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Changing Times | Check out the changes in town’s retail centre Traders have always moved in and out of London Road

The majority of roads in any town or city suffer from changing trends and the march of progress, be it for better or worse.


However, London Road, in Bognor Regis, which was first developed from around the period of 1910, still has many of its original features which can still be clearly seen today.


Before that year, the road was known as Dorset Gardens and contained a number of terraces. One such was Brunswick Terrace and many of the upper floors of these buildings can still be seen today, if we take the time to look above the current shop fronts.


Originally, London Road consisted of private residences. Progress has removed these by the series of well-meaning developers during a variety of decades, into producing the complexity of building styles we have today.


An interesting shop is at the junction of London Road with High Street, today called Bon Marche, but for how long we don’t know. Originally called Staley’s, this business was once situated in High Street, until 1914, when they moved to their newly-built premises on the corner of London Road.


It has always had its own distinctive style. Even the building with the tower still dominates the corner with its unique design. Then it became known as Bobby’s, then a merger with Reynolds saw a change to Seasons. Reynolds started their trading in West Street, from 1867, before moving into High Street, with their new facade being built in 1939.


In 1936, there must have been some consternation when a house known as The Lawns had its garden wiped out by the building of new shops; those of Marks and Spencer and Burtons.


The press in July, 1936, announced the opening of the new ‘Super Store Marks and Spencer at No. 4 London Road’. They advertised there was ‘nothing over 5/ (25p) and 90 per cent of the goods were British’. Part of the advertising claimed the retailer ‘simply bought in large quantities from leading British manufacturers’, hence the low cost.


It was a shop where ‘your money would go further’. Marks and Spencer sadly left the town in August, 1990, with a shock announcement, of which the staff were also unaware, and at the same time advised a second shop would be opened in Chichester.


Today, the main shop is New Look and situated beside it is now the Cell Repair phone shop and Trespass, both of these situated in premises occupied by Burton’s until recently.


During the late 1970s, London Road also contained other well-known traders such as Mac Fisheries, and the well-loved Hansfords, which seemed to offer such a wide range of gentlemen’s clothing.


Can you perhaps remember the tea bar within Woolworth’s, an attraction that was closed in all its stores long before they shut? Woolworth’s was in London Road from 1960, with the claim that nothing cost more than 6d (2.5p).


The shop remained one of the most popular traders in London Road, as can be remembered following the fire in 1978. The fire occurred on a busy Saturday afternoon in August and, of course, the whole of the main shopping area of the town could well have succumbed to the fire.


As a result of the labours of more than 200 firefighters from all over the south of England, the road was saved. However, Woolworth’s was not. The smoke from the building could be seen as far away as Havant and Portsmouth.


In the months following, residents keenly watched the building rise again, and poems were sent to local papers welcoming the shop back into the road. Until the shop was rebuilt, Woolworth’s traded from High Street for a number of months, in a building which is now Lloyds Bank. Views of the road in the 1920s would have provided a quiet view occasionally populated by a small number of vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.


By the 1970s, the road was always busy and clogged with cars, which created problems for cyclists. Today. we have pedestrianisation, and one of the main problems is whether we are to be run over by roller skating youngsters, scooters or mobility machines!


During the next decade, there were again many changes taking place, including the demolition of Nos 1–3 Brunswick Terrace that had at one time contained shops that sold fish, poultry, game and Bognor prawns.


For a number of years, there was also the Brunswick Cafe, run by David Baker, who once operated the Coplestone Bakery in Sudley Terrace.


It is quite difficult to remember all the different shops that have existed in the road and events that have projected the road into the public domain. Do you remember when both Curry’s and Fads, the DIY chain, were present and also the Climax dress shop, before its demolition in 1982? We have also had shops occupied by Fosters and Mothercare before they left our town centre.


In 1994, the town was shaken by the news that the IRA had targeted the area with a bomb outside Specsavers. Again, on a busy August day, at 5.57pm on Saturday, the 13th, a bomb was left attached to a bicycle in a rack in the precinct.


Thankfully, no one was killed, and no severe damage was done to the many buildings in close proximity to the explosion. Woolworth’s was again involved as Specsavers took the full brunt of the explosion.


There are, of course, many stories of people who were lucky not to be injured as shopkeepers began closing up for the day. However, despite the devastation, it is still possible to see the old and new facades of London Road today.


Despite all the events that have taken place from the quiet days of Dorset Gardens to the busy pedestrianised London Road, it is still possible to find shop or flat windows which provide a memory of days gone by.


But only if you look, at least, above the Card Factory and Costa Coffee and other areas.

Posted in Lifestyle.