It was 90 years ago that the perspective of our small seaside resort on the south coast was to change forever.
In 1929, King George V came to the area to recuperate after a serious illness. His visit has been the topic of much discussion ever since.
King George V and Queen Mary arrived on February 9, 1929, and eventually left on May 15, 1929, a period of only 13 weeks that was to have many future implications.
The town of Bognor was bestowed with the suffix of “Regis” on July 26, 1929, in recognition of the visit.
The King and Queen were to stay at Craigweil House, Aldwick, which soon became a centre of attraction, not only for the world’s media, but also general sightseers – both visitors and residents alike.
This can be seen from a private diary entry, which reported for April 1, 1929, “D & I took 11.40 bus into Bognor especially to see Craigweil House.”
Sir Arthur du Cros, who was involved with the Dunlop tyre Company, placed Craigweil House at the disposal of the Royal family.
The house at Aldwick had been built at the beginning of the 19th century and was described as being a ‘substantial mansion in the Elizabethan style, with balconies and terraces looking directly over Aldwick Bay.’
The house had been extended by Sir Arthur Du Cros, turning the three-storey mansion into a special building with terraces, two wings, eight suites and accommodation for 20 servants.
There was a music room containing a cinema, stage and electric organ, the music of which could be piped all over the house. He also had seawater laid on to all the bedrooms.
The lawns swept down to the beach with 200 yards of private promenade.
The house, stood within its own ground, covered 15 acres and was half a mile from the main road. This was ideal for the police who were protecting the King during the visit.
One of the house’s main attractions was that many of the windows faced south, meaning they caught the maximum sun available to help the King’s convalescence.
However, the weather was not that accommodating because within six days of his arrival it turned colder and soon the grounds were under several inches of snow. This remained for a further three weeks.
This visit encouraged the hoteliers and traders of Bognor to prepare for an influx of visitors.
Even the local telephone exchange reserved 42 lines, exclusively for the use of the house.
Local charabanc companies were soon advertising trips to the town to catch a glimpse of the house and maybe even the Queen.
So much was the interest in the royal visitors that at one time there was a £500 reward for any photograph taken when Queen Mary visited Woolworth’s.
I am not aware if a photo was taken of this event, however, a picture was taken that April when Queen Mary visited the Burgess Bazaar in Waterloo Square.
When King George V returned to Windsor, Sir Arthur Du Cros handed Craigweil House over to the Bognor Town Council for 12 days to allow members of the public to visit the house.
During this period, 15,827 people roamed throughout the property, visited the King’s bedroom, sat in his chair and viewed the sandcastle built by his grand-daughter, now Queen Elizabeth II, in the grounds.
For the traders and hoteliers, the story was very different. Because the public believed that any visit to the area would be greeted with higher prices and over charging, traders had one of their worst seasons.
Many hotels and boarding houses even reduced their charges in an effort to attract the absent visitors.
One trader reportedly said ‘bugger the King’s visit’ in reply to questions about the royal visit.
In July, 1929, a special thanksgiving service was held in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the King’s restoration to full health, which was broadcast to the nation.
Here in Bognor, all the churches also held thanksgiving services and it was reported they were all full to overflowing.
In St John’s Church, London Road, there were over 1,000 in the congregation, with extra chairs being brought in for the service.
There was a report in a local newspaper during July, 1929, regarding the pending name change of the town.
“Bognor Regis is a name not without its critics. Personally, I am only too glad that the town was not entirely altered and that it did not lose its identity.”
The report concluded, “Bognor had by the King’s visit been dragged from obscurity and broadcast to the uttermost ends of the earth.”
Following all the euphoria of the nation regarding the King’s return to health, there was a specific interest retained in Craigweil House.
It was for this reason the locals were astonished when news broke of the sale of the house and its contents in 1932.
There were plans to turn the house into a hotel or residential home, but nothing came of this and by 1938 the house had been demolished and the site cleared, leaving only the stables.
The land was divided into building plots, which were put up for sale.
Many people still, to this day, ask to visit the site where King George V stayed to recuperate.
The story is as much alive today as it was in 1929 when the centre of the Empire moved to the area. I suspect that some people who now live on the site of Craigweil House are not fully aware of the implications of the site.
I am also aware that for many people the renaming of Bognor to Bognor Regis was unacceptable as the King had stayed at Aldwick and visited the area, especially the church in Pagham, regularly, while allegedly only visited Bognor, for approximately 40 mins.
Whatever the reasons, we now have a name that to some is a music hall joke, to others a status symbol.
Whatever your beliefs, King George V and Queen Mary stayed in the locality to continue the trend of royal visits, much as Sir Richard Hotham had intended in the 1790s.
*Sylvia will be at the Do You Know Bersted? sessions from 2-4pm and 8pm next Tuesday at Bersted Jubilee Hall off Chalcraft Lane.