From Bobby’s to Bon Marché - shopping in Bognor

An advert for Staley's
An advert for Staley's

Each week we talk about things, places, buildings. This time I thought I would talk more about a shop.

I am talking about Bobby’s, so I thought I would look at its history through to its merger with Reynold’s. Today this premise is Bon Marché.

An advert for Bobby's

An advert for Bobby's

If you walked past the High Street entrance to Bobby’s you would have seen the word ‘Staley’s’ inscribed with tiles on the entrance floor. This was the first clue to the long history involved. At the start of the 19th century there was a small shop in the High Street namely George W Staley, who was in fact a general draper, milliner and ladies outfitter. This shop opened in 1888 and the business was conducted by George Staley himself for 45 years. Their advertisements extolled the virtue of their shop with comments like “largest selection of readymade costumes in Bognor”.

GW Staley was a great believer in advertising and also in advising his customers of the way to gain the best wear out of products purchased from him. For example, in 1908 he advised his customers: “Blankets woven in pairs wear chiefly at the ends and middle. Sew the ends lightly together like a roller towel, then fold at the top can be constantly changed and the blankets will wear equally all over.” Thank goodness for duvets!

Staley’s was also one of the main shops in the town that was able to supply gowns for many of the local events. One advertisement in 1923 announced that a black chiffon velvet gown had been reduced from 8 guineas to 4 guineas and also they had reductions in the price of taffeta frocks.

All the terminology of this particular shop definitely comes from a different era. Can you imagine an advertisement today saying: “The extraordinary bargain quality of these offers makes an early personal visit advisable”?

The shop has seen many occupants over the years

The shop has seen many occupants over the years

Originally housed at 25 High Street, Staley’s was to expand and move across the road to occupy the newly built premises on the corner of London Road – Nos 1 and 2 – which opened on March 5 1914, at the site we know today as Bon Marché.

There were many developments around the town at this time, for example this corner site had formerly been occupied by Camden House for many years. It was a tea-place which was apparently greatly enjoyed by visitors to the town and for numerous children it was used for their Sunday-school treats.

Eventually progress arrived; the house was demolished and a new series of shops was constructed. The sales particulars advised prospective purchasers that these premises were to be numbered 1,3,5,7, and 9 which then meant London Road had to be renumbered. This is then a warning to those people trying to carry out research, numbers do change!

If you take the time to look above the shop fronts at this particular corner in Bognor, you can see the evidence that they were built as a group, by the distinctive look of their roof line, which has not changed over the years.

In 1959 a major change was to take place; the Staley family sold their shop to a new owner, Mr FJ Bobby, who at the time was running a fashion shop in Tunbridge Wells. He received a phone call from a friend in Bognor Regis advising that Staley’s shop was for sale. FJ Bobby was in fact the grandson of the founder of the Bobby Group, which during the 1950s was part of the Debenhams Group. Following a closure of 6 months the newly named store was opened in June 1959 and named F.J. Bobby (Bognor) Ltd. This store was then to continue in the traditions of the previous owners with the aim of “Serving the residents of Bognor Regis.” Many people have told me that one of their specific memories of this store was the overhead canisters which were used to propel your money to the cashier, which would then be returned, overhead, with your receipt and change.

By the end of the 1970s there was an amount of modernisation taking place, which included a new staircase at the rear, after the removal of a large chimney stack. Whilst various events were taking place with these two stores, another store was also making its own history in the town; Reynolds.

A well-loved and long established store which was originally opened in 1867 in West Street. By 1870, business had increased and they expanded into the High Street, where they remain today. By 1888 they were to have new neighbours at 25 High Street - GW Staley’s. Reynolds’ first store displayed a sign stating that they were “Auctioneers, appraisers, house agents, cabinet makers, upholsters and undertakers”.

In these early days Reynolds offered a very comprehensive range of goods including curtains, furniture repairs, polishing, a bedding department, linoleum, and of course their funeral services. They have continued through the years to provide a “courteous service to the customer”, in a very changeable environment.

As we sat and listened to the plans that were being made for major changes that were taking place in our town centre in 2001, it was interesting to surmise how the original families of Reynolds and their neighbours Staley’s would have viewed today’s amalgamation of these established businesses in the town. With the changing shopping trends of us the shopper, it is pleasing to see that the standards and aims of a bygone era will remain in the town centre, rather than moving to one of the modern out of town shopping complexes.

It was interesting to watch the progress made over the months, sadly this did not continue. We next heard that Seasons was up for sale and was soon to be opened by Bon Marche, who are still with us today.

Where are the tiles for Staley’s? They are in the Bognor Regis Local History Museum in West. The museum has closed for the winter months to enable the volunteers to prepare for 2017.