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Changing Times | Town’s early schools provide history lesson

As we head to the summer months with everyone thinking of holidays and, for some next term, I thought it would be an idea to take a brief initial look at the education provision and just some of the earlier schools throughout the district.


The earliest record of a school in the town was in 1825 when there were just 25 ‘poor’ girls attending The Laurels, which was a privately owned school situated in Church Path at the rear of Hotham Park. Their education was, however, total instruction into housewifery duties to prepare them for the future.


In 1879, a school had been built at North Bersted, one that seems to have been sadly neglected historically.


Education and its provision has changed greatly since the 1830s, especially when you consider that during a period from the mid- 1800s until the mid-1960s there are records available for over 75 schools in the Bognor Regis district.


Many of these schools, however, were privately owned and in some cases only catered for a handful of pupils, being known as ‘Dame schools’.


The Bognor Official Guide of 1911 included a section on ‘Bognor as an Educational Centre’, which stated: “Bognor, with its fine climate, clear air and unequalled sea bathing facilities, should become a recognised education centre”. This did not occur, although schools remained an important element of the district.


Although many premises have long since ceased to be used for education or have been demolished, some premises are still clearly visible today. One such is Northcliffe House, which from 1917 was a preparatory school for boys up to the age of 14 and was situated on the Upper Bognor Road, which were eventually transformed into dwellings.


The details for this school provide an insight into the way of life for these boys who were being trained for ‘Public schools and the Royal Navy, with the school being divided into four squads, to ‘provide healthy rivalry’.


Alongside the academic side of the school provision, also shooting, swimming, boxing and sports were available as well as singing being encouraged! It was here that a young man called David Sheppard learned activities very successfully as he went on to become a famous English cricketer and then Anglican Bishop of Liverpool. The school eventually closed in 1962.


By 1923, the Bognor and its Neighbourhood guide contained a diverse range of advertisements for a variety of schools such as the Bognor School of Music which was held in Albany House, London Road, a site where today we have the Crown Bingo.


The Milton Riding School was situated in West Street and is now a private residence and Colebrook House School was situated on The Esplanade but has long since been demolished.


Another school which was advertised was the Manor House School in Chichester Road, and its claims were it was also able to ‘prepare boys for the public schools and the Royal Navy’.


St Michael’s School, which was opened in the 1920s, was a Woodard School for Girls. It is quite enlightening to read some of their provisions, which included information on the existence of a separate sanatorium for any cases of infectious illness. Dormitories and bedrooms were available, with smaller rooms for sisters!


This building was updated and, while it is still within an educational world, it is a far cry from that enjoyed or endured by the girls in the 1920s that attended this 90-place boarding school.


Climate and location of the town continued to be beneficial to the setting up of many schools and, additionally, the visit of King George V to recuperate in 1929, helped to continue the success of many of the private schools well into the 1930s.


Situated in Campbell Road was the Villa Maria Servite convent, which opened in September, 1923, in premises previously occupied by the Sisters of the Faithful Companions. The school opened with 40 pupils but by 1937 had expanded with a gymnasium and then further premises were acquired in Albert Road. This school closed in 1984, only 12 months after it celebrated its diamond jubilee.


School children came from very diverse backgrounds, with many rich children staying at the wide range of boarding schools, while their parents travelled the world. Apparently, at Eversley School, which was situated on The Esplanade, it was advised that children could be boarded during the Christmas holidays while their parents continued with their travels.


Another perspective on education was reported in a small article in the Observer, in October, 1946, headed ‘Bognor Regis Training College.’ The report commences with, ‘an event of no little local interest is the official opening by Sir John Maud, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Education, of the Bognor Regis Training College’. It was planned to provide an emergency training course of one-year duration for men and women from ‘the Forces and national service that wished to enter the teaching profession’. The college was opened in premises used during the war by the military but which had previously been known as St Michael’s School for Girls.


The more you look into the history of schools in the district over the past 193 years it is like looking at the rise and fall of educational premises. Schools have also provided a service that has not only catered for academic success, but to the development of individual pupils. Schools have ranged from specialists in specific activities, to the college style of today and the number of years we spend being educated has changed many times.

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