Historic pub's full stamp of approval

Many pubs have a quirky characteristic about them. It's what makes them different and it's what attracts regular patrons who enjoy the quaint ambience.

One of the most famous of these is The Rising Sun.

As Chichester Road ran out of the town, it was an obvious place to establish a drinking house and of course there were numerous possible sites along this road in 1895.

Richard Sharpe became the landlord of The Rising Sun on the site of the present Bersted Tavern. He opened the Rising Sun originally as a grocery store and inn.

But what was its claim to fame? Well, it was postage stamps and it was a place where thousands of visitors were to make this one of the town's most extraordinary and unique tourist attractions.

Richard Sharpe was born in nearby Hunston. He was a man who enjoyed music and was known to play the cornet.

With his interest in music, Sharpe was also responsible for forming the Bersted Brass and Reed Band, which was known for many years as Dickie Sharpe's Hog-weed Band. The uniform worn by the bandsmen was blue with red piping on the jackets plus a red trouser stripe.

They used the rear garden of the pub to practise. As they became more proficient, they gave performances at garden fetes, garden parties and other events all over West Sussex and they became even more famous.

Richard Sharp also collected postage stamps and this formed the basis of his future fame. As the years progressed, his stamp collection grew and he then began decorating a few picture frames with his stamps.

Then, in 1882, a customer bet Richard that he would not be able to cover part of a room with stamps, within a time restriction. Richard took up this challenge – as anyone would – and with 76,795 stamps he succeeded in covering all aspects of the room with stamps. He obviously won his bet.

But this was only the beginning. Little did his customer know what he had started with his challenge!

As time progressed and notable events occurred, Richard continued covering items such as tables and chairs with stamps. When North Bersted had planned nothing for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, he thought he could produce his own memorial, which would also further extend his hobby of stamp collecting.

He stuck stamps all over a complete room from floor to ceiling – it took him five years to complete.

And it was not a matter of randomly sticking stamps on the walls; he wove designs with the stamps, such as the words 'Jubilee Stamp Room' on one wall, while another wall displayed a large star design and the Bognor coat of arms was displayed above the fireplace. Other displays included a picture of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales Feathers.

More than two million stamps were used worth about 28,000.

It was a continuing interest and as more visitors came and the inn's fame grew, more and more people began sending stamps for Richard to use.

Sometimes full sacks of stamps arrived at the pub. During its heyday, The Rising Sun was mentioned in many publications recounting that it was 'one of the sights of Sussex'.

For more local history, click here Richard also received letters from all over the world regarding his unusual art form.

He did not stop at one room. Richard Sharp covered chairs, tables, a candlestick, a tablecloth, a hat and even a bust of King Edward VII did not escape.

His coverings then extended into a corridor and continued out into the summerhouse in the garden.

Eventually, in the 1920s, Richard Sharpe retired. By then more than three quarters of a million visitors had seen his stamps and written in 24 visitors’ books.

The signatures included such people as members of Parliament, Sussex nobility, and justices of the peace. By 1929 it was claimed that 764,580 visitors had signed the books. At one time an unnamed ‘visitor’ produced a small pamphlet, which was also undated. It was entitled The Jubilee Stamp House, a unique memorial of the late Queen Victoria’s reign.

The front cover included a paragraph stating it was ‘an interesting description of the most curious room in the world, at The Rising Sun, North Bersted, Bognor’, and it was illustrated with four photographs.

This visitor wrote, “The little Sussex village of North Bersted, near Bognor, boasts the possession of a remarkable room, which has probably no equal in the world.”

The publication continues, “The Jubilee Stamp Room, the designation by which it is now known by thousands, is at The Rising Sun, a wayside inn, a comfortable walk from Bognor. This pamphlet is published in response to the desire expressed by great numbers of visitors for a souvenir of their visit.”

Richard received and used stamps from worldwide destinations and some, attached to one of the doors, included quite rare stamps from Australia. He apparently received many offers for this particular door, with the purchasers willing to remove the door, there and then, to take it home with them.

With the ever-increasing number of stamps that he received, he started to thread stamps, which were then made into bundles festooning the walls. Some bundles were suspended from the ceiling, one of which is thought to have contained over 60,000 stamps.

Finally the pub closed, the building started to decay and eventually it was demolished in 1957 to make way for today’s building.

It has been known as The Rising Sun, Stamps, and The Bersted Tavern, and now it has reverted to The Rising Sun again, complete with a new pub sign.

At one time the publican tried to recreate history and sent out a request for people to send him stamps. When the Rising Sun was opened after a refurbishment in 1983 it was renamed Stamps, to celebrate the historical background of the establishment. Now it is again The Rising Sun, a pub that caters for families and provides entertainment. In fact it is still supplying an interest for families, as did Richard Sharp with his stamps.