the name “Pokesdown” following paths here, there, and everywhere, and never reaching a definitive conclusion!

Those wispy lights, spotted on commons and moors at night, are thought to be the product of gases produced by organic decay, and this is not a “modern” interpretation. In 1596 Ludwig Lavater wrote  a chapter called “many naturall things are taken to be ghoasts” which included reference to Willo-the-Wisps.134b “Visual and perceptual illusions of motion”134c also need to be factored in.

In Welsh folklore, this “fairy fire” is carried by a puca; in the Devon and Cornwall traditions the “pixie light” is carried by a pixie.134b The 19th century-coined serious term for this phenomena is “Ignis Fatuus” which is Latin for “Fool’s Fire”.134c

An engraving by Josiah Wood Whymper, published in 1849. Source: Science Museum Group.

Jefferey Lindell at the Indiana University Folklore Institute has compiled a list of names used to describe this same thing, and just in English there are 250 of them! They include: Will-o’-the-wisp; Kitty with the wisp; Kitty Candlestick; Jack-o’-lantern; Hob-with-a-lantern; Hob Puck; Devil’s lantern; and all of the pixie and puck variations.134c

A Pokesdown local, farmer Richard Dale, who was born in 1794, recorded his memories in the booklet Reminiscences of Stourfield – Stourfield being an early part of the development of Pokesdown. In Reminiscences he says about seeing134d

“what was commonly called Kit Candlesticks” which he had the good sense not to try and follow “as I have been told by many they had been led into difficulties and lost their way from attempting to follow, supposing that they were going in the direction of some house. Many people were kept riding about all night after them.”

I haven’t found a Bournemouth or Christchurch newspaper reference to Kit Candlesticks, but I did find an 1847 Wilts & Gloucestershire Standard article, quoting a description from 1691:134e

“Ignis fatuus, called by the vulgar Kit of the Candlestick, is not very rare on our downs about Michaelmas.”

The 1847 journalist then adds his own note to the end of this: “These ignes fatui, or Jack-o’ lanthorns, as they are popularly called, are frequently seen in low boggy grounds. In my boyish days I was often terrified by stories of their leading travellers astray, and fascinating them.- J.B.”

To know that “Ignis Fatuus” was a familiar enough sight in the Pokesdown area for it to have a name it was commonly known by – “Kit Candlesticks” – adds credence to the theory of “Pokes-“ coming from puca/pixie/puck.

The Complete Book of Devils and Demons has these notions mixed-in together in its introduction to Minor Supernatural Creatures of Britain:134f

Puck, Robin Goodfellow, Queen Mab, Tom Thumb, and many equally fanciful creatures who have not been given personal names, such as Kit with The Candlestick, Hop o’My Thumb, bugs, bogeymen, bull- beggars, fetches, sylens, firedrakes, pookas …. The pooka in Mary Chase’s play Harvey is a six-foot rabbit invisible to everyone except Elwood P. Dowel and a fine farce it makes. Some of these creatures were considered malicious, some not.

An alternative explanation for the association with fairies or pixies is, as Calkin explains, the theory that

“fairy tales are often based on ‘folk memories’ concerning some previous race which has since disappeared. It is therefore possible that the name [Pokesdown] preserves an ancient tradition about the very people whose graves have come to light during this present century” – by which he means the Bronze Age burials discovered in the Pokesdown area in the first half of the twentieth century.134g

In 1906 Rudyard Kipling published a book called “Puck of Pook’s Hill”!135 I wonder if that, in part, helped cement the connection in people’s minds between “Pokesdown” and pixies/fairies?! A Bournemouth Guardian article from 1906 mentions this book, locals bumpy relationship with the name “Pokesdown”, and a theory that the name was something to do with “pigs”:

PDF of the newspaper articles is available here. They are images, and not plain text, but they can at least be enlarged for easier viewing this way.

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.

David Young concludes:

“Pokesdown” is a name of doubtful origin… Examples of earlier uses or forms of “Pokesdown” would help toward a more definite pronouncement but in the meanwhile the name should be treasured as one of the few within the borough boundary which long ante-date enclosure.136

Did you know there’s a ‘Pokesdown Song’, from 1929-39, by Cumberland Clark?!

Pokesdown, on the Christchurch Road, has grown a lot of late, With the populace increasing at a very rapid rate. It’s a suburb now of Bournemouth, and a pleasant neighbourhood; It is laid out very nicely, and the architecture’s good. It once was known as “Puck’s Down,” in the happy long ago, Suggesting scenes of fairyland, where sweet romances grow; But of gorgeous wooded scenery poor Pokesdown is bereft, And I’m very much afraid there can’t be many fairies left.

Yet I call to mind the Pokesdown Wood; in memory I see its grace and charm, which some while back brought happiness to me. I have lingered in its shadows, mid a wealth of trees and flowers, And communing there with Nature, I have passed some happy hours. There were banks of moss and lichen, every kind of luscious growth; There were violets and anemones, a plenitude of both; And the sunshine glinting through the trees and brightening their green, Made a picture for the gods, a splendid transformation scene.

Where the wood was once a glory, there are houses now and streets; And there’s nothing much that’s sylvan in the scenery one meets. In my leisure moments often, since the site was built upon, I have wondered, rather sadly, where the fairies have all gone. Does it bring the fairies sorrow? Does it do them any good, When the builder’s in possession, and they’re exiled from their wood? Do they whisper farewells to us when at last they have to go? I have wondered, but I don’t suppose that I shall ever know.137

Christchurch Road, Pokesdown, looking east from Parkwood Road.
The image used for the sign now on Pokesdown Green! Source: front cover of John Young’s booklet
‘A History of Pokesdown: Part 2, The Town’. Postcard is date stamped 1908.
Sign on Pokesdown Green, next to the Bell Inn.
Photo taken 9th March 2021 for RPBC.

What’s wrong with the name “Pokesdown”?

“Some inhabitants have begotten a fancy that their locality suffers through a name they have got to believe is deficient in euphony and attractiveness; others declare the place is without a ‘down’, and are gulled by the far-fetched association of ‘pokes’ with ‘pigs’; others continue to love the old name…”
~ Christchurch Times, 29 August 1896137a

A debate about the purported lowly reputation of Pokesdown, and/or the unattractiveness of the name “Pokesdown”, has been going on for the past one hundred and thirty years! This has led some locals, businesses and estate agents to claim their properties are in Southbourne, West Southbourne, Boscombe East, or some other district name instead -because they feel that sounds better- and a repeated return to discussions about whether the name, of the area and/or the Station, should be changed altogether.

Photo of Southern Railway signage for Pokesdown. Source: GW Railwayana Auctions.

The “Pine-” based names made sense at the time because “a considerable area of Pokesdown had been planted with pine trees early in the 19th century, including much of the land along the overcliff”.137b

Newspaper image © The British Library Board.
All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.
“declined to have it recorded that he lived in Pokesdown at all”!
Newspaper image © The British Library Board.
All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.
1896 Christchurch Times newspaper article discussing whether Stourbourne or Portman Cliff would be good alternatives to the name "Pokesdown"
Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.
Newspaper image © The British Library Board.
All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.
colourised postcard showing pine woods at Pokesdown near Boscombe
Postcard of Pine Woods, Pokesdown. Date: postmarked 1906. Source: Alwyn Ladell Flickr
Postcard showing pines along Fisherman’s Walk. Date stamped 1904. Source: ebay innokentijs
Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.
Newspaper image © The British Library Board.
All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.


Newspaper image © The British Library Board.
All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.
Newspaper image © The British Library Board.
All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.

Young records that though the new Urban District Council discussed changing the name, and took the poll in 1896,

“the proposed change of name to Pinecliffe was not approved by the Hants County Council, who felt that there was not sufficient concurrence of opinion to justify the change of name, and so the matter was dropped. It is curious that the word Pokesdown should raise such dislike, so that even at the present time [1988] many would object to saying that they live in Pokesdown”.137b2

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.
Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.
Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.

Changing the name of Pokesdown Station to Southbourne didn’t go ahead because “there were objections from a postal point of view” and a “great diversity of opinion on the matter”.137c

Daily Mirror article
Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.

Tony Crawley’s 1963 article on Pokesdown starts by saying:

“Pokesdown conjures up many pictures in people’s minds. It’s Little Pokesdown to many – unfair really, as it’s a widespread, bustling area of industry and social life. It’s the place where the trains don’t stop – to those who are glad they don’t. And, let’s be honest, to the majority, it’s the subject of ridicule in many a joke. Example: Q: Where are you spending your holiday? A: Pokesdown by the sea. And so on. It goes without saying, these ideas are wrong.”139

Christian views of the name “Pokesdown”

I have seen no written evidence for this, but anecdotally it is also suggested that some Christians dislike the name “Pokesdown” because of its unsubstantiated but popular association with pixies/fairies/witches/
goblins
. Christians don’t like anything supernatural that is not-of-God, even if it’s a made-up entity, and even if to other people pixies and fairies sound like mischievous, but harmless, fun.

Witches and goblins are even more disturbing. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “goblin” as “an ugly or grotesque sprite that is usually mischievous and sometimes evil and malicious”.140 You can see why a Christian might be reluctant to name their church or area the church is in after a name which some translate as “Goblin’s Hill” – “Welcome to the ‘Hill of the Evil & Malicious Supernatural Creature’ Baptist Church”!!

The fact that the reference book for “Kit with The Candlestick” and “Puck” and “Pooka” is called “The Complete Book of Devils and Demons” should also go some way to help explaining the Christian’s disquiet about this being the origin of the name “Pokesdown”!134f

painting of Puck and fairies
Puck and Fairies, from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Act II, Scene II; by Joseph Noel Paton;
Yale Center for British Art. Source: Art UK.

There is some of evidence of local religiously-motivated strong views: we know that in Boscombe, in 1896, a local person added an architectural “grotesque” to his roof top to stare in protest at the theatre opposite in disapproval of it daring to open on Sundays.141And there was opposition to trams running on Sundays too.142

There is written evidence of late-Elizabethan and seventeenth-century English Protestants equating fairies with “falsehood, Catholicism, and the invisible wiles of the Devil”.143

A rare voice in witch-hunting 17th century England, Reginald Scot wrote a comprehensive work with the aim of proving “that the belief in witchcraft and magic was alike opposed to reason and religion… he did his utmost to stay the cruel persecution habitually pursuing poor, aged and simple persons popularly credited with being witches… his work for a time made great impressions on the magistracy and clergy…” But when James I became king he ordered all of Scot’s works burned. In 1684, Scot wrote:143a

“In our childhood our mother’s maids… so frayed us with hill-beggars, spirits, witches, urchins, elves, hags, fairies, satyrs, Pans, fauns, sylvans, Kit-with-the-Candlestick, [nineteen other named creatures], Hobgoblin, and such other bugbears that we are afraid of our own shadows…”

“Well, thanks be to God, this wretched and cowardly infidelity since the preaching of the Gospel [the good news that Jesus saves us from our sins and reunites us with a loving and forgiving God] is in part forgotten, and doubtless the rest of these illusions will in a short time, by God’s Grace, be detacted and vanish away.”

The 1921 journalist telling us about Scot adds:

“Alas! For the doughty Reginald, his hope of the passing of such illusions in a short time was many, many long years from realisation… it was that statute of James I that was responsible for the long-continued belief in witchcraft.”

I think today’s Christian would stand with Reginald Scot – we are not fearful of pixies and goblins because we believe they are real; instead the reason we dislike them so much is because they are the antithesis of Jesus’ way [we should love other people, NOT try to trick them, and trip them up!], and the IDEA of their existence causes fear, and was used to persecute people who didn’t fit the mould of mainstream society. Getting to know Jesus would both wash away these superstitious fears, and remove the scape-goating of the vulnerable.

However, by the time of the urbanisation of Pokesdown, English theatre historian, Michael Booth, states “The acceptance and rapid growth of fairyland as a fit subject matter for literature, painting, and the stage from the 1820s to the 1840s and its survival until at least the First World War is one of the most remarkable phenomena of 19th-century culture.”144 The situation had completely turned-around: fairies and pixies were now accepted and admired! So much so, that one of Queen Victoria’s Royal yachts was called “Fairy”144a, and Prime Minister, Disraeli, wrote and thanked the Queen for her “Faery gift”, in the manner of Queen Titania, of snowdrops.144b

cartoon style picture of a farmer or peasant called Mr Puca, with a pig, a pook (dialect name for a haycock), standing on a peak (a high point) in the downs (which are grass covered low hills). The caption is: A Pixie/fairy/goblin-free picture of the origins of the name Pokesdown! by roseberypark.org
Here is Mr. Puca on a Peak (a high point) in the Downs (grass covered low hills),
with a Pig, looking at a Pook (haycock)!144d

If “Poke-” potentially coming from pixies is an issue for some Christians, hopefully they can take comfort from the fact that, even if some people choose to associate the name with supernatural folklore, there is no conclusive proof that the origins of the name “Pokesdown” stem from pixies/fairies/witches/goblins. It’s just as likely to have come from someone’s surname, or the local dialect for “haycock”, or stem from “peak’s down” where “peak” means “high point” in the downs, or possibly even from when pigs used to be kept on the downs. And if the name DID come from pixies, the pixies in question were most likely a gassy, chemical, glow-in-the-dark134b, and not a (made-up) supernatural being out to cause trouble.

“…there is no evidence that [Puck] visited the top of Pokesdown Hill…” ~ Bournemouth Guardian, Saturday 20 October 1906.144c

Evidence of properties based in Pokesdown, where another district is given as the address!

The new Astoria Cinema is CLEARLY in POKESDOWN! The description of the address fits within all the different Pokesdown boundaries venn diagram (see page Pokesdown: its boundaries). But is referred to as being in Boscombe or “Bournemouth East”.

Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive.
Letter heading from 1999. Source: M. Fogg.
1927 advert in Mate’s Directory. Source: Alwyn Ladell Flickr.
1938 advert. Source: Alwyn Ladell Flickr.
From 1973 Kelly’s Directory. Source: thegenealogystore.co.uk
1991. Front cover of RPBC’s ‘Good News’ magazine. Source: Alwyn Ladell Flickr.

To round-up, suggested alternative names for Pokesdown include: Maybourne; Brooksdown; Richmond-on-Sea; Bournemouth East; Pinecliff; Pinehurst-on-Sea; Boscombe Park; Stourcliff; Avonhurst; Havenbourne; Portman Park; Boscombe East; Stourbourne; Portman Cliff; West Southbourne; Boscombe.145

In 2012, Pokesdown South Residents Association won a £22,000 Lottery grant to purchase a 14ft-high welcome sign featuring a picture of village life from around 1900, a plaque showing the history of the area, two new benches, two solar lamps, four oaks, and more shrubs. Pam Ruthvan from the Association explained to the Echo newspaper: “we want to give [Pokesdown] back the identity it’s lost over the years.”146

Pokesdown history plaque on Pokesdown Green, next to the Bell Inn. Photo taken for RPBC, 15th April 2021.

What name is used for the district address of Rosebery Park Baptist Church?

For many decades RPBC used “Boscombe East” because:

  • Rosebery Park Baptist Church is in the electoral ward previously called ‘Boscombe East’, so there is that justification for it having had this address in recent history.
  • The Post Office at 836 Christchurch Road is called ‘Boscombe East Post Office’. (We are at 812-814 Christchurch Road) – but its tag line is “Serving Pokesdown for over 50 years”!
  • The local newspaper, The Echo, reported recent road works which were in front of the church as “Christchurch Road, Boscombe East (towards Pokesdown end)”
  • It was the area’s custom to shy away from using “Pokesdown”.
  • It’s possible some Christians were/are uncomfortable using the name “Pokesdown” because of its (unsubstantiated but popular) association with pixies/fairies/witches/goblins.

Image: Boscombe East Post Office Sign. They are at 836 Christchurch Road, just past the junction with Warwick Road.
Source Boscombe East Post Office Twitter.

But we have recently changed back to “Pokesdown” because:

  • The electoral ward, since October 2018 is now called “Boscombe East AND Pokesdown”.
  • Some people regard Boscombe East as the area past Pokesdown Station, down ‘Pokesdown Hill’, where the next set of shops are, eg. ‘Boscombe East News Food and Wine Premier store’ at 1115 Christchurch Road. – but, a few doors along at 1069 Christchurch Road is “Pokesdown Chippy”!
  • Rosebery Park Baptist Church is in-between two sign posts on Christchurch Road announcing you are in Pokesdown, one at the top of Somerset Road, and one on Pokesdown Green, next to the Bell Inn.
  • As per the blue history-of-the-church booklet, in the early 1930s it was suggested the church name be changed to “Pokesdown Baptist Church” (this was not supported by the church members, who preferred the name Rosebery Park, but it shows “Pokesdown” was the logical alternative).
  • The new “normal” for the area is “Proud to be Pokesdown”, thanks to the work of the Pokesdown Community Forum.

Image: Front cover of RPBC’s ‘Good News’ magazine for April 2021.

Sign at the top of Somerset Road.
Photo taken 9th March 2021 for RPBC.
Sign on Pokesdown Green, next to the Bell Inn.
Photo taken 9th March 2021 for RPBC.

On the church’s website -for the pragmatic reason of wanting the church to show up in search engine listings for all of the nearby area- we have chosen to describe the address as: “812-814 Christchurch Road, between Boscombe and Pokesdown, Bournemouth, BH7 6DF”. “Between Boscombe and Pokesdown” is really an abbreviated form of “between the Cafe Boscanova end of the pedestrianised shopping area of Boscombe, and the Pokesdown Railway Station”.

Sign at the top of Parkwood Road, almost exactly opposite the church. Photo taken 9th March 2021 for RPBC.

The copy and paste citation for this page: The History of Rosebery Park Baptist Church and Pokesdown – Pokesdown: the name. Author: Michelle Fogg. Date: June 2021. Url: https://roseberypark.org/history/pokesdown-name/

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Rosebery Park Baptist Church, 812-814 Christchurch Road, between Boscombe and Pokesdown, Bournemouth, BH7 6DF