Richard Hotham was born in the city of York on 5th October 1722 and was the youngest of five children to Joseph and Sarah Hotham. His birth date was shown on a plate affixed to his coffin and noted when it was moved in 1879. There are no specific records of his formative years, however he eventually moved to London and it is thought that he became apprenticed as a hatter. Hence he traded as a hatter and hosier in Serle Street, Lincoln’s Inn and it was from here that he was known to have advertised his trade by means of small round copper tokens.
Richard Hotham married Miss Frances Atkinson on 1st December 1743. She was aged 25 years and it is thought she might have been the daughter of his employer at the time. Their wedding took place at the chapel within Chelsea Hospital. They were later to have one son called John in 1751 sadly; however, he died after only one day.
In 1746 Richard Hotham set up in business selling hats, the trade for which he is mostly remembered as ‘Hotham the Hatter.’ hence the name of the public house The Hatters in the Queensway and the sun bonnet sculpture on the corner of the Bon Marche shop in London Road.
By the 1750s he moved to improved premises on the corner of the old Hungerford Market in the Strand, the site of today’s Charring Cross Station. It was during this period that Richard Hotham issued copper tokens to advertise his hat selling business, and they bore the Searle Street address.
For a number of years it was believed that Richard Hotham only had one wife, Francis, however recently it has been discovered that this is not correct. Apparently Mrs. Francis Hotham died in 1760 and was buried on 14th August of that year. Within eight months on 7th April 1761, he was to re-marry this time to Barbara Huddart of the parish to St. Margaret in Westminster. Barbara became Lady Hotham following Richard receiving his Knighthood in 1769 when he was only aged 46. The knowledge of his second wife was to change much of the known history of Sir Richard Hotham and only goes to show, that research should continue, even after all the facts seem to be known!
During the 1760’s Richard Hotham joined the East India Company and became known as a ‘ship’s husband’ with four ships under his control. Also around this time he was involved in building property at Merton Place, which was later, the home of Admiral Nelson. He then built Merton Grove, which today would have been near the site of the South Wimbledon Tube Station.
For many years during the 1770’s and 1780’s he was involved in the life of his neighbourhood in Wimbledon, being on Vestry Committee’s at his local church in addition to being appointed Sherriff of Surrey and a Magistrate. Sadly his personal life was not so successful and Lady Hotham died on 1st February 1777 aged only 44. It would appear that Sir Richard Hotham also attempted to enter Parliament and was duly elected the MP for Southwark on 15th September 1780. He remained their member of parliament for four years.
Following these events his health began to suffer and he decided to spend the summer months at the seaside. At the age of 62 he arrived in our area staying at a farmhouse with Captain Blanchard, who was the Captain of one of his ships. There are some avenues of thought that he may have considered the Hayling Island area before arriving here in Bognor.
He returned to Bognor for a second year and then purchased his first piece of land, which contained a farmhouse, for the price of £200 from a George Moore who was a riding officer in the Customs.
Once Sir Richard Hotham had decided to stay he started work on building property as he found that the Bognor earth was very suitable for brick making, a fact that had not been appreciated locally.
With local labour and materials he rebuilt the farmhouse into a ‘commodious mansion.’ This event was recorded in the Parish register by the Rev. Thomas Durnford, M.A. who was the Vicar of South Bersted, Curate of Felpham and Rector of Middleton. This event occurred on the 18th January 1787 and the entry in the parish records read, “The first foundation stone of a public bathing place at Bognor in the Parish of Berstead was laid by Sir Richard Hotham Knt. At the house called by the name of the Lodge.” Hence Bognor Regis celebrates its birthday annually on 18th January. The fine mansion had its own private chapel. The clock tower is the only remaining part of Sir Richard’s chapel.
There are numerous mentions of Sir Richard and his activities in the town one of which states that in 1788 he spent £6,225 purchasing land, eventually he was to own 1,600 acres. At this time he also built Hothampton Place, which consisted of 7 houses in addition to East Row with six houses and both of these constructions overlooked the area today known as Waterloo Square. His work initially began by developing his seaside resort bordered on the one side by the Rife, which was situated between the resort and the village of Felpham. Although he did ultimately buy property in the village itself.
In 1789 Sir Richard Hotham became known as Lord of the Manor of Aldwick, when he purchased the second half of the manor from Canon Miller for a reputed 4,000 gns. His building continued when he purchased the dilapidated Fox Inn and built a hotel on the seafront. This was situated at the end of West Street and had stabling for 80 horses and 15 carriages. During all this work Sir Richard Hotham had not forgotten his roots and in 1791 he erected a memorial to his parents in Skelton church, north of York.
Visitors were beginning to arrive, and in 1791, which was classed as their first main season the rates for accommodation ranged from 5gns to 10 gns. per week. This was the year, which saw the inauguration of the watering place, known as Hothamton.
During the 1790’s there was a lot of development taking place throughout the district with Hothamton Cres. being built with 50 rooms and a tea room situated underneath its Dome. Spencer Terrace was a row of 7 houses. He also built his new home known as Chapel House, which was next to the original Bognor Lodge. On the 12th August 1793 the Duke of St. Albans was in the town to lay the foundation stone of the Chapel, being built to allow visitors to have their own exclusive area for prayer. In 1794 John Thwaites of London installed the distinctive clock, and this fact is clearly noted on the clock, which is still operating today in the tower attached to the house.
Sadly by 1795 things were not proceeding well and lodging receipts for the year only amounted to £1,919, 5s. 6d. At this time the town was apparently receiving refugees from the French Revolution. It is reported that over £100,000 had been spent on the resort, although it was still losing money. Royalty were beginning to arrive in the district such as when Lady Jersey took The Dome for the months of August and September, in order to avoid going to Brighton.
In 1796 he sat for a portrait and this picture clearly shows Sir Richard Hotham sat, with his plans for Bognor below his arm. This picture can still be seen today in the Town Hall.
Sir Richard Hotham continued to expand his ideal seaside resort, and continued to wish for royalty patronage. Building work continued, with new constructions rising out of the fields, overlooking the sea. Sadly however the dream came to an end when on the 13th March 1799 he died at his home in the resort, which was his dream.
There have been a series of owners over the years, culminating with William Holland Ballett Fletcher who became another benefactor of the town by creating the legacy of the horticultural rich collection of trees, shrubs and ornamental plants that are seen in the park today. He moved into the house, then known as Bersted Lodge, in 1899 and immediately changed the name to Aldwick Manor as he had inherited the Lordship of the Manor of Aldwick. In 1906, he was Co-opted as Chairman of Bognor Urban District Council and in 1910 he became a County Alderman. He was a very private man and never consented to being interviewed about his life and work. His wife Agnes Fletcher became well known in her own right for her unusual interest in reptiles, amphibians and rodents.
William worked closely with Kew Gardens and at one period his plantings were compared with Kew as being an outstanding collection of species. We should remember that this was his garden and not the park we know today. The boating lake was his pond where he could be regularly seen standing at the side feeding his huge goldfish with bread. A cork oak he found at Goodwood is planted near the house to commemorate his wedding to Agnes.
In 1939 she died at the age of 84 and within 2 years William also died, aged 89. This ended the Fletcher association with the house that had lasted over eighty years, since his father took over the house and completing over 40 years for William. Their deaths finished the private ownership of the house and park we know today.
Following his death the house was leased to the Ministry of Pensions for the duration of the war. At the conclusion of the war it soon became obvious that no maintenance had been carried out, but it was still considered possible for the house to be used as a Museum, Restaurant, or community area for the town. Many letters appeared in the press about the use of the area but no plans materialised. However in May 1947 Captain Corbishley, Chairman of the Bognor Regis Council, opened the grounds as a park for the benefit of all.
The house continued to deteriorate and in 1976, 35 years after Fletcher’s death, there were plans to demolish it and leave just the clock tower standing. Thankfully this did not happen and the original clock tower still houses Hotham’s clock from 1794, made by John Thwaites of Clerkenwell. The climb to the top is approx 63 steps.
In 1977 Abraham Singer took a great interest in the house and purchased it. He was keen on its history and decided to restore it, both inside and out, whilst retaining the charm, character and features of the building. Subsequently the property was divided into several elegant apartments that are all privately occupied to this day.
(Ref: http://www.hothampark.co.uk and http://www.bognor-local-history.co.uk)