Nostalgia: The story of The Steyne and the fountain

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Have you taken a walk along the seafront recently, to The Steyne?

It is certainly looking well cared for and colourful.

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It is an area that is very easy to walk or drive past without really taking the time to stop.

However one of the considerations of this particular area is to try to ascertain when many of the buildings overlooking The Steyne were built.

The plans were originally laid out in 1820 and within eight years the town guide was proclaiming The Steyne ‘contained some excellent lodging houses’ and the guide continued that it was considered to be ‘the pleasantest spot in Bognor.’

Not all of the properties were built at one time, but the west side would appear to contain many of the oldest.

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The initial intention was to provide good accommodation for visitors to the increasingly-

popular seaside resort.

It was in 1824 that John Smith built the ‘Bath House’, which was, at that time, the only public establishment in the town where one could enjoy a cheap, hot bath.

These proved popular with the increasing number of visitors at the accommodation available in The Steyne and the town.

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During the 1890s, the seaside resort of Bognor continued to develop. Visitors were coming into the town from London and other places in the south of England to enjoy the seaside.

However one shopkeeper, James Hughes, a chemist in West Street, was very concerned that the large number of children who visited the area could not obtain even a drink of water.

James’ shop in West Street looked down the length of The Steyne to the seafront promenade, a site he believed would be ideal for a drinking fountain.

As with many new ideas, others did not perceive his suggestion as being of any importance, as many of the council in 1897 were more concerned with the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s 60th anniversary as queen.

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James Hughes was very keen on his suggestion and started a fund to raise the necessary cash, and at the same time ‘Bodie of Aberdeen’ selected a design.

The fountain was to cost a staggering £111 although the local water company did agree to supply the water at half price. The site was confirmed to be at the end of The Steyne, against the edge of the promenade.

On July 6 1898 the new drinking fountain was eventually unveiled, and was to be a permanent reminder of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations, for the residents and all the children who came to the seaside, as well as supplying the much-needed drink of water.

The Steyne continued to be a popular area for visitors, not only for accommodation but the prospect of a stroll through the gardens from West Street, down to the seafront.

In line with many seaside resorts around the country it was becoming fashionable to have ‘open spaces’ running down to the sea, such that it was copied from resort to resort.

However it was decided eventually to move the drinking fountain from its original place on the promenade looking into The Steyne.

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I have been unable to ascertain why, (does anyone know?), but it was removed in 1928, to the corner of Waterloo Square, where today we have the crazy golf green.

It remained there and was shown on numerous postcards of the town, allowing visitors to send home their messages describing their holidays by the sea.

With changing needs, in 1956 it was decided that the corner of Waterloo Square would be more suitable for an entertainment marquee.

At that time the fountain was dismantled and removed, in pieces, to Hotham Park, where it lay undisturbed until 1966.

At this time the Natural Science Society sought its whereabouts and asked for the fountain to be re-erected.

As with the first idea of the fountain, the council was not that interested and showed no enthusiasm for the request.

At one of the council meetings held to discuss this project, it was felt perhaps the ‘drinking cups’ would not be hygienic.

The chairman of the council said: “It is a horrible thing – perhaps we could put it behind some hedge…”

Another council member thought: “The council should be thinking of the year 2000 instead of going backwards.”

Another committee member thought it should be retained so that visitors to the resort could ‘see one of these funny things’.

Yet another councillor thought it was the sort of thing that would be found in a churchyard. There were other suggestions, which included selling it to the Americans or giving it to the Bognor Regis Society, which had remarked: “It was a lovely piece of architecture.”

In 1966, another comment was that the fountain would be a reminder of Victorian times.

Things went quiet until 1968 when Mr RJ Seymour, a local builder, was looking through his collection of old photos of Bognor and came across one of the original ceremony and again asked the council for the whereabouts and re-erection of the fountain.

This time the council had no objection; however there was to be no public money available for this project, and as with the first project, members of the public were asked to contribute and a fund of ‘sixpences and shillings’ was started.

There were numerous locations discussed, one of which was to be in front of Hotham Park House, another site was Marine Park Gardens.

Eventually a location was agreed upon and, in January 1969, all the sections of the fountain were moved to the current resting place, on the promenade end of The Steyne, and erection was completed by March of that year.

It is still there, an interesting piece of architecture and a reminder of Victorian times.

The Steyne itself is also a very interesting area of the town and I would suggest that it is well worth a visit to see the gardens, and maybe just sit awhile and imagine all the people who have visited this particular area since the 1820s.

Not much has changed in The Steyne, visually, although in the 1990s new buildings and flat conversations have taken place, but the builders have endeavoured to blend in with its historical past.

Today houses are sold as period townhouses and the virtues of the area are extolled to future purchasers.

While the pace of life has changed, as has the pattern of visitors, this area still remains a quiet place, where during the day it is possible to sit and enjoy the gardens.

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