When Bognor was home to Field House and the Norland Nannies

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No one can write an article about Field House without writing about Mrs Emily Ward, as they are synonymous with each other.

Emily Ward is best known for establishing the Norland Training College for Nursery Nurses, initially to be Nannies to the Gentry.

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In 1876, aged only 26, she opened the Norland Place School for infants at Nos 9 and 10 Norland Place in Kensington.

She helped teach children at the Notting Hill High School, more specifically the smaller children, and suggested to the headmistress that a better atmosphere could be created for children in a kindergarten.

She eventually borrowed money from her grandmother and started Norland Place in 1876 with five pupils.

Over a period she began to question whether it was a satisfactory practice that a nursemaid was selected from the house servants, as usually occurred in Victorian households.

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By 1892, she had opened her Training School for ladies as Children’s Nurses alongside her infant school. This became known as the Norland Institute and was so successful that by 1900, she’d had to move twice to larger premises.

In 1880, Emily had been to Bognor to convalesce after an illness, and as people before her liked the area, one can only presume that she thought of Bognor when wanting to set up somewhere for children and their nannies to go to convalesce or on holiday.

By the mid-1890s, her name begins to appear on various plans and paperwork as having bought property in Bognor. First she acquired parts of the Strathmore estate in the area of Gloucester Road, Campbell Road and the Esplanade.

In 1895, she had a house built for her and her husband: she had married Walter Ward in 1891, this was the Dutch House in Campbell Road which was finally demolished in 1988 to make way for a block of flats – Sovereign Court.

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From then on she bought or acquired more houses in the area until in 1904 she acquired Field Row and then in 1908, began building Field House.

Field House was built in stages over many years, the first stage in 1908 butted onto Belvoir House which had been built three years earlier for Mrs Lane on the corner of Gloucester Road and the Esplanade.

In 1911 an adjoining section was built facing the sea with a courtyard in front.

Later she acquired Belvoir House and the final section was built in 1926, a three-storey block facing Gloucester Road, which explains why it looked a jumble of buildings.

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Field Row had originally been purchased for children from the Norland Nurseries, but expanded to take other people who employed Norland Nurses.

Field House was a block of flats with a resident housekeeper and cook in charge. All the separate parts of Field House had access to a central kitchen.

Now she was able to accept elderly couples and semi-invalids. She offered many types of service as a 1911 advertisement displayed. Seasonal rents for furnished or unfurnished flats, additional services of meals provided or an average amount of attendance.

The advertisement shows that some maintenance, washing of household linen, boot cleaning, and a kitchen fire could be provided, with coal fuel costing 9d per scuttle.

There were some famous people who stayed in Field House. These included Princess Marina, aged six, and her two older sisters in 1910 for 16 weeks with their nanny, Nurse Katie Fox.

The children of Emlyn Williams, an actor, also stayed and in 1938 the two children of Herr Ribbentrop, the German ambassador, also stayed.

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Emily died at Sudley Lodge (purchased around 1920) on June 15, 1930, of a stroke, at the age of 79. A memorial service was held at St John’s Church, London Road, on the June 18 prior to a cremation at Woking.

There was already a stained glass memorial window in St John’s to her husband Walter, and Emily’s name was added to it.

With the demolition of the church in 1972, there is no longer a lasting memorial to Emily Ward in Bognor Regis. Later it was learnt that the window was rededicated in the chapel of Norland College, near Hungerford.

Field House continued with the work of Emily Ward until 1939, when the fees were recorded as £3 15s per week, it was then sold by the directors, having been left it in her will to the Norland Institute and Nurseries Ltd.

During the period from 1939 to recent years, the houses on the corner of Gloucester Road and the Esplanade attracted various comments as the area seemed to have fallen into disrepair.

The buildings were commandeered by the RAF and when the Fleet Air Arm left after the war, it was sold for residential use. Many of the buildings have been purchased or rented out as flats to locals or staff from Butlin’s over the years.

After numerous reports of demolition and change of use throughout this period, finally in October 1995, demolition took place and the mixture of buildings was removed from the corner.

Now the town waited with baited breath as to what would replace the jumble of buildings. It was not long before hoardings were placed around the site, and with the wonders of the digital camera, an artist’s impression of the new buildings arrived, shown totally in situ, with the roads, traffic and adjoining buildings.

Worked started and it became apparent that the building was not going to be to everyone’s taste.

Interestingly, in 1909 Emily Ward had to reassure Bognor residents that her flats were not for ‘infectious children’. This seems to imply that she courted some controversy with her work.

In 1900, when Emily Ward was the owner of the Strathmore Park estate, there was a report in a town council meeting where she wrote to object to the noise from the singers at the east end of the front, night after night, for three hours.

I wonder what Emily Ward would have made of the noise created at the corner today, by the traffic, and the modern use by Butlin’s of the site opposite Compass Point?

Now Compass Point is complete, people have moved into this new construction on our seafront where there are ‘24 contemporary apartments overlooking the sea.’ The advertising also boasts that each apartment will be able to enjoy the best of Bognor’s sunshine within this structure which offers ‘plenty for the passer-by to admire.’

Thus when the seafront sales office was open to allow anyone to visit the new flats, it was an opportunity to take a look around and also to see the flats that were to be enjoyed by the residents.

It was also the opportunity to look out from the glass tower on the corner. Yes there is an excellent view, from Butlin’s to Selsey.

Like so much of what is occurring in the town at the moment, we will be judged in the future when we look back at what has been constructed, or demolished.

As we do today, about the work that was carried out in the 1960s.

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