Nostalgia: Railway station’s evolution over 150 years

The boundary marker
The boundary marker

I thought we could take time to have a look at our own railway station, not from a travelling point of view, but from the perspective of the building and its development over the years. The building itself has been a focal point of the town for many years, at one time even being used on maps to depict distances around the town.

However it is imposing, sitting as it does at one of the main road junctions into the town, but there is much more to the station than just a building. I have been lucky over the years with my interest in the complete area and taking photographs, in addition to people passing information and additional material to me with regard to some of the interesting array of features.

The station forecourt in the 1900s

The station forecourt in the 1900s

Over the years many people have told me of their memories of trying to leave Bognor on a busy, sunny Sunday afternoon and having to wait at the level crossing for one of the many trippers’ trains departing for London and other places along the south coast.

Today as we drive over the bridge and look down on the railway lines, this memory seems almost impossible to comprehend for those of us who were not in the area when the level crossings gates were in operation. Evidence of these gates is still there, now sadly overgrown, beside the bridge.

If we then walk along Richmond Road, past the Richmond Arms, we are reminded this was built in the 1860s and named after the Duke of Richmond who owned much of the land in this area. These premises were originally intended to house the stationmaster of the new station that was being planned for the town. Further along the road we arrive at the junction of Henry Street and Spencer Street where today we find a small new construction of houses – but how many of these residents can remember Bruce Dixon’s car hire premises? Some people living in the vicinity may well recall the previous occupants when it was used by the railway as a stable. For a number of years the Bognor Coal and Transport Co Ltd, which was to become famous within the model railway world when a small wagon was manufactured and sold for use by model rail enthusiasts, used part of the station yard.

Also in the vicinity of the station grounds were cattle docks and yards capable of storing large quantities of wood. These were used in the 1930s by Olby’s for its builders section and store in its own their timber yards within the station yard, where today we have Cover’s.

The 1902 new station

The 1902 new station

If we then continue along Spencer Terrace, we walk beside the boundary wall that for many years surrounded the tracks, sheds belonging to the railway, including the turntable. At one time it must have been every little boy’s dream to be able to watch the massive steam trains being turned in this yard.

Over the years the station has seen millions of visitors, especially during the period prior to the first world war when it was recorded that sometimes over 1,200 visitors arrived on the Sunday excursions, this at a time when the town population was only 2,000. Can you imagine what the station must have looked like at this time?

Between platforms two and three there was a Saxby and Farmer ground frame, behind the buffers, complete with the old LBSCR metalwork, reminding us this was once a London Brighton South Coast Railway station. There are also a number of brass plates around the station forecourt, naming builders and others who have contributed to the station. For a time there was a LBSCR boundary sign situated on the forecourt in Longford Road, but this was removed in the 1980s. Some of the windows still have Telegraph Office imprinted on the glass, another reminder of a bygone age.

A couple of years ago when I was conducting a tour of the railway station, a gentleman asked me if I knew where it was possible to find three different ties on railway sleepers. Unfortunately I was not able to answer him, he then proceeded to show me and the rest of the group a small section of line, on Platform four, which today faces the Cover’s complex. Apparently this shows three types of ties used within the space of three sleepers, that of a metal wedge, a wooden wedge and a steel clip – there I bet you didn’t know that – or perhaps you did!

Over the years the station has been in the news for a variety of reasons, none more so than the train that arrived on Saturday, February 9, 1929. This brought into the town royal personnel and government papers, which were needed when King George V was brought by ambulance into the town to recuperate at Craigweil. On several occasions the station has been used for filming and in August, 1972 a film company renamed the station Newhaven Harbour because it was unable to use the original station, also the station was renamed Folkstone in 1982 when it was used in a spy thriller film as a south coast railway connection. Pullman trains have also retired to the station overnight, when they were being operated to recreate travel excursions of a bygone age, during the 1980s and 90s.

Within the main building itself there are many items 
still on show if we take the time to look.

Within today’s entrance hall to the station, we have the ticket office, but who can remember 
the original waiting room, 
which had a large map on the wall with all the information relative to departures.

Also here one could find Campbell & Son, a leading ladies’ and gents’ hairdresser for the town. An advertisement in 1930 showed it 
was able to provide Marcel or water waving for ladies for between 1s 6d and 2s, also a haircut for the gentlemen was 3d. Electrical permanent waves were also available for £1 10s (£1.50p) a far cry from today’s prices locally.

This facility, I am told, was very popular with the traveller.

On the main concourse we have had the benefit of a 
small bow-fronted window, 
used as a restaurant, café over the years.

At one time I heard that in the 1920s and 30s they used 
to have on display large hams 
and meats to make into sandwiches for arriving visitors to the town.

The newsagent was also built originally for this purpose and has remained as such throughout the duration of the station’s development. Even the roof line of the station is quite impressive with its clock and view over the Picturedrome.

I am sure many people will be able to remember varying uses of parts of the station, and some of you may also know of more hidden aspects of the 
town railway and I would be pleased to hear from you.