Monthly Archives: April 2018

Bognor Pier

Bognor Pier

Bognor Pier

King George V famously didn’t like Bognor, where he was sent to recuperate after surgery in 1929.  After his stay at Craigwell House in nearby Aldwick, he received a petition to grant the town the suffix “Regis” – literally, “of the King”.  I can’t possibly tell the story better than Wikipedia, citing Antonia Fraser’s The house of Windsor (2000):

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.”

Like many small seaside resorts at the ends of branch lines, Bognor is a rather sad place today, but it has a proud history as a genteel place to relax, founded in the late eighteenth century by the local landowner Sir Richard Hotham, and more energetically developed after the arrival of the branch railway in 1864.

It’s hardly an accident that Bognor Pier was begun in the same year, designed by Sir Charles Fox and his cousin J W Wilson and opened in 1865.  Originally a thousand feet long, it cost £5,000, but was subsequently bought for £1,200 by the Local Board in 1876.

The Board’s successor, Bognor Urban District Council, were glad to offload it to a private operator, who spent £30,000 dealing with dilapidations and constructing an entertainment complex at the shore end, comprising a theatre with a fly-tower, a picture theatre, an amusement arcade and a roof-garden restaurant, all of which opened in 1912.

During the Second World War, from 1943-45, the pier was HMS St Barbara, a naval observation station armed with anti-aircraft guns.

Its history became vexed from the 1960s onwards:  repeated changes of ownership meant that maintenance failed to keep up with onslaughts of storm damage.

Though it’s listed Grade II and the pier head building remains in part, only 350 feet of the pier itself survives, and repeated attempts to attract lottery funding for a major restoration have fallen apart.

Most recently, the energetic friends’ group, Bognor Pier Trust, learned that the current owners, Bognor Pier Leisure Ltd (BPLL), would not support a £5,000,000 lottery bid but were committed to maintaining the structure:  https://www.bognor.co.uk/news/future-of-bognor-pier-plunged-into-uncertainty-after-owners-withdraw-support-for-5m-funding-bid-1-7653934 and http://www.bognorpiertrust.co.uk/news-articles/no-lottery-bid-bognor-regis-pier.

The Trust has made a dignified decision to concentrate on other conservation projects in the town, and to remain ready to purchase the Pier if the current owners decide to sell.

Where that leaves the long-term future of the Pier itself remains to be seen.

Zion Graveyard 2

Zion Sabbath School, Attercliffe, Sheffield

Zion Sabbath School, Attercliffe, Sheffield

The Friends of Zion Graveyard have made great progress since their inauguration last May:  they have secured funds to buy the land from the United Reformed Church, and have continued to clear the graves which had become buried in undergrowth.

In the course of researching the Zion Congregational Church which stood on the site I’ve become fascinated by the history of the congregation, which stretches back almost continuously to the early history of Dissent in Sheffield.

Attercliffe and Carbrook, two of the three villages in the Lower Don Valley, were centres of Puritan and later Dissenting activity from before the Civil War, when Hill Top Chapel was built as a chapel-of-ease to Sheffield Parish Church (now the Anglican Cathedral).

There was a college for training Dissenting clergy at Attercliffe Old Hall in the late seventeenth-century, and informal congregations worshipped in several locations north of Sheffield during the eighteenth century.

A temporary chapel was built on the site that became the Zion Sabbath School in 1793, and a permanent building was erected on the opposite side of what became Zion Lane in 1805.  The existing Sabbath School building dates from 1854, and a fine Romanesque brick chapel with a tower and spire was opened in 1863.  This building was demolished after a fire in June 1987.

The 1863 chapel was founded on the energetic ministry of Rev John Calvert (1832-1922), who was invited to become minister in 1857.

His leadership made Zion Church prominent, until its attendances exceeded any other place of worship in Attercliffe.  Zion members helped to form branch churches in Brightside and Darnall, and a mission church at Baldwin Street, half a mile away.

When Mr Calvert retired to Southport in 1895 he named his house ‘Attercliffe’.

At the beginning of the twentieth century Zion was the largest Congregational community, measured by membership, in Sheffield:  it had four hundred members when the four city-centre chapels each had around three hundred.

To accommodate the Sunday School and young people’s activities, in 1911 the congregation opened an extensive Institute next to the chapel, designed by the Sheffield architects Hemsoll & Chapman, whose best surviving building is Cavendish Buildings on West Street.  When first built, the Institute offered football, cricket, tennis, a gymnasium and a literary and debating section to young members of the congregation.

This vigorous Christian community filled its extensive buildings for only twenty years.  By 1930 the Sabbath School was leased as a printing works, and after the Second World War rooms in the Institute were leased to the Ministry of Works for use by civil-service departments.

Gale-damage in 1962 made the church itself unusable, and services moved next door into the Institute.  Zion Congregational Church closed entirely at the end of 1969 when the congregation amalgamated with Darnall Congregational Church.

Photographic evidence shows that the Institute building was completely demolished by July 1977.

The Church continued to be used as a furniture store until a serious fire on June 22nd 1987 led to its subsequent demolition.

Now only the Sabbath School and the graveyard remain – unobtrusive monuments to a long, proud tradition of Nonconformist worship in north Sheffield.

On Thursday May 24th the Friends of Zion Graveyard present Mike Higginbottom’s talk on Victorian Cemeteries at the Upper Wincobank Chapel, Sheffield.  For further details, please click here.