The last time that I went to Bognor Regis was over 15 years ago, on my birthday. My father had to drop some of his clients off at Bognor’s famous Butlins, and the family thought it would be a fun to tag along. As I recall, highlights of the day included eating a huge pizza and buying a fake Tamagotchi (which, to my distress, I later killed by leaving at school overnight). So, my most recent visit was almost like seeing the town with fresh eyes.
Bognor has a very particular feel to it – a feel that is common to fading British coastal towns, like Bexhill-on-Sea where I grew up. There is, however, something more claustrophobic about Bognor. The promenade is not particularly showy or grand, and the majority of the pier has been demolished, leaving just a short section of well-maintained seaside glory. The town feels as if it is in limbo, existing as a pull for tourists seeking to re-ignite childhood memories, and also as a home for permanent residents. Perhaps I am more conscious of the transitory nature of such seaside resorts, having grown up in one myself; always holding out for those few blissful days of sunshine, crowds and energy. Devoid of pleasure seekers, these places can seem eerie and sad.
I was consequently excited to find out more about the town during my visit to the local museum, and was eager to discover if Bognor had more to it than ice-creams and Butlins.
Bognor Museum is a fascinating place. To be honest, I was expecting a typical local museum with a potted history of the town, but I got something quite different. This ex-pub, while of course including local history, is home to a series of unusual donated objects and collections. For me, it was the small back room filled with numerous wireless radios, which was so captivating. With the help of a very friendly museum worker, I soon understood the development of wireless technology, microphones and early TVs. This world of early communication seems a million miles away from our internet fuelled world, where information is constantly at our finger tips. I could sense the excitement that would have been felt when, for the first time, people saw a moving image in their own homes, or heard news from around the world on their wireless radio. This excitement was written all over my guide’s face as he recalled his early TV experiences. It is sometimes easy to forget how empowering access to this information might have been.
Other unusual collections stood out, such as an array of postal objects, which included row-upon-row of tiny red post boxes. And hiding amongst these larger collections, were a few surprises. For instance, it was only when I looked through my photos at home that I saw an information leaflet about venereal disease!
Not only was I surprised by this museum’s collection, it was also lovely to be greeted by such friendly and helpful museum staff.