The Royal Norfolk Hotel

Recently I wrote about disappearing hotels, well the story is not all bleak, as one of the earliest hotels is still with us today, and what is more, it is still a hotel. It is the Royal Norfolk the most prominent of our hotels situated overlooking the seafront and one that has had an interesting history as well as an extensive range of owners.

Standing as it does on such an imposing site, we could well surmise the reason for such a location, however we should look back to a time when there was actually another hotel on this site. Bognor's original hotel and assembly rooms were situated in this vicinity but suffered a fire in 1826 and were burnt to the ground. The remains subsequently

succumbed to the encroaching seas. The land in this area was known as Barn Field when in 1830 Andrew L. Sarel decided to build another hotel. To avoid the problems of the first he bought Barn Field and decided to place the hotel further inland to ensure it did not fall to the same fate. This was at a time when the population was approx. 2,000.

By 1837 the hotel was being managed by William Lock, who advertised it
in the Brighton Herald as a family hotel and invited visitors to enjoy the
splendid views of the sea. Dally's Bognor Guide also extolled the
virtues of this impressive establishment.

In 1857 the Naldrett family took over and John became the new Manager of this hotel that was described in many guidebooks as "resembling a gentleman's mansion." Early engravings of the hotel clearly show how the lawns went down to the beach. The early building was in fact only the central section of today's hotel and was also without it's impressive balcony, which was not added until the1880's.

During 1872 Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte III stayed at the Norfolk Hotel for just a week and is reported as

saying that he was "happy with Naldrett as proprietor." In 1910 an extension was built onto the west side of the Royal Norfolk and it is possible to view the various extensions by looking at the roofline of the hotel today.

Over the years many people have mentioned or asked why the hotel appears to have a Royal crest coupled with the name
"Royal Hotel."

After which Royal visit did this occur? The answer is that no Royal visit was commemorated; in fact the Royal Warrant Holders Association queried this fact with the Home Office in 1917. It was discovered that no royal warrant had ever been given, however it was agreed that it could remain because of the duration of its existence. However it was mentioned that the crest could not be used on stationery, china, presents etc., and I assume this still remains in force today. This question was also officially asked approximately 20 years ago, with the same result.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article about the various owners. One more change occurred in 1920 when Frederick Sadler, a Chichester corn merchant and miller, achieved a secret take over by buying all the shares in the "Bognor Hotel Company." This Company owned not only the hotel but also a triangular site across the road, where eventually the Esplanade Theatre stood. It would appear that this purchase was only a speculation as he sold it again three years later to a Mr. James who came from Winchester.

In 1938 the Royal Norfolk had a visitor who they possibly did not really want it was the German Ambassador and there were discussions in the press about his "Hitler salute." One can imagine the trouble that this visit caused at that time.

Towards the end of the war in 1944 the hotel was again sold this time to the Bognor Town Council for £28,000. The local papers took delight each weekly in trying to anticipate both the long and short term plans for the hotel and surrounding area. There were also numerous meetings with town's people as decisions were being made. However by 1946, with no real decision being made and an offer of £35,000 being put forward for the hotel, the council decided in September of that year to accept this offer and the Royal Norfolk again had new owners. Richard Costain Ltd., of London seemed to be another speculator as in 1948, following a period of closure; it was opened by Selected Hotels Ltd. for the Whitsun holiday. The new owners also made enquiries about the Royal Crest.

Following a quiet period the 1960's arrived, a period when it would appear that "the provincial hotel business was dead," according to the local press. It was a time when hotels were closing or changing use and the Royal Norfolk was not to be left out. The council at this time was also placing impracticable plans on the hotel and there was a possibility that it could be demolished and the site developed into flats - the trend of the 1960s.

However Selected Hotels Ltd. retained the hotel until 1962 when they sold to a private purchaser,
John Maule and his wife.

He was a hotelier by trade and brought a new era with his advertisements for 'gracious living.' He also changed the names of various bars to the Dolphin Room and the Zodiac Bar. Sadly, within 4 years, he was taken ill and the hotel was sold to the Grand Kerry Hotels who, in 1971, built extensions to either side of the hotel to provide us with the imposing building we have today.

The Porter Group took over the hotel in 1979, an independent family group who also owned six other hotels. Advertisements from that time announced that local people were to be encouraged to use the hotel's two outdoor pools, tennis courts etc. During their ownership the Porter Group installed computers hoping to encourage overseas visitors.

Also during this time the hotel changed from a 4

star to 3 star hotel. They believed this would help with their marketing strategy, which included an increase in conference and seminar businesses. They also tried to erect flats in the grounds but this was rejected.

Sadly, in 1984, the press uncovered information, this time it was about a massive fraud that was being carried out by the management of the group, and this meant new owners, yet again.

The trend of new owners has continued and we now have a new couple working hard to bring the hotel back to its former glory. The work is starting from within so may not be too noticeable at the moment. However, you could always go down and have a drink on the lawns, or even a cream tea whilst enjoying the view - as visitors did in the 1830's and watch with interest and encourage the new owners to return this imposing hotel to it's former glory.

• TELEPHONE 01243 823 820
• EMAIL: info@bognor-local-history.co.uk