The demolition of any historic building in a town should cause consternation, but sometimes the cries continue for many years.
One such in Bognor Regis is that of the ‘art deco’ Southdown bus station in the High Street. I never cease to be amazed at the passion that is used when describing this building.
However, I have never really been fully aware of the history of the site and its development into the Morrison’s car park we have today. Apparently as far back as 1817 a ceremony took place on this site – in a seaside resort of less than 2,000 residents – to commemorate the laying of a foundation stone for the Jubilee School. This school was built to educate and employ 50 poor girls, and was to remain in existence until the 1880s.
Due to the decline in the number of subscription children locally, the school eventually closed, but not before town residents had protested about plans put forward by the Local Board of Health for its future use. It was suggested the building be demolished and replaced by a new town hall.
However, eventually, following much discussion, it was decided to retain the building but convert its use into a new town hall. From 1882 this sufficed until in the 1920s new plans were announced regarding a new site in Clarence Road. Eventually the former school building was demolished in 1927, along with the properties on either side.
Seven years later in 1934, the Southdown Bus Company built its new ‘art deco’ bus station and the building became part of the fabric of the High Street to be retained for a lifetime, one would have thought. However, in 1977 rumours began circulating and were reported in the local press, that the site was to be sold and this was hotly denied by the bus company. It was also suggested that Tesco’s was interested in developing the site.
However, in 1980 those early fears became founded when it was announced the bus station was in fact to be closed, and the 12 buses were to be transferred to Chichester and Worthing. Bus bays were to be built in the High Street, however this did not placate the town’s people who seemed to regard the fact that all ‘the elderly would have to stand in the rain, and not be able to sit in the warm’, to be of paramount importance.
I wonder what all other bus-users felt about that, especially teenagers and young parents with children etc, etc.
Numerous letters appeared in the local papers with ideas for the future developing of the area and these included one resident who suggested the area could be put to use as a roller-skating area for young people. They also suggested the waiting room could be used as a hire shop and a soft drinks counter could be established.
Another suggestion was that the area should be used to build a swimming pool. For three years until 1993 the site became home to about 40 stallholders, with their own daily indoor market site and this proved to be a useful and well-attended facility both for residents and visitors.
The area between Bedford Street and the Queensway referred to as Fitzleet car park finally closed in January, 1981 and Applied Suppliers commenced the building of its newest Supermarket – Presto’s. The opening of this new store was hoped to attract shoppers into the town, provide employment, unify the centre of the town and be the beginning of the awakening of Bognor Regis to a new image.
Passions continued to run as discussions continued to retain the façade of the building, but by June, 1981 the bus station closed, buses moved into the High Street and life continued as usual.
Demolition of the bus station took place and the new car park finally opened, complete with its landscaped entrance to provide a new perspective to the High Street. Today this area is again the subject of plans for the future development of the town.