WENDY’S WEEK Bognor Regis and The strange story of the Aldwick Shipwreck
With the weather decidedly cooler, this week I needed to get out and about, so we set off to spend a day at Bognor Regis, which like any south coast seaside resort can be blustery. We visited the museum there, which provides the visitor with the history of early Bognor when Sir Richard Hotham came to Bognor and created the resort which he initially called Hothampton, but more about Sir Richard next week. In 1929 when King George V became ill and required lung surgery he was sent to convalesce at Craigwell House (demolished in 1939) and lent to His Majesty’s 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 it built in 1806. Although the house was technically in neighbouring Aldwick, his Majesty bestowed the suffix ‘Regis’ to Bognor.
At the museum you can see a model of Mary Wheatland, Bognor’s Famous Bathing Lady, and a scale model of the Esplanade Theatre which once stood where the skate park is today. For the radio buffs there is the Ron Simpson Wireless collection displaying an array of radios from yesteryear. It is well worth a visit and the opening times are Tuesday to Sunday, including bank holidays 10-4 until the end of October, then 1-26 November 10-1pm and they are closed for the winter months and reopen again the weekend before Easter. It can be found just off the seafront, to the right hand side of The Royal Norfolk Hotel, which is to the west of the Pier, and is free to go in. They are also disabled-friendly, with a ramped access, disabled toilet and even a wheelchair if required.
After an enjoyable morning, and some lunch we drove along to Alwick to learn more about the strange story of how the delicious aroma of baked salted herrings filled the air. The story begins on 29 December 1912 when a young woman answered a knock at the door at Goodman House, home of Mr New, and was alarmed see a man soaking wet, and speaking in a foreign language with agitated gestures. Mr New telephoned the police station and Inspector Thomas and a constable set out to find out what it was about. As they walked along Steyne Street they came across three men, bare-footed, wet and covered in sand and despite the language problems managed to gather that they had been shipwrecked. Meanwhile the local postman, Mr West was taking a late stroll on the western end of the pier when three beckoned to him and from hand gestures and the state they were in, he assumed they had been shipwrecked and their shipmates had headed off in the direction of Bognor. Soon they were all reunited with their fellow crew members. Someone had the idea to take the men to Louis Peacock who could speak French and eventually their story emerged. It was now 11.30 at night, but the policeman decided to call George Walters, the local secretary of the Shipwrecked Mariners Aid Society and he authorised the men to be taken to the Pier Restaurant in Waterloo Square, where they were made welcome and given hot food and coffee before settling down for the night. They also arranged for a telegram to be sent to Captain Bailbed’s home in St Malo confirming that he and his crew were safe. The ship’s dog, a large black retriever was put into the stables at Mr Peacock’s home but it was so frightened it kept howling, so it was taken inside where, exhausted from the ordeal, it laid it’s head on Mr Peacocks chest and went to sleep.
By now the tide had brought the Carnot to rest, with some of its sails still raised to the very spot where the crew had landed. The coastguards were informed that a vessel had run aground but were unsure whether the crew were safe or not. A message went out to the coxswain and the secretary of the lifeboat, and the coastguard went to the beach where he found Mrs Croxton-Johnson looking at the ship in disbelief, but realising that the crew were safe felt there no point in calling out the lifeboat because the ship had had come to rest well up on the beach. The following morning the Receiver of Wrecks arrived from Littlehampton and authorised the coastguard to take procession of the Carnot and her cargo. Spectators from Bognor gathered in the winter sunshine to visit the wreck and take photographs, and on Monday morning when the Carnot’s hatches were opened, they were greeted with the delicious smell of cooked fish! She had been carrying a cargo of cement and herrings, and when the seawater mixed with the cement the heat generated had baked the salted herrings! Spectators said the rising fumes gave the impression that the ship was actually on fire. Meanwhile the crew were enjoying the generous hospitality of the town, with Mr Peacock acting their interpreter. Sets of clothing were found for each crew member and they were invited to tea with Mrs Croxton-Johnson. In the evening they were taken to a picture show at the Pier Theatre, where a collection took place which raised £2. Other donations amounted to another £2.4s (£2.40p), a useful amount in those days. The following evening they were invited to a Christmas pantomime, Babes in the Woods, at the local Kursaal Theatre. The French Consul arrived from Newhaven and took charge, arranging for new clothes to be bought for each from a shop in West Street, and they returned to St Malo on New Year’s Day without Captain Bailbed who with his wife stayed on., but I expect the smell of cooking fish became a talking for months to come, and as a reminder the remains of some solidified clumps of cement can be seen on the beach today and at Dark Lane.