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Changing Times | Visitors always like to be beside the seaside

Holidays and excursions began to be popular when bank holidays began in 1871


Councillors wanted railway excursions stopped because so many tourists travelled on them


I THOUGHT I would look at seaside events of the past. It is interesting to see how things have changed, both in the photography styles and activities pursued by both residents and visitors.


The earliest known guide for Bognor, ‘Origin & Description of Bognor or Hothampton,’ was published in 1807 by JB Davis.


In this, he describes ‘the smoothness of the sand reminds the valetudinarian of a velvet carpet, and invitingly draws him to the seaside, while the straight line of the coast, and its gentle slope into the Channel, enable him to enjoy his ride or walk, even at the reflux of the tide, without the least risk of surprise or unexpected interruption from the waves’ – an idyllic view from a bygone age.


With the arrival of the railway to the town in 1864, coupled with the new Bank Holiday Act, with the first bank holiday on August 4, 1871, millions of people became holidaymakers and started to explore the coasts. One-day excursions began to become popular.


By 1887, the town was advertising Bognor as a watering place. The town’s council held meetings to suggest ways of encouraging some of the titled classes to come for a holiday, to enhance the standing of the area.  Photographs of the area were on display at numerous railway stations to try and attract visitors.


This obviously worked, as by 1907, the groups coming into the town by means of these railway excursions became so large the council had numerous meetings to consider the possibility of asking the railway companies to discontinue day excursions, especially during August.


These discussions continued for a number of years. While the general public are not always made aware of the numbers involved, I have acquired a record of railway statistics from 1913. It was reported on Wednesday, July 9, that 4,350 visitors arrived, on Thursday,  July 10, it was 2,250 and on Friday, July 11, a further 1,179 visitors arrived.


The population of the town at that time was about 8,500 and it is interesting and to surmise what effect this influx had on the town.  Just before the First World War it was reported that, over the Easter period, there was insufficient space on the trains for all those wishing to travel and some were left behind!


Residents and visitors alike have always enjoyed a large range of seaside entertainment. The photograph of the group in their beached boat shows children, mothers and perhaps the nanny allowing us to believe this group could have arrived for Goodwood Races. The men would travel down just for the races, leaving women and children to entertain themselves, possibly for as long as a month. It is interesting to see the children playing in their woollen costumes – a far cry from today’s swimmers.


The town became known worldwide in 1929 with the arrival of King George V who spent 13 weeks recuperating in Aldwick.  From that time the advertising slogan of the town changed dramatically and it was promoted as the ‘Royal Key to Health’ with its distinctive ‘Key’ logo, which was used on all publicity.  This symbol was even used by Arun District Council in 1976 as the base for its logo, although the theme was then ‘Sun, Sea and Sussex Countryside’.


After the austerity of the war years, from the 1950s, the town was well advertised and thousands of its visitors would send home the obligatory postcard telling of their enjoyment and showing pictures of busy beach scenes to those at home.


The town holiday guides in that decades proclaimed the area was good for health, with its ‘sunshine, sea breezes and tonic air’.


In the 1950s and 60s, people were still happy to enjoy themselves, without too much prepared entertainment.


By 1960 a major event in the town changed many things with the arrival of Butlin’s as a holiday destination and nearly 9,000 visitors a week.  Those holidaymakers came because of the entertainment programme within Butlin’s and its seafront location.


As we moved through the 20th century, holiday styles changed considerably.  Holidays progressed from the two weeks at the seaside to holidays abroad with the advent of cheaper flights and increased holiday accommodation abroad. For many, weekend breaks became part of the new style of holidays.


In the early years, the promenade was used as just that, a place to promenade up and down, to be seen and to see who else was on holiday. The promenade itself was considered sufficient entertainment.


This area is now used for entertainment purposes, trampolines, rides and land trains to encourage children and their parents to stay, enjoy the beach and other features.


Bandstands were also popular, principally with the visiting military bands who would entertain the crowds. However, those bands are fewer  and now only play at major events, sadly for the small resorts and their visitors.  There is also now only one theatre.


Visitors today are more likely to be enjoying their own pursuits, such as wind surfing, sailing and jetskis – activities that suit today’s seafront.


Television reports expound the virtues of the town, although advertisements and now the internet are playing a major role in attracting visitors. Throughout the years and through all the changes seen in Bognor Regis, some things have remained constant, namely the beach and climate.


The town is still proud of its high position in the annual sunshine league, which is an important part of its popularity in comparison with holidays now available around the world.


During the summer, many special events are held to encourage visitors and seafront businesses continue to serve their changing tastes.

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