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Changing Times | Successful nanny training expert chose town

NO ONE can write an article about Field House without writing about Mrs Emily Ward, as they are synonymous with each other. Mrs Emily Ward is best known for establishing the Norland Training College for Nursery Nurses, initially to be Nannies to the Gentry.


In 1876, aged only 26 she opened the Norland Place School for infants at Nos 9 and 10 Norland Place in Kensington. She helped teach children at the Notting Hill High School, more specifically the smaller children, and suggested to the headmistress that a better atmosphere could be created for children in a kindergarten.


She eventually borrowed money from her grandmother and started Norland Place in 1876 with five pupils.


Over a period she began to question whether it was a satisfactory practice that a nursemaid was selected from the house servants, as usually occurred in Victorian households.


By 1892, she had opened her training school for ladies as children’s nurses alongside her infant school. This became known as the Norland Institute and was so successful that by 1900 she’d had to move twice to larger premises.


In 1880, Emily had been to Bognor to convalesce after an illness, and one can only presume that she thought of Bognor when wanting to set up somewhere for children and their nannies to go to convalesce or on holiday.


By the mid 1890s, her name begins to appear on various plans and paperwork as having bought property in Bognor.  First she acquired parts of the Strathmore Estate in the area of Gloucester Road, Campbell Road and the Esplanade.


In 1895 she had a house built for her and her husband. She had married Walter Ward in 1891, this was the Dutch House in Campbell Road which was finally demolished in 1988 to make way for a block of flats – Sovereign Court. From then on, she bought or acquired more houses in the area until in 1904 she acquired Field Row and then in 1908 began building Field House.


Field House was built in stages over many years, the first stage in 1908 butted on to Belvoir House which had been built three years earlier for Mrs Lane on the corner of Gloucester Road and the Esplanade.


In 1911, an adjoining section was built facing the sea with a court yard in front.


Later she acquired Belvoir House and the final section was built in 1926 – a three storey block facing Gloucester Road, which explains why it looked a jumble of buildings.


Field Row had originally been purchased for children from the Norland Nurseries, but expanded to take other people who employed Norland Nurses.


Field House was a block of flats with a resident housekeeper and cook in charge. All the separate parts of Field House had access to a central kitchen. Now she was able to accept elderly couples and semi invalids.


She offered many types of service as a 1911 advertisement displayed. Seasonal rents for furnished or unfurnished flats, additional services of meals provided or an average amount of attendance. The advertisement shows that some maintenance, washing of household linen, boot cleaning, and a kitchen fire could be provided with coal fuel costing 9d per scuttle.


There were some famous people who stayed in Field House. These included Princess Marina, aged six years, and her two older sisters in 1910 for 16 weeks with their nanny Nurse Katie Fox. The children of Emlyn Williams, an actor, also stayed and, in 1938, the two children of Herr Ribbentrop, the German Ambassador, also stayed.


Emily died at Sudley Lodge on June 15, 1930, (purchased around 1920) of a stroke at the age of 79. A memorial service was held at St John’s Church, London Road, on June 18 before a cremation at Woking.


There was already a stained glass memorial window in St John’s to her husband Walter, and Emily’s name was added to it. With the demolition of the church in 1972 there is no longer a lasting memorial to Emily Ward in Bognor Regis.  Later it was learnt that the window was rededicated in the chapel of Norland College, near Hungerford.


Field House continued with the work of Emily Ward until 1939, when the fees were recorded as £3 15s per week, it was then sold by the directors, having been left it in her will to the Norland Institute and Nurseries Ltd.


During the period from 1939 until quite recently, the houses on the corner of Gloucester Road and The Esplanade have attracted various comments as the area seemed to have fallen into disrepair.


The buildings were commandeered by the RAF and then the Fleet Air Arm, which left after the war and they were sold for residential use. Many of the buildings had been purchased or rented out as flats to locals or staff from Butlin’s over the years. After numerous reports of demolition and change of use throughout this period, demolition finally took place in October 1995 and the mixture of buildings was removed from the corner.


Next, the town’s residents waited with baited breath to see what would replace the jumble of buildings. It was not long before hoardings were placed around the site, and with the wonders of the digital camera an artist’s impression of the new buildings arrived, shown complete, with the roads, traffic and adjoining buildings.


Worked started and it became apparent that the building was going to be a modern design which was potentially controversial Interestingly, this mirrored the situation in 1909 when Emily Ward had to reassure Bognor residents her flats were not for ‘infectious children’. This seems to imply that she courted some controversy with her work.

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