Bognor Regis is a seaside resort town and civil parish in the Arun district of West Sussex, on the south coast of England. It is south-west of London, west of Brighton, and south-east of the city of Chichester. Other nearby towns include Littlehampton east-north-east and Selsey to the south-west. The nearby villages of Felpham, and Aldwick are now suburbs of Bognor Regis, along with those of North and South Bersted.
A factor underpinning the growth of the resort was its station opened in 1864 on what was a sandy, undeveloped coastline. Consequently small numbers of wealthy Victorian figures established large homes in the area and a seaside resort was developed by Sir Richard Hotham. It has been claimed that Hotham and his new resort are portrayed in Jane Austen's unfinished novel Sanditon. In 1929 the area was chosen by advisors to King George V which led to its regal suffix, by royal consent. Butlin's has been involved in the town since the early 1930s when an amusement park and zoo were opened. A holiday camp followed in 1960 and this has more recently moved towards hotel accommodation with modern amenities.
Bognor Regis was originally named just "Bognor", being a fishing (and smuggling) village until the 18th century, when it was converted into a resort by Sir Richard Hotham who renamed the settlement Hothampton, although this did not catch on. It has been postulated that Hotham and his new resort are portrayed in Jane Austen's unfinished novel Sanditon.
Bognor was originally part of the ancient parish of Pagham in the county of Sussex, with a port or haven on the Aldingbourne Rife. From around 1465 it was included in the parish of Bersted before attaining ecclesiastical parish status separate from South Bersted in 1873. Until 1894 it formed part of the Hundred of Aldwick, an ancient division of Chichester Rape. From 1894 to 1974 it was part of Bognor Urban District (Bognor Regis Urban District from 1929), and since 1974 it has been a part of Arun District.
On the beach between Bognor Regis and Aldwick lies the wreck of a Floating Pontoon (Caisson) which was once part of the Mulberry Floating harbours used by the Allies to invade the French coast on D-Day 6 June 1944. It was a part of the Mulberry Harbour which broke free in storm on 4 June, the day before it was due to go over the channel to Arromanche. This particular section of Mulberry was abandoned and not make it across the Channel. It was washed up on the beach shortly after D-Day. It is clearly visible at low tide throughout the year. . There are a number of Mulberry Harbour relics just off the coast of Pagham - Including a 'Phoenix' A1 class unit was towed by tugs into a waiting area and gently sunk into shallow water, ready for the tow across the Channel where it would be re-floated by ‘blowing’ the internal tanks by means of a series of valves. Sadly the unit still off the Pagham coast had sunk lower than anticipated and when being moved, things did not go as planned. It swung around, settled again over a deep depression, twisted and was cracked beyond repair. Ultimately it was used by the RAF in 1945 for bombing practice. This harbour is still there today and used by scuba divers as a location to study the seabed and fish, which gather around the artificial reef. There is a memorial to the brave men who were involved in the Mulberry Harbour project. The memorial was placed there in June, 1999, and states: “To mark the 55th Anniversary of D-Day in 1944. This plaque is erected as a memorial to mark the historical association that Pagham Beach had with the Mulberry Harbour Project in support of the liberation of Europe.” The plaque continues ‘some 50 had been assembled between Pagham beach and Selsey. To hide them from enemy view they were sunk to await refloating when the invasion got under way’. Finally the plaque records ‘The Mulberry Harbour project was without doubt, a great feat of British and allied engineering skills, many still remain at Arromanches in Normandy.”
The historic meeting of the crews (and associated handshake) of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project on 17 July 1975 was intended to have taken place over Bognor Regis, but a flight delay caused it to occur over Metz in France instead.
Bognor Regis town centre was damaged in 1994 by an IRA device left in a bicycle outside Woolworth's. Fifteen shops were damaged but no injuries occurred.
King George V had become ill, requiring lung surgery to be carried out on 12 December 1928. His recovery was slow and on 22 January 1929 Buckingham Palace issued the statement saying "it has been realised by the King's medical advisers that, prior to the establishment of convalescence, there would arrive a time when sea air would be necessary in order to secure the continuation of His Majesty's progress". The Palace statement went on "with the knowledge, a careful search was made for a "residence" not only suitable in itself but possessing the necessary attributes of close proximity to the sea, southern exposure, protection from wind, privacy and reasonable access to and from London. The residence selected was Craigweil House, Bognor (demolished in 1939) placed at His Majesty's disposal by owner Sir Arthur Du Cros" who was a wealthy businessman, having acquired the house from Dr Stocker who bought it from the Countess of Newburgh who had constructed the building in 1806. The house technically was in Aldwick.
As a result, the King was asked to bestow the suffix "Regis" ("of the King") on "Bognor". The petition was presented to Lord Stamfordham, the King's Private Secretary, who in turn delivered it to the King. King George supposedly replied, "Oh, bugger Bognor." Lord Stamfordham then went back to the petitioners and told them, "the King has been graciously pleased to grant your request."
A slightly different version of the "Bugger Bognor" incident is that the King, upon being told, shortly before his death, that he would soon be well enough to revisit the town, uttered the words "Bugger Bognor!" Although there is little evidence that these words were actually spoken in this context, and although the sea air helped the King to regain his health, it is certain that the King had little regard for the town.
William Butlin made his first appearance in the town with his Recreation Shelter, which was situated on the corner of Lennox Street and the Esplanade. The Recreation Shelter was apparently the place to be seen according to the press where you could “meet the elite”. This was to prove to be a popular entertainment venue, containing the very fashionable one-armed-bandits and dodgem cars. This was eventually followed on July 5, 1933 by the Butlin Zoo on the seafront, which contained a formidable array of animals, including brown, black and polar bears, hyenas, leopards, pelicans, kangaroos, monkeys and “Togo the snake king.” Within three years Billy Butlin was opening his first holiday centre at Skegness. Eventually in 1958 the Bognor Regis town council announced that they had reached an agreement with Billy Butlin to take on the 39 acre Brookland site to build a holiday camp, the site on which Butlins still stands today. The camp first opened to the public on 2 July 1960, having cost around £2.5 million. Immediately 3,000 weekly campers arrived to this the newest centre of the Butlin Empire.