What materials can we use for local history research? Sources such as libraries, online and books are very useful. But what about town guides, those items that are issued free to perspective visitors and, in many cases, discarded after the visit? These publications contain a real snapshot of a place, so today I thought I would take a look at just three of our previous guide books.
Starting with 1937, with a cover extolling the virtues of our health-giving area, with the bold image of the Royal Key to Health, this slogan following on from King George V’s visit in 1929. Within, there are pages covering all aspects of the town, from entertainment, churches, hospital, and so much more. This information could be used to decided whether to live here or not.
Several pages are given over to the health-giving properties of our climate and the sand and beach. One interesting item is about ‘Night-time bathing’, with the beach being floodlit. Would we today consider this to be a ‘bathing joy and thrill you must experience in Bognor Regis?’
Gardens and green areas feature and they have been promoted with the statement that they ‘avoid the over-formal,’ used in many resorts. Waterloo Square and Marine Park Gardens are discussed.
We must realise that, at this time, Hotham Park did not exist in the town, as these were the private gardens to the house. Pleasures were more simple at this time and a stroll along the prom or through these gardens were a great attraction to the visitor and, of course, the residents. Bognor was rated as fourth in the British Isles with 1,827 hours of sunshine.
By 1947, the guide book was still showing and promoting the ‘Royal Key to Health’ on the cover, nearly 20 years after the King’s visit. Some sections remain as the 1937 book, but there is slightly more emphasis on summer and winter holidays, because of our climate.
This book has an interesting section which talks of ‘The Hotham Woodland,’ which is Bognor Regis’s great surprise for the visitor. One of the descriptions is, ‘you can leave the bustle of the shopping centre, turn in through a gateway and find yourself in a sylvan paradise’. This haven today is better known as Hotham Park and certainly a bustle area of our town.
Here there is an extra emphasis on our town as a permanent residence, with the notation of ‘due to the shopping centre, level town, picture estates and our mild climate’. Apparently, we have ‘no tire-some hills’, and that is another plus. I find it interesting to see how places are described over the decades. Accordingly, the ‘development of road and rail transport made it possible for the dream of many, a house by the sea, to be realised long before time for retirement’.
In this guide, we have risen to third place in the sunshine league in the summer and remain top for the winter months. There are pages of large interesting advertisements for many hotels, restaurant and other facilities around the area. Finally, the Gas and Electricity Company has an advertisement that it can help with any advice required.
Finally, I looked at a 1960 guide book – the Royal Key to Health has disappeared and the cover shows children playing on sand on the beach in front of the Royal Hotel.
I recently made a request on social media about the arrival of the shingle. I have had so many interesting and incorrect responses to the question, but no definitive answer. Here was slightly more emphasis on activities on the seafront, donkey rides and carriage rides in addition to the water-based like rowing boats and the motor and speed boats mostly provided by Ron Whittington.
The pier had a train that could take you to the end and there was the popular boating lake just off West Street, which is now a car park. Hotham Park had developed and there was now the famous Pet’s Corner and boats on the boating pool. There is more history of families and areas in this publication than in the previous books.
At the end of this guide book there is an advertisement from Lec Refrigeration, the largest employer in the town, which boasts here it employs 1,000 people. It promotes what it brings to the economy of the town and also advises that special parties can visit the factory.
Hago’ is another employer advertising its work. One page states, ‘This space is reserved for Butlin’s holiday camp’. This reminds us that the current centre did not open until 1960. There are 40 pages of advertising for hotels, guests house and bed and breakfast accommodation through Bognor Regis, Felpham, Aldwick etc. There are also several pages regarding new homes being built.
Many of the items advertised or promoted in these guide books have gone because of the changing tastes in the expectations of our holiday. Many people now go abroad or go on cruises rather than visit a seaside resort.
The quiet solitude of leafy glades are not sought so much as thrills and spills. The numerous holiday centres we now have pay testament to this with their entertainment, fairgrounds and water features, none of which could have been envisaged in the past. Transport has changed since the days of people arriving by train. They now arrive in much small groups by car to increase the need for car parking.
We can all look back to idyllic holidays at the seaside but realise our needs and expectations have changed. Opportunities for travel have also increased dramatically to give us more diverse holidays than just sitting on the beach.