WINSTON Churchill was a frequent visitor to Poole and Dorset in his younger days – and his life nearly came to a premature end in Bournemouth.

He was staying with his aunt, Lady Wimborne, in 1892 when one of his characteristic acts of bravado almost proved fatal.

In his 1930 memoir My Early Life, Churchill wrote: “My aunt, Lady Wimborne, had lent us her comfortable estate at Bournemouth for the winter. Forty or fifty acres of pine forest descended by sandy undulations terminating in cliffs to the smooth beach of the English Channel. It was a small, wild place and through the middle there fell to the sea level a deep cleft called a ‘chine’.”

Churchill, then 18, recalled being chased by his 12-year-old brother and 14-year-old cousin. He ran onto a “rustic bridge nearly 50 yards along” across the chine.

Rather than face ‘capture’ by his playmates at either end of the bridge, Churchill jumped – intending to slide down one of the pines to the ground. Instead, he fell the full height.

“It was three days before I regained consciousness and more than three months before I crawled from my bed. The measured fall was 29 feet on to hard ground,” he said.

A debate has continued for decades about whether that bridge was at Branksome Dene or Alum Chine. Churchill remembered it as Branksome Dene, and a number of local historians believe the evidence of Ordnance Survey maps settles the argument.

But the Alum Chine version of the story persists – and in 2007, Echo reader Tony Dear recalled his grandmother, who said she was on the scene of the fall, saying it happened there.

Either way, the original ‘rustic’ bridges have both since been replaced.

Churchill visited Dorset many times as a Liberal MP, addressing meetings at Canford Magna and Parkstone and staying with Lady Wimborne at Canford.

In 1910, he was at the opening of the Liberal Club that still stands at Salisbury Road, Upper Parkstone.

In 1940, with the war going badly for the Allies, Churchill became Prime Minister with the help of a key phone call made from Bournemouth.

Labour leader Clement Attlee was in the town with his party’s national executive committee when Neville Chamberlain suggested a coalition government.

Attlee held talks in a hotel room for most of that May afternoon before ringing Downing Street to confirm that he would serve in a coalition, but not under Chamberlain. With the other contender, Lord Halifax, having ruled himself out, the call cleared the way for Churchill to become PM within two hours.

Although some Churchill biographies say that phone call was placed from the Tollard Royal hotel, it is generally thought today that the Highcliff was the venue in question.

Churchill’s movements during his years as wartime Prime Minister were naturally shrouded in secrecy, but it is known that in 1940, he visited a pillbox defence station at Sandbanks Pavilion. Churchill, who loved to build walls, even laid a brick there.

The Echo published pictures of that visit in 1977 – prompting Iris Wheeler of Rosemary Road, Parkstone, to identify the builder in the photograph as her uncle, Fred Robinson, who may have lived in Jubilee Road, Parkstone, at the time.

The brick Churchill placed in position was marked “19 PM 40” and was due to be donated to Poole Museum.