The changing face of B&Bs and hotels in Bognor

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I have been spending some time looking through town and street guides from the past. Several weeks ago when I was around the town looking for pictures and ideas, I came across an interesting building in Wessex Avenue, which is situated near Marine Gardens, West Bognor.

It is a quiet road, containing a variety of buildings including this large imposing façade. Clarehaven Court is clearly displayed across the front of the building.

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I then remembered that there had been a hotel in the vicinity, and yes, it had been the Clarehaven Hotel.

According to the Bognor Regis town guide of 1959 they charged between nine and 14 guineas per week throughout the year.

Their advertising showed that their dining room had 80 separate tables, 30 bedrooms with every modern amenity and was open all the year round. They also sported a cocktail and lounge bar along side the ballroom, which was “insulated from the bedrooms”.

The facilities at this hotel included, “Home” electric laundry, cots, high chairs, evening meal service to your room and also a “night watching by arrangement” service in addition to the private “talkie” cine shows.

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Furnishings included carpeting throughout and central heating. During the 1980s this hotel was also mentioned in the English Tourist Board brochure for the “Taste of England Food and Drink Guide”. Today it is possible to purchase a “conversion apartment” in this imposing building, which is fitted with all modern conveniences, and you can even share the “roof terrace”.

Nearby in King’s Parade is another property which was once advertised in the town guide. In the 1950s this hotel boasted that it was the “brightest hotel” - this was the Russell Hotel, which was classed as a “smart modern hotel in a wonderful position in Bognor’s west end, overlooking the Marine Gardens on the seat front”.

Their charges also ranged from nine to 14 guineas per week, according to the season.

Other advertisements for this hotel included such comments as deeply-sprung mattresses, central heating, separate tables and finally “home-killed poultry and local market garden produce”.

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Open all year round, it was fully licensed with a cocktail bar. The hotel was a private family run business for nearly 60 years.

By the mid 1990s, this hotel had been transformed into a “unique hotel” whereby the residents were blind or partly sighted and was then owned by The Action for Blind People charity.

It was one of the few such hotels in the country, which catered specifically for the visually impaired visitor with facilities that included talking lifts.

In 1999, plans were unveiled to demolish this building and to replace it with a £2million hotel that was to be a totally purpose-build for the visually impaired and would be the only one of six such hotels nationwide.

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The plans include expansion to 40 bedrooms and the owners hoped to cater for in excess of 3,500 guests per year.

Sadly, within the last couple of years, these plans changed as the hotel was sold and has now been taken over by Ashley House, previously on the Aldwick Road. We have to await future detailed plans for both of these buildings...

If we travel along to the Bognor Regis seafront, we find another hotel that has changed its use over the years, namely the Royal Hotel, which was built in 1888 as the Royal Pier Hotel but because of local objections to the name, was to become The Royal.

In its early days, the advertising claimed this was a “first-class modern hotel for families and gentlemen, affording every domestic comfort, situated opposite the pier, with the latest sanitary improvements”.

I am not sure of the link between its various attributes in this advertisement, but it was obviously deemed to be important at that time.

It was a hotel that annually would be full with visitors to the sea who were often visiting the area for Goodwood Races.

The advertising in 1912 included the boast that the hotel was “patronised by the Marchioness of Salisbury and family”.

Throughout its history, thousands of people have enjoyed the splendour of this hotel.

One summer in the early 1960s, Tony Hancock stayed there while he was filming The Punch and Judy Man.

Eventually times changed and in the early 1990s, it became an International Apartment Hotel, where it was possible to purchase an apartment on a 125-year lease. Plans have recently been announced to convert this building into flats.

Holiday and town guides have always extolled the virtues of the town, one such in 1912 told of the benefits of living here, which included “the soil, the climate, and the temperature, the general immunity from fogs, the pure water supply and the accessibility to London all tend to help in this direction”.

The early guides contained pages and pages of advertisements for hotels and even in the 1970s we could have stayed at the Brendenham House Hotel, Belmont Street, Lansdowne Hotel, and West Street to name just a few.

Other accommodation available had such names as Taplow Cottage, Merrivale Guest house, Teneriffe Guest House, Twiga and even Davardun.

When I lived with my parents in Plymouth, I can remember them opening our terraced house for bed and breakfast guests annually, and we made friends with many of our visitors. Looking at the Bognor guides over the years, it is evident that many people were involved in this holiday trade.

One of the guides I viewed from 1964 lists 68 venues in which the visitor could stay.

Many of these were private homes, but beside that some of the names remain as locations. Several hotels were and still are pubs, but without the accommodation.

I quickly looked at a 1916 guide and there were just six small premises being promoted.

The benefits of this area have not changed, but we the public have; we now travel to far distant places for our holidays.

We wish to enjoy constant good weather and have the ability to enjoy worldwide travel, something that has certainly changed over the years. We do not wish to stay in someone else’s home when we can enjoy a 24-hour all-inclusive holiday.

Gone are the days when a small B&B and a walk along the prom was all we sought for our annual two-week holiday. Today we seek more entertainment, places to visit, things to do.

These are the things that now entice us abroad, leaving many seaside resorts struggling to both provide a service to those wishing to stay in the UK and remaining in business financially.

Many towns still have a Visitor Information Centre, but they are decreasing in number.

Today of course we do not always depend on the hand held handbook, or VIC as we refer increasingly to the Internet, where we can visit specialist websites for hotels or a list of hotels detailing their specific attributes also we can view Trip Advisor to check on our destination.

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