I was born in February 1959 at 9 Saxonbury Road in Tuckton, a suburb of Bournemouth on the River Stour. We lived in Grand Avenue, Southbourne, at the time and – as my mother was a nurse – I imagine she had been recommended to the residence by her local contacts.
However, I have just discovered that the nursing home at that address, also known as Tuckton House, had an intriguing history.
It is thought the Russian author Leo Tolstoy had been to Tuckton/Southbourne in 1894 and in the late 1890s a group of his followers took up residence at Tuckton House. They were led by Vladimir Chertkov, Tolstoy’s literary agent, who had been exiled from Russia in 1897 after clashing with the authorities. (Chertkov’s mother had taken holidays in Southbourne since the 1870s and he also knew there would welcome opportunities for freedom of speech in England).
Chertkov and the group founded the Free Age Press, producing English-language versions of Tolstoy’s works and using the silted-up waterworks in nearby Iford Lane to house their printing press. It is estimated that the Free Age Press produced 424 million words of Tolstoy’s writing during this time.
Most of the commune returned to Russia with Chertkov in 1908, after the Tsar issued an amnesty to political exiles. The Tuckton House estate was then sold off, with the proceeds financing an edition of Tolstoy’s works in Russian – a huge project of ninety volumes that was still being completed when Chertkov died in 1936. Tuckton House itself was sold to a Mrs Angus in 1929, and renamed Tuckton Nursing Home. She continued to oversee births, deaths and tonsillectomies until selling up at the age of ninety-one in 1965, when the property was demolished.