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.
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.