What it’s like to live in Bognor
PUBLISHED: 10:38 27 June 2017 | UPDATED: 10:43 27 June 2017
Bognor is a seaside town worthy of reinvestigation as Duncan Hall finds out
Bognor can be reached by road from the north by the A29 or east and west along the A259 coastal road.
Bognor’s railway station has half-hourly services to London, and there are direct lines to Worthing and Brighton.
Bognor is served by a National Express coach which goes to both the town centre and Butlins from London Victoria. There are Stagecoach services to Littlehampton, Chichester, Bersted, Aldwick and Middleton-on-Sea and a Coastliner bus from Flansham Park to Havant and Portsmouth. Compass Travel runs buses to Yapton and Felpham.
George V’s infamous epithet against Bognor originates from the 13 weeks he spent in the town in 1929. His term of abuse is thought to have either left his lips when his physician first suggested the town as a location to recuperate from a lung infection, or, perhaps more romantically, as his final words, uttered when his doctors repeated the same suggestion of some much-needed sea air seven years later, although the latter is now largely held to be apocryphal. He did grant Bognor its Regis title not long after his recuperative break.
It adds to Bognor’s other proud claim to get more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in Britain – which may be why the fields surrounding it have become popular locations for many of the county’s vineyards. Billy Butlin took advantage of the high number of sunshine hours in 1960 by building a resort which is still popular today.
Like many resorts Bognor owes its existence to the railway, which first went to the then undeveloped coastline in 1864. The place name is thought to date back to the Anglo Saxons, recorded in 680 AD as a shore or landing place.
The resort was developed by Sir Richard Hotham – whose name is lent to the town’s park. Later several wealthy Victorians moved to the area and made the resort their home.
Prior to World War I Middleton-on-Sea became home to a factory manufacturing experimental aircraft. At its 1917 peak the Norman Thompson Flight Company employed between 700 and 900 people between sites in Littlehampton and Middleton who built about 250 aircraft including flying boats, and 12 Bognor Bloater land planes. According to Ian Evans, writing as part of the West Sussex and The Great War Project, the company went into receivership in 1918, with the large erecting shed becoming the basis of the Pavilion dance hall near Waterloo Square in Bognor, which itself burnt down in 1948.
On 13 August 1994 Bognor was targeted by the IRA, who left a bomb made from 2.5lbs of Semtex in the pannier of a bike locked to a cycle rack outside Woolworths. The explosion damaged 15 shops, but fortunately no-one was hurt as the precinct was emptying when the bomb went off at 5.57pm.
Although as with many UK seaside locations Bognor has suffered with the rise of cheap foreign flights, there is a push led by the town council to bring further leisure and commercial industries to the area, with a marina, redeveloped seafront – including the new Compass Point development of flats – and infrastructure improvements all on the table. Work has already been carried out on Station Square and pedestrian areas in the High Street, as well as a new café in Hotham Park. Designer Wayne Hemingway is currently working on transforming the railway station and rebranding the town as a whole.
In February Arun District Council announced the results of a feasibility study to develop the area around the Regis Centre and Hothamton car park under the name Gardens by the Sea – to feature a winter garden with new theatre, hotel, retail outlets and restaurants plus residential accommodation. An £80m redevelopment proposal for the site under the name of the Sir Richard Hotham Project was rejected by Arun District Council that same month following design concerns.
Annual festivals and events
Probably the biggest headline-grabbing event in Bognor is the International Bognor Birdman Competition, which flies off the pier this year on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 August 2017. Since 1978 contestants have competed in the three classes: Condor (hang-glider), Leonardo da Vinci (machines) and Kingfisher (fancy dress) with prize money for the furthest flight and the chance to raise cash for charity. For more information visit www.birdman.org.uk.
Despite entertaining crowds of up to 30,000 partygoers in its 26 years, free festival Bognor Rox hit financial problems last year, meaning organisers ROX Music and Arts had to take over existing venues rather than build their own seafront stage. At present the 2017 event is set to happen on the weekend of the 29 and 30 July. For more information visit roxmusicandarts.org.
South Downs Folk Festival is set to return to Bognor from 21 to 24 September with a bill including Steve Knightley of Show of Hands, Home Service, Skerryvore and Richard Digance. For more information visit www.southdownsfolkfest.co.uk.
West Park hosts a Drive Through Time vintage car display on Sunday 16 July 2017 run by the brilliantly named SADCASE (Storrington and District Classic And Sportscar Enthusiasts) as well as a Kite Festival from 26 to 28 August. Hotham Park was the location for the annual Bognorphenia, mixing scooters, live music and children’s activities which took place on the May Day bank holiday. This April saw Hotham Park host a three-day international festival of clowning organised by Clowns International, the oldest clown club in the world. It is hoped it will become an annual event – see www.clownsinternational.com for more.
Town runners can also take part in the 10k run along Bognor Prom in May, which celebrated its 23rd anniversary this year on Sunday 21.
As is to be expected from a seaside resort there are plenty of shops and facilities both for Bognor visitors and residents. There are several doctor’s surgeries in the town centre and out towards Flansham, Middleton and Yapton. The War Memorial Hospital in Shripney Road has a minor injuries unit. Despite a petition and campaign the High Street Post Office moved into WH Smiths in November.
In terms of entertainment the Picturedrome Cinema in Canada Grove is a good value treat, with tickets starting at £2.50 for current releases. The Regis Centre and Alexandra Theatre in Belmont Street offers a mix of national touring shows and homegrown productions, including an annual pantomime. There are active hockey, cricket and yacht clubs based all over the town, as well as the recently promoted football team. And as well as Hotham in Bognor and West Park and Marine Park Gardens in Aldwick there is the Arena Sports Centre, in the grounds of Bognor Regis Community College, and Inspire Felpham (formerly Arun Leisure Centre) in Felpham Way, to let off steam. Visitors can have a stroll on the pier or explore the town museum in West Street. And further afield are the RSPB reserve at Pagham Harbour and Bersted Brooks for long nature walks.
Meet the neighbours
Possibly Bognor’s most famous daughter was brothel-keeper Cynthia Payne, who was born in the town and whose early life inspired the 1987 film Wish You Were Here – which was part filmed in Bognor and Worthing. Another movie which used Bognor as its backdrop was Tony Hancock’s black comedy The Punch And Judy Man in 1963. Ben Richards of Footballer’s Wives fame comes from Middleton-on-Sea. William Blake kept a cottage in nearby Felpham. And Raine Spencer, stepmother of Diana, Princess of Wales, bought a Victorian house in the town.
Bognor has its own town council. It comes under Arun District Council, which is also based in the Town Hall in Clarence Road, and West Sussex County Council.
MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton since 1997 is Conservative Nick Gibb whose constituency office is in Flansham.
Estate agent’s view
“This year the market was off to a flying start with not enough properties to meet demand,” says Gail Chisham, partner at Henry Adams’ Bognor and Aldwick Hub. “Interest is spread right across the price ranges with one-bedroom town centre apartments starting at around £100,000 and recently we’ve successfully sold two seafront houses on the prestigious Aldwick Bay Estate for considerably more than £1m.
“There’s a huge amount of regeneration currently with many larger retailers opening and new communities growing as new developments take shape on the outskirts of town in places like Bersted Park.
“But there’s still a place for period homes with some really fabulous apartments along the seafront combining Victorian architecture with contemporary interiors at Esplanade Grande and Compass Point. Westwards along the shore are some exclusive marine estates with family houses and weekend homes dating from the 1920s.
“People come here for seaside living not necessarily to be on the seafront itself, we have a vibrant town centre, great beaches and a direct rail journey to London. We’re seeing a healthy demand for all types of homes in the area which looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.”
For more information call 01243 842123; henryadams.co.uk