This article relates to what is, arguably, the most important local event of the last century and its connection to Selfridge. Gordon Selfridge was born in Wisconsin in 1857 and came to London in 1906. Soon after, he built his palatial store in Oxford Street, the start of the modern concept of shopping, he made a fortune. He began an association with Christchurch when he rented Highcliffe Castle from 1916 to 1922. He purchased Hengistbury Head, Mudeford Sandbank and Stanpit Marsh. It was his intention to build for himself a grand house on Hengistbury Head. In 1918 his wife died and he launched into a social whirl. In 1924 he met the Dolly Sisters, cabaret artists. He was 67 and they were less than half his age. He funded them in every possible way, particularly gambling, it must be easy to gamble with someone else’s money.
By 1931 Selfridge was close to bankruptcy and owed the tax man £150,000 an astonishing sum. In seven years he spent £2million pounds on the Dolly Sisters, a colossal sum in those days. Needless to say they abandoned him.
Now he had no option but to sell the local lands he owned. Here follows an extract from the civic development of the borough written in the late 1950’s by the Assistant Town Clerk of Christchurch, the late Arthur Head.
“Early in 1930 Mr Gordon Selfridge announced his intention to sell all his estates in Christchurch which included Stanpit Marsh, Hengistbury Head, and part of Mudeford Stanpit. The Council felt very keenly the desirability of preventing this property from falling into the hands of private owners which might possibly entail a form of development which would tend to spoil the enjoyment of the amenities of the harbour by the public as a whole. All the land was in the borough at that time but to purchase it all would have imposed too great a strain upon our resources. Nevertheless the Council were resolved to do everything possible to keep the land open to the public and with that end in view discussions took place with Bournemouth Council. As a result in May 1930 the Council purchased Stanpit Marshes and thus secured for the public approximately 147 acres of land. In addition the Bournemouth Council purchased Hengistbury head, Double Dykes and a part of Mudeford Sandbank on the understanding that the land should be transferred from the area of the Borough of Christchurch to the area of the County Borough of Bournemouth and that we should take a lease of the portion of Mudeford Sandbank.
“The joint action of the two Councils was undoubtedly a step of the greatest importance in securing for all time the council has utilised part of the Marshes as a dump for house refuse and a considerable area has already been raised above flood level. It is hoped that in time the reclaimed land will be laid out for use as a recreation and sports ground.”
The new borough Boundary ran roughly down the centre of the harbour but instead of going on through the harbour entrance cuts across the Sandbank a little to the west of the Black House. A consequence of this is the development of Mudeford Sandbank, and the large sums for which beach huts have been sold.
As a postscript when Gordon Selfridge died in 1947 aged 90 he had just £1500 to his name. He was buried in the churchyard at St Mark’s Highcliffe beside his wife and his mother. A few years later the vicar contacted Selfridges concerning the untended graves. It was a sad end for the man who had built up his multi million pound store from nothing. His lust for life which helped bring his success had also brought him ruin.