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Changing Times | Colourful pasts of buildings denote fashions

I thought this week we would look at fashionable buildings, but what is fashionable? According to the dictionary, it is conforming to fashion or being in vogue.


Local historian Gerard Young defined it in 1959 as ‘Fashion in architecture was affected by the temperature of the times’. Therefore, as you walk around the town and look at the wide range of colour schemes and styles that are visible, we should perhaps consider the past to see what their fashions were and ask whether, in fact, the residents of the time liked them, or not.


I wonder how the fishermen and locals in the 1790s felt about the construction of the new large buildings for Sir Richard Hotham, along the road we now refer to as the Upper Bognor Road – buildings which for years contained students as they were part of the West Sussex Institute of Education complex.


Did the residents really like the new constructions, which were designed to bring outsiders into the area? Did they really believe it was for the good of the locality? I would think that the residents of what was then a small fishing village would be very nervous of the influx of the new moneyed people, using the area for only their leisure.


Now this area is part of Chichester University, but many of the buildings have been sold off and transformed into flats, in some instances for newly arrived people to the town.


The next influx may have been when the Regency and Georgian buildings came into existence At the time of their construction, were they seen as being attractive, with their bowed canopies when viewed alongside their plan-bricked neighbours? I suppose we should also consider what was happening nationally, as no area of new developers was alone with their ideals.


Each era has made its mark on the development of the town and there are particular areas where specific developments have left quite an impression. Such areas are still to be seen in parts of Victoria Drive, The Steyne and Waterloo Square, where there are constructions that were built in a range of styles, over a number of decades which ably demonstrate the changing fashions.


We have on the perimeter of the town a range of estates that have all been built in the 20th century, but which come from a variety of modernist styles. Areas, which are so distinctive as to have been provided with affectionate nicknames, to denote their appearance, Legoland, bungalow estates etc.


National styles, of course, are transferred into each small conurbation, especially if it is continually growing or changing its own basic style. Compare Felpham, which has the majority of its developments outside the village centre, to Bognor Regis, where in the 1920s and 1930s major buildings were still taking place in the High Street, for instance the Art Deco bus station and the new town hall.


I wonder how many people in the past have viewed their own constructions as being the ‘current fashion’. Let us, therefore, view some of the ‘new fashions’ of their time. What about Fitzleet House which was built to replace a very sturdy convalescent home?


However, the tower block was certainly in keeping with the fashion or trend of the day, as were the buildings of Queensway and the health centre. All these buildings are in the style of the 1960s concrete blocks and with what is generally thought to be an uninteresting appearance. It is interesting to note that today we comment this type of construction is in keeping with the 1960s but does not meet with today’s views of pleasant buildings.


Other factors through the years have placed their mark on fashion, one such being that of external building/paint colours. Many of the earlier buildings have retained their brick facades or the white, cream or bland colour schemes.


In fact, in many areas of the UK there are local government acts in place, which restrict the painting of buildings to certain colours or shades.


Recently, I was told of a homeowner who had been told the colour of his house was not in keeping with the neighbourhood. The requested colour was a pastel shade. Sometimes, a person can have an individual stamp of fashion and for many here in Bognor Regis in the past it was a local sign writer who made his mark with his bright colours.


This included Sarnies in London Road, Clock Walk and Eddies newsagents in Lyon Street among others.


I can remember seeking a television holiday programme, which began with various views of houses and shops with a very definite colour scheme on their buildings, and the introduction referred to the ‘fashionable seaside resort’. No, it was not Bognor Regis but perhaps we should view this in the same way as people in the past that took time to advertise their town as being fashionable.


I am not endeavouring to be for or against the colours that are being used around the town, but I can imagine some of the comments, and can think of those passed to me recently.


However, we are just transient in this town and historians will be the decision-makers on the current styles. Just as we all have our views on what has gone before with areas built since the 1790s, where each era has a style of its own to be viewed by people with their individual opinions.


I shall finish this week with another quote from Gerard Young, when he remarked that ‘towns have personalities that are detected by the visitor but remain unknown to the resident. This personality of character makes its mark on the stranger chiefly by outward appearances; the shape of the streets; the colour of the buildings; the harmony of the town’s setting in a landscape; the blend of architectural styles, the differences in comparison with other towns’.


Today, of course, we have an influx of new estates, with town houses, next to social housing. There are a variety of styles. We have blocks of flats on the seafront.


I wonder what the discussion will be on these fashions in 50 years’ time.

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