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Changing Times | Town hall is about to enter its 90th year of use

A total of 91 companies were asked to tender to build the civic headquarters


Today we have an imposing town hall at the junction of Clarence Road and Belmont Street, but this is not the first premises used by the people engaged to look after the running of our town.


The first premises was at No 31 High Street, now occupied by Reynolds Funeral Service. Lillywhites, a local company, constructed this original building.


The Town Commissioners were established in 1822 and the first Clerk to the Commissioners was Richard Daly. He occupied offices at No 31 High Street, sharing these premises with a local tailor.


During this period, plans for the town included a market in The Steyne and there is also mention of levying the sum of 1s (5p. duty on each ton of coal that arrived in the town, by way of the sea.


This income was then used towards the cost of making the new road system around the rapidly expanding town.


In 1837, Mr William K. Wonham was responsible for many new constructions in the developing town, one of which was to be named The Assembly Rooms and situated in the new Sudley Road.


For a number of years, the town council used this.  The building still exists and today is occupied by a number of groups including members of the Bognor Club.


The Jubilee School was constructed in the High Street during 1817 – this is the site occupied by Morrison’s car park.


This school, built to educate poor girls, remained until the 1880s when it closed because of the decline in the requirement for this type of education.


Discussions were being held regarding its demolition and replacement by a town hall. However, it was eventually decided the building should remain and Mr Stringfellow, the council’s surveyor, converted the school at a cost of £500 into a new town hall ready for use from 1882.


Thus, the town council operated from this site until the 1920s when new plans came into fruition for another venue.  Ultimately, in 1927, when the local population was about 17,000, it was closed and demolished and within seven years the Southdown Bus Company built its new bus station on the site.


In 1929, the fortunes of the town seemed to be changing. It was at a time when the town received the royal accolade of Regis and it was the year when the town council was destined to have a new town hall.


The brief for the work and competition rules were sent out to 91 companies. Bognorians were not totally happy with the plans and, when they were made aware of the location of this new building, it was felt that its construction in a ‘back street of the town,’ the report continued, would be something that the ‘town will regret as long as it exists’.


The winner of the competition was Mr C. Vowles-Voysey FRIBA, the architect, who was also responsible for numerous buildings including the Guildhall at Cambridge, and Watford and Bromley town halls. He appeared to work for numerous councils, where his styles were appreciated.


Finally, on May 22, 1929, two foundation stones were laid for the new town hall in Clarence Road, just a week after King George V recuperated in the area. One recognised William Grice, who had been a member of the council for 36 years.  The Rev Canon A.J. Sacre, JP, chairman of the council, laid the other stone with Joseph Jubb.


Mrs E. Sacre performed the official opening ceremony on October 11, 1930. It was thought that this new structure, in the fashionable neo-Georgian style, ‘seemed to be worthy of civic headquarters’. Other comments included that it was ‘of architectural merit – neat but not gaudy’.


The builder of the town hall was H.W. Seymour, a local company. There were numerous stones laid at the front of the building to recognise the architect and the involvement of other townspeople.


Similar to most towns and cities around the country, the town hall was catapulted into new uses for the duration of the Second World War. Not least was its use as a surface air raid shelter, which saw the front entrance bricked up and it had a sign advising that it had a capacity for 22 people.


During the war, in 1943, there was much concern as to whether the tower could be used by the Germans to pinpoint the town.  Discussions were therefore held to ascertain the cost of camouflaging the top. After much discussion, it was decided that the £25 required was too expensive.


Since it was constructed, shown in the 1931 picture shown here, there have been a number of additions, importantly the town war memorial. This area is now used annually for the national November 11 commemorations.


To mark the millennium, the town council decided that after so many years there should be a timepiece on the town hall and that this would be a fitting way to celebrate the millennium and it was  installed on the domed turret. Another clock face was added later thanks to the generosity of the late councillor, Ken Scutt.


Today, there are two silent soldiers on the front of the town hall to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War. Internally, we can still see the style that was installed by Charles Cowles-Voysey, overseen by the picture of Sir Richard Hotham,


Over the years, the building has seen many changes of use. There have occasionally been discussions regarding the complete change of use for the town hall and even its demolition.


But it cannot be denied that it is an impressive building, albeit seen as being in a ‘back street’ when constructed.

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