William Fletcher

William Holland Ballett Fletcher 1852 - 1941

William Fletcher is an important figure in the history of Bognor Regis. His influence came from being a major benefactor to the town during his life but he also left the town with the wonderful gardens that we know as Hotham Park, where he lived for over 40 years in what we call today Hotham Park House.

William Fletcher is an important figure in the history of Bognor Regis. His influence came from being a major benefactor to the town during his life but he also left the town with the wonderful gardens that we know as Hotham Park, where he lived for over 40 years in what we call today Hotham Park House.

His father John Ballett Fletcher bought the house, then called Bersted Lodge, on 18th May 1857 for £8,500. It was during his ownership that the chapel built by Sir Richard Hotham was demolished, but he left the clock tower that today is a key feature of the Park.

John Fletcher only lived a further six years after buying the property and it was his son William Holland Ballett Fletcher who later inherited the estate.

William Holland Ballett Fletcher was born on October 29, 1852, in Broadwater, West Sussex, and was only 11 years old when his father died. His mother managed the estate for a number of years after her husband’s death. With the guidance of his mother, he went on to St John’s College in Cambridge from where, in 1875, he obtained his BA and an MA in 1879.

During his period at Cambridge he met and in 1875 married his wife Agnes Caroline Nicholls. William and Agnes lived in Worthing, where they had two children, John in 1879 and Edward, in 1881 who sadly died before his first birthday. John died in the First World War.

During his time at Worthing he was elected to West Sussex County Council in 1893 and between 1894 and 1896 he became the Mayor of Worthing.  He was also elected to the Bench of the Justice of the Peace for West Sussex.

William Fletcher inherited the title of Lord of the Manor of Aldwick as well as the estate from his father in 1899, who had bought the title in 1835.  William changed the house’s name from Bersted Lodge to Aldwick Manor as it was on land that formed part of Aldwick Manor Estate of which he was Lord.  The parish of Aldwick did not exist before the 1930’s.

In 1906, William was co-opted as chairman of the Bognor Urban District Council and in 1910 he became a county Alderman. 

Despite being an influential member of the Council and a contributor to many charities it was his interest in trees that remains today as the lasting legacy for the town. We remember him through what we know today as Hotham Park, with its rich horticultural collection of trees, shrubs, ornamental plants and boating lake.

William worked closely with Kew Gardens and at one period his plantings were compared with Kew as being an outstanding collection of species.  The boating lake we see today, was his garden pond that was stocked with huge goldfish. A cork oak he found at Goodwood is planted near the house to commemorate his wedding to Agnes.

His wife Agnes Fletcher was also interested in nature but she was best known for her interest in reptiles and amphibians rather than trees and shrubs.  She was a life fellow of the Zoological Society of London. Her collection included pythons, boa constrictors, small crocodiles and giant lizards.  According to Gerard Young, she kept them in the billiard room and overwinter the housemaids had to fill hot-water bottles, wrapped in blankets, to keep them warm.

Agnes died in 1939 at the age of 84 and within 2 years William also died, aged 89, ending the Fletcher association with Hotham Park House as we know it today, which had lasted over eighty years.

Their deaths ended the private ownership of the house and park we know today. Following William Fletcher’s death, the house was requisitioned during the war and later was leased to the Ministry of Pensions.

Having no surviving heirs, William made over the residue of his estate to be shared between three hospitals, The Royal Sussex County Hospital Brighton, Worthing Hospital and the Royal West Sussex Hospital Chichester, leaving no money for a permanent memorial stone.

He had strong links with North Mundham and its church because his brother, John, was the Vicar there, and there were many mentions of William in parish magazines when he was involved in either providing cash or attending functions to raise money for the parish.

To celebrate the contribution he made to the town, in 1959 Bognor Regis County Secondary School was renamed the William Fletcher School but, the amalgamation with the Grammar School in 1967 resulted in it being renamed the Bognor Regis Comprehensive School (today simply the Regis School)

In the 1970s plans and funds by members of the Bognor Regis Local History Society enabled a headstone for his grave at North Mundham to be erected, on May 10th 1980.  Again, the local history society became involved in 2014, when it arranged for his gravestone to be cleaned to preserve it as a suitable memorial.

Today, the only reminders are street names Fletcher Way and Fletcher Close, which it is assumed were named after William Fletcher.

John Holland Ballett Fletcher

William and Agnes’s son, John, attended the same college as his father and grandfather at St John’s in Cambridge where he obtained his MA before becoming a barrister in 1902. He practised both as a defence and prosecuting lawyer at the Old Bailey. John was a keen photographer and travelled widely across East and West Sussex, mainly by bicycle, photographing towns and villages, leaving a legacy of over 1500 photos taken between 1896 and 1914. Examples can be seen at http://www.westsussexpictures.co.uk.

In 1914 John joined the armed forces as World War 1 commenced and he became a Lieutenant of the 7th Battalion of the London Regiment. Sadly, he was killed on May 13th 1915, just two months after joining the front line and is buried in the town cemetery of Bethune in France. The death of their only remaining son was to have a profound impact on the family.

Acknowledgements – Gerard Young:  A history of Bognor Regis (1983) Changing Times Lord of the Aldwick Manor An Article from Bognor Regis Post by Sylvia Endacott 17th March 2017 – West Sussex Records Office:  Article on John Holland Ballett FletcherHotham Park Heritage Trust