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Changing Times | Town’s growth galloped ahead after racecourse

A DAY at the races today can today mean a trip to either Goodwood or Fontwell racecourses, but back in the 1850s Bognor Races was the fashionable place to be. I once came across a 1950s newspaper article regarding these races.


The racecourse was situated on a field that was used for many sporting events, including cricket. The area was, in fact, from Marine Parade to Nyewood Lane, with another boundary being Aldwick Road. Today, the area is built over, principally by Stocker Road, which is now situated in an area once occupied by the grandstand.


Unfortunately, there are no pictures available (unless you know different) of the racecourse. During the summer months, horse racing took place on the beach between the 1840s and 1850s and a race card still exists providing information on the various races held on October 9, 1855.


Refreshment tents included the names of the local caterers, one of which was Charles Pace, the landlord at that time of the Elephant and Castle in Steyne Street. Another was John Edward Mant, of The Wheatsheaf, in West Street, that became The Berkeley Arms, and is now the Bognor Regis Local History Museum.


It is interesting to see that the race day would start at 9.30am with a regatta held before the main event of the day. The local residents would have much enjoyment in those days.


However, I wonder what some of the residents of the new estates would have thought of the events surrounding these Bognor races. By the 1920s more developments were taking place, as can be seen in the photograph showing just some of the shops and the post office on the corner of Charlwood Street.


Also in the early 1920s much of the rest of the area remained as undeveloped agricultural fields between Bognor and Aldwick. The area between the two villages then supported grazing cattle, as it had done for generations.


This, however, was soon to change as the Lord of the Manor of Aldwick, William HB Fletcher, started to sell parts of his estate.


In 1927, he sold a 575-acre site which was part of the Pagham Farm Estate and this raised the sum of £29,000. This sale also included a 100 acre site that today forms the Aldwick Bay Estate.


In 1928, a Bloomsbury development company commenced the creation of the modern bay estate, as we know it today. Captain Allaway, the company owner, described the area as ‘an outstanding example of land development’. As you can imagine, with such a large development there was a wide range of advertising literature available to encourage people to purchase these new homes. On offer was ‘The Aldwick Bay Estate which caters definitely for the town dweller who desires a nice type of seaside residence and for the retired wishing to reside in a peaceful neighbourhood, not invaded by trippers and charabanc parties, free from bands, pierott parties and the noise and hustle only too commonly associated with many seaside resorts in this country’.


Each house at that time was to be elegant, individual and comfortable, combining many labour saving features. Many of the new homes also included large garages, partial central heating and south facing verandas. An interesting fact is that when the telephone cables were laid, unlike elsewhere, these were laid underground, to help enhance the area.


The estate, which originally contained grass tennis courts and all weather courts, combined with its location near to Goodwood, was an ideal site for shooting. The availability of Lord Leconfield’s foxhounds that met nearby was, at that time, an important aspect of the advertising that was sent to prospective owners. The area also boasted that residents had access to their own safe and very quiet bathing beach.


Central to the estate from 1932 to 1972 was the Tithe Barn. Members were able to partake in the riding school, floodlit bathing, bridge and also the regular dances, which were held on Saturday evenings and on various bank holidays.


During the Second World War, RAF officers from Tangmere were made welcome at the numerous social activities held within the estate. Sadly, in 1972, the Tithe Barn, tennis courts and Bowling Green were sold for further development.


To many people, the estate has been seen as a place for the rich to live and visit. Over the years, many notable people have visited the estate, including film stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Jack Hawkins. Royalty have also been frequent visitors, over the years including the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and, of course, Earl Spencer, father of Diana, Princess of Wales, who once owned two homes there.


The Bay Estate has developed and changed over the years, but still retains much of the original aims and aspirations of those early developers of this prestigious seaside estate, known originally as ‘The Sussex Riviera’.


The area that today we know of as Aldwick has had many faces over the years, and no doubt you will be able to tell us of more interesting facts for the future.

Posted in Lifestyle.