Educating growing numbers of 20th century Bognor pupils

Girls were educated at Courtfield School, in Victoria Drive, between 1908 and the 1940s.
Girls were educated at Courtfield School, in Victoria Drive, between 1908 and the 1940s.

Today when the subject of education and schools occurs, we think immediately of the larger offerings in the town – The Regis, Felpham Community College and the range of infant and junior schools. But I suspect you are unaware of the wide range of styles and number of schools that have existed in our town over the years.

Perhaps the first school opened was in the 1820s by Mrs Susan Smith, wife of Thomas Smith owner of Bested Lodge (today Hotham Park House). It was situated in The Laurels off Church Path behind Hotham Park.

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Here she was to educate 24 poor girls and they were to learn to read and write in additional to the necessary housewifery skills of the day.

The town in the past had a number of schools that were for a specific purpose, for example The Halt Whistle College was in existence from 1922 to c1950 and was situated on the corner of Campbell Road and the High Street.

There were only 25 to 30 girls trained here in this Secretarial College teaching shorthand and typing. There were regular updates in the local press of the external examination results for the girls.

Along Victoria Drive there was a Royal Naval Academy which was established primarily to prepare young boys for examinations and scholarships for life in the Royal Navy. One of their advertisements advised prospective parents that the buildings are well equipped with a “gymnasium, library, carpenter’s shop, cubicle dormitories in addition to the cricket and football pitches within their 6 acres”.

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Holyrood School also prepared young people both for the Navy and Public Schools. Their adverts include such attractions as kitchen and flower gardens, miniature rifle range. In addition they promoted that they would make arrangements for the holidays for boys whose parents were abroad.

These are quite different skills to those advertised today to entice parents to send their children.

It was once recorded that there were almost 75 schools within an area bounded by Victoria Drive, Upper Bognor Road and the Esplanade – hard to image today.

The population of the area was 13,300 in 1921 rising to 16,000 by 1931, making the number of schools quite incredible.

But it was suggested there were many reasons, such as climate in addition to parents wishing their children to succeed in various trades and skills.

Also we should remember that parents who were involved with the services were very often abroad for one or two years at a time.

However what we should look at is that some of these quite well advertised schools had pupil numbers ranging from 10 in Dame schools to maybe 50 in more specific schools

Courtfield School in Victoria Drive catered for girls’ education and was operational from 1908 to the 1940s before it moved to Monmouthshire during the Second World War.

Buildings now occupied by Chichester University were individual schools in their own right, Middleton Lodge, Northcliffe House School.

I would welcome any stories about schools in the town, especially these smaller specialised schools.

I will return to this subject in the coming months.

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