On THE outskirts of the town centre we can find Hotham Park, an entertainment area for use by us all. The park was, of course, the grounds of Sir Richard Hotham’s home, and was only named Hotham Park opened to the public in 1947 after the last private owner, William Fletcher, died.
It has contained the much-loved Pets Corner and, finally, Rainbow’s End. However, it has been much more than that. It has been a haven in the centre of our town, where you can go and sit and contemplate; where children can run about safely without fear of traffic; where birds can flourish; where trees, shrubs and plants have been nurtured over the years.
In 1857 the property was sold and the sale particulars make interesting and, to our modern eye, amusing reading. The heading reads: ‘A very important and valuable Freehold Estate with Noble Marine residence, standing in its own charming grounds and park-like paddocks of about forty six acres’.
The sales particulars continue with the comment that it would be suitable for a ‘Nobleman’s or Gentleman’s family, having extensive stabling and coach house. Beautifully arranged gardens and pleasure grounds, vinery, peach houses, pinery and ornamental farm buildings. The property is situated in a most delightful country, in the immediate vicinity of many distinguished Seats, and one of the most salubrious localities on the coast of Sussex within two and a half hours (by South Coast Railway) of the Metropolis’.
While this is quite a grand description, it gives you an idea of its importance at that time, and, of course, this has continued to be an impressive area of our town.
The grounds of the house have been used, retained and enhanced by the various owners, not least being William Fletcher who, before his death in 1941, certainly ensured the area was of interest to all.
During the 1930s, a Betty Goodacre wrote in her column about Sussex Gardens a detailed account of her walk through the grounds with William Fletcher, in which she detailed over 36 varieties of exotic plants, shrubs and trees, many of which were certainly new to Bognor Regis when he planted them. She referred to the area as being similar to Kew Gardens.
The whole area is of importance. The walls that encircle the estate are from a bygone age, some parts of them are listed and while almost hidden, in some parts, we can gain glimpses.
One is outside the entrance to the library, another is Church Path behind Glamis Street, as well as the more open expanses in the High Street and the Upper Bognor Road.
The house was used in the Second World War by the council for work like the the distribution of ration cards and the military also made use of the building. After the Second World War, there were many suggestions in the local papers and within council meetings as to the way forward for this grassed and wooded area in the centre of the town.
It was obviously prime land and could have so easily been converted into a housing estate. Letters from local residents in 1947 expressed their views that, ‘Bognor has always lacked a place where, when the winds are high, residents and visitors can spend their leisure hours’. Another person wrote: ‘I had the privilege of seeing it before the war in natural beauty, and feel it would be deplorable to convert it into a modern park’.
Finally, on May 23, 1947, Hotham Park was opened to the general public when the chairman of the council remarked: ‘This is indeed a red letter day, in the amenity advancement of Bognor Regis’.
Its existence has not been without trials and tribulations, such as the time when it was thought the house was going to be demolished. A group of very enthusiastic volunteers petitioned hard and wrote books to save this piece of our heritage, as the Friends of Hotham Park House. They were, as we now know, successful with their efforts.
During the coming months, I would suggest that you take your children or dog for a walk, or just have a stroll through this open space. Take time to find the various attributes, such as the cork oak tree or the millstone table, as well as the numerous trees.
Enjoy the sound of the birds and count how many of the bird boxes – installed by the Hotham Park Heritage Trust – you can see. The trust has been in existence for many years, caring, researching, fundraising and attending meetings to protect this area for future generations.
They were highly involved with the acquisition of heritage funding, alongside Arun District Council to enable the park to have a new lease of life from 2009 with the renovation of the clock and the change of Rainbows End into new park land and an all year cafe and the extension of the railway.
Many people will be able to remember the days when Pet’s Corner encouraged children, of all ages, to visit and see the animals and have their picture taken in the small children’s seats. I never cease to be amazed at the number of people who say, ‘Oh, I had my picture taken beside Humpty Dumpty in Pet’s Corner’. It must be one of the most popular family photographs taken in Bognor Regis by visitors and residents alike.
What of the future? The new golf area will be open soon. New trees are being planted. Each Saturday at 9am over 250 local runners and visitors from as near as Chichester and as far away as New Zealand join in the 5k parkrun. They enjoy their run while their families enjoy the amenities and the surroundings.
It is an amenity for everyone and, as such, we should also encourage children to use the facilities, safely, whilst allowing them to appreciate their surroundings. It is a far cry from the days of Sir Richard Hotham and William Fletcher but, luckily for us, it is still available to be enjoyed by all.