The town hall that was ‘neat but not gaudy’

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Today we have an imposing town hall at the junction of Clarence Road and Belmont Street, but this was not the first premise used.

The first was at 31 High Street, today occupied by Reynolds Funeral Service. The original building was constructed by Lillywhites.

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The town commissioners were established in 1822 and the first clerk to the commissioners was Richard Daly.

He occupied offices at 31 High Street, sharing the premises with a tailor. During this period, plans for the town included a market in the Steyne and there is also mention of levying the sum of one shilling (5p) duty on each ton of coal that arrived in the town, by way of the sea.

This income was used towards the cost of making the new road system around the rapidly-expanding town.

In 1837 William K Wonham was responsible for many constructions in the developing town, one of which was to be named the Assembly Rooms and situated in the new Sudley Road. For a number of years the council used this.

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The building still exists and today is used by a number of groups including members of the Bognor Club.

The Jubilee School was constructed in the High Street during 1817 – this is the site occupied by Morrison’s car park. This school, built to educate poor girls, remained until the 1880s when it closed due to the decline in the requirement for this type of education.

Discussions were held regarding its demolition and replacement by a town hall. However it was eventually decided the building should remain and Mr Stringfellow, council surveyor, converted the school at a cost of £500 into a town hall ready for use from 1882.

Thus the council operated from this site until the 1920s when plans came into fruition for another venue.

In 1927, when the population was about 17,000, it was closed and demolished and within seven years the Southdown Bus Company built its bus station on the site.

In 1929 the fortunes of the town seemed to be changing. It was at a time when the town received the Royal accolade of Regis and was the year the council was to have a new town hall.

The brief for the work and competition rules were sent out to 91 companies. Bognorians were not totally happy with the plans and when they were made aware of the location of this building, it was felt its construction in a ‘back street of the town’, the report continued that the ‘town will regret as long as it exists’.

On May 22, 1929 two foundation stones were laid for the town hall in Clarence Road. One recognised William Grice, a member of the council for 36 years. The Rev Canon AJ Sacre, JP, chairman of the council, with Joseph Jubb, laid the other stone. Mrs E Sacre performed the opening ceremony on October 11, 1930. It was thought this new structure, in the fashionable

neo-Georgian style, ‘seemed to be worthy of civic headquarters’.

The builder of the town hall was HW Seymour. There were numerous stones laid at the front of the building to denote his work, another to recognise the involvement of Mr C Vowles-Voysey the architect, who won the competition to design this construction.

When it was formally opened on Monday, October 6, 1929 it was described as being ‘of high architectural merit – neat but not gaudy’.

Similar to most towns and cities around the country, town halls were catapulted into new uses for the duration of the second world war.

Not least was its use as a surface air raid shelter, hence the front entrance was bricked up and it had a sign advising that its capacity was 22 people. In 1943 there was much concern as to whether the tower could be used by the Germans to pinpoint the town.

Discussions were therefore held to ascertain the cost of camouflaging the top. After much discussion it was decided the £25 required was too expensive.

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