When you go to Waterloo Square what do you see? An open space providing entertainment facilities, or do you see or know of the history of the area? There was a covenant laid down in the 1800s so that the view from East Row and Hothamton Place to the sea would not be obstructed and a fine of £5,000 per acre could be imposed.
Sadly, the buildings of Sir Richard Hotham, which faced the square, have long since gone, but there is still a large amount of history in the area.
Initially, the area was laid out and named Hothamton Field, and contained a number of fishermen’s cottages. On a plan of 1835 it was shown as Waterloo Row. However, it clearly showed the ‘vacant ground’ in the centre, which was not to be built on. Daniel Wonham started his developments in 1820 – houses were built around the field displaying a typical style with canopies and trelliswork. By the 1870s, the population of the town had increased to 1,800 but the buildings were still principally private residents. Many of these premises in the 1900s were to be rented out during the summer months at one time for 11 guineas per week, I wonder how much they would charge today?
For many years, there were sheep or cattle grazing on the three-acre site and these could be seen on many of the early postcards or photographs. Also, it was possible for a time to pick basketfuls of mushrooms on this field.
One of the cottages was used to invite nobility to partake of home-brewed beer and by the 1870s these premises had been licensed and eventually became known as The Waterloo Inn, which is still there today.
However, if one were to stop and date some of the main buildings around the Square, it becomes evident that, while much of the building was completed at the time of the major developments in the 1820s, 100 years later, in the 1920s, more major building constructions had begun, by which time the population of Bognor had grown to 11,490.
The square contained the town’s fire station for a number of years from 1874 until it was closed in 1899 before being converted into a tearoom and then a garage. There have always been numerous tearooms and restaurants around Waterloo Square, including the strangely named People’s Dining and Tea Rooms, which can be seen in photographs from 1903.
In 1921, Bognor Regis Urban District Council purchased the land for £1,000 and, within four years, there was a major transformation of the area. During the same period there was the development of a bowling green, where the pavilion had to be placed below eye level, so that it did not obstruct the view. This was also opened in 1925, alongside the sunken gardens that were built at the same time.
When the council decided to build the toilets and information bureau, they had first to obtain permission from the covenanters. While it was granted, they were not to be allowed to obstruct the view.
In 1928 it was decided to move the drinking fountain from the promenade and place it at the eastern corner of the square where it remained until its removal in 1956.
On the east side of the square facing the High Street, the Methodists bought a site for their new church, costing £10,650. It was officially opened on April 1, 1925, moving them from their previous site in the High Street.
Another part of the regeneration in the 1920s was a major construction coming to its completion, that of the building of the Hotham Club.
This was formally opened in 1928 and annual subscriptions were being offered at £2.2.0d. (£2.10) for town members and £1.1.0d. (£1.05) for country members.
The Hotham Club remained in these premises until 1972 when it was taken over by the RAFA Club as its new headquarters, having outgrown its ex-RAF hospital hut, from Tangmere, in London Road. The headquarters cost £21,000 partly being covered by subscription, the outstanding balance to be covered by loans and further subscriptions over a number of years.
The branch had been formed in 1945 when members used to meet in local public houses before moving into London Road. The MP for Chichester, athlete Christopher Chataway, opened the impressive premises. It contained a Battle of Britain bar and numerous meeting rooms for its members.
Photographs taken during the 1950s show various aspects of Waterloo Square including the prominent Town Information Bureau facing the pier. In the 1960s there was an entertainment marquee situated on the corner of the square, which had needed the removal of the drinking fountain to a temporary holding area in the council yard, within Hotham Park.
Waterloo Square today contains many interesting areas, including the town weather station that is monitored daily for cloud, visibility, wind and rain. The sunshine records for the town are obtained separately.
Today, Waterloo Square has plenty to offer the seaside holidaymaker, with food and drink premises and, of course, the very popular mini-golf course.
For others, there is the well-used bowling green and also the various gardens both old and new that have been created to allow the weary traveller a place to sit and listen to the sounds of the children, or the seagulls as they fly overhead. It is also possible to have your palm read and sometimes there are various stands selling items of local interest or paintings from the local art groups.
Whatever use you make of Waterloo Square, it is certainly at the heart of our town and providing a much-needed area of either respite or entertainment for holidaymakers and also the numerous residents who take a stroll along the prom and have a cup of tea before returning home.