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Changing Times | Book a visit to the past with these good reads

Do you know how many books have been written either on the history of our area or stories based on the area?


My incomplete list totals over 70 publications, dating back to the original 1807 Guide by WD Davis. Many of the publications are now sadly out of print but are still available within the library service, either in the reference or lending sections.


How many people are aware of the History of Pagham, written by Lindsey Fleming? This three-volume publication was published in 1949 and is a definitive book delving into aspects of our history back to the 680AD and crosses the area from Pagham to Elmer.


It contains invaluable information in a very detailed manner, which can form the basis for more recent information and is also very useful for family historians.


The earliest publication I have is A Fortnight in September, written by RC Sherriff in 1931, which tells the story of a family coming to Bognor Regis for a fortnight’s holiday. It is a superb book and provides a delightful insight into the original seaside, bucket and spade holiday.


Gerard Young, of course, was a most prolific writer about our area with his very popular books based around the Flansham area and his work culminated in the History of Bognor Regis, which was published in 1983.


Gerard is very well known for his local history publications, on which many more recently produced articles are based, or certainly we can use them as a base on which to build the more recent information.


While I was endeavouring to record the publication dates for many publications, it was interesting to find that so many books have been published without a publication date – all historians should know better, for the benefit of future researchers.


In the early days of the Bognor Regis Local History Society, one of the members, Charles Butler, contributed publications which contained detailed sketches while other members produced a wide range of interesting publications on specific aspects of the town including schools and traders.


Local companies and organisations have also produced booklets such as the History of Staffurth and Bray solicitors, Middleton Sports Club, Bognor Regis Theatre Club and the bowls club.


During the three-year Festival of Local History, our aim was to encourage everyone to collate and produce their history and thus these types of books are vital for research. I regularly receive emails about smaller aspects of our history, who lived where, what was there then, and it is very important for these things to be recorded or they will be lost forever. One gentleman I met had produced a history of his house for the next owners – I envied them.


There is the Felpham and Middleton Local History group, which has produced some really interesting books – Felpham by the Sea, Walk around Middleton and Elmer and the Incoming Tide.


There are other people who have concentrated on certain areas of their own interest, such as Gone to Blazes, telling of the history of the fire service by Steve Jordan. Another was Gwen Stabler who continued her own particular interest of the Aldwick and Craigweil areas.


Mr and Mrs Gowler, who were members of the local history society, have carried out the most detailed and informative research on early traders, professions, trades, traders and the gentility of Glamis Street and finally Lyon Street and William Street. These books are not the most visually interesting, as they contain a great amount of information, detail, and statistics etc. However, they fill a much- needed gap for many of us (me included).


For the size of our population, it is interesting to see how many historical books are photographic views, of the ‘Now and Then’ type of publications.


Photographic images are always welcome. One of the first who produced this type of ‘how we lived then’ publication was James Cartland. Others have been compiled by Robert Harmer, Vanessa Mills and the late Sylvia Olliver. There was also the publication of the history of Nyewood School, produced by Roger Wardale, and also South Bersted School, which was recorded by Ron Iden, who also compiled his Historical Gazetteer of the Street Names of Bognor Regis.


On a totally different theme, there is Cliff Mewett’s publication on Bognor’s Great War, Roll of Honour.


Interestingly, as I visit various women’s institutes, I discover how the organisation is helping with the retention of information. The Aldwick group produced a copy of its early minutes which cover the war years, and then the district WI produced a photographic record of memories and personal images from their members and other interested people.


Even our railway has been well covered, with The Bognor Branch Line by S. Jordan and also the Middleton Press series about the development of the line into and around Bognor Regis. Airfields have been covered by M.H. Goodall, with The Norman Thompson Airfield and my book, It Started with a Map, about the Bognor Advanced Landing Ground, north of the town.


I have not even attempted to list the excellent novels that have been written, such as Shripney Lady, and Sovereign’s Key, by Rosalind Laker, through to the book by Beryl Kingston entitled The Gates of Paradise, about William Blake.


We are blessed so many people think we have an interesting backdrop for any novels or publication. Over more recent years there have been more novels written based around the area including Graham J. Minett’s book Lie in Wait, and very recently, Philippa Gregory’s historical book Tidelands, based on Pagham.


I am sure that I will have omitted a writer or publication of which you are particularly interested or involved with, but this is only my collection and I would welcome any information or other publications to build a record of as many books as possible that have been published about our area.


Many will be celebrated later in the year, but more of that nearer the time. I will be delving into these and other publications during the coming year in my future articles.

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