Bognor Regis looks to the future but is equally proud of its heritage and royal designation.  The town is the result of Sir Richard Hotham’s 18th Century vision to turn the small fishing hamlet of Bognor into a seaside resort which would attract nobility away from the increasingly busy Brighton and Margate.  Bognor Regis is a place to explore, a town full of character and stories from history – revisit 20th century childhoods in the arcades, explore seaside culture at the beautifully curated museum, splash around with seafront water sports or run with your dog along the beach that George V chose for his convalescence in 1929.

Sir Richard Hotham

When Sir Richard Hotham fell in love with a peaceful stretch of coast in the late 18th century he could never have imagined that with his help and influence it would become a bustling seaside resort known throughout the land.

He first purchased a farmhouse where he had enjoyed the summer months previously. He started renovating it in 1787, ‘Bognor Lodge’ was later demolished in the 1930s.

Hotham also bought 1,600 acres of land around Bognor. There was only one pub in the whole of Bognor so Hotham purchased it and converted it into a small hotel with 17 rooms. He also built an ‘entertainment building’ with a library, newspaper reading room, milliners shop and bath room, where you could bathe in warm sea water. He also built two terraces, Hotham Place and Long Row in what is now Waterloo Square. Hotham hoped people would come and rent these houses for the summer season. And some people did. The first season at Bognor was 1791 and some wealthy people came.

Hotham House by Paul Gillett, via Wikimedia Commons

In the early 1790’s Hotham built houses on what is now called Upper Bognor Road. They included the Dome where, he hoped, Royalty would stay. He also built Hotham Park House for himself. It was completed in 1792 and it became known as Chapel House. By the time of his death in 1799 Hotham had built 30 houses.

Hotham Park can still be seen today, with his house now converted into flats. The Dome is now part of Chichester University’s Bognor Regis Campus.

After a slow start, Bognor (as it was then without the suffix Regis) grew steadily and soon embraced the nearby villages of Felpham, Aldwick and Pagham as well as North and South Bersted.

The first half of the 19th century saw greater growth, helped by the arrival of a railway line in 1864. The town’s recognition blossomed when, in 1929, it was selected by advisors to King George V as a place ideal for relaxation and recuperation and this then led to the regal suffix “Regis” (by royal consent) being added to the name.

Another big factor in establishing Bognor’s reputation came when Billy Butlin opened a holiday camp in 1960, having already operated a Butlin’s amusement park and zoo from the early 1930s.

Hotham Park by Peter Flude


Butlin’s Bognor Regis as we know it is a hugely popular holiday resort offering everything from fun-packed family breaks to highly rated music weekends.

Butlins Bognor Regis

It’s a far cry from the early 1930s when Billy Butlin set up a business in the town with a venue known simply as a “recreation shelter”, attracting visitors with its one-arm bandits and dodgem cars.

Butlin saw a range of opportunities in the entertainment industry and, by 1933, Butlin’s Zoo on the seafront was impressing visitors with bears, hyenas, leopards, pelicans, kangaroos and monkeys.

After opening a holiday camp in Skegness, Butlin returned to Bognor Regis in 1958 and gained permission from the council to build a similar venue on a 39-acre site to the east of the town.  Doors opened for business two years later and the business was a runaway success, hosting in the region of 3,000 campers every week, and easily justifying the then enormous build cost of around £2.5 million.

Still located at the original site, the holiday resort remains synonymous with Bognor Regis.

Why do people say “Bugger Bognor”?

The unfortunate phrase “Bugger Bognor” has followed the town for almost a century, and it’s all down to King George V.

It came about in December 1928 when the monarch became ill and needed lung surgery. His doctors suggested the sea air at Bognor would hasten his slow recovery and it was decided he would convalesce at Craigwell House, in nearby Aldwick, (now demolished), where there would be the “sea air necessary to secure the continuation of His Majesty’s progress”.

As a result of his time in Bognor, it was requested of the king that he bestow the suffix “Regis” on the town. According to the stories, when Lord Stamfordham, the king’s private secretary, delivered the petition to his majesty, he reportedly replied: “Oh, bugger Bognor.”

Ever the diplomat, Lord Stamfordham told those seeking the suffix: “The king has been graciously pleased to grant your request.”

Another version of the story suggests the king used the phrase when he was told, shortly before his death, that he would soon be fit enough to visit the town.

Bognor Regis Pier

Situated on the Esplanade, the first pier structure was built for £5,000 in May 1865.

A kiosk was built at the shore end and visitors were charged one old penny if they wanted to walk the length of the pier and take in the sea air. In 1876 the pier was sold to the council for £1,200 and the new owners added a small bandstand. In July 1900 a pavilion was added further down the pier. In 1901 a landing stage allowed for paddle steamers to tie up at the pier but this had to end five years later as ships had grown too large. Ongoing repairs and maintenance became an issue for the council and the pier was sold to private investors for 10s 6d (around 50p in today’s money). The pavilion was closed while major restoration was undertaken, and it reopened in 1909.

Bognor Regis Pier. 17th April 2022. Peter Flude
Bognor Regis Pier by Peter Flude

Over the following years, Bognor Regis’s first cinema was added to the shore end of the pier, along with several shops, a theatre and a roof garden restaurant. In 1989 the pier was awarded Grade II listed status by the English Heritage Society, but by 1994 it was in such decline that an application was made to demolish part of the structure.

For more information on the History of Bognor Pier visit The Pier Trust.

Bognor Regis Museum

Celebrating the history of the town, the Bognor Regis Museum is compact but perfectly formed, and filled to the brim with artefacts and curiosities.

The Museum is a rich source of beautifully curated information showing how Sir Richard Hotham transformed this former fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort. The impressive collection also features famous people from Bognor, haunted houses, Alice’s Vintage Kitchen, an impressive radio collection and a series of vintage cameras, as well as a plethora of Bognor Regis related pictures, posters and artefacts to inspect.

You’ll find the museum on West Street, within a short walk of the main town centre and a stone’s throw from the beach. Entry is free, but donations are always appreciated to keep delighting 10,000 visitors a year.  Visit their website at http://www.bognormuseum.org/ for full details of opening times.

Bognor Regis Museum

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