This week we are going to take a look at a specific area of Bognor Regis High Street, and some of the well-known shops that have been associated with the area known today as Clock Walk.
Originally, this site consisted of several shops with accommodation, which is not so different from what is there today.
It was composed of three premises, numbered 7, 9 and 11 High Street. The first one we shall look at is No 7, which was owned by the family of Tate, a name which became well renowned and one we have to thank for many of the constructions in the town, such as The Esplanade, the Arcade and others.
In the census of 1841, a Thomas Tate was operating at No 7 as a cabinetmaker, upholsterer and undertaker, employing 14 men. As the years progressed, numerous businesses occupied this premise, such as Ernest I Richardson, who was a builder and contractor in 1912 and years later another builder’s merchants occupied the site in the 1930s, namely Brookes.
The next property was No 9 High Street, which was occupied from 1872 to 1970 by one family, that of Hawkes, a name that was synomous with specialist teas and coffees.
In 1912, the shop front advised that they provided ‘High Class Groceries’ and also ‘Wines and Spirits’; the advert concluded that they were ‘The oldest local Grocer’.
Finally, Arthur Cox, who operated a local dairy, occupied No 11 High Street, which was originally named Melbourne House, in 1880. His local dairy connection then led to the formation of a dairy on the site, which was transferred to Wingates Dairies in the 1920s, where it remained until its closure in 1930. These premises then remained empty for a number of years until Gilbert Boys, Ironmongers, took it over.
However, during this time a new company arrived in the town, which was to expand and become a well-known name over many years.
In this case, we are talking about the family firm of Olbys who originated from Penge in London where they started in 1878. Following many expansions of their business in London, they decided to open a branch here in Bognor in 1927.
Olbys’ first premise was a lock up shop on the corner of Gravits Lane and Hawthorn Road where today we have the Co-op supermarket.
In 1928/9, they acquired a wharf at Bognor station, which comprised a shed for the storage of cement and the manufacture of breezeblocks. Within a year, a small timber merchants in the station yard closed and Olbys decided to move into timber.
During the Second World War, much of the timber they used was grown locally in Slindon and was used for all the repairs needed for bomb damaged homes. In 1955, they were to receive their first shipment of timber direct from Finland, which arrived straight into their yard at the station and wood was soon arriving regularly from Finland and Sweden.
Following the expansion of the business in 1932, a new showroom was built and opened in Hawthorn Road and, by 1940, the adjoining Briggs Garage was acquired for storage. Unfortunately, this was almost immediately requisitioned by the army for the housing and repair of tanks.
In 1939, Olbys had also taken over two railway cottages situated in the station yard into which they extended their timber business. To build their shop, wooden joists were used that had been purchased from the recently demolished Craigweil House in Aldwick. In 1954, the Bognor branch of the company became independent from the Penge branch.
However, with the fifth generation of the family working here, it continued to be a ‘family business’ and with their quality and reliable service that is perhaps one of the reasons why they thrived.
Having bought No 7 High Street in 1941, their expansion plans continued with the purchase of No 11 by 1954 and the acquisition of No 9 in 1972. With this final deal, they amalgamated the premises into the one department store that many of you will remember.
Olbys in the High Street became a well known landmark and shop for all our needs, with its 18 departments, providing a comprehensive range of goods under one roof, making shopping a real pleasure. Their advertising continued, ‘You are also able to relax in our comfortable coffee lounge’.
The name of Olbys became synonymous with service, and their shop provided a wide range of services, much more than any of our major stores today.
Their range covered electrical goods, toys, gifts, and linen alongside their glass, china and cutlery departments.
The company provided an extensive delivery service of their building, DIY and timber associated provisions around West Sussex.
In 1978, the company published a booklet providing an insight into their 100 years of value and service, which included photos of their various departments as well as the many staff who had remained with them over the years.
But four years later, in June 1982, came the shock announcement from the directors the store was to close because of inflation, heavy competition and a lack of support from shoppers. The store finally closed on September 1, 1984, causing 21 full and 26 part time staff to be unemployed.
The family shop was demolished to general sadness. Eventually, the current Clock Walk was built, complete with the clock that used to hang outside Olbys.
It was a series of small shops but today consists of two outlets fronting the High Street – a coffee shop and a charity shop.
Above the ground floor outlets, are a number of well appointed flats and apartments, but how many people now or in the future will remember those trades that have occupied this site which contributed to the town’s development?