History was written in the cards

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Bygone Bognor is a phrase often used and of course it can mean so many things to so many people, according to their age.

This week however I thought we could take a look at the centre of the town early in the 20th century with the aid of some popular postcards of that time and a town guidebook.

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I should first mention that these cards have some interesting facets, such as the one which shows St John’s church on the right of the picture, but clearly notes the area as Station Road, hence a word of warning when researching local history!

There is another card in this series, which shows the seafront, but notes the building as Blake’s Cottage. Another point to note is that these cards have numbers and the initials LL on them.

These cards are in a range produced by Louis Levy, a French photographer, who from around 1905 established an office in London. It is believed that Louis travelled the countryside to either take or obtain photographs that he could produce into his own particular style of postcard.

They are very distinctive and today very collectable. If you go to any postcard fair you will see people with their checklist, cross-checking their list and seeing if the card for sale is one they have been seeking for months.

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It is also possible to purchase ‘LL’ cards with a scene that is available from another postcard producer; one such is a photograph of children in the sea at Bognor, which is a WP Marsh photograph – a local photographer.

A Bognor card showing London Road, was posted in 1909 to Midhurst and clearly shows St John’s church and London Road from its junction with Station Road, with the Alexandra Tavern on the right had side.

Originally there was a small bakery next door but a new façade was built in 1909, which engulfed the bakery and tavern. On the left of the picture is the flint-faced Roman Catholic School, which was built in 1899 and demolished in 1926 being replaced by Central Buildings. The school moved to its present site on the corner of Glamis Street and Lyon Street.

In the 1912 Bognor Official Guide to the Town and District St John’s church is mentioned as having two entrances in London Road and Sudley Road and the report continues ‘it is a handsome church in the early English style of architecture’, and concludes that the building was estimated to be able to seat in the region of 900 persons.

Also in this guidebook it states that ‘the town of Bognor is pleasantly and most beautifully situated on the south coast, and is one of the healthiest towns in the United Kingdom’.

As with all pictures and images of this era it is interesting to note the modes or transport and dress of the people who have been captured in the scene. Can you imagine the multi-coloured cards of today being viewed with such interest?

Also note the trees that adorn part of the environment at this point in time.

All the LL cards are numbered making it easier to collect the set. Another was sent from Highfield Road, Bognor to South Wales, again shows London Road but this time from its junction with the High Street, and clearly shows the newly constructed buildings on the right hand side, that both incorporate today’s Seasons.

These buildings are still there today – if you take the time to stop and look above the shop fronts.

This side of London Road was erected in 1914. On the left hand side we can see the flint wall and trees and shrubs that would have bordered the grounds of some of the houses. This area, which consisted of houses known as Meadowcroft and The Lawns were eventually purchased and developed into Burton’s, Marks & Spencer etc, thus depriving the town centre of these flint walls and trees.

An Arcade image shows bicycles standing outside, the Timothy White Company on the left and the library can be seen on the right. This card was posted in 1912 to Clacton-on-Sea, another English seaside resort.

The Arcade was opened in 1902 and was the subject of many postcards of this particular time being a popular view to send home to friends and family. The Timothy White Company eventually moved across the road to the corner of the High Street, on to the site originally occupied by the Congregational Church.

Again in the Bognor Official Guide the Arcade is described in detail whilst reminding town residents of ‘York House, with a garden’, which was always seen as a feature in the High Street and then concluded ‘there was a time when, a few less trees and a far handsomer structure could not, of necessity, be detrimental to the leading thoroughfare of an increasingly popular seaside town’.

View No 19 of the High Street is taken from near the junction with today’s Queensway and shows York House on the mid right hand side, which is currently empty. This card was sent in 1912 to Harrow from Park Road in Bognor the writer stated that they ‘were most comfortable’ and also ‘we bathed this morning, it was cold but we enjoyed it’.

From the 1912 guide book we also learn that the population in 1911 was 8,142 persons with 2,100 inhabited houses and that ‘Bognor was increasingly becoming more popular because of the soil, the climate, the temperature, the general immunity from fogs, the pure water supply and the accessibility of London’.

With the aid of postcards and a guidebook of any point in time it is possible to try and imagine ‘what life was like then,’ without all the trappings of the 21st century.

These postcards certainly show us a much slower and unhurried way of life.

The people captured in these scenes could not have imagined the hustle and bustle of today’s world as they strolled leisurely around their town in the early 1900s.

Recently there was a feature on one of the news bulletins about the decline in the use of postcards, because of the increase in the use of the Internet and mobile phone, texting and the ability to send pictures.

How sad it would be for future generations if they did not have the benefit of these ‘small pieces of cardboard delivered by the postman’ as they were called by the Victorians, from which to view our heritage.

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