NOSTALGIA: Glory days of the Pavilion, years before ‘windy alley’

AN AREA of Bognor Regis which always creates discussion on its merits or otherwise is the Queensway, often referred to as a ‘windy alley.’

This complete area was for many years the site of the Merchant Taylor’s Convalescent Home and was just one of the many such homes available in the town.

As people’s health improved, the need for these large constructions declined, as did the need for people to leave places like London to recuperate.

It was therefore inevitable that the Merchant Taylor’s and other homes closed.

The area occupied by the Merchant Taylor’s was large and had a boundary of high walls and trees covering a major central area of the town.

Over the years I have met numerous people who had relatives stay at the home, and also recently I met a lady who had relatives who married in the chapel connected with the home.

Demolition took place during the 1950s, at a time when there was great optimism about the future. Nationally, building projects were taking place and therefore Bognor Regis was not to be left out.

According to the press in 1959, the new development of Fitzleet in the Queensway was going to provide “Seaside bed-sitters, 15 storeys high.”

In a London paper it was suggested that in 1960, thousands of people would visit Bognor Regis and find work had started on ‘the new town’ being constructed. It was described as being more than a shopping centre, and it was to provide homes as well.

Also situated in this vicinity was the Pavilion, remembered by so many.

It was situated at the northern end of Waterloo Square and was for numerous years adjacent to the Merchant Taylor’s Convalescent Home. There 
was in fact a small road linking West Street and Crescent Road in this area.

It would appear that at the end of the first world war, seaplanes were no longer required in such numbers, and because of a number of cancelled orders, the Norman Thompson seaplane factory in Middleton-on-Sea, became unnecessary. As a result the hangars became available for purchase.

I have acquired copies of a newspaper report in the Observer and West Sussex Recorder for Wednesday, April 4, 1923, which had a detailed report on the provision of a ‘Bognor Pavilion Garden Scheme’, subtitled the ‘utilisation of an aerodrome building as a Pavilion for a coast town.’

The engineer and surveyor for Bognor Urban District Council of the time was Oswald A Bridges, Lic, RIBA. The report had been reprinted from the Journal of the Institute of Municipal and County Engineers.

The report in 1923 records that the ‘purchase by the Bognor Urban District Council and conversion into a pavilion, of an aerodrome building which formed part of the Middleton Aerodrome Works at Middleton (situated three miles from Bognor). The building was built on the edge of the coastline.’

The report carries on with the information that the Urban District Council had first considered a pavilion garden back in 1914 when property in Rock Gardens and Aldwick Road, to the value of £6,150 was purchased, with a view to it being pulled down, and the site used for the erection of a pavilion. The site at that time was considered to be too near the sea.

The Merchant Taylor’s Ladies’ Home, which was originally known as Hothampton Place, was immediately north of Waterloo Square. The area was nicely sheltered from the prevailing south-west winds, and the surroundings were fairly good and could soon be greatly improved upon by the planting of more trees and shrubs. It was thought that in time Hothampton Place would be pulled down, as according to a writer of the time, it should be.

I recently came across another report of a Mr Gibbs who recalled that the Ladies’ Home of the Merchant Taylor’s had come on to the market in 1920; the council had taken steps to acquire the site. They obtained consent from the Ministry of Health to buy the home and surrounding grounds to develop as council houses.

However, the government wanted the council to erect specific types of houses, ie the cheapest possible.

The council decided against this as the site was in the centre of the town and they felt it would be a disgrace if it was spoilt.

One of the council committee members, a Mr Quintus White, reported he had been over to Middleton on business and heard that the aeroplane sheds of the Norman Thompson Flights Company were being sold.

One in particular was large and was for sale at £1,000 and he said he thought it would be ideal for a pavilion on the acquired land. The home and land was purchased for £7,530 with some additional land in Waterloo square for £1,000.

Mr. Gibbs reported he went to look at ‘aeroplane sheds. In 1921 the Bognor Urban District Council purchased the largest and had it re-erected at the north of Waterloo Square and this was to become the very popular Pavilion. When it was confirmed that the Pavilion was purchased and would be erected on this site, there was great opposition to its proposed site.

In the Observer and West Sussex Recorder, April 1923, there is a detailed description of the ‘new’ Pavilion by Oswald A Bridges, the engineer and surveyor of Bognor Urban District Council, in which he recalls ‘Bognor is one of the few towns which have benefited by the purchase and adaptation of buildings used in the Great War’.

When the aircraft shed was purchased, it was erected and was given a lath and plaster front and re-equipped as a pavilion with a ballroom, concert hall, refreshments and tea lounge. It measured 173ft in width and 142ft in length with 23,99ft floor space. The span of the main principal support was 130ft and the height of the apex was 50ft, which helps to give the impression of its overall size. It had seating for 3,000 and was the venue for a variety of entertainments including concerts, exhibitions, bands and dances; also during the winter, indoor tennis and badminton were played.

There were, of course, large sliding doors in the construction, which were used as hangar doors, these were placed facing Crescent Road, but because there was no need for these doors, they were bricked in.

The 1923 article concludes with information on the gardens that were to be constructed around the ex-hangar, including ‘a rose pergola, rustic bridge and Roman gardens. The present greenhouse has been re-erected for the cultivation and rearing of plants and seeds for the beautifying of the grounds. The paths have been constructed from the old rubble pulled down from the boundary walls. The paths are outlined with electric lights on special nights. Trees and shrubs have been planted to ornament the ground and to screen any part which is unsightly’.

After many years of enjoyable use, the building was hit with a fire in 1948, yes, 66 years ago, which destroyed one of the ornate columns at the front of the Pavilion and ultimately the building was demolished to make way for more modern constructions.

It would be interesting to read the views of the town residents in the year 2030 on the redevelopment of the Bognor Regis of today, when taking a historical look at the town.