There is a building in Bognor that always evokes memories – The Pavilion.
It was situated in West Street, at the northern end of Waterloo Square and started life as an aeroplane shed.
In the early 1920s, the Norman Thompson Seaplane Factory in Middleton on sea, became unnecessary, due to cancelled orders.
Apparently its aeroplane sheds were for sale for £1,000.
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.
In the Observer & West Sussex Recorder, April 1923, there was a detailed description of the Pavilion by Oswald A Bridges, engineer and surveyor with the council.
It stated: “Bognor is one of the few towns which have benefited by the purchase and adaptation of buildings used in the Great War.”
The council had originally considered having a Pavilion in the town in 1914, on newly purchased property near the Rock Buildings.
The 1923 newspaper report said the building measured 173 feet in width and 142 feet in length and contained 23,900 feet of floor space.
It could seat 3,500 people in comfort and had a ballroom for 1,500 people with the best dance floor in the south of England.
From conversations I have had with local people, it would also appear that when the dances were at their height, the majority of Bognor residents met their partners there – where do they go now?
The Pavilion was to be host to all the entertainment events in the town during the 1930s and included all the popular stars of the time such as Gracie Fields, Paul Robeson, Max Miller and the Western Brothers.
It was such a popular venue that in addition to concerts, exhibitions and most other town events were also staged there.
The Pavilion catered for many people with a sports interest, even throughout the winter providing indoor bowls, and badminton.
Many people have memories of the Pavilion, including one lady who in 1980 wrote a poem about it.
It included the memory: “Inside the ceiling was hung with looped silk and the great dance floor was polished like glass.”
Her poem also described the council meetings, choral events, stage shows and boxing in addition to the gala nights.
The Pavilion continued to be very popular, especially with their party catering, until 1948 when disaster struck.
On July 12 a fire started in the base of one of the towers, and it spread to the right hand side of the roof before the fire brigade managed to get it under control.
The town’s people, who could not believe what was happening, watched in amazement.
One 15-year-old boy, who had returned from his school in Chichester by train, recalled seeing the black smoke while waiting for the train in Barnham.
He wrote in his diary: “At 4 o’clock the Bognor Pavilion caught fire. After school I went to watch it.
“Terrific lot of flames. Hundreds of people watching.
“I helped to clear things away from the Pavilion. Firemen got it under control about 5.30pm.”
For the next 16 months there were many discussions with the council on the future of the Pavilion including a reconstruction scheme costing in the region of £76,000.
However none of the plans came to fruition and eventually it was sold, prior to its demolition in 1949.
However it is not only the Pavilion that evoked so many memories. There were other features around this area, namely the boating pool in the shape of England and Wales.
The Marchioness of Cambridge had first visited the town in 1929 and eventually bought a property in Craigweil.
She was accompanied by her daughter Lady Mary Cambridge when she opened this new pool on April 12 1937.
The first model yacht to be launched was named Lady Mary.
The pool was to be named the Princess Elizabeth Boating Pool, and was to be enjoyed by children for many years.
Another feature within the Pavilion gardens was a sunken garden, where a fountain played into a lily pond.
This had been formed in the mid 1930s when two 18th century terraces were demolished and the area became part of the Pavilion gardens.
Above this was a rustic bridge, and it was often written that this was a “beautiful area and a joy just to be able to sit”.
In addition to the above, there was also a refreshment area and very pleasant restaurant, which was attached to the side of the Pavilion and was much frequented by town people and holidaymakers alike.
I was not in the town when all the facilities were available, but am bowled over by the amount of memories that are always evoked years later, by the mention of the name the Pavilion.
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