CHILDREN living in Bognor Regis have always been very lucky to have a good toy shop in the town, especially at this time of the year when toy shops are much visited by them and their parents.
Today of course there are many very large stores in the out of town retail parks, but now we will take a look at the smaller shops that we all remember.
The first reference to a toyshop was in 1823 when James Binstead ran a small library and toyshop on the seafront, a site now occupied by the Royal Hotel. The original building is clearly seen on some of the very early seafront scenes. It remained for approximately 20 years until the business moved to Waterloo Square in the 1840s when Miss Augusta Binstead and her sister were operating it.
One of local historian Gerard Young’s articles reported that ‘Bognor men remember Burgess’ as a wonderland of childhood; the place where you saw the first marvels of Meccano, Hornby train and the Atalanta kite’. This was also the shop that sold souvenirs including those little pieces of crested china. They also published postcards and books of photographs of the area.
By the late 1860s, a Henry Townsend ran the business but most people will remember the site best when it became known as the Burgess’s Bazaar, when James Reeve Burgess took over the business in the late 1870s. In 1929, Queen Mary reputedly paid three visits to the shop while staying at Craigweil House. It is reported that she bought a bucket and spade for her granddaughter – today’s Queen.
There is also another report that during the Second World War, when a German plane was returning home, it fired a round of bullets. One of these bullets went through the windows in Burgess’ Bazaar and landed in the body of a doll.
Burgess’ Bazaar and Library soon became an essential part of Bognor seaside life and was at its most popular when James’s son, Robert Briant, was running the business. It continued in the Burgess family until 1951 when it was being run by Robert’s brother and sister, William and Ethel.
It remained operating for many years but now under the name of Burgess Toy Emporium. Mr Harry York and business partner purchased the premises from the Burgess family in 1951 and ran it until 1968 when it finally closed as a toyshop.
In the Kelly’s Directories of 1953 and 1964 it is listed as Burgess Toy Emporium stating that they were agents for Meccano, Hornby Triange and Corgi toys.
Quite recently there was a letter in the paper with memories of this shop, reminding people of the toy bear, which sat on a bicycle above the entrance to the shop.
From 1902 the Burgess Toy Emporium had a rival, Toyland, which was situated in the newly opened shopping arcade in the centre of the town.
A report in the Bognor Observer of 1903 mentions Toyland as being, ‘a veritable enchanted spot for the youngsters, being exceptionally well stocked with toys in innumerable variety. There are dolls in all manner of dress, clockwork and mechanical toys and games in perfusion’.
There was also a Royal visit to this shop on March 2, 1929, by Queen Mary, when shopping for the first time on her stay in the area. Her Royal Highness Princess Mary and Princess Louise accompanied Queen Mary where they purchased a number of articles for a doll’s house.
One of the early advertisements for Toyland stated that they were ‘one of the smartest toyshops in the provinces’ – some accolade. In 1938 the shop was taken over by Margaret Hunt and her sister and they retained it for 35 years eventually selling the business to Mr Michael Harvey.
Sadly, the 75th anniversary of the Toyland shop in the Arcade was celebrated with the closing of the store on December 16, 1977. Apparently, the shop could no longer compete with the much larger cut-price stores and also increased rents prevented it from being a profit-making establishment also with the change in seafront developments, the summer trade had changed.
The Arcade used to be a thoroughfare to the seafront, and some traders thought that it had become more of a dead-end, not leading shoppers through past their shops.
Each Christmas, the Arcade was decorated and would have created great excitement among children. Around 1910 there was a commissionaire named Mr Randall who became Father Christmas, providing a bran tub of excitement for children at 6d. a dip.
Another famous enterprise for children, and remembered by many was Goodacres, which was situated on the corner of York Road and The Esplanade.
One write up about the shop mentioned that they sold fairy cycles and pedal cars, which would not entice children today to their shop! Goodacres also had a second store at 46 London Road, which sold nursery and kindergarten apparatus and toys.
Along the High Street in 1969 there was the well known butchers, Parfremants. They closed down and these premises were purchased, demolished and rebuilt into the shop it is today. In 1972 this new shop opened in the town, as Gamley’s toyshop.
The Gamley’s advertising stated ‘Welcome to our World of Toys’, and it did just that. Hornby and Meccano toys were still sold as in the 1960s, with other favourites such as Lego, Playmobile and Fisher Price toys being prominent.
They were, before they closed, part of a national company trading as a ‘World of Toys’. Many stores now sell toys in the town, but it will be the earlier, local stores that will retain the happy memories for so many people in the area.