This week we are going to take a look at a specific area of the High Street and some of the shops associated with the area known as ‘Clock Walk’. Originally this site consisted of several shops with accommodation, which is not so different from what is there today.
This site originally consisted of three premises, numbered 7, 9 and 11 High Street. The first one we shall look at is No 7, which was owned by the family of ‘Tate,’ a name which became well renowned and one we have to thank for many of the constructions in the town, such as the Esplanade, the Arcade and others.
In the census of 1841, a ‘Thomas Tate’ was operating at No 7 as a cabinetmaker, upholsterer and undertaker, employing 14 men. As the years progressed, numerous businesses occupied this premise, such as Ernest I Richardson, who was a builder and contractor, in 1912 and years later another builder’s merchants occupied the site in the 1930s namely Brookes.
The next premise was No 9 High Street, which was occupied from 1872 to 1970 by one family, that of ‘Hawkes’, a name that was synonymous with specialist teas and coffees. In 1912 the shopfront advised that they provided ‘High Class Groceries’ and also ‘Wines and Spirits’ – the advert concluded they were ‘the oldest local grocer’.
Finally, Arthur Cox, who operated a local dairy, occupied No 11 High Street, which was originally named Melbourne House, in 1880. His local dairy connection then led to the formation of a dairy on the site, which was transferred to Wingates Dairies in the 1920s where it remained until its closure in 1930.
These premises then remained empty for a number of years until Gilbert Boys, Ironmongers, took it over.
However, during this time a new company arrived in the town, which was to expand and become a well-known name over many years.
In this case we are talking about the family firm of ‘Olbys’ who originated from Penge in London where they started in 1878. Following many expansions of their business in London, they decided to open a branch here in Bognor in 1927.
Olbys’ first premise was a lock-up shop on the corner of Gravits Lane and Hawthorn Road where today we have the Co-Op supermarket.
In 1928/9 they acquired a wharf at Bognor Station, which comprised a shed for the storage of cement and the manufacture of breezeblocks. Within a year a small timber merchants in the station yard closed and Olbys decided to move into timber.
During the second world war, much of the timber they used was locally grown in Slindon and was used for all the repairs needed for bomb-damaged homes.
In 1955 they were to receive their first shipment of timber direct from Finland, which arrived direct into their yard at Bognor Railway Station and soon wood was arriving regularly from Finland and Sweden.
Following the expansion of the business in 1932, a new showroom was built and opened in Hawthorn Road and by 1940 the adjoining Briggs Garage was acquired for storage. Unfortunately this was almost immediately requisitioned by the army for the housing and repair of tanks.
In 1939, Olbys had also taken over two railway cottages situated in the station yard into which they extended their timber business.
To build their shop, wooden joists were used that had been purchased from the recently-demolished Craigweil House in Aldwick.
In 1954, the Bognor branch of the company became independent from the Penge branch. However with the fifth generation of the family working here, it continued to be a ‘family business’ and with their quality and reliable service that is perhaps one of the reasons why they thrived.
Their expansion plans continued in 1941 with their decision to purchase another premise, this time No 7 High Street, which was to form the basis of their new business.
By 1954 they had purchased No 11 and finally in 1972, they acquired No 9.
With this final acquisition they amalgamated the premises into the one department store that many of you will remember.
Olbys in the High Street became a well-known landmark and shop for all our needs, with its 18 departments, providing a comprehensive range of goods under one roof, making ‘shopping a real pleasure’.
Their advertising continued: “You are also able to relax in our comfortable coffee lounge.”
The name of Olbys became synonymous with service, and their shop provided a wide range of services, much more than any of our major stores today.
Their range covered electrical goods, toys, gifts, and linen alongside their glass, china and cutlery departments.
The company provided an extensive delivery service of their building, DIY and timber associated provisions around West Sussex.
In 1978, the company published a booklet providing an insight into their ‘100 years of value and service’, which included photos not only of their various departments, but also of the many staff who had remained with them over the years.
In June 1982 came the shock announcement from the directors that they were to cease trading in the High Street, blaming inflation, heavy competition and a lack of support from shoppers in Bognor Regis.
The store finally closed its doors on September 1, 1984, causing 21 full and 26 part-time staff to be unemployed.
The company continued to trade at Hawthorn Road with their kitchen planning department where they advertised that ‘whether you are buying a new house or modernising an old one, you are sure to find exactly what you have been looking for at our Hawthorn Road showroom and building centre’.
For the time being, these premises at Hawthorn Road and other small outlets in Middleton and Fontwell were to continue.
The Station Road site also remained, principally selling DIY items, until it was finally closed and demolished at the end of 1990.
Sadly the inevitable happened and all the company’s premises not only closed but various were removed from the town skyline.
The station yard and its shop were to be taken over and replaced with a new structure by Covers.
The Hawthorn Road site was to be demolished and become the Co-op supermarket. In the High Street, demolition took place and the family shop was to disappear.
At this time everyone was very sad about the demise of yet another company, but I suppose if we do not use these shops, they will disappear to be replaced by the modern, out-of-town shops we have become used to today.
Eventually we had a new building in the High Street, that of Clock Walk, complete with the clock that used to hang outside Olbys.
Today it is a series of small shops, including a coffee shop. Above the ground-floor shops are a number of well-appointed flats and apartments, but how many people now or in the future will remember those trades that have occupied this site which contributed to the town’s development?
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