Over 20 years ago, I had to complete a research project on an area of the town of which I had no knowledge for a local history examination. I choose Hotham Park, the areas around and within the park.
The first piece of research was from 1484 by LB Alberti, about parks: “A city is not built wholly for the sake of shelter, but ought to be so contrived, that besides more civil conveniences there may be handsome spaces left for Squares, courses for chariots and Gardens.” An interesting statement, but I could find no reference to any chariot racing here in our own park.
The original owner of the house was Sir Richard Hotham, of whom so much bas been written. On his death, the house was purchased by several people until in 1941, when William Fletcher died, the house was leased to the Ministry of Pensions, but sadly it was not maintained correctly.
Suggestions were for a town museum, restaurant and a meeting venue for the town. Other ideas over the time were for sheltered housing for the elderly and of course the ultimate demolition and the building of a ‘new-style housing estate’. However, the house was saved and developed into flats, so providing us with private owners.
But what about around the park itself? At one time there was a mill stone as a centre piece of a table, which is thought to have been a mill stone from the Runcton windmill in North Mundham, used originally for the grinding of oats and barley.
In the early 1960s, a water trough was moved from the High Street into the park for use by donkeys. It had been situated outside the Waterloo Square Methodist church for 50 years. Sadly, this has now been lost to the area.
When walking along London Road, near the library, it is difficult to appreciate that there were stables and a cottage standing on this site. Mr and Mrs Benjamin Cobby occupied Aldwick Cottages, as they were known until the 1960s when they were moved to new council premises to allow the library to be constructed and it was opened on September 6, 1967.
Also in this area was an avenue of tulip trees, which were cut down to produce the car park in this area. There was also, behind the stables, which were on the site of the present library, an enclosed kitchen garden, but this was part of the area used for the Chestnuts day centre which opened in 1988.
the ice house is nearby as well, certainly a relic from the past which was constructed in 1792 to help with the running of ‘the big house’. I always think it would have been a long walk from the house to the ice house for the maid who was sent to bring back some ice.
If you walk along Church Path alongside the park towards the sea, there is situated a private residence which was known as The Laurels and was built in 1820 for Mrs Thomas Smith to educate the ‘poor girls’ of the area. This has had numerous uses over the years, before the private ownership of today.
There were also two gate houses into what was a private estate. One situated by today’s main entrance, where there is a house, now offices, but where staff from the house lived and another at the entrance near the pedestrian crossing at the other entrance from the High Street.
Another facet of our park has always been the gardens, trees and the walls. Things you may not really see as interesting, but that is far from the story. The walled boundary of the park been the subject of much discussion over the years.
In 1961, there was talk of removing part of the walls near the London Road coach park. At this time there would have been beech, sycamore and lime trees to be felled when the wall was removed.
A publication in 1969, entitled Building stones of Old Bognor, describes the various stones that were cut into the desired shape along Upper Bognor Road. Local materials such a calcareous sandstone had been used in various areas. If you stand at the front of today’s library in London Road, you can still see part of the original wall to the right of the library grounds.
Today. we see the trees and various old and new plantings within the park and, of course, we do not know what was originally in the park, but in 1946 a contributor to the Sussex Gardens’ in the West Sussex Recorder, detailed much of what had been planted during the reign of William Fletcher, within the 36 acres of his gardens, with exotic plants and shrubs.
After walking the grounds for three hours, she remarked: “My only hope is that this beautiful place with never suffer the indignity of being built on – it has everything of Kew Gardens, with the additional charm of absolute privacy. I wonder Bognor, if you realise the unique glory of Aldwick Manor?”
One of the most interesting trees was the cork oak that was planted by Mr Fletcher at Goodwood in 1875, the year in which he married and was to commemorate this event. In recent years, we have had The Lathyrus Garden and also the Rose Gardens, alongside trees being planted in memory of people or events.
I could not leave this subject without mention of the boating lake, which has had many operators since it opened in the 1940s. There has been a miniature railway in the park which has been expanded in recent years.
The bandstand is another feature and was used originally by military bands on a regular basis and now is used more by local groups and events.
Of course, we should not forget the zoo, or Pets Corner as it was known, when it opened in 1950. There is now the large pitch and putt course.
The park today hosts a regular season of events such as the country fair, Rox, Bognorphenia and the popular weekly park runs and is generally much used by residents and tourists, making it an important part of our town.