When the Bowes-Lyon family gave Bognor The Den

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One of the famous families in the town, who owned property, was the Bowes-Lyon family, of who the Queen Mother was a member and frequent visitor to the town to see friends.

It wasn’t until 1862 that Claude Bowes-Lyon commenced his association with the area when he purchased Sudley Cottage – later known as Sudley Villa – in Bognor where it became his seaside residence. He ultimately enlarged the premises and was known to have given it a nickname –The Den – as a pun on his name of Lyon. He very soon became a member of the Bognor Local Board of Improvement Commissions.

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He also became a Sussex Justice of the Peace and Chairman of the Bognor Promenade Pier Company.

This was the company, which became responsible for the building of the Pier. It was his wife, Hon Mrs Lyon, who performed the driving in of the first pile of the pier on April 23 1864. On completion of the pier Claude Bowes-Lyon performed the opening ceremony of this new seaside attraction for the town on May 4th 1865.

Just four months after this event he inherited the title of 13th Earl of Strathmore on September 13 1865, on the death of his brother and took over the family seat of Glamis Castle in Scotland.

As a mark of their respect, the people of Bognor provided a dinner for the new Earl of Strathmore, at the Assembly Rooms in Sudley Road.

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The dinner was arranged by the gentlemen and tradesmen of the town and was attended by approximately 100 people.

A report in the paper of 1866 recalled: “The banquet was intended as an expression on behalf of the inhabitants of Bognor generally of the estimation in which the noble lord has been held.”

During his residence in Bognor Claude Bowes-Lyon contributed greatly to the welfare of the town, both by his hospitality and by the interest he took in all matters that affected those connected with the town.

The feeling that the townspeople had for him seems to echo the thoughts that so many people held for the late Queen Mother.

While making visits to Glamis Castle, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore appear to have resided in Bognor for a few years, as the following reports indicate, telling of their entertaining of Bognor gentry and residents. It was known that there were bands playing on the lawns, and many people would be involved in playing croquet.

A report from June 18 1868 talks of ‘A Gay Day at the Den’, when a number of local people were entertained with the band of the 3rd Hussars who were ‘quartered at Chichester’. Their guests were also encouraged to have a game of croquet. Following this event it is reported that the couple travelled north to Glamis Castle.

A further report in 1869 described how ‘Cards of invitation were issued by the Earl and Countess of Strathmore among the gentry of the town and its vicinity for a visit to The Den, when a meeting of a happy kind took place at his lordship’s marine residence”.

Apparently the event ‘made the day a happy one to all assembled’.

Another reminder of Earl Strathmore’s association with the town is Den Avenue, which was developed within The Den grounds in the 1920s. Also still surviving today is the original gate lodge situated on the corner of the High Street and Den Avenue. It is a flint faced building and was erected by him.

The Den, which was originally built in the period 1827-30 for the Earl of Arran, had had numerous residents prior to Claude Bowes-Lyon. Following their departure a number of people seemed to own the house occupying it only during the summer seasons. Eventually in 1890s it was purchased by the Grisewood family who remained there until it was sold in 1922.

For a period until 1926 it became known as The Den Hotel. The advertising for the hotel exploited the fact that the Early of Strathmore had at one time been the owner, and during this period visitors were reminded of “the garden parties, fetes, etc” that occurred there with previous owners.

Situated on the High Street are a number of smaller unusual a home, one of which is called Strathmore House and is another flint faced building.

Next door there are smaller cottages and to the rear of these there are now flats, which were considered to be in premises that had been converted from sheds on the farm belonging to the Earl of Strathmore’s estate.

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