Former mayor looks back at two towns

Prince Elizabeth Boating Pool at Bognor Regis.
Prince Elizabeth Boating Pool at Bognor Regis.

THREE-times Bognor Regis Mayor Sylvia Olliver likes to boast she was “made in Bognor and born in Chichester”.

She began life with a foot in both camps and so it has continued, leaving her well placed to judge the ways the two contrasting towns have changed during her 80 years on the planet.

“My parents lived in Bognor Regis but mother was supposed to be having a difficult birth with me,” Sylvia explains.

“In those days, you had to have money to get into nursing homes, so she went to her parents in Orchard Street in Chichester to have me.

“It turned out not to be difficult. Evidently they had the maternity nurse there that they had for every one of the Daniels’ births. My mother’s maiden name was Daniels, and then two weeks later we went back to Bognor.”

Since then, inevitably, so much in life has changed - not least in Bognor’s case, the huge number of treasured buildings the town has allowed itself to lose.

Sylvia is proud of the town, keen to get people to go there and insists she wouldn’t want to denigrate the place. But much of the town’s history, she says, has been a history of loss.

“I started on the council to try to save some of the buildings, but my first loss on getting onto the council in 1990/1991 was the loss of the beautiful bus station.

“It is now a car park. But it should have been used as a 30s cafe or an arts centre. It was typical of the era.”

Also gone are the amusements along the sea front: “In that part, there were some sunken gardens and the lovely old tea houses. The character has vanished. The character was that it was a seaside town. It was not a town that tried to be like any other. It had guest houses on the sea front and you could get a tray of tea to take down to the beach. We had a 16-foot drop from the promenade down to the sands. Now you just walk out onto the pebbles but the sand has gone.”

All these are changes Sylvia chronicles in her book Memories Of Bygone Bognor Regis And Chichester which came out seven years ago and is still available directly from Sylvia on 861094.

Perhaps one of the most surprising changes Sylvia recalls is that the people of Chichester used to go to Bognor for their clothes shopping - a fact which reflects the biggest change in Chichester in her lifetime.

“Chichester has gone up market, really up market. When I was a child, it was Bognor that had all the good clothes shops. It was Chichester Festival Theatre that was the big change.

“I am certain that the CFT has altered Chichester in that way.”

But it hasn’t just been a question of gain for Chichester: “I think Chichester has lost a lot of its neighbourliness. It has lost that charm of people knowing the greengrocer, of just knowing the names.”

Sylvia well recalls on childhood trips to her grandmother’s in Chichester selling her grandma’s jam jars for a few pennies so she could go to the pictures.

“I think things are a bit different now!”