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Changing Times | How our town has changed since being created

How often do we hear comments like, ‘it has been ruined; there is nothing old left, only the Ice House!’


Sadly, this is the kind of negative comment that is widely thrown around by many people, a number of whom are Bognorians.


That will start you talking! It was interesting recently to help host a visit from the 20th Century Society, which records and tries to preserve old buildings. They were quite impressed with what we have left.


We have so much history and many old buildings still with us today that I thought we could take a look at some of our heritage.


Initially, we should remember that it was only in 1787 that Sir Richard Hotham laid the foundation stone of this seaside resort, recorded in the parish registry at South Bersted Church as we do not have the longevity of places like Chichester or Brighton. Initially, Sir Richard Hotham built Spencer Terrace, The Dome, St Michael’s etc to bring people into his resort.


When private individuals sold these properties they were used for years as educational centres.


Some of these buildings have been sold and converted into flats and apartments to attract more people to the area – as Sir Richard had planned. We, of course, still have a central park area, which was once the back garden of Sir Richard Hotham’s home, now known to Bognor Regis residents as Hotham Park House.


What else do we have? We have the Royal Norfolk Hotel from the 1820s which still overlooks the seafront and of course we have the fishermen (not the original ones you understand!) There are a number of original fishermen’s cottages around the West Street and Aldwick Road area.


Our original shopping centre was West Street and while we have new flats built there, there are quite a number of original constructions.


Along the Esplanade there is The Royal Hotel, which was known as the Manor House.


The Steyne and Waterloo Square were constructed around the 1820s and 30s and many of these buildings have remained unchanged since that time.


What about the current railway station constructed in 1902 and also the Arcade, which was constructed during the building boom of the early 20th century?


Across the road, buildings were rising, such as the corner of London Road where originally Staley’s moved to in 1914 from the High Street and which is today the premises of Bon Marche.


If we take the time to travel around the town and other areas we can find many constructions that have withstood the passage of time.


The Church of St Thomas A Becket in Pagham has celebrated its 800th anniversary.


In the 1957, Gerard Young wrote in one of his weekly articles, “I can remember hollyhock growing in Bognor High Street.”


He continued much in the vein in which I am writing this week. However, another comment was: “I can remember the Polly Anne Restaurant, where Morrisons car park entrance is today.” I suppose when this building changes people will say: “I can remember buying food there on a Friday night.”


In the 1960s, when the Queen Victoria Drinking fountain was found in the council yard, a member of the council said we should leave it where it was and not look back, but look forward to 2000.


The final decision was that it should be preserved and we still have this fountain today, standing now at the seaward end of Steyne Gardens.


Looking around the town, for instance, what about the Picturedrome, which was built in 1886 as an Assembly Room before being converted into a cinema in 1919? What about Reynolds Depository built in 1911? There is also the Bognor Club in Sudley Road, which was originally built in 1837 as one of our town halls.


If we look at the area around the Royal Norfolk Hotel, we have a number of residences that date from the 1700s, now slightly hidden away from the main road, but well maintained and retaining some of their original features.


Nearby, we have The White Tower, which is over 120 years old and which many of us pass daily. In High Street we have Valhalla and Manora, one of the earliest constructions in the town, and also East View further along, on the other side of the road towards Butlin’s.


Towards the town centre in High Street we have a range of original buildings.


The William Hardwick, built in the 1820s as The New Inn, is still serving drinks to visitors today.


We now have T Bone Burger, in the original building of York House into whose garden the Arcade was built in 1902.


In the centre of the town, behind Hotham Park, on Church Path, there is The Laurel’s, once a school and recently updated into a property worthy of the 21st century, as are many of the old thatched cottages both in North Bersted and in Felpham.


Once at a public meeting, which had been arranged to discuss the plans for a Marina, a woman remarked she had


“lived here all her life and didn’t want it to change until she died.”


Sadly, we have to move on, young people require change. We have to look to the future.


The Duke of Richmond said in 1960:


“Bognor Regis is forward looking.”


He was opening Fitzleet and the Queensway, which is now not to everyone’s taste, but it was thought of in a very positive manner when it was first constructed.


I know about the sand, the Kursaal and the Pavilion. I know that the arrival of Butlin’s in 1960 did not meet with approval – and so many people still do not acknowledge that Butlin’s arrival was really in the 1930s as recorded on the recently erected Blue Plaque.


Recently, on Facebook, someone remembered how it was better more than 70 years ago before Butlin’s came. I don’t think that’s true – only that many of us came to work in Butlin’s and stayed.


In the 1980s, a councillor remarked that “we should stop carping on about old photographs”. I think I was actually – by implication – included in their comment.


We have to have a balance and see where we have come from to see where we are going.


We do still have much heritage remaining in a town that was only commenced in 1787 – a mere 232 years ago.


I wonder, however, how we today and our actions will be judged in 50 years’ time?

Posted in Lifestyle.