06 Jan Bognor Regis Train Station, then and now..
The development of the Creative Digital Hub at Bognor Regis train station is a hot topic of conversation for us, and we hope, the town’s creative community. Plans to transform the two spacious Victorian waiting rooms at the train station have been drawn up and we’ll be posting regular updates on progress throughout the spring. As with any town, the history of Bognor Regis is closely linked with its train station, so we met up with local historian, Sylvia Endacott to find out more.
Sylvia moved from Plymouth to Bognor Regis in 1969, to work as a Personnel Manager at the recently opened Butlin’s Holiday Camp. In 1979, she joined the town’s history society and her interest in and involvement with the story of the town’s past evolved from there. Sylvia’s enthusiasm and research are often supplemented by the town’s residents and visitors sharing their memories, experiences and knowledge of the area with her. As Sylvia says, ‘everybody has a story to tell’, and it is the human connections and experiences that have turned a mild interest into a valuable resource for the town.
Bognor was originally a very small fishing village and there are mentions in the 11th Century Domesday Book for Felpham, Pagham and South Bersted church. However the real story of Bognor Regis begins in 1787, with the arrival of Richard Hotham and his plans to build big houses to attract royalty and the aristocracy to the town. Hotham’s aspirations, which are still in evidence today, were influenced by the royal connections and development of Brighton further along the coast and created housing, education, and job opportunities for the town. However, it was with the arrival of the railway in 1864 that the town’s story, and fortunes, really started to change.
All along the South Coast seaside resorts were springing up, with investors and entrepreneurs seizing the opportunities, and the plan to build a railway line to Bognor Regis began in the 1820’s. Rather than remain ‘the stunted town of today’, as described during the speech at the opening of the station, it was hoped that Bognor Regis would expand into a second Brighton. The land for the proposed railway station building was owned by the Duke of Richmond and when the station and railway line were finally opened in 1864, Bognor Regis was at last ‘on the map’.
The town rapidly became a tourist destination for visitors arriving by train to enjoy the health benefits of the sea air, bathing and walking along the 1,000-foot Pier, which quickly followed in 1865 (the nineteenth of its kind in the country). In the 1860’s, Bognor Regis was a two-hour train journey from London, on the Horsham line. In 1912 a return ticket cost three shillings and the last train back to London was at 12 minutes past midnight. Sunday School outings increased Bognor’s popularity further still with records from 1912 showing that 2,000 people arrived in the town on a Sunday.
The existence and fortunes of the station buildings themselves have their own story to tell. Initially, built of timber, the first buildings didn’t survive a storm, were re-built (again in timber) and then didn’t survive a fire, which led the railway company to consider using stronger, more permanent materials: bricks and mortar. In 1902, the present railway buildings were built at a cost of £68,000, which was funded by the railway company and must have been a resounding indication of the anticipated income potential. Also, the generous allocation of space suggests the sizeable number of people they needed to accommodate and provide for. During the 1930’s, the buildings included a Station Master’s flat and there was even a hairdresser on the main concourse – hard to imagine today!
In the 1950’s, memories from a local resident record that there was ‘a huge waiting room, a café, barbers, WH Smith bookstall, tobacco kiosk, seating in the middle of the concourse and an enquiry office’. More recently, the space has been home to the Railway Members Club, a market, gallery, and now, the planned Creative Digital Hub.
Sylvia is an absolute ‘mine of information’ about Bognor Regis and the local area and because she has so much knowledge about the past, we wanted to get her thoughts on today and the future:
Q: What’s the best thing about Bognor Regis today?
A: The location. We are very lucky to have the sea but also be surrounded by countryside. There is also access to many towns from Southampton to London and along the coast.
Q: How would you like to see Bognor Regis in ten years’ time?
A: Developed as a positive, seaside resort.
Sylvia regularly contributes to Bognor Regis Post, Bognor Regis Observer, Sussex Views, Felpham in Focus and the Bognor Museum Newsletter.
Below are more Bognor Regis railway related facts:
July 1913 over three days the number of day visitors arriving by train:
9th July: 4,350
10th July: 2,250
11th July: 1,179
1912-13: The town tells the railway company: no more trains – too many people
Easter 1918: there were insufficient trains from London available for all the passengers wishing to travel to Bognor Regis
1929: King George V spends 13 weeks in Bognor Regis recuperating from illness. The present Queen visits her grandfather and plays on the beach. King George V then allowed the town to use ‘Regis’ as part of its name. Bognor Regis is the last town/village to be given this honour
1932: Butlin’s arrives in the town and the holiday camp is built on the sea front in 1960
1950’s: Still busy resort town
1960’s: 65 hotels in the town
1960’s: 300 daily commuters to London
1980’s: 138 daily commuters to London
1997/8: 330,000 passengers a year in and out of the station
2013: The number of passengers a year in and out of the station increases to 620,000
September 2018: Planned opening of Chichester University’s new Engineering & Digital Technology Park
‘If you were taken to Bognor Station you would know directly your eyes were unbound that you were by the sea’.
This is a quote from “The Fortnight in September” written by R.C. Sherriff and published in 1931.