Arriving at 12.30 this afternoon, Prince Richard enjoyed a full tour of the museum before being led into the venue’s recently-completed Seaside Room
The much-anticipated extension, one of the biggest in the museum’s history, is devoted to an original Bognor Regis bathing machine, which would have serviced beach-goers throughout the 19th century, but also includes exhibits about Tony Hancock’s The Punch And Judy Man, which was filmed in the town, and Mary Wheatland; a famous Bognorian noted for saving several swimmers from the harsh waters off the coast.
A keen historian himself, the Duke was visibly delighted to unveil a commemorative plaque, officially opening the room to the public.
"It’s a great pleasure to come to Bognor Regis today,” he told the museum volunteers, dignitaries and local historians who turned out to see him. “I think every place has a history, but not every place has a museum where you can access that history. I suspect that, as a holiday destination, lots of people like to come here to show their grand children what life was like. It is for their benefit and for the generations to come, I congratulate you for all that you have amassed here.”
After his speech, the Duke was presented with a series of gifts from the museum, including a booklet on Bognor’s royal history, a specially-designed ‘build your own bathing machine pen holder’ kit, several sticks of Bognor rock and framed photos of his father’s visit to wartime Bognor Regis, where he inspected vital sea defences.
Much to the delight of museum volunteers, The Duke, who is 31st in line to the throne, took an eager interest in several of the museum’s exhibits. “It was exciting, but slightly daunting, to meet royalty,” said museum volunteer Christine Ball. “But he was so down to earth and very easy to talk to. "
Chair of the Bognor Regis Local History Society, Greg Burt, was especially honoured by the visit, and praised the Duke’s curiosity: “He was always leaping ahead and taking an interest,” he said. “You would talk about one exhibit, and he would jump over to the next. It was wonderful to see.”
Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, also presented The Queen's Award for Enterprise: Promoting Opportunity to Building Heroes at the County Hall in Chichester – before his visit to Bognor. He then visited a swords manufacturing business at Highdown House, Brighton City Airport in Shoreham-By-Sea.
The Duke of Gloucester – the late Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin – is a full-time working member of the Royal Family. According to the Royal Family’s website: “’He attends national and international events in support of The King and his duties as Head of State, as well as undertaking extensive public duties and engagements every year reflecting his own interests and charities.”