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Changing Times | Town’s children were well served at Christmas

As we head towards Christmas, I thought I would take a look at past times here in the town. Children living in Bognor Regis were lucky to have a good toy shop in the town, especially at this time of the year when toy shops are much visited by them and their parents.


The first reference to a toy shop was in 1823 when James Binstead ran a small library and toyshop on the seafront, a site now occupied by the Royal Hotel.


The original building is clearly seen on some of the very early seafront scenes. It remained for approximately 20 years until the business moved to Waterloo Square in the 1840s when Miss Augusta Binstead and her sister were operating it.


One of Gerard Young’s articles reported that ‘Bognor men remember Burgess’s as a wonderland of childhood; the place where you saw the first marvels of Meccano, Hornby train and the Atalanta kite’. This was also the shop that sold souvenirs including those little pieces of crested china. They also published postcards and books of photographs of the area.


By the late 1860s, a Henry Townsend ran the business but most people will remember the site best when it became known as the Burgess’s Bazaar, when James Reeve Burgess took over the business in the late 1870s. In 1929, Queen Mary reputedly paid three visits to the shop while she stayed at Craigweil House with King George V. It is reported that she bought a bucket and spade for her granddaughter – today’s Queen.


Burgess’s Bazaar and Library soon became an essential part of Bognor seaside life and was at its most popular when James’s son, Robert Briant, was running the business. It continued in the Burgess family until 1951 when it was being run by Robert’s brother and sister, William and Ethel.


It remained operating for many years but now under the name of Burgess Toy Emporium. Mr Harry York and business partner purchased the premises from the Burgess family in 1951 and ran it until 1968 when it finally closed as a toyshop.


In the Kelly’s Directories of 1953 and 1964 it is listed as Burgess Toy Emporium stating that they were agents for ‘Meccano, Hornby Triang and Corgi toys’.


Quite recently, there was a letter in the paper with memories of this shop, reminding people of the toy bear, which sat on a bicycle above the entrance to the shop.


From 1902, the Burgess Toy Emporium had a rival, Toyland, which was situated in the newly opened shopping arcade in the centre of the town. A report in the Bognor Observer of 1903 mentions Toyland as being, ‘a veritable enchanted spot for the youngsters, being exceptionally well stocked with toys in innumerable variety. There are dolls in all manner of dress, clockwork and mechanical toys and games in perfusion’.


There was also a royal visit to this shop on March 2, 1929, by Queen Mary, when shopping for the first time on her stay in the area. Her Royal Highness Princess Mary and Princess Louise accompanied Queen Mary where they purchased a number of articles for a doll’s house.


Another famous enterprise for children and remembered by many was Goodacres, which was situated on the corner of York Road and the Esplanade.


One write-up about the shop mentioned that they sold fairy cycles and pedal cars, which would not entice children today to their shop! Goodacres also had a second store at 46 London Road, which sold nursery and kindergarten apparatus and toys.


Entertainment was obviously another feature of the Christmas period and the town was not short in its advertising.


There were popular dances in the Pavilion, costing 2/- (10p) which were open from 8pm to midnight. For the week up to festive period, special events were arranged nightly.


One particular advertisement caught my eye from Wednesday, December 15, 1926, when there was an Oriental Ball at the Pavilion. This advert also told of the buses that would leave at the end of the evening for Chichester, Littlehampton and Slindon, such was the pull of the event.


However, what really amused me was the programme. Apparently, there were 34 dances, and they were actually listed in the advert, showing whether it was a fox-trot, waltz, one set etc alongside the music that was to be played by Harold Todd’s band. Can you imagine that today?


Other shops were advertised, such as Herbert Mell in Linden Road, which was selling ‘sensible gifts’ for boys’ wear. It then listed all the clothing, including pullovers for 5/- up to 9/9d. It was apparently a boys’ warehouse in 1926.


Also that year, HA Harnett was selling for the Christmas period, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens and local pheasants. Selling their goods in London Road from the advert they only sold the largest assortment, nothing but the best and the highest quality items. Alongside an exclusive brand of Danish bacon. These claims would no doubt be challenged today. Interestingly, in another advert, they quoted that they had ‘first class Southdown sheep,’ First Prize pigs,’ but everything English.


Another shop that advertised for Christmas was Lemmon’s who sold ‘attractive, useful, inexpensive Christmas presents.’. These gifts, including handkerchiefs, chair backs, embroidered tea cloths, coloured blankets, fancy overalls etc. Can you imagine the excitement Christmas morning to receive a ‘fancy overall.’ How things have changed.


Staley’s sold hosier, handkerchiefs, umbrellas and dainty underwear as choice gifts. Dutton and Throwgood in London Road was a shoe shop which felt that its stylist shoes would be suitable presents.

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