How many churches are there in Bognor Regis today? Less than there used to be you might think!
When looking at many aspects of the town, I have always been intrigued by the fact that many of our buildings today have had associations with churches in the past. It is quite interesting how often there is a reference to a church or meeting place. So this week I thought we could just have a look at the variety of churches there have been here over the years. It will not be an in-depth look into each church, just an overview of the area.
One of the first records is of a chapel existing in Bognor as early as January, 1383, when apparently ‘the living’ was presented to Richard Wildebergg. A further record was found in 1385. These records are in an Arundel register which states ‘there are no architectural remains existing nor any tradition on a site, it is therefore conjectured that it has been swallowed up by the encroachment of the sea’. The next record to be found is many years later, in 1841, which provides a reference to the Chapel of St Alban, which was built by Sir Richard Hotham.
However, there were earlier churches, such as St Mary Magdalene in South Bersted, which had its first vicar in 1254. It was not until 1405, however, that the present church was built and consecrated by the Bishop of Chichester.
It was here that Sir Richard Hotham made the entry into the parish register regarding the ‘laying of the first foundation stone of this seaside resort’. Also it is in this church in 1779 that Sir Richard, the founder of Bognor, was buried. While this church has a long history, changes continue to be made, with a new window in 1986 and other internal changes have taken place.
Near to the seafront there was a chapel in the Steyne, that of the first St John’s, which was built in 1821. However, it was sold to a trust by 1829. Its distinctive Gothic tower was added in 1833 complete with a clock.
Strange as it may seem today, by 1876, the church was deemed to be too small and so it was closed. It was not until 1960 that the clock tower was finally demolished, taking away an important landmark in the town, one that had been used by the fishermen.
Eventually, a larger church was built, St John’s in London Road, which was finally consecrated in 1886 by the Bishop of Chichester. This church holds many a happy memory for Bognorians everywhere. It was closed and finally demolished in 1975 to remove an even more prominent landmark from the town.
At North Bersted there is the Holy Cross Church, which from 1880 to 1890, used a cottage on the corner of Chalcraft Lane. However, the Bishop of Chichester in 1894 dedicated new premises on July 14. The church spire was apparently removed in 1976 for safety reasons.
Staying in North Bersted, there was a Congregational church in Newton Avenue, which was opened in 1936. However, 50 years later it ceased to be used by the Congregationalists and, in December, 1896, was taken over by Catholics of the Servite Priory.
Coming into Aldwick, we find St Richard’s Church, which had its foundation stone, laid on April 3, 1933, in Gossamer Lane and was finally consecrated on May 12, 1934. It was not until 1971 the popular Mosse Memorial Hall was built next to the church.
Another church that was quite recent was St Michael’s and All Angels Church on the West Meads estate, the foundation stone being laid in 1968. This church has since been demolished.
Travelling further into the town we next come across the parish church of St Wilfrid, situated in Ellsadale Road, off Victoria Drive. Here, there was once a tin chapel, large enough for 200 people, which was dedicated in 1896. It was in 1908 the foundation stone was laid for today’s church. As late as 1972 money was still available from the closure of St John’s Church in London Road.
In the town centre there have been many premises, including, of course, the church in Clarence Road, Our Lady of Sorrow, which had its foundation stone laid on October 26, 1881, to replace a small premises in Argyle Circus. Finally, in 1994, the Servite Order handed the church over to the priests from the Diocese of Arundel.
Also in the vicinity of Argyle Circus there was a meeting house for Jehovah Witnesses and in the 1926 Kelly’s street directory we find the Plymouth Brethren had their meeting room in Argyll Hall, Argyll Road.
In Sudley Road, we have the United National Spiritualist Church, which had its foundation stone laid on November 2, 1956, and, interestingly, was also at one time operating from premises in the vicinity of Argyle Circus.
For a number of years, the United Reformed Church was at the bottom of London Road, but eventually moved to new premises in Linden Road. This has since closed and been converted into Jeneses – a community centre, which still has religious connections.
We should not, of course, forget the Salvation Army, currently situated at the junction of Canada Grove and Crescent Road. This is where Bognor Regis Local History Society meets for its monthly meetings. However, this site was originally the home of the Baptists, before they moved into Victoria Drive, where they are still situated.
In days gone by, to find a church, it would have been word of mouth, or you could have looked into the pages of Kelly’s street directories. In 1887, we would have found St John the Baptist, Our Lady of Seven Dolours, Congregational, Primitive Methodists and Wesleyan Methodist.
In 2020, how do you find a church? Well it is possible to look in various directories to find a list of places of worship or religious organisations, where you will also find the Religious Society of Friends in Victoria Road and the Aldwick Free Church in addition to those already mentioned.
The internet also proves to be a good source in which to locate churches or a religion and also many have their own websites, which contain histories of their existence in the town.