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Changing Times | Town’s two bandstands are symbols of past

There has been much talk of bandstands in the town, with many questions about their history, location and use.


As we are lucky in that we can enjoy the most evocative sounds of any seaside resort, that of brass bands playing on the seafront, so to have a bandstand is wonderful.


For our first bandstand in 1901 a triangular piece of land was purchased from the owners of the Royal Norfolk Hotel at a price of £60. It was sited opposite the hotel on the edge of the promenade.


Oswald Bridges, the town surveyor, designed this bandstand so it was large enough for military bands. Over the years, it was extended by placing shelter around the sides of the bandstand to protect the people sitting in deck chairs.


A roof was eventually constructed and this then blossomed into the Esplanade Theatre, on the promenade opposite the Royal Norfolk Hotel.


The next bandstand was initially a wooden construction which can be seen on Edwardian postcards shown as on the East Parade.


Unfortunately, it was removed at the start of the Second World War to make way for gun emplacements. With the war over and the holiday spirit returning, the council finally received their compensation of £538 from the War Department. Around the war years, a bandstand was surplus to requirements in Cheltenham as they had demolished their Winter Garden building during the years 1940 to 1944.


It is thought the bandstand was built in 1878 when Imperial Winter Garden and Skating Rink Company constructed the Cheltenham Winter Gardens.


It was cast in Glasgow by Macfarlane’s Saracen Foundry. I understand one of the town’s councillors happened to be in Cheltenham visiting his son at boarding school when he saw an advertisement that their bandstand was for sale.


Following discussions, the urban district council at the time bought the bandstand from Cheltenham in 1948 for £175 and a further £450 was required to dismantle the structure and bring it to Bognor Regis.


Under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1971, it was listed as a building of special architectural and historic interest and became a Grade II-listed building in 1975.


Its description was that it was ‘formed of slender iron columns with a miniature Corinthian capitals and linking trellis-work, supporting a canopy with a flat ceiling, a wide projection over decorated brackets and a copper covered roof’.


The council believed that the bandstand, without a roundabout, should be preserved and at the end of 1992 work started.


A local company restored it to its former glory with the aid of original drawings. To do this, they used over 1,200 brass screws to secure the rolls of copper that were used to cover the top, to protect it against the winds that blow along the seafront.


In May, 1993, the bandstand was re-opened with a rendition of Sussex by the sea by members of the Chichester City Band. The council had spent £35,000 repairing and renovating the Bandstand in comparison to the £175 which it cost in 1948.


Over a period of time, the sea air will cause problems to any construction on the seafront and that is one of the reasons that there are plans in hand to repair the bandstand on the seafront. It is hoped that the repairs will enable the bandstand to have a long term use.


The final bandstand is that which stands in Hotham Park and is frequently used. It has been suggested that, when the seafront bandstand was removed before the war, it was taken to Hotham Park to be erected in the newly-opened park for the benefit of the residents.


However, within a set of the urban district council’s minutes dated 1952 there is a short entry which reads: ‘On the lawn in front of the Manor House the council have erected a rustic bandstand, which is in keeping with the surroundings and a military band gives daily performances there during the summer season’.


Another report in the minutes of the parks and allotments committee on October 8, 1953, discussed the ‘desirability of providing a suitable enclosure and paving around the bandstand, and the Surveyor was asked to submit plans’. No such enclosure or paving arrived!


At the beginning of the 20th century, military bands were numerous and they played at all available seaside resorts, promenades and any other place available to them.


During the 1950s, a military band arrived regularly in the town. They would play on the seafront during the afternoons and then move to Hotham Park for the events, or visa versa.


The band members would stay in bed and breakfast establishments in the town. Times regretfully changed, and with the rise of activities by the IRA, a number of bandstands were bombed.


This was followed closely by the reduction in the armed forces which meant the general public has lost one of its most enjoyable military facets, that of the bands.


Today, there are many emerging bands that use these bandstands. In particular, the one in Hotham Park is utilised at various events during the summer months.


Hotham Park Heritage Trust use the bandstand for its Christmas carols evening, its annual country fair and has numerous other events and bands planned for the summer season.


How these bandstands are used is a matter of people’s interpretations. Some people complain that any bands can create too much noise. Other people would welcome the return of regular musical entertainment to both these areas.


Whatever your views there is no doubt in my mind that these constructions form an integral part of our heritage, and we must hope we are able to enjoy their use, and that our children can enjoy them for years to come.

Posted in Lifestyle.