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Changing Times | Historian’s research uncovered the past of town

Each week as I work my way through the history of Bognor Regis, I have to use a variety of sources and information from other people to complete these articles. There are a couple of major sources that I use and for this week I thought we could have a look at one of them.

 

When I first arrived in the town in 1979, I was unaware of its history and development. Through the local history society, I was to learn the history of the district. Also, through the society, I was introduced to research and the name of Gerard Young. The name will evoke many happy memories for Bognorians, and for those of you who have no knowledge of this man I will explain.

 

His claim to fame is that he was a historian, artist and journalist, who did much to preserve the town’s past. He was born in Leigh on Sea, Essex, and was educated at a preparatory school in Worthing. He had a sister, Patricia, and a brother, Derek.

 

He was an early developer and had his first poem published when he was 11 years of age in the Worthing press of the time. He continued to write and on leaving school he was to take a management course at London’s Embassy Theatre.

 

He eventually became a publicity officer with Gaumont British Film Company, where he was involved in the publicity for Gaumont films. By 1933, he was becoming a regular visitor to Aldwick and other areas of the town, until he finally moved to Meadow Cottage in Hoe Lane, Flansham in 1938. This house now has one of the Arun District Council Blue Plaques attached to the garden wall.

 

For the young Gerard living in Worthing was his ideal place. A visit to Bognor was out of the question, as the local bus – apparently the No 31 – took too long. Derek recalled: “Bognor remained for us a place of mystery, somewhere way out west beyond the setting sun and imbued with all the romance and fascination of the unknown.” How that view was to change over the ensuing years.

 

He finally moved permanently to the town and in 1956 started work for the original Bognor Regis Post. He was to become a regular contributor with his historical and sometimes controversial articles.

 

Gerard was also greatly involved with local amateur theatrical groups, repertory theatre and the Esplanade Theatre. In addition to this he was well known for providing talks on old Bognor and visiting local schools. Sadly he died in 1972 and that could have been the end of his work.

 

In my early days in the local history society, there were numerous occasions when the name of Gerard Young was mentioned or quoted in relation to things of a historical nature for the district. It was not until 1982 that I had my real introduction to this man, who appeared to have created such a following.

 

In March 1982 his brother, Derek Young, was invited to the society to provide the guest speaker for one of its evenings. The members spent an extremely interesting evening learning about this man. The society then published a limited edition booklet recording this meeting, with the words and memories of Derek. One of his first poems in 1923 was about the sea, of which he had a passion: “The sea, a wonderful expanse. Of restless and thunderous waves. Many a boat on her bosom afloat. The terrible hurricane braves ….”

 

You may ask why Gerard Young was so important. During the 16 years that he resided in Meadow Cottage, he was to become totally involved in the district. He was a prominent member of the ‘Barnstormers’ where he produced many of their amateur dramatics.

 

He was to write a number of books that are still sought after today, namely Down Hoe Lane, The Chronicle of a Country Cottage’, Meadow Cottage and The Cottage in the Fields. These books became firm favourites both locally and by people wishing to hear of the development of his cottage and its garden. His articles were now being regularly published in the national press and numerous Catholic magazines.

 

However, it is for his local history writings he will most be remembered. Over the years he gathered information, pictures, books, snaps and titbits, indeed anything about Bognor Regis. His articles covered such a wide range of subjects, but above all they brought local history to the foreground. He was well before his time in encouraging people to think about their surroundings, to remember the past and build on it for the future.

 

After the Second World War, a large garden was to become available as a park for the locals, following the death of the owner William Fletcher. Gerard became interested in the story of the park and its history, and started to refer to the area as Hotham’s Park, until finally it was officially confirmed that it would be known as Hotham Park.

 

At the time of his death, he was working on a publication that was to be the major history of the town. Following Derek Young’s talk to the history society in 1982 the publisher, who was hopeful that the work would come to fruition contacted me, as I was secretary to the society.

 

Derek, who was also a journalist, finished his brother’s work and it is thanks to them both we are able to read the History of Bognor Regis published by Phillimore’s in 1983.

 

In 1988 I was given permission by the family to reproduce his book, The Chronicle of a Country Cottage. Derek came to the book launch at the museum then in Hotham Park and, immediately after, he visited Meadow Cottage, and I felt very lucky to be invited to accompany him. I was able to experience the cottage, which had so inspired Gerard to write his books.

 

All of us owe a debt to Gerard. For without his love of Bognor, his dedication in encouraging people to appreciate their home town and his collecting of anything and everything we would not have any basis on which to do much of our research. Thank you Gerard and Derek Young.

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