Arguably Worthing Pier is the town’s best asset. Unlike many Sussex piers, the one at Worthing is well maintained and not crowded in with too many amusements.
It was built in 1862 and designed by Sir Robert Rawlinson and costs £6,500 to construct – a large amount in those days.
The first pier was modest and dwarfed by the West Pier at Brighton, so between 1887 and 1889 it was considerably widened and lengthened and a sea-end pavilion added. At the land-end were two kiosks: one for selling entrance tickets; the other selling tobacco and sweets.
A great storm in 1913 wrecked the whole central section of the pier, leaving the sea-end pavilion marooned. Yet so great was Worthing’s love for its pier that the whole town was united in wishing to see it rebuilt as soon as possible, regardless of cost. Just over a year later, in May 1914, the Lord Mayor of London opened the restored pier. Thousands thronged the streets to celebrate this moment of civic pride.
In 1926 the two land-end kiosks were replaced by a pavilion which mirrored the style of the one built nearly forty years earlier at the sea-end. But in 1933 disaster struck again when fire gutted through the sea pavilion and only the prompt action of fire crews and members of the public prevented the entire pier from being destroyed.
Two years later the sea-end pavilion was rebuilt but in an Art-Deco style, totally different in appearance to the original. This pavilion has only recently being restored, having been a night club during the 80s and 90s, and is now very much ‘fit for purpose.’
Worthing Pier Views
Great views along the Sussex coast are afforded from the pier and also of Worthing’s seafront. Although several of the town’s Regency and Victorian buildings are still standing, others have been demolished and replaced with inferior substitutes. Most grievous of all is the multi-storey car park that stands like a bombed-out ruin to the west of the pier. Regarded as ugly when it opened in 1966, no one would claim that it has improved with age.
But more recent rebuilds are welcome additions to the seafront architecture of the town, including Pegasus Court, built in the bow-fronted Regency style and the new Warnes built in the Art-Deco style. These luxury flats are much sought after and have proved good investments.
The Loder family were very well connected and Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII was a regular visitor. The house then passed into the ownership of Edward Knoblock, the American playwright, who also entertained famous guests.
But from the 1920s onwards, the house fell into decline and was twice threatened with demolition, in 1947 and 1976.
Many regarded it as a blot on the town’s landscape but thanks to the persistence of the Worthing Civic Society it was saved and ultimately converted into very desirable flats.
Back on the western side of the pier, the old Lifeboat House and the Old Customs House will be found. Both buildings date back to the mid-nineteenth century when the town looked far more to the sea for its livelihood than it does today.
Smuggling was once rife in Worthing. In 1832, William Cowerson, a leading smuggler, was shot dead by coastguards following the landing of a large consignment of contraband brandy at The Steyne.
Coastguards were permanently stationed in the town to deter ‘free traders’ from completing their nocturnal transactions.
A lifeboat was stationed in Worthing following a terrible disaster at sea in 1850, when eleven Worthing fishermen were drowned trying to save the crew of a stricken Dutch merchant ship that had floundered in mountainous seas.
The town was very proud of its lifeboat and its volunteer crew. An annual Lifeboat Day was held to raise money for the upkeep of the lifeboat and the vessel would be paraded around the town and the crew cheered by a grateful populace.
To the back of the Coastguard House is one of Worthing’s best kept secrets: Edinburgh Cottages in Western Row. These small fishermen’s cottages are well preserved and a reminder of a time when the sea was a means of earning a living and a perilous living at that. Although some of the owners with several vessels made a good living, most fishermen had a hard life and many had to continue working well into old age, although a hundred years ago, a man might have been old in appearance and demeanour by the time he was 55.
The Lido, also on the seafront, has been dubbed ‘England’s shortest pier,’ and it does indeed jut out into the sea. Today it provides amusements and refreshments but originally it was the town’s purpose-built bandstand. In the late 1950s it was converted into an open-air swimming pool and remained in this use until the early 1980s.
We hear plenty of people discussing Worthing’s eyesores, Teville Gate, our infamous seafront car park etc.
But which buildings make a positive impact on our lives? Not just architecturally but in other ways too?
We’d love to hear from you and we’ll publish them in our next article.