About Bersted: well known when Bognor was just a babe
According to the 1807 guide '˜The origin & description of Bognor or Hothamton and an account of some adjacent villages,' South Berstead (note the spelling) is: 'A village to the north of Bognor, at the distance of about a mile.
Two ways conduct to it; one is a pathway that crosses the fields in a direct line from the post office; the other is the high road that passes by the crescent, but pedestrians would prefer the latter.”
The description continues: “Berstead was a well-known village, and in some degree of repute when Bognor was still in embryo; and prior to the birth of that place was reckoned among the principal villages of the district.”
The history of this area consists of St Mary Magdalene Church in South Bersted, which is of course one of the oldest in the area.
Therefore do not really take into consideration the church at the entrance to the area, that of the Parish Church of the Holy Cross almost hidden at the junction of Chichester Road and North Bersted Street.
A diverse church, that outwardly has an old and drab appearance, was dedicated in 1884. The original spire of this church was removed in 1979 but the surprise is the interior, which is remarkably modern church, which has a very active congregation.
Other aspects of Bersted are coloured by their location such as a busy roundabout.
Colourful is the correct description of the Royal Oak public house, which was not without controversy when it was painted pink in 1984.
It is said there has been a building on this site since Elizabethan times. It is a listed building and still retains much of its historic appeal since the first recorded publican in 1842. It is believed that at one time Sir Richard Hotham, Bognor’s founder, owned it.
Then there was Richard Sharpe , who succeeded in making his public house known countrywide. The Sharpe family were publicans of the Rising Sun on the Chichester Road from 1895 until 1933.
It was during this period that it became renowned for the displays produced by sticking postage stamps on the walls, ceilings and even furniture.
It was a bet that started the act of making pictures with stamps and the craze grew, in line with the number of visitors who started to arrive. There were even special coach trips to see The Stamp House as it was known for a time.
When driving around this area, it is easy to forget it was originally two small villages, on the outskirts of Bognor. Sadly, like many small communities, they have lost much of their identity with the expansion of housing, roads and the erosion of the fields and open spaces that was once enjoyed by the villagers.
As recently as 1920, North Bersted was surrounded by open fields.
The village of North Bersted has a number of links with the past, such as Chalcraft Lane, as the word Chalcraft is a derivation of a Saxon word meaning calves croft. The area known as Rookery Farm was originally believed to have links with smuggling.
The need for housing and employment drove developers to move to the ‘outskirts’ of towns or village until eventually each separate community joined into seemingly one community, with no visible boundaries.
In the 1930s one of the largest developments was that of the Newtown Estate, with its distinctive fish shop on the corner of the shops on the bend in North Bersted.
How this estate must have dominated the area when it was built by Neal’s the Builder. It must have been quite a shock with the number of houses and also the influx of so many people into the area at that time.
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