Sir Richard Hotham

Sir Richard Hotham

Sir Richard Hotham is widely recognised as the founder of Bognor Regis as a seaside resort. Richard Hotham was born in the city of York on 5th October 1722. Little is known of his childhood days in Yorkshire but he eventually moved to London where it is thought he learnt his trade as an apprentice hatter. It is from this beginning the he is often referred to as “Hotham the Hatter” and celebrated as such by The Hatters public House in Queensway Bognor

Richard Hotham was born in the city of York on 5th October 1722 and was the youngest of five children of Joseph and Sarah Hotham.

Little is known of his childhood days in Yorkshire but he eventually moved to London where it is thought he learnt his trade as an apprentice hatter. He opened his shop in Serle Street just off Lincolns Inn Fields where he traded as a hatter but also selling hosiery to upmarket clients. He promoted his business by means of small round copper tokens the size of one old halfpenny. These were stamped with “RD Hotham, Serle Street, Lincoln’s Inn, Sells Hats”; and on the reverse “and stockings of his own manufacturing wholesale and retail”. This innovative form of advertising proved a success and he later moved to a property on The Strand.

It is from this beginning that he is often referred to as “Hotham the Hatter” and celebrated as such by The Hatters public House in Queensway Bognor Regis.

Richard Hotham married his first wife Miss Frances Atkinson, also from the north east of England, in December 1743. She was aged 25 years and it is thought she might have been the daughter of his employer at the time. Their wedding took place by licence at the chapel within Chelsea Hospital. They were later to have one son called John in 1751. Sadly, however, he died after only one day.

His business was doing well and around 1760 he extended his interests to charted shipping with the East India Company. His role at the East India Company was as a Ship’s Husband with the responsibility for the manning and maintenance of four ships under his control. He is later described as a Principal Managing Owner of a number of ships including the East Indiaman.

It was during this period that his first wife Frances died in 1760. Shortly after he married Barbara Huddart in April 1761.

Hotham decided to use his  increasing wealth and started buying land and property. He bought Moat House Farm in Merton from Henry Pratt in 1764. He rebuilt and renamed the property Merton Place that later became the home of Admiral Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton. The Wimbledon area was known to Pitt, Wilberforce and Earl Spencer (who’s name was to follow Sir Richard Hotham to his development of Bognor).

His business prowess had not gone unnoticed and on 12th April 1769 he was awarded his Knighthood by George III in part for his business achievements, but mainly for presenting to the King a loyal address disassociating the people of Surrey from the political agitations of John Wilkes at the time.  He was later appointed a Magistrate and Sheriff of Surrey and he served on the Wimbledon Vestry Committee.

Sir Richard was obviously a good business man and forthright with his opinions, writing 2 pamphlets on his experience and how to improve the workings of the East India Company, which by that time had become a formidable commercial and political force of the period.

His first work was a pamphlet in 1773  “Reflections upon the East India Shipping” and was followed by “ A Candid State of affairs relative to East India Shipping for the year 1773” which was published in 1774 and documented “bad management in Indian and Chinese waters and a wanton waste of shipping space”.

Sir Richard’s second wife, Lady Barbara Hotham as she became after his knighthood, died in 1777 aged just 44.

In 1780 Sir Richard Hotham entered national politics organising the campaign to secure Admiral Keppel’s election as well as standing in the Southwark constituency, which he polled the highest winning the seat. Sir Richard did not contest the 1784 election but  polled the lowest in the by-election later that year.

During his time in office he voted consistently with the opposition, voting for Parliament Reform in 1783 and the East India Bill, later that year.

Following his defeat in the by-election and with failing health he returned to Merton Place. Like so many of his social class at the time he decided to follow the advice of Richard Russell, who in 1750 wrote a paper on the benefits of sea water in the treatment of diseases of the glands, thereby starting the trend of the Sussex coast as seaside spas.  Even George, Prince of Wales had joined the rush to the seaside staying with his uncle in Brighton

To aid his recovery Sir Richard, at the age of 62, travelled south to the coast with his friend Captain John Blanchard. Why they ended up in Bognor, a tiny fishing hamlet at the time, is unknown. They found accommodation in a farmhouse in the hamlet and stayed for the rest of the summer.

Clean air, blue seas, away from the hustle and bustle of city life worked wonders. He returned to London in the autumn and came back to Bognor the following year and by 1786 was back to full health and decided he needed a summer house by the sea.

With nobility already established close by in Goodwood and Arundel and the restorative qualities of Bognor, he decided that Bognor was the place for him to settle and provide his next opportunity in property.

In 1786 he purchased the farmhouse where he had been staying for £200 and set about rebuilding it into his first mansion with local materials and labour. He also established that Bognor’s clay soil was a suitable material for making bricks and he could make lime locally from the chalk beds.

Sir Richard’s idea was to create a resort by the sea, which would attract nobility away from the increasingly noisy Brighton and Margate. A tranquil resort he was to name Hothamton. The foundation stone of his new mansion was in fact the “foundation stone of a Public Bathing Place at Bognor’.

By 1788 he had completed his mansion that he named Bognor Lodge.  He then started his ambitious plan to create Hothamton with the purchase of land along the seashore and west of Bognor Lodge extending to the site of the current Royal Norfolk Hotel and part of Aldwick. It is estimated he acquired over 1,600 acres of land.

He first built a pair of terraced houses with sea views close to what is today Waterloo Square. He then built his Hotel that was later expanded with a library, reading room, a milliner’s shop, toy shop and a warm sea bath.

This was then followed in the early 1790s with the building of the upmarket element of his resort near to his home Bognor Lodge. He built his second home Chapel House, which we know today as Hotham Park House and the centre piece of his plans Hothamton Crescent, today located within the University campus off Upper Bognor Road.

The Crescent consisted of three mansions known today as Dome House, Mordington and St Michaels. Dome House was fit for nobility 123ft long with fifty rooms, a tea room under the dome with sea views and Hotham’s coat of Arms above the entrance.

The objective of such grandeur was to attract King George III, or his son the Prince Regent to Hothamton. Today it is the town’s only Grade 1 listed building and was described as one of the finest examples of building of the period by Anthony Dale the architectural historian. The building of seven houses named Spencer Terrace followed Hothamton Crescent.

His property empire expanded to farms in Felpham, The Fox Inn Felpham, the lime kilns at the end of Limmer Lane Felpham, as well as land and property in Flansham, Aldwick, South Bersted, Middleton, a coach house and stables in Chichester and Sir Richard later becoming Lord of the Manor of Aldwick. Chapel House his second home was completed in 1792.

Sir Richard continued to promote Hothamton by invitations to breakfast parties and hiring boats and a band for the entertainment of his guests.

By 1794 the resort was becoming firmly established, being referred to in ‘Hay’s Guide to Chichester’ with its second edition subtitle ‘and the fashionable and elegant Watering Place of Bognor’.

Sir Richard’s ambition of bringing royalty to his bathing resort came in September 1796 when the then Prince of Wales visited his mistress Lady Jersey who was staying at Dome House. The Prince Regent’s daughter Charlotte was a summer visitor at Dome House from 1808 to 1811 after Sir Richard’s death.

By 1797, it was estimated Sir Richard Hotham had spent in the region of £160,000 building, maintaining and promoting the resort of Bognor.

Sir Richard Hotham died on the 13th March 1799 aged 76 never seeing the  completion of his project of building a seaside resort for nobility.

Today the fruits of his vision, Hotham Park House, Dome House, Hotham Park itself as well as Spencer Terrace are superb reminders of the visionary man. The granting of the Royal suffix to the town in 1929 by George V to create ‘Bognor Regis’ is a worthy accolade for the town created by Sir Richard Hotham.

Acknowledgements A History of Bognor Regis – Gerard Young 1983 – Wandle Treasures – Bognor Regis Local History – Sylvia Endacott 2014 – The History of Parliament, The House of Commons 1754 -1790  L Namier, J Brooke 1964