St. Wilfrid’s Church

St. Wilfrid’s Church was dedicated in 1910 and built to meet the growing needs in the west of the town as the population of Bognor grew in what was the easternmost tithing of the ancient parish of Pagham. What was actually built was only the first phase of a far more ambitious building by the architect George Fellowes Prynne which should have extended another three bays and had an imposing bell tower and baptistery if it had ever been completed. It was originally a daughter church to St. John the Baptist Church in London Road, Bognor and became the Parish Church on 25th of May 1971, when St. John’s Church was closed.

St. Wilfrid’s church is very aptly named as king Caedwalla confirmed by royal charter the rights and territories to land previously given to Wilfrid by king Aethelwealh of the South Saxons which also included the Pagham estate. The present church therefore has the rare privilege of being built on land the saint it is dedicated to once owned.

When Wilfrid was reinstated to his see in York in 687, before he returned he handed the Pagham estate to Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury as a gift and to this day this makes the parish a peculiar under the jurisdiction of the see of Canterbury.

681 Selsey (Church Norton)
When Wilfrid was banished from Northumbria in 680 he travelled south seeking the protection of first Mercia and then Wessex royal households but was subsequently banished from each as a result of blood line connections of the royal families back to the Northumbrian crown. Finally Wilfrid travelled to Sussex and fortunately was welcomed by king Aethelwealh of the South Saxons who presented to Wilfrid an estate of eighty seven hides to form a monastery at Selsey – which in Latin [Insula Vituli Marini] means ‘the island of the seal’.

In 681 Wilfrid became the 1st Bishop of Selsey and the cathedral seat remained at Selsey until bishop Stigand c 1076 when it was moved to its present site in Chichester.

The present St. Wilfrid’s Chapel at Church Norton is the 13th century chancel of a large Norman church that is thought to be located very close to Wilfrid’s original monastery and church. The main part of the current church was removed in 1864 and rebuilt in the centre of Selsey as St. Peter’s church to serve the growing population of this seaside resort.

686 King Caedwalla Charter – Hundred of Pagham

Caedwalla, an exiled son of king Centwine of Wessex, was befriended and helped by Wilfrid c681 and in 685 with a band of lawless followers Caedwalla ravaged Sussex and killed king Aethelwealh before being repulsed. In 686 after becoming king of Wessex he finally subdued the South Saxons and went on to ravage Kent and then the Isle of Wight (he gave a quarter of the island to Wilfrid).

In 686 king Caedwalla issued a charter confirming the rights and territories previously given to Wilfrid by king Aethelwealh and the estate of the Hundred of Pagham including Shripney, Charlton, Bognor, Bersted, Crimsham, Mundham and Tangmere.

The handing over of the charter is brilliantly depicted in the Lambert Barnard mural in the south transept of Chichester Cathedral commissioned by Bishop Robert Sherburne (bishop 1508-1536) in the 1530s.

Note: Photograph taken and reproduced with the kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Chichester Cathedral and no reproduction of these photographs is permitted without their permission

686 St. Andrew’s, Pagham


The Caedwalla charter mentions ‘his [Wilfrid’s] brethren serving God at the church of St. Andrew on the eastern shore of the harbour’ and it is presumed that the remains are next to vicarage of the present church of St. Thomas a Becket, Pagham. The remains are limited to part of the wall between the nave and the chancel and are in are in the garden of Little Welbourne which was built c1706. St. Andrews was secularised in 1626 and ended up being used as a garage.

11th Century Thomas a’ Becket Parish Church, Pagham


The current parish church of Pagham, St. Thomas a Becket dates mainly from the 13th century with 11th century fragments dating from just a few years of Becket’s martyrdom.


Fragments of an Anglo Saxon church found under the church’s foundations are in display in the South Transept.

13th Century St. Bartholomew, Bognor

The site in Bognor of this very early chapel of the parish church of Pagham is not known and was standing unserved as long ago as 1384. Lindsey Fleming in his History of Pagham states that in 1317 there was an instruction from the Archbishop that the10th July in each year was to be remembered as the dedication festival of Pagham church. In 1538 there was correspondence between the vicar of Bersted and the Prior of Canterbury where the Prior stated that the chapel fell into the sea along with many houses 18 -20 years earlier i.e. about 1520.

13th Century St. Mary Magdalene, South Bersted


Bersted was originally a chapel of Pagham and the church of St. Mary Magdalene is mainly13th century including the tower. It was styled a parish church by 1465 including Bognor.

1793 Chapel of St. Alban

Sir Richard Hotham built a chapel of St. Alban in Chapel House (later known as Bersted Lodge and now Hotham Park House). After J.B. Fletcher bought the house in 1857 he had the chapel demolished.

1822 St. John’s Chapel Built in the Steyne

In 1821 a Bognor builder Daniel Wonham erected as a speculation a chapel of ease St. John the Evangelist in the Steyne.

On Friday 25th January 1822 the Service of Consecration and Dedication of the Chapel of Ease in the Hamlet of Bognor was conducted by his Grace, Charles Manners Sutton, Archbishop of Canterbury (Bp of Norwich 1792, AB Canterbury 1805-28). The above shield which bears his coat of arms and the shield bearing the Royal Coat of Arms, were donated by Thomas Smith of Bersted. After the demolition of the chapel the shield was transferred to the west wall of St. John’s church in London Road and now hangs above the west door entrance to the porch in St. Wilfrid’s church.

1833 Gothic Tower added to St. John’s Chapel

A Gothic style tower was added complete with castellated parapet and pointed-arch window and this became a feature of Bognor’s skyline. The tower contained a clock and 4cwt bell named “Mary Ann” which had been donated by the Rev Charles and Miss Baumgarten of Aldwick at a cost of £200. Miss Baumgarten also donated a weather vane for the tower and a Captain S H Baumgarten a bible and prayer book for the reading desk.

The Old Testament part of the 1833 bible was rediscovered in April, 2007 and has now been refurbished. The New Testament section was discovered in May 2008.

In Fleming’s ‘History of Pagham’, regarding old St. John’s, it states – ‘The tower was added by the liberal aid of the Rev. Charles Baumgarten, also the belfry and tower clock; his sister, Miss Baumgarten, giving £25 towards the handsome vane surmounting the tower’. This confirms that Miss Baumgarten was the Rev. Charles’s sister. In the IGI there is a reference to Mary Anne Charlotte Baumgarten, daughter of Samuel Henry Baumgarten and Ann was baptised at Petworth on 21st August 1805.

The relationship of Captain Samuel Henry Baumgarten to the Rev. Charles Baumgarten and his sister Mary Ann has yet to be identified.

1873 St. John’s in the Steyne upgraded from Chapel to Church

As a result of the increase in the local population, Bognor was granted parish status, independent of South Bersted, in February 1873. St. John’s was upgraded from chapel to Parish Church.

1876 Report – Requirements for a larger Church

It was decided a larger church was necessary and a report in May 1876 stated that enlargement of the existing St John’s was not feasible. Its walls were too thin and, more to the point, the church was bounded east and west by roads.

1880 Cottage Mission Room, North Bersted

The building. formerly a blacksmith’s cottage, was licensed for Diocesan services in 1880.

1880 Foundation Stone – St. John’s Church, London Road

A foundation stone was laid by Lady Cecilia Bingham, youngest sister of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, on 25 August 1880 in Dorset Gardens, now called London Road for a new St John’s church. Within two years the church was complete with the exception of the tower. The architect was Sir. Arthur William Blomfield (1829-1899)

1886 Consecration of St. John’s Church, London Road

St John’s church in London Road consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Chichester in January 1886.

Photographs of St. John’s Church in London Rd. by kind permission of James Clevett (01903 714922)

1891 Plans for St. Wilfrid’s Church

There has for some time been talk of a new church to supply the growing necessities of the west end of Bognor, and we hear that all the preliminaries are now settled and that immediate steps will be taken to carry it out. (‘From our Files’ – 100 years ago – Bognor Regis Observer 25/ 7/1991)

1891-2 Demolition of St. John’s Church in the Steyne

St John’s church in the Steyne carried on with its regular services until its demolition in 1891-2. The rubble remnants were sold to a builder, Mr Southerton, who used the material for erecting St John’s Terrace in Highfield Road. The clock tower however, remained as a landmark for the local fishermen.

1894 Holy Cross Mission Church, North Bersted

A new mission church replaced the Cottage Mission Room in 1894. The spire was removed for safety reasons in April 1976.

1895 Spire Completed – St. John’s Church, London Road

The spire was completed at St John’s church, London Road

Photographs of St. John’s Church in London Rd. by kind permission of James Clevett (01903 714922)

1896 Tin Chapel-of-Ease, Victoria Drive

The site in Victoria Drive had been settled upon back in 1895 and a tin chapel-of-ease, capable of holding 200, was built and dedicated in July 1896. The first Sunday service at the new tin chapel was later recalled by one of the choristers, Mr A. Brimacombe: “Unfortunately, the seats for the choir had just been varnished and we found it very difficult to stand up, our knickerbockers becoming most adhesive, especially after the long sermon.” (Vanessa Mills, in ‘Bygone Bognor’, Bognor Regis Observer. 1990s)

1905 Plans for St. Wilfrid’s Church, Victoria Drive

There was a large assembly of church people at the Assembly Rooms, Bognor, in connection with the proposal to establish a building fund for a permanent “St Wilfrid’s” Church at West Bognor in the place of the present small iron structure. Mr G. H. Fellowes Prynne, F.R.I.B.A., the eminent church architect, explained the plans he had prepared for the proposed new church. (‘From our Files’ – 75 years ago – Bognor Regis Observer 14/11/80)

1908 Appeal for Funds to build St. Wilfrid’s Church

The appeal made in 1908 towards the ‘Church Building Fund’ to cover the shortfall of £2,000 required to finish the first (and what turned out to be the only) phase of the original plans for the Church Building designed by the Architect G. H. Fellowes Prynne. (see appeal)

1908 Stone Laying – St. Wilfrid’s Church

On Wednesday, July 22, in brilliant weather in Bognor, a very large crowd assembled at the corner of Ellasdale Road and Victoria Drive around the site of the new church of St Wilfrid’s to witness the service and ceremony of stone laying. Adjoining the site is the galvanized iron structure which has served the need of the church for several years. (‘From our Files’ – 75 years ago – Bognor Regis Observer 28/ 7/ 83)

1910 Dedication of St. Wilfrid’s Church

Despite the obviously inconvenient hour, the seating accommodation of the new church of St. Wilfrid’s, West Bognor, was fully taxed at 11 a.m. for the dedication service. (‘From our Files’ – 75 years ago – Bognor Regis Observer 2/ 5/ 85)

The church was only partially completed at a cost of £8,200. The tower, spire, three bays of the nave and baptistry were still missing.

Dedication Service 23 April 1910

St George’s Day 1910

Harvest Festival 1910

The iron building must have been taken down soon after the opening of the new church. I have a postcard which is, postmarked 16th August 1911, showing the church from Victoria Drive, with no sign of the old structure. (J.M.Hawkins note)

1919 The Reredos Design by F.G. Howard for St. John’s Church

The reredos was erected as a war memorial by public subscription following a faculty application 24 April, 1919 by H.J. Clayton, vicar of Bognor.

The figures represent from left to right St George for soldiers, St. Joan of Arc for women and France, St. Nicholas for sailors, Centre Panel of the Transfiguration, The Baptist for the church dedication, St. Mary Magdalene for the mother church in South Bersted and St. Wilfrid for the daughter church (as it was then) in Victoria Drive.

Note the centre panel was changed in 1934 and the reredos was moved to St. Wilfrid’s church in 1971 before St. John’s church was demolished.

1952 Chime of 8 Bells for St. John’s Church

A chime of 8 bells by Gillett & Johnson dated 1952

1955 St. Wilfrid’s Church Consecrated

Still waiting for the tower and other work to be completed, Bishop Bell consecrated St Wilfrid’s church. The bishop told the congregation that if the church waited for completion before consecrating the church, then one or two centuries might elapse!

1960 Clock Tower of St. John’s Church in the Steyne Demolished

The remaining clock tower of the St John’s Church in The Steyne was demolished and the site used for a car park.

1971 Closure of St. John’s Church, London Road

The last service was held in St. John’s church in May 1971. The church was demolished in 1972 and the site sold in March 1973 to make way for the present WH Smith and Boots stores.

What Might Have Been – the Completed St. Wilfrid’s Church

The Church was unfortunately never finished – a bell tower, spire and 3 further bays with a west baptistry were proposed but never implemented. We are fortunate however to have a water coloured line drawing of the enlarged church as envisaged by the Architect responsible for the design of the building – G.H. Fellowes Prynne, F.R.I.B.A. Note how the proposed building was dressed in brick not the stone finish of the actual building.