A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4, the Rape of Chichester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1953.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
'Bognor Regis', in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4, the Rape of Chichester, (London, 1953) pp. 226-227. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/sussex/vol4/pp226-227 [accessed 4 March 2024]
Bognor was originally the easternmost tithing of the ancient parish of Pagham, its eastern boundary being formed by the Aldingbourne Rife, which divides it from the parish of Felpham and separates the Rapes of Chichester and Arundel. The estuary of this rife formed the port or haven of Bognor, to which there are occasional references in medieval records. (fn. 1) The coastal area suffered continually from erosion by the sea (fn. 2) until effective measures of defence, including the erection of the mile-long promenade, were carried out in the second half of the 19th century. Close to the port and Felpham Bridge stood the windmill of Pygnore. This was 'wholly in decay' in 1492 (fn. 3) but may have been rebuilt, as there is reference in 1626 to the vicar of Bersted—in which parish Bognor was included from about 1465—receiving the tithes of two windmills. (fn. 4) The second of these was probably at the west end of Bognor, near the coast, where the Black Mill was a landmark in the 19th century.
The history of Bognor practically begins with Sir Richard Hotham, (fn. 5) a London hatter who had made a fortune in trade. Attracted by the climate and the benefit which he had received from sea-bathing, he bought a farmhouse and enlarged it, as 'Bognor Lodge', in 1797 and started to convert the district into a watering place. He built a number of good houses, establishing local brick-works for their erection. These houses he let furnished, and he also built an hotel and assemblyrooms. To this new settlement he tried to attach his own name, calling it Hothampton, but the name failed to catch on and it soon reverted to Bognor. And although he was very successful in attracting aristocratic visitors, his schemes proved too ambitious and, combined with other financial losses, absorbed the greater part of his fortune, so that the beneficiaries of his will inherited little more than debts and lawsuits. The Dome House, which still stands, Sir Richard built shortly before his death in 1799 in the hope of attracting King George III to stay there. The king did not come, but in 1808 his granddaughter the young Princess Charlotte (fn. 6) came there and remained for two years, supporting with her money and patronage the Jubilee School for poor children, founded in 1810.
There seems some reason to believe that the Bognor of this period was the original of 'Sanditon' in Jane Austen's unfinished novel of that title. (fn. 7) For some time Bognor developed as a select resort. In 1826 a fire destroyed the Fox Hotel and neighbouring buildings, but the new Claremont Hotel in West Street was opened next year. By this time smaller houses were springing up rapidly. A market house was built in 1822, but the market does not seem to have flourished. The development of the town was assisted by the opening of the branch railway to Barnham in 1864. (fn. 8) In the following year the pier was built (rebuilt 1910), and in 1873 Bognor was constituted an ecclesiastical parish, containing the greater part of South Bersted parish. It was controlled at this time by a Local Board, erected in 1866, but this was replaced in 1894 by an Urban District Council. The boundaries of the civil parish were extended in 1900 and again in 1933 to include part of Felpham on the east and all of Aldwick on the west, the latter becoming a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1935. (fn. 9)
The seal was set upon the reputation of Bognor as a health resort in 1929, when its neighbourhood was selected for the convalescence of King George V after his serious illness. (fn. 10) The house selected was Craigweil House in Aldwick, which had been built by the Countess of Newburgh (heiress of the family of Kemp of Slindon), who died in 1797. It had been enlarged by Sir Arthur du Cros in 1919. Here the king remained from 9 February to 15 May 1929. The house was shortly afterwards pulled down and the grounds developed as a building estate, but the Urban District Council commemorated the visit by obtaining leave to call the town Bognor Regis. The king's restoration to health was also commemorated by the enlargement of the Bognor War Memorial Hospital, of which Mr. James Fleming was the principal founder. The Merchant Taylors Company and other communities also maintain convalescent homes here. (fn. 11)
There was from early times a chapel at Bognor with the invocation of St. Bartholomew, dependent upon the parish church of Pagham. (fn. 12) This was stated to have been long standing unserved in 1384 when Archbishop Courtenay presented a chaplain. (fn. 13) In 1465 the vicar of the parish church (as it is there called) of Bersted wrote to the Prior and Chapter of Canterbury complaining that through the impoverishment of the parish his benefice was hardly worth 5 marks, and that whereas he used to have the whole issues of the chapelry of Bognor he now had to share them with the chantry priest of Pagham. (fn. 14) It was therefore agreed that the two benefices should be united, but it is not clear whether services continued to be held at Bognor. In about 1538 the then Vicar of Bersted claimed from the Priory of Canterbury £53 6s. 8d. as arrears of a yearly payment due to him. The Prior replied that this sum was paid for the vicar to provide a priest to serve the chapel of Bognor, which fell into the sea, with many houses there, some eighteen or twenty years ago. (fn. 15)
In 1793 Sir Richard Hotham built a chapel adjoining his house, known at first as Chapel House, later Bersted Lodge, and finally Aldwick Manor. (fn. 16) This chapel of St. Alban was licensed for services in 1797 and apparently consecrated in 1801, but soon after Mr. J. B. Fletcher bought the house in 1857 he pulled the chapel down. (fn. 17)
In 1821 Daniel Wonham, a Bognor builder, erected as a speculation a chapel of St. John the Evangelist, which was bought of him and vested in trustees, of whom the Vicar of Bersted was one. (fn. 18) It was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 25 January 1822. By 1879 it was felt that a new church was required for what had become in 1873 the ecclesiastical parish of Bognor. In the following year a start was made with building the new St. John the Baptist's church, on a site in London Road, from designs by A. W. Blomfield. This church, an uninspired building of flint with red brick dressings, was consecrated in 1886. Five years later the older church was pulled down, with the exception of the tower, which is still (1952) standing. Another large church, St. Wilfrid's, was built in 1910 in Victoria Drive, from the designs of G. H. Fellowes-Prynne, of Kentish rag stone in a more or less late Gothic style. (fn. 19) It is a chapel of ease to St. John's.
At Aldwick (fn. 20) an iron chapel, built about 1880, had been succeeded in 1909 by a wooden chapel built by Mr. Archibald Seth Smith in his grounds at Aldwick Lodge. This was pulled down in 1930 and steps were taken by Dr. H. R. Mosse to build a church and to make Aldwick an ecclesiastical parish. The foundation stone of the church of St. Richard was laid on that Saint's Day (3 April) 1933. The architect was F. G. Troup and the building, which is in Gothic style, is of stone; it consists of chancel, with vestry and organ chamber on the north and a chapel on the south, nave with sides and clearstories, and west tower. It was consecrated in 1934, and in the following year the parish of Aldwick was formed, with the consent of the Vicar of Pagham, the patronage being vested in the Bishop of Chichester, apparently without regard for the right of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the patron of Pagham.
The Roman Catholic church was built in 1882 and is served by priests of the adjacent Servite Priory. There is also a convent of Servite sisters. The Methodists have a large church in the High Street, built in 1925 to replace one erected in 1840. Congregationalists, Baptists, and Plymouth Brethren also have places of worship in the town. (fn. 21)