The Sands of Time, Sandbanks, Dorset

PUBLISHED: 13:16 05 January 2010 | UPDATED: 11:42 28 February 2013

The Two Bays, Sandbanks, Dorset - photo by Sue Sieger

The Two Bays, Sandbanks, Dorset - photo by Sue Sieger

Dorset's platinum peninsula has been home to many famous and extraordinary characters over the years, as former Sandbanks resident Peter Booton reveals

In the early 1800s Sandbanks was a wild and remote part of Dorset. During the past century, this small sandy peninsula bordering Poole Harbour has developed dramatically from a windswept, sparsely inhabited tract of land, a mere 1 sq km in area, into a spectacular location alongside the largest natural harbour in Europe. Its first-class sailing facilities, Blue Flag beaches and a distinctly Mediterranean ambience make it a haven for the rich and famous and a popular destination for countless thousands of summer visitors.

It has become the fourth most expensive piece of real estate in the world. Only parts of Hong Kong, London and Tokyo have higher land values. In 1997 a boathouse was sold at auction for 495,000! Today, even modestly sized modern properties sell for more than 3 million.

But towards the end of the 19th century the only properties were two hotels, a coastguard station and a few private residences, one of which belonged to Lord Wimborne, who owned The Sandbanks as part of his Canford Estate. However, Poole Corporation was concerned about the peninsulas lack of sea defences and so, to avoid the crippling costs involved, Lord Wimborne gifted his land to the Corporation in 1894.
Soon after, most of the peninsula was divided up into lots and auctioned off, but there was little interest due to both the fears of flooding and building on sand. It has been said that the whole of Sandbanks could have been purchased at that time for as little as 200! Even so, its popularity as a seaside resort was growing and Edwardian visitors utilised old tramcars, railway carriages and ramshackle wooden huts as holiday accommodation, until Poole Corporation declared the shanty town a health risk and cleared the area.

During the 20s and 30s, a large number of houses and bungalows were built, mostly of white, pebble-dashed brick, with names such as Drop Anchor, Seahome and Sandybank, but in the case of Oidonno, the owners clearly couldnt decide on anything more suitable. One young Sandbanks resident at that time was David Croft, who later shot to fame as the producer and co-writer of several legendary British sitcoms, including Dads Army, Allo Allo and Are you Being Served?

At the tip of the peninsula is North Haven Point, and the corresponding tip at Shell Bay on the Isle of Purbeck is called South Haven Point. The 350-yard channel between forms the narrow entrance to Poole Harbour. Rival ferryboat services operated by the Davis and Harvey families, who both had boatyards on the peninsula, were the only means of crossing the harbour mouth until a floating bridge chain ferry came into operation in 1926. During its first short summer season the coal-fired steam-driven ferry transported 100,000 passengers and 12,000 cars. The cost for a single journey was 2s 6d for a car and driver and 3d for a foot passenger.
The luxurious Haven Hotel at North Haven Point dates from 1887 and was the location of Guglielmo Marconis early experiments with wireless telegraphy. The hotel lounge where these experiments took place is named in his honour. During the Second World War the Haven Hotel served as a military contact point, so Sandbanks was made a restricted area and every resident issued with a pass. The Royal Marines, Green Howards and Fleet Air Arm established bases on the peninsula, and the School for Junior Leaders at the Sandbanks Hotel exercised on the tennis courts and carried out bayonet practice on dummy German soldiers amongst the sand dunes.

The presence on the peninsula of the prestigious Royal Motor Yacht Club, established here in 1936, proved an increasingly popular post-war attraction for the rich and famous. Neville Anderson began working at the RMYC in 1952 and for 35 years he was the clubhouse head steward. Neville still helps out and lives nearby in one of the picturesque old cottages built in the 1870s as part of the coastguard station. He recalls meeting many

famous personalities, including the entertainer George Formby, film star Jack Hawkins and former Miss World, Ann Sidney, who lived in Poole.

Equally memorable, Neville adds, was Lady Norah Docker, the renowned 1950s socialite who would arrive in a gold-plated Daimler.

Bandleader Billy Cotton and his wife, Mabel, were also members and good friends with Neville. I knew the Cottons very well and used to babysit their young sons, Ted and Bill Jnr, he recalls. One of Bills boats was named Wakey Wakey, after his opening call on the BBC show. He used to moor it near Brownsea Island, and whenever a harbour cruise boat passed by theyd point out his motor cruiser, and if Bill was on board hed bow to the passengers.

A narrow, private lane behind the Coastguard Cottages provided a shortcut from the RMYC to Billy and Mabels home, and it is said that Mabels fondness for gin and tonic in the clubhouse led to it becoming popularly known by members as Gin Alley, a name it still bears today.

One of Sandbanks most noteworthy residents was a remarkable lady named Miss Louie Foott (later Mrs Dingwall) who came to the peninsula in the early 1920s, initially setting up home in an old shed. To make a living she launched a taxi service using a Model T Ford converted to carry more passengers, and later began operating bus services too. Miss Footts Motor Services was based at a garage in Panorama Road.

Today the garage is called the Panorama Bay Motor Company and specialises in prestige classic, sports and collectors automobiles. Since 1988 it has been owned by Sir Garry Davis who, on occasion, has taken some unusual items in part-exchange, including an old historic helicopter and a Dalek, which he later sold for 4,000! For 20 years, Sir Garry was assisted by Ken Coffin who had worked at the garage with Mrs Dingwall in the late 1940s. Ken retired recently at the age of 91, and told me: Id only intended to help out for a while but it was such a pleasure driving so many very nice cars.

Mrs Dingwall also owned and trained a number of racehorses which Neville Andersons cousin, Trevor Pink, exercised in the early morning on Sandbanks beach. But even in those days, just after the Second World War, the beach wasnt that quiet because holidaymakers often camped out overnight.

A roll-call of families living on the peninsula around that time reveals a surprising number of familiar household names. Clark (Clarks Shoes), Fox (Foxs Glacier Mints), Grant (Grants Whisky), Lyle (Tate & Lyle), Townsend (Townsend Thorensen) and Wills (WG & HO Wills Cigarette Company). Captain Townsend was unfortunate to be the first fatality of the peninsulas permanent one-way road system introduced in the early 1960s to alleviate heavy summer traffic and vehicles queuing for the chain ferry.

In 1965 a grey Rolls Royce with darkened windows pulled up outside an estate agents office in the neighbouring village of Canford Cliffs. Out stepped Mrs Mary Smith, who proceeded to choose a bungalow at North Haven Point. It was subsequently purchased for her, at a cost of 25,000, by the young man with a Beatle haircut who was accompanying her. From the age of three John Lennon had been raised by his Aunt Mimi and this was his way of thanking her. Following a visit to his favourite aunt, John remarked that he liked strolling on the beach at Sandbanks because local people tended to respect his privacy.

If you just want to chill out and soak up the sun, there's no better place to be than Dorset's very own millionaires' paradise!

Successive generations of the Rutter family have been visiting Sandbanks regularly for the past 100 years. Brian Rutter, the great-great grandson of John Rutter, who established Rutters Solicitors in Shaftesbury, North Dorset, first visited the boathouse his family had built there in the late 1920s. He recalls: My grandfather would cycle the 30 or so miles from Shaftesbury to Sandbanks on a Saturday, sail to France and return on Sunday, but if the wind was against him, making him late, hed cycle straight to the office in Shaftesbury and sleep in a hammock there. The family boathouse remains, but a dispute regarding the Rutters access rights over the foreshore, which has recently been built on, means it can no longer be easily reached.

Although a large proportion of properties on the peninsula are now holiday homes, a genuine community spirit exists amongst the residents who livehere all year round and the present-day Sandbanks is a lively place to be. As well as offering fabulous beaches, excellent cafs and restaurants and first-class sailing and watersports facilities, a number of exciting events happen here during the year, including the British Beach Polo Championship in July and the

Mrs Dingwall's racehorses were exercised in the early morning on sandbanks beach

UKs premier wind and kite surfing championship, Animal Windfest, in September.
But if you just want to chill out and soak up the sun, theres no better place to be than Dorsets very own millionaires paradise!

Many thanks to Iris Morris for the wealth of historical detail she has kindly allowed me to use. Her book, Looking Back at Sandbanks is essential reading for anyone interested in Sandbanks history.

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