The trail explores the western area of the town starting at the pier
The trail explores the western area of the town starting at the pier; the trail takes visitors through one of the most interesting conservation areas of the town. It looks at the links between the western part of town and Sir Richard Hotham’s vision for the town. The trail covers some 200 years of the town’s history and development ending at Marine Park Gardens and the remains of the Mulberry Harbour section from World War 2.
Walk the Trail
Distance: 0.9 miles
Time: 40-50 minutes
Bognor Regis Pier
Commence the trail at the Pier and strolling to the end of the Pier on a clear day provides views from Selsey Bill to the west and Beachy Head to the east, a vista of around 50 miles on a clear day.
Built in 1865 by Sir Charles Fox and J W Wilson at a cost of £5,000, the pier was opened on 5th May by the Hon Claude Bowes- Lyon. Today the pier is circa 300 feet long but in its heyday it was 1,000 feet long with a pavilion and landing stage at its seaward end.
Today the pier still retains key elements of the Edwardian Theatre, within its Sheik’s nightclub and other art deco fixtures in its Legends upstairs bar.
At the front of the pier, a plaque commemorates the role of the pier in WW2 when the pier was named HMS St Barbara for gunnery training with anti aircraft guns. During the war part of the pier sub-structure was cut, with a rope bridge connecting the gun emplacement at the seaward end to the landward end. The rebuilding of this section after the war is thought to have been a cause of weakness in the pier’s structure due to low quality steel available after the war. Storms in 1965, 1999, and 2008 resulted in the loss of major parts of the seaward end of the pier.
From the pier cross the road at the pelican crossing into Waterloo Square. Just behind the palmist is the weather station still used today to record the weather in Bognor Regis. Sunlight measurements recording Bognor Regis’s exceptional hours of sunlight have now been moved to the roof of Butlin’s Hotel.
A restrictive covenant prevents building on the open grounds/ gardens of Waterloo Square. On the eastern side is the Waterloo Inn dating from the 1800’s and on the western side are buildings dated from about 1820 with balconies characteristic of the building style of the period. (Note particularly the bow-shaped example at No.17)
At the end of Waterloo Square across the road are the old sunken gardens, currently maintained by the Community Gardeners of Bognor Regis. The site is part of a planned redevelopment of the area named the Hothamton Linear Park encompassing the current car park, playground and sunken gardens.
The Royal Hotel
Heading back towards the seafront and turning right brings you past The Royal Hotel, built in 1888 as the Pier Hotel, it was subsequently renamed the Royal Pier Hotel. Complete with its metal balconies overlooking the pier and sea it was an attractive building in it’s heyday. In 2019 the building is up for sale with plans to develop it into a restaurant and apartments.
Continue a short distance from the Royal Hotel and you enter The Steyne. At the entrance to the gardens is the drinking fountain, originally located on the promenade almost opposite to its current location; the drinking fountain commemorated the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.
The buildings and seafront location of The Steyne demonstrates why the area became so popular, most of the buildings being considered of special interest and designated a conservation area.
Famous visitors are said to include Sir Robert Peel, Lewis Carroll and the actress Gertrude Lawrence.
Buildings of special note are Wellington House No. 6 (not architecturally but for its association with Lewis Carroll) , Gabriels Hall No. 25, Richmond House No. 27 and the Bath House No.9. The Bath House (also known as the Pier View Hotel) was built in 1824-5 as furnished apartments and sea baths could be taken in the basement, exploiting the idea of the time of the benefits of seawater on many ailments and promoted by Sir Richard Hotham. Customers of the Bath House were charged two shillings (10p) for a hot bath, one shilling and sixpence (7.5p) and one shilling (5p) for a cold bath.
Bognor Regis Museum
Continue along up The Steyne and turn left onto West Street and follow this round towards the seafront where a few metres down on the left you will find the Bognor Regis Museum.
Run by volunteers of the Bognor Regis Local History Society (BRLHS), the museum contains a wealth of information, artefacts and knowledge about the town and is well worth a visit. Members of the society prepared much of the information for the Bognor Regis Trails and we are grateful for the permission granted to use the original Town walks as the base for the trails. Copies of the original walks by Ron Iden of the BRLHS can be purchased at the Museum.
Opposite the museum hidden above a shop is a Blue Plaque for Joseph Witham. He became a marine artist and from 1874 he became known for his paintings of ships. Some of his work can be seen at the National Maritime Museum.
Walking back towards the seafront, Portland House on your left was built in 1816. The house was built by Joseph Pipson the ostler and tapster of Hotham’s original Hotel of the time.
The Royal Norfolk Hotel
Situated at the bottom of West Street is the Royal Norfolk Hotel. The hotel replaced an earlier hotel built by Sir Richard Hotham, which was closer to the sea and burnt down in 1826. Famous guests include the exiled Emperor Napoleon III n 1872, Queen Alexandra and her sister Empress Maud of Russia.
On the entrance gate to the hotel is a blue plaque to commemorate the time that Tony Hancock spent at the hotel while filming “The Punch & Judy Man” his last film.
The White Tower
Continue along Aldwick road west and you will be greeted by the outstanding White Tower. The White Tower is one of the most iconic and unusual buildings not only on this trail but also in Bognor Regis. It was built in 1898 by John Cyril Hawes, a renowned architect and builder of churches in Australia and the Bahamas. He also became a Franciscan monk.
The listed Building was the most recent to receive Blue Plaque status in 2018, the timing of the plaque was arranged to coincide with a visit to the house by followers of John Hawes from Australia. The White tower was designed and built as a summer house for Mr Hawes and his two brothers and contains many of the original features thanks to being kept in the Hawes family until 2010. Not only is the size of the four storey building impressive but the artistic features such as the animals supporting the hood over the front door add to its amazing character.
Although relatively unknown in the UK, John Hawes is well recognised in Australia where he designed 44 churches and priest houses in Western Australia although not all were built. A museum dedicated to his work has been opened in Geraldton Western Australia in 2016.
Sylvia Endacott, Local Historian and a key contributor to the Bognor Regis Heritage Trail Project organised the visit by the 17 Australian fans of John Hawes to The White Tower in 2018.
Across the road from the White Tower are two cottages named Caretakers Cottage and Amnesia Cottage to add to the quirkiness of the area.
Site of the Esplanade Theatre
Walking back towards the promenade and through the car park adjacent to the skate park is the site of the original Esplanade Theatre. The site was part of the Royal Norfolk Hotel grounds and sold for £60 in 1901. Originally a bandstand was commissioned and by 1913 the venue was so popular that it was enlarged and deckchairs made available.
By 1945 the venue had a canvas roof and tiled floor and renamed the Esplanade Concert Hall. Further improvements were made in the 1950’s and the named changed again to the Esplanade Theatre in 1951. Stars who appeared at the Theatre included Tony Hancock, Roy Castle, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and Bill Pertwee.
The Theatre continued into the 1970’s but changing tastes resulted in the Theatre being closed and demolished in 1980.
From the Skate Park walk along the promenade to the west, past West Rock Gardens where you will find the attractive buildings of Marine Parade.
Marine Parade comprises some beautiful buildings characteristic of old Bognor.
No. 1 with its chateau style roof was rebuilt in 1891; No. 2 is a regency style cottage with No. 3 and 4 built in 1850 by Edward Curtis. No. 5 built later with two storeys added c1890 to match the style of No 3 and 4.The whole terrace was listed for its architectural interest in 1973.
A further couple of minutes walk past the sailing club is Park Terrace with its buildings reflecting the building style of the period. Built in the early 1870’s, the buildings were part of a larger plan named Victoria Park Estate, which was to extend north away from the seafront.
It is worth noting the plaster heads at roof level on the terrace in nearby Park Road.
Visitors now have the option of returning along the promenade back to the Pier and town or to carry on and explore Marine Park Gardens a further 5 minutes walk along the promenade to the west.
Marine Park Gardens
The council purchased the site of the gardens during a sale of William Fletcher’s land in 1926. William Fletcher was responsible for developing the trees and planting in Hotham Park in conjunction with Kew Gardens. The gardens were opened by him on 23 July 1935. Marine Park Gardens are well planted with shrubs, grasses with a large feature pond at the far end of the gardens.
Beyond the gardens is West Park with cafe facilities and playground.
Mulberry Harbour and Bognor Rocks
Visitors should take the opportunity to cross over the beach where at low tide the remains of a concrete section of the wartime Mulberry Harbour can be seen on the beach. The section broke loose in a storm prior to being towed across the channel for the D Day Landings, and have remained there ever since, reminding us of the important role played by Bognor Regis and the area during WW2.
Also visible at low tide is the offshore reef known as the Bognor Rocks. The rocks are made up of calcareous sandstone and historically were an important building material. One of the earliest references to the Bognor Rocks was the recording of them on a map by John Speed in 1610. Speed’s map is particularly interesting as it identifies Selsey Peninsula, Pagham, North and South Bersted, Flansham and Felpham as well as the Bognor Rocks.
The Pier and Western Bognor Regis trail ends here at the edge of Aldwick Parish to the west. Visitors can stroll back to the town or car parks eastwards along the promenade. There are a number of pubs and restaurants worth sampling along the way.
End of the Trail
The Pier and Western Bognor Regis trail ends here at the start of Aldwick parish and visitors can stroll back to the town or car parks eastwards along the promenade. There are a number of pubs and restaurants worth sampling along the way.
Thanks to Ron Iden and the Bognor Regis Local History Society for use of “A series of Three walks around Bognor Regis – Walk Number One”, A Brief History of Bognor Regis 2008 and reprinted 2011 by Ron Iden.
The series of three booklets were combined into one publication: Bognor Regis; Buildings of Interest, by Ron Iden published by BRLHS in 2010.
Sylvia Endacott for her work on the White Tower and also her 2016 study of Blue Plaques of the town “Words in Stone and Steel – Blue Plaques, Memorial and Foundation Stones around Bognor Regis”