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NOSTALGIA: ‘A lovely building, but one belonging to a past era’

  • by Sylvia Endicott
 

How many people can remember Cambridge or Surrey House in Bognor Regis?

Not many of you, I suspect, so that is why I thought this week we could have a look at the area around Cambridge House. These buildings were situated at the seaward end of Clarence Road and on the promenade.

Each has its own place in the history, development and redevelopment of the seafront.

The building originally constructed on the Cambridge House site in Clarence Road was known as the Richmond Boarding House when it was built in 1840. It continued under this name and usage until it was acquired in 1905 by a trust that was responsible for the Victorian Convalescent Home on the seafront. The Richmond Boarding house eventually became known as Surrey Children’s Home, which opened in 1905.

Princess Alexandra of Teck – sister-in-law of the future Queen Mary – officially opened the Surrey Children’s Home on April 6, 1906. It was a real royal occasion; the town was decorated with flags and garlands and three triumphal arches were erected. One arch in London Road, another in the High Street, and the third on the seafront was built specifically by the local fishermen.

Even the local sand artist got in on the scene by inscribing a welcome to Princess Alexander of Teck on the beach, unfortunately what he inscribed is not recorded.

Princess Alexandra and her husband arrived in the area by horse and carriage, at 12.55pm amid great jubilation in the town. Following a tour of the building and signing herself simply ‘Alice’ in the visitors’ book, she and her husband left the town to return to Arundel in a horsedrawn carriage from where they took the train back to London.

The Surrey Children’s Home became a home for children and ‘women with infants’. This building, which stood in its own grounds, was to accommodate a matron with staff to care for 15 children and eight women and infants. It would appear that Sir Max Waechter, who was a Richmond banker, provided the money for this home. He was also involved in the provision of money for the building of another two homes on the promenade.

A new Cambridge House was built in 1930 on the same site following the closure and demolition of the previous building. After eight months of construction, Sir Jeremiah Colman, who had provided £12,500 towards the total cost of £13,000 to erect this building, officially opened it on May 18, 1931. Sir Jeremiah was the Chairman of J & J Colman Ltd, the mustard company.

The architect was GH Whittaker, FRIBA who had added extensions to the previous Surrey Children’s Home. It was built by a company named Trollope and Colls, from Dorking which used Dorking brick for the construction.

Cambridge House was to become a very popular children’s holiday home.

It was leased to London County Council in 1949 and the number of children who regularly arrived here by coach fortnightly to convalesce became a regular sight in the town.

Many of these children would experience their first sight of the sea and would then enjoy their visit while recuperating from illness. For some it would be a holiday to take them away from the hardships experienced in London.

There was a report in the press in September 1963 about a young girl who was leaving her parents at County Hall, Westminster. The young girl had four pigeons with her, and her father explained, ‘they were to be released on her arrival in Bognor’. He continued, ‘they will return home in two hours’, hence he would then know she had arrived safely. In today’s climate, the girl would no doubt have used her mobile ‘phone!

By 1982, times had changed; safety regulations had reduced the number of children who could be accommodated at Cambridge House. However, the number of children requiring a visit to the seaside home to convalesce had declined therefore the home was closed.

The ensuing actions caused much discussion and consternation in the town as it was decided to demolish this well-constructed building. One of the construction team described it as being a ‘nice solidly-built building with plenty of years in it and it should have a future’. But this was not to be.

Around the corner from Cambridge House on the promenade was the Victorian Convalescent Home, which was also known as the Victorian Convalescent Home for Surrey Women and Surrey House, Bognor Regis.

This construction on the seafront was always reported as being a ‘fine building’, but it was also to become a victim of changing times and in 1980 fell the way of many buildings in the town.

Its history began in July 1900 when the Duke and Duchess of York – later to become King George V and Queen Mary –arrived to officially open the home in memory of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. A further home was also built alongside and named the Princess Mary Memorial Home.

These two eventually amalgamated and were called the Victorian Convalescent Home but, possibly due to the length of their name, became known as Surrey House.

Principally the people to use this home were from the county of Surrey who were able to come to the seaside for ‘a rest and a change’.

Rising costs and the decline in the need for convalescent homes meant it was eventually to close. It remained empty for quite a time and fell into a decayed state and according to the press was used by ‘tramps and squatters’. A far cry from the celebrations that would have greeted Sir Max Waechter when he provided the means for this building.

It is difficult for us to comprehend that this building was conceived as being ‘old-fashioned’ as recently as the late 1970s.

The trustees remarked ‘the circumstances of 1980 made the continual use of such a property unpractical.

‘When it was realised that it could no longer be run as a convalescent home, because of rising costs, various other uses were considered but turned down as either not being sound or sensible.’

The spokesman continued: “It was a lovely building but it was a building of an era long past.”

Today we may well have preserved this building and converted it into flats, in a similar manner to the excellent conversions of the original buildings of Sir Richard Hotham on the Upper Bognor Road. Following the demolition of Cambridge House and the Princess Mary Memorial Home buildings, they were replaced by the modern Berkley Court which one councillor described as being ‘diabolical’.

When the plans were first displayed, another councillor thought it was ‘an extremely poor effort for a seafront site of such importance’.

When we look into the development of the town, it is interesting to see how many convalescent homes there have been, some quite memorable and to which we shall return.

The whole structure of society and the provision for the sick have changed.

Today we now discuss in detail the number of flats and residences provided in our area for the retired. Retirement now appears to be the major employer in the town, in comparison to the convalescent homes, which once played a major part in the town’s history in the early part of the last century.

 

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