Bognor Town

The Arcade

As I walk around the town I find it quite interesting to try and imagine what a particular area must have been like before today’s construction were completed.

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One of the most well known areas of the town today is that of the Arcade which runs from the junction of London Road and High Street into Belmont Street. However for Bognorians during the late 1800’s this area would have been the impressive gardens of York House, a Doctor’s residence situated on the corner of York Road.

With the general expansion occurring in the town, one of the most prolific builders at that time was William Tate, who was known as the pioneer of Bognor – but that is another story. William purchased the land adjacent to the house on which to build the impressive Arcade. The French first developed this type of construction in the 1800’s, with the first British Arcade being built in 1817 in London. As the town expanded, it was not unusual for ‘modern’ developments to be constructed, thus the inclusion of an Arcade in any town was seen as being indicative of the town’s prominence.

Starting in 1901 William Tate was to take the garden area and commenced the building of the Arcade, as we know it today. His plan was for this Arcade to join with a later construction that was planned, to eventually provide a walk through to the seafront by way of the new Kursaal Building. He completed the Arcade building in 1902. This new facility was opened on 26th July, and it is therefore now celebrating its 100th anniversary. The building incorporated the Regency York House as the East side of the structure. It was, at that time, the largest area of privately owned premises in Bognor; it comprised 24 shops and a similar number of offices in the area known as Arcade Chambers. In 1903 the local press announced to Bognor residents that the Arcade was “assuming a thoroughly business like appearance for the season, with the majority of shops being occupied.” In the early days there was a Commissionaire on duty at the entrance to the Arcade, and he was to be seen resplendent in his gold braided uniform. He could also be seen holding open carriage doors for the gentry of the day. At Christmas he would change his uniform for that of Father Christmas and would sit with his bran tub dispensing presents to the children.

When the Arcade was opened, nearby areas of the town had yet to be built, for instance opposite was London Road, which was still developing. The shop on the corner, where today we have Seasons’ was not built until 1914. On the opposite corner we had the Congregational Church that had been built in 1869 and where St. John’s Church was erected in the 1880’s. As you can see much development was taking place in the centre of our town.

By 1910 the local guidebooks were extolling the virtues of the town and described the arcade as a “very tasteful and useful structure lined with high class shops.”

We tend to take for granted the siting of many of our well-known shops and trades, without realising that historically they have been sited elsewhere. One such premise is that of the Post Office which occupied an area of the Arcade, where today we have the Blue Print Centre. It opened in 1903 and remained there until approximately 1926 when it moved into the High Street.

During 1929 the town was always waiting for news of King George V and any news of Queen Mary who was often shopping in the town. One of the shops she visited was that of Toyland, which had opened in 1902 and was operated by a Miss Margaret Hunt and her sister. This particular shop remained within this family until 1977 when it finally closed largely due to the changing trends and the increasing number of larger toy outlets, which provided a much larger range of goods than could be sold from shop in the Arcade.

In 1930 there, was a very serious fire on 5th November, which apparently started in the British Legion Club on the upper floor. The fire caused extensive damage to 14 shops and all of the offices were completely destroyed. Therefore at a cost of approximately £25,000 a major restoration of the area took place, without changing the outward appearance of this historical building.

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In 1985 a book was published called, “Shopping Arcades, a gazetteer of extant British Arcades 1817 – 1939.” In this book there is a history of arcades and the Bognor Arcade is described as of “Edwardian seaside architecture, of single storey structure with glass gable ends.” The High Street entrance was noted as being “between corner turrets of twin three storey blocks, built of brick and timber with tiled spires and finials,” the view which we are still able to see today.

We should of course take a look at some of the shop owners over the years and included in this would have to be Mr. A. E. Reynolds, who was a “gentlemen’s hatter, tailor and hosier.” The lease for this shop was with this branch of the Reynold’s family from the opening in 1902 until 1969.

The collecting of postcards was a popular hobby from the 1890s and these postcards give a great insight into the town’s history. Another popular item to collect was a crested piece of china or a piece of Goss China, especially as a seaside sovenier. In Bognor we had our own agent for Goss China, Mrs. S. Piper. She owned a shop in the Arcade and another in the High Street from 1902 until 1939. Her advertisements advised that they sold, “an assortment of shapes and models” this referred to the various designs of china that were available for the holiday makers to purchase as a souvenir of their visit to the seaside. Why not have a look through your collection of china and see if you have a piece that has a notation on the base stating, “made for S. Piper Bognor.” I have a commemorate cup and plate depicting Craigweil House which was produced when the King came to recuperate.

Changes have continued throughout the history of the Arcade. We have seen changes in the types of traders.

Who can remember the Wimpy Bar, for so many years the best place for a burger? On this site we now have “Howards” and at the seaward end “Crumbs” both providing sustenance for visitors and residents but a far cry from the early trades in the Arcade.

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Now we have an Arcade that has stood the test of time for 100 years. It is a world away from the type of out of town shopping Arcades we think of today. However with it’s wide range of trades it is still providing a necessary and enjoyable service to the town as it did 100 years ago