A Short History of Bognor Regis

Bognor is one of the oldest Saxon sites on record in West Sussex. The town is recorded in AD 680 as Bucgan ora meaning Bucge's shore. Bucge was one of the few Saxon women to have a place named after her. Over the years this Saxon-landing place became a small fishing village, and as with many places the name changed with time. In 1275 it was recorded as Buggenore and in 1405 as Bogenor.

Very little remains of Bognor's ancient history. A Roman farmstead was discovered in Felpham in 1965 and in the mid-seventies an Iron Age settlement was uncovered during construction work.

At the end of the 18th Century in 1785 Sir Richard Hotham began his grand scheme to create a select up market resort of Hothampton on the site of a small fishing village called Bognor when he purchased 1,600 acres of land for development. Building began in 1787.

Hotham hoped George III would visit his new town Hothampton Crescent, known locally as "the Dome" was built specifically for his use. Alas he never came; the only member of the Royal family to frequent the town was Princess Charlotte (daughter of King George IV). The Dome now part of Bognor Regis College. The small dome from which the building gets its name can be seen in the picture

Hotham House built in 1792 by Sir Richard as his private residence is still regarded by many as the best Georgian house in Sussex. Sir Richard died on 13th March 1799 and was buried at nearby South Bersted. Although his dreams were only partially realised Sir Richard had created a thriving seaside resort, Bognor was the very first English resort specially developed for bathing.

In 1753 a Dr Richard Russell published a book titled "A Dissertation on the Use of sea-water in the Diseases of the Glands". The fashionable upper and middle classes flocked to the south coast to bathe in the rejuvenating salt water. The bathhouse, no. 9 Steyne Gardens was built in 1824 and was used by the more up market visitors to Bognor. The sea baths were situated in the basement of the house. "Hot baths cost 2 shillings, Warm baths 1 shilling and sixpence, Cold baths 1 shilling". Those not so well positioned in society could have hot seawater delivered to their rooms at 4 pence a bucket. Once established Bognor's growth was quite rapid, the population of Bognor in 1801 was 700; by 1831 this had grown to 3000.

On 1st June 1864 the Barnham to Bognor branch line opened, the railway had finally reached Bognor, many thought this would change the town forever but it simply didn't happen. Bognor remained a rural town run by and for the landed gentry and upper middle classes that came here for their health and relaxation, just as Sir Richard Hotham had intended. The station we see today was completed in1902; the previous stations had burnt down.

There was great controversy in 1907 when the Railway Company broke its agreement with the town authorities and started encouraging day-trippers to Bognor. Many believe that was when the town started its slow decline. In 1910/11 the population of Bognor was 2000, in summer this was boosted by 5000 day trippers.

In 1928 King George V came to Bognor to convalesce after a serious illness. Although he actually stayed at Craigweil in nearby Aldwick, Bognor was given the title "Regis" (of the King) in 1929. Despite the Kings now famous remark "Bugger Bognor" the Royal Family in fact liked the town, Queen Victoria referred to the town as "dear little Bognor".

Here are a few of the many Blue Plaques that can be found in Bognor, a map of where to find these plaques is on display at the Bognor Regis Museum.

For those that like to know these things, Bognor is the setting for Jane Austen's "Sandition".

The life and work of William Blake

Bognor's Blue Plaques
Explore Bognor’s heritage at The Bognor Heritage Trail

The King arrives in Bognor, to stay at Craigweil House in Aldwick.

Sussex by the Sea
by Conor Shipsey

This marching song was composed in South Bersted in 1907 by William Ward Higgs, a solicitor from Birkenhead who had spent much of his working life in London, but then moved to live for a number of years in Hollywood House in South Bersted. The jaunty rhythm drew inspiration from Kipling, and was adopted by the Royal Sussex regiment as its unofficial anthem and popularised as a marching song during the First World War.

Since then, the lyrics have been adapted and adopted for a number of different purposes: as sporting anthems (Brighton and Hove Albion, Sussex County Cricket Club); being turned into a protest song in 1939, (forming part of the Sussex Peoples March of History.).

In the past fifty years, its popularity has remained undimmed. The name Sussex by the Sea is now used as the official tourism site for Bognor Regis, and many local music bands continue to use the song to this day it as their unofficial anthem.

William Ward Higgs, died in tragic circumstances, by taking his own life at the age of 70 in 1936. A grave commemorates his life in South Bersted. But his ashes are kept in South Norwood crematorium.

The song in its entirety is too long to reproduce here. A flavour of the lyrics (the fifth verse) can be found below.

Far o'er the seas we wander,
Wide thro’ the world we roam;
Far from the kind hearts yonder,
Far from our dear old home;
But ne'er shall we forget, my boys,
And true we'll ever be
To the girls so kind that we left behind
In Sussex by the Sea.

Copyright © A White