Bognor Regis Pier

Bognor Regis Pier – Its History and Impact on the Town

Bognor Regis pier is a Grade 2 listed building and a stand out feature of the town’s seafront. Built in 1865 by Sir James Fox and J.W. Wilson, the pier was developed and expanded over the years and has one of the best preserved examples of Edwardian Pier Theatre architecture (built 1910/11) remaining in the UK. 

Bognor Regis pier is a Grade 2 listed building and a stand out feature of the town’s seafront. Built in 1865 by Sir James Fox and J.W. Wilson, the pier was developed and expanded over the years and has one of the best preserved examples of Edwardian Pier Theatre architecture (built 1910/11) remaining in the UK.

Bognor Regis was the only pier built by Sir James Fox – he is better known for other projects including designing a novelty locomotive train for the Rainhill Trials. Fox’s abilities attracted Robert Stevenson who employed him as an engineer to build the Watford tunnel on the Birmingham to Euston line but his major work was the construction of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition and its subsequent dismantling and rebuilding at Sydenham Hill (Crystal Palace) for which he received his knighthood.

Bognor Regis was the first pier built by William Wilson in 1865 followed by Teignmouth in 1867 and Hunstanton and Westward Ho in 1870 – only Bognor Regis and Teignmouth piers survive to this day. Bognor pier is thought to be the first example of a screw piled pier, not hammered, the large flat flanges preventing any further sinking of the columns into the sand and clay.

The cost of the pier was £5,000 and consisted of an 18 ft (c 6metres) wide jetty extending 1000 ft. seaward, with a ticket paybox at the shore end.

The pier was opened on 4th May 1865 on a wet Thursday afternoon at 2pm by the Hon Claude Bowes – Lyon (the Queen’s Great Grandfather), the band of the Royal Sussex Light infantry played and 150 flags festooned the pier. The admission fee for a stroll on the pier was 1d (one old penny). The owner of the pier at that time was the Bognor Promenade Company Ltd.

The Opening

A Report in the West Sussex Gazette – 11th May 1865

The opening of the pier took place on Thursday last, and it is with much pleasure that we record a circumstance of such importance to the town of Bognor. An attractive pier is one of the best indicatives of the future prosperity in such places, and is an unquestionable sign that the welfare of the town is being looked after by some of the inhabitants who have influence and means.

Its beauty and healthfulness are positive claims for which the town and neighbourhood are likely to reap from it. Bognor has for long been a very favourite watering place with a few of the select, and since it has received the advantages of a line of railway connecting them with the extensive and important system of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company, it has gradually but quite perceptively increased in importance.

It is now about eighteen months since a few gentlemen started the movement to obtain this much desired object and it has throughout been a matter of surprise to the originators that a greater amount of interest was not manifested and that so little support have been rendered in their undertaking.

In April last year the first pile was driven, and about five weeks since the erection was completed. It is exceedingly pretty and has a chaste and light appearance, and from the most reliable information we could glean, we believe it to be a substantial piece of work.

The pier, as predicted in the article by the Gazette, was to have a major impact on the town.  Once established, Bognor’s growth was quite rapid, the population of Bognor in 1801 was 700; by 1831 this had grown to 3000.

A factor underpinning the further growth of the resort was its railway station opened in 1864 on what was a sandy, undeveloped coastline. Consequently, small numbers of wealthy Victorian figures established large homes in the area at the seaside resort developed by Sir Richard Hotham.  The opening of the pier in 1865 cemented this reputation as a prime destination on the south coast, offering an entertainment hub.

Pier expansion and development

By 1870, the pier had run into financial difficulties and the Board (later to become Bognor Urban District Council) claimed it to be a failure and it was sold to a Rev Gilbert, but he failed to maintain it and in 1874 the ratepayers petitioned the Board who agreed to buy it. The pier became the property of the Board on the 6th December 1876 for a cost of £1,200.

It was then subsequently sold in October 1908 to a new company, The Bognor Pier Company Ltd for just 10 shilling and sixpence (52p).

It was during the ownership by The Bognor Pier Company that significant development of the pier started to be realised. The Company led by Messrs Michael and Alfred Carter invested £30,000 on widening the deck prior to the construction at the shoreward end, of a building that contained a magnificent 1,400 seat theatre, a restaurant, shops and a 600 seat cinema, the first in the town. Stars that performed at the theatre included Charlie Chaplin, Gracie Fields, Charlie Chester and Norman Vaughan.

In 1936 a new landing stage was added at the seaward end of the pier to replace the original built in 1903. The new landing stage was 109 ft. by 19 ft. (approximately 33m by 6m) with three decks and two large landing stages to cater for paddle steamers and speedboats.

Subsequent owners of the pier were H Buxton of the Gaiety Theatre Manchester (1945), The British Novelty Pier Company (1966), Harrison (Automatics) Ltd, a local family company in 1976, during whose ownership the pier became a Grade II listed building in 1989.

The current owner of the pier is Bognor Pier Leisure Ltd who purchased it in 1996. In 2005, the company invested over £200,000 to add further floor space to the first floor of the main building and extended the nightclub, Sheiks, into the ground floor.

Sheiks nightclub in the former Upper Circle retains many vestiges of the original theatre whilst the Legends Bar, opened in 2014, retains features of the original art deco design and stained glass windows.

Originally over 1,000 ft. (305m) long with 2 theatres, a miniature railway the pier was a natural destination point for thousands of visitors to the town. Diving displays became a regular spectacle throughout the summer season. 

World War 2 – HMS St Barbara

In World War 1, 200 men were billeted on Bognor pier, but during World War 2, Bognor Regis Pier was renamed HMS St Barbara. It is thought to be the only pier given HMS status.

HMS St Barbara was commissioned as an anti aircraft Firing Range and Gunnery Training School for Royal and Merchant Navy personnel. It was used to train personnel in the use of 20mm Bofors, two pounder Pom – Pom and 20mm Oerlikon cannons used on small naval vessels such as requisitioned trawlers, as part of the  Royal Navy Patrol Service and various merchant vessels.

The main theatre was used for training lectures with the small upstairs theatre used for aircraft recognition. There were four officers and 74 ratings for HMS St Barbara.

A section of the pier was cut to stop a potential German invasion using the pier to land stores and equipment. The landing stages at the seaward end used for gunnery training.

The subsequent repairs to reconnect the pier after the war is considered to be a contributor to the pier’s weakened structure due to the poor quality of steel available after the war.

A Bognor Regis resident, Mrs Joyce Allis, who served at HMS St Barbara as a Leading Wren at the Training School helped keep the Gunners fed carrying food over by a rope bridge from the landward end.

An information plinth and memorial plaque remembering HMS St Barbara can be found at the front of the pier.


During its 150 year plus history, the pier has been subject to the elements that the weather and seas can muster and has suffered extensive damage to the main structure.

The main damage occurred in 1964 when the pavilion end of the pier had to be severed from the main structure and in March 1965 the pavilion was lost in an overnight storm.

On the 24th October 1999, a large section of the end of the pier fell into the sea with national newspapers reporting on the event.

In 2008, a further 20 foot section (6m) had to be cut away due to a weakness in the structure.

More recently in 2016 Storm Katie as it was named roared in and caused damage to the sheds at the rear of the pier.

Today in 2019, the pier is just 300ft (90m) long compared to the original structure of 1,000 ft (300m) created over 150 years ago in 1865


Inaugurated in nearby Selsey in 1971, the first ever Birdman rally was launched by George Abel as part of fund raising for the Royal Airforces Association of Selsey.

The Birdman competition transferred to Bognor in 1978 when it had outgrown its original location. The Birdman achieved international interest with entrants travelling from all over the world to compete.

In 2003, Sir Richard Branson (know today for his balloons travel, Virgin aircraft and more recently commercial space travel) sponsored the event and jumped off the pier in front of a crowd of spectators eager to see the tycoon’s attempt at manpowered flight.

In 2008, the Birdman competition was transferred to Worthing due to question marks over the possible safety of the contestants landing in shallower water,

after 60 ft (18m) of Bognor pier had been removed by the owners due to storm damage in March 2008

The shortened pier was judged safe for the event in 2010 and the event subsequently returned to Bognor. Today the competition remains a challenge in terms of its funding and plans are for it to be held every two years.

In 2013 Bognor Pier Trust C.I.C was created to examine the possibility of bringing the pier into community ownership and obtain funding to maintain and repair the substructure of the pier. In 2017 Bognor Pier Leisure Ltd advised that it wished to retain ownership of the pier and continue to invest in its operations on the pier including new decking. Bognor Regis Pier Watch, a community Group, was formed in 2017 to maintain a watch on the piers condition.

A stroll along the pier provides visitors with an outstanding vista of over 50 miles from Selsey Bill in the West to Beachy Head on the East including the new Rampion wind farm off the coast between Worthing and Shoreham.

A large photo of Bognor Regis pier with its miniature railway, seaward pavilion. landing station complete with high diving board and performing diver can be seen at the Bognor Regis Museum. Well worth a visit.


Paul Wells for use of his brochure “A Pier into the Past” 2017. Gerard Young – A History of Bognor Regis