A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 6 Part 1, Bramber Rape (Southern Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.
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The Present article (fn. 1) deals with the history of Worthing hamlet until c. 1800, and thereafter with that of the town as it was enlarged by the successive boundary changes recorded above. Broadwater, Durrington, Heene, and West Tarring are, however, all dealt with from c. 1900 rather than from the several dates when they were incorporated in Worthing. Some aspects of the history of Goring after 1929 are also treated here.
The hamlet of Worthing straddled an outcrop of brickearth forming a low ridge c. 25 ft. above sealevel, whose summit was represented in 1978 by Richmond Road and Union Place. (fn. 2) The hamlet was originally separated from Broadwater by the tidal estuary of the Teville stream to the north. That may have been the site of Worthing harbour, recorded in 1300 (fn. 3) and 1493, (fn. 4) which was a member of Shoreham port in 1324. (fn. 5)
The coastline of Worthing offers little geological resistance to erosion, (fn. 6) and there is some evidence for the flooding of reclaimed land in the late Middle Ages. (fn. 7) By the late 16th century, however, a shingle bar seems to have grown up off shore, causing silting. (fn. 8) Lagoons east and west of Worthing were recorded in 1587, (fn. 9) and after the 16th century a large mass of land, later known as the salt green, (fn. 10) the salt grass, (fn. 11) or Worthing common, gradually came into being south of the modern shore line. (fn. 12) During the 18th century the shingle bar was apparently driven gradually on shore, causing the common to be eroded away. Erosion had begun by 1748, when the common still contained c. 50 a., (fn. 13) and by c. 1810 most of the common had disappeared, (fn. 14) giving rise to the fine beach noted during the late 18th century. (fn. 15) As the bar approached the mainland it created a backwater on the beach, about which visitors to the resort complained, and which was removed, at great expense, before 1802. (fn. 16) By 1814 the sea had reached the mainland, where the land on which the resort stood projected into the sea and was known as Worthing point. (fn. 17) Afterwards the mainland itself began to be eroded, (fn. 18) creating a continuous problem for the town, which may have been exacerbated by the extraction of clay, sand, and other materials from the beach in the late 18th and 19th centuries. (fn. 19)
Groynes were built west of Worthing by 1804, (fn. 20) and in front of the houses on the edge of the beach by 1810. (fn. 21) The esplanade built between 1819 and 1821 acted as a further sea defence. (fn. 22) Though the sea defences were later extended (fn. 23) the centre of Worthing was liable to flooding by the sea through out the 19th century, (fn. 24) and at the east end of the town it was estimated that the high-water mark advanced by c. 100 yards between 1857 and 1907. Sea defence remained difficult during the 19th century because of the lack of a unified authority for the area, (fn. 25) but the problem was eased in the 20th century. (fn. 26) Sea defence continued then to be a concern of the corporation, extensive works being carried out in Goring in the 1930s. (fn. 27) Meanwhile the presence of groynes had led to the accumulation of shingle, and Worthing's former fine, hard sands (fn. 28) had been replaced by a pebbly beach. (fn. 29)
A naval signal station was placed at Worthing in 1795, (fn. 30) and a coastguard station was erected after 1809 (fn. 31) on the site of the future esplanade. A second coastguard station on the Heene-Broadwater boundary recorded in the 1820s (fn. 32) remained in use until the 1930s, (fn. 33) and the building survived in 1977. A third station, built apparently at the south end of Ham Road by 1845, had been destroyed by the sea by 1847. (fn. 34) After two successor buildings had been destroyed in 1850 and 1869, (fn. 35) the station was not rebuilt again. (fn. 36)
The climate of the town is mild and equable, with more sunshine than elsewhere especially in winter, while the downs give partial shelter against north and east winds. (fn. 37) Those conditions were a principal cause of Worthing's growth as a resort, and afterwards of the expansion of the market-gardening industry (fn. 38) and of the town's popularity as a site for convalescent homes.
In the Middle Ages and later Worthing was a small agricultural and fishing hamlet of less importance than the neighbouring village of Broadwater. Its development as a resort began in the mid 18th century, the first recorded visitor being a Londoner who came in 1759 to enjoy sea air and bathing. (fn. 39) Worthing grew slowly at first, but by 1789 its level sands and calm sea attracted sickly visitors, (fn. 40) and in the following year it was described as frequented by those who liked a more retired bathing-place than Brighton. (fn. 41) By 1796 it had many good lodginghouses, three hotels, and many fashionable visitors. (fn. 42) The visit in 1798 of Princess Amelia, youngest daughter of George III, to cure a lame knee, (fn. 43) gave Worthing a boost, and caused a boom which lasted until c. 1813. Among the reasons for the place's recommendation by the princess's doctors were its relative nearness to Windsor, good bathing at all states of the tide, and sands on which a carriage could be driven. (fn. 44) The princess was visited from Brighton by the Prince of Wales (fn. 45) and members of the aristocracy, (fn. 46) who thereby discovered the smaller resort. During the next decade many fashionable people stayed at Worthing, including the duke and duchess of Northumberland in 1802, (fn. 47) Henry Dundas, first lord of the admiralty, in 1804, (fn. 48) and Princess Charlotte of Wales in 1807. (fn. 49) In 1811 the resort was said to be crowded with fashionable visitors, the height of the season then, as later, being in August and September. (fn. 50)
During the first fifteen years of the 19th century the entertainment facilities of the resort greatly increased, (fn. 51) and it was also provided with an Independent chapel, built in 1804, and a chapel of ease to Broadwater church, consecrated in 1812. Other possible hindrances to the resort's development were removed by the building of a direct turnpike road from Horsham and London after 1802 (fn. 52) and the opening of a market in 1810. Machinery for local government and policing was set up after 1803, (fn. 53) and some action was taken against two of Worthing's continuing problems, coastal erosion (by the erection of groynes) (fn. 54) and drainage. A third continuing problem, that of seaweed being driven on shore, was also present in 1805. (fn. 55) The early promoters of the resort were local men, especially members of the Bacon and Wicks families. (fn. 56) They were soon joined by outsiders, notably Miles Stringer, a London tea merchant, (fn. 57) William France, upholsterer to the king, who built the first houses in Trafalgar Place, (fn. 58) and Edward Ogle, a London business man, (fn. 59) known locally as 'King Ogle', who owned the Warwick House estate and other property around the Steyne, including the Steyne itself. (fn. 60) By 1812 or 1813, however, the bubble of the town's first boom had burst, and there were many empty houses and much surplus accommodation. (fn. 61)
After 1813 the resort continued to develop, but at a slower rate. (fn. 62) Queen Caroline (d. 1821) visited Worthing, (fn. 63) the duke of Cumberland stayed there in 1817, (fn. 64) and fashionable people continued to come during the early 1820s. (fn. 65) By 1822 there were winter visitors as well as summer ones. (fn. 66) In 1826 Worthing was described as select, and particularly suitable for children on account of its quietness, decorum, and safe bathing. (fn. 67) It continued later to have a reputation for domestic comfort and propriety, in contrast with the liveliness of Brighton. (fn. 68) About 1832 it was also being particularly recommended for invalids. (fn. 69)
The town's reputation for quietness seems to have been partly caused by the depression which affected it from the mid 1820s. In 1826 it was said that people no longer had as much money as before to spend on amusement, (fn. 70) and the number of visitors declined during the succeeding years, when many lodging-houses and other buildings were empty. The visit of Princess Augusta in 1829 gave a temporary respite, (fn. 71) but the depression continued during the 1830s, (fn. 72) as the '18th-century mode of holiday, with its "company" life, libraries, theatres, and assemblies' suddenly collapsed. (fn. 73) In the 1840s and 1850s the resort's development was held back by sanitation problems. The continued discharge of sewage into the sea in front of the town made the sands sloppy and caused unpleasant smells, which at certain times of the year were mixed with the smells of seaweed, gathered for manure on the edge of the esplanade, and fish. (fn. 74) The esplanade was almost deserted when the wind was in a certain direction, and the value of houses on the front was greatly reduced. (fn. 75) Meanwhile sickness and disease were increasing in the narrow, congested streets around Portland Road, Montague Street, and elsewhere. (fn. 76) Nevertheless, in 1851 Worthing was listed as one of the principal seaside watering-places in the country, (fn. 77) and it continued to attract royalty and the aristocracy. The ailing Dowager Queen Adelaide visited it in 1849, (fn. 78) and in 1853 it was described as patronized by very genteel company. (fn. 79)
The opening of the new water-works and main sewer during the 1850s had an immediate beneficial effect on the resort; by 1859 the sands had recovered from the effects of sewage (fn. 80) and the number of visitors had greatly increased. (fn. 81) The reputation of the resort as especially suitable for invalids and as a winter residence (fn. 82) was reinforced on medical grounds in the late 1850s and 1860s by two influential doctors, one of whom estimated that the downs reduced the force of north winds by about a half. (fn. 83) By 1865 the winter season was nearly as important as the summer one, (fn. 84) and in 1869 there were very large numbers of invalids in the town. (fn. 85)
From the 1860s onwards the resort continued to expand, though not as fast as other south coast resorts, especially Eastbourne; (fn. 86) once again sanitary problems appear to have been a hindrance. (fn. 87) Though the number of hotels increased, (fn. 88) Worthing acquired no large ones, as Brighton, Eastbourne, and Hastings did at the same time. (fn. 89) Meanwhile the number of lodging-houses rose from 54 in 1867 to 200 in 1891. (fn. 90) During the late 19th century the resort retained its former character, (fn. 91) though by 1885 fashionable visitors were rare. At that date the height of the season was still in late August and early September. (fn. 92) Meanwhile day visitors became important as well; 800 London temperance excursionists visited the town in July 1869, (fn. 93) and in 1895 the excursion season was in full swing by the third week of June. (fn. 94) In the second week of July 1900 day visitors included works outings and over 1,200 members of the Church Lads Brigade; on one day there were estimated to be nearly 2,000 day visitors from London. Such visitors were not always welcome, and the Sunday promenade was said on that occasion to have been spoilt by the presence of 1,500 members of the United Building Workers Union. (fn. 95)
By the late 19th century, however, the resort had begun to be less important to the town as more elderly people came to live there permanently. In 1841 the proportion of people aged 60 or over was nearly the same in Worthing (7.33 per cent) as in the country in general. (fn. 96) By 1881 both Worthing (8.71 per cent) and Sussex had a higher proportion than the rest of England and Wales, and by 1901 Worthing's proportion was 10.45 per cent, 1 per cent more than that of Sussex and 3 per cent more than that of England and Wales. (fn. 97) At the same period Worthing acquired a new importance as one of the two largest centres of glass-house fruit and flower production in the country. The industry added a new attraction to the resort from the 1890s onwards, with the summer and autumn shows of the Worthing Horticultural Society. (fn. 98) Glass-house growers also began to take a part in promoting the resort; (fn. 99) for instance Robert Piper, the largest grower in the area, (fn. 100) and twice mayor, (fn. 101) guaranteed the cost of the Worthing Season Advertising Committee's countrywide newspaper advertising campaign in 1894. (fn. 102) Other promoters of the resort at the same date were C. A. Seebold (fn. 103) and G. H. Warne, the latter of whom converted York Terrace in the Steyne into Warne's Hotel and helped to attract motorists to the town, inter alia by building what was claimed to be the first hotel garage in England. (fn. 104) Meanwhile Sir Robert Loder, Bt. (d. 1888), (fn. 105) of Beach House, was a generous benefactor to the town, as was his widow afterwards until her death in 1907. (fn. 106)
In 1893, as a result of pollution at the waterworks, (fn. 107) the town suffered a disastrous outbreak of typhoid fever which came in two attacks, the second and worse reaching its height in July. There were 1,261 recorded cases and 155 deaths in Worthing itself, and neighbouring places were affected too. (fn. 108) At the end of August there were said to be no visitors at all in the town, (fn. 109) and the distress resulting from the outbreak revealed the precariousness of the town's economy, since there was then relatively little employment apart from the holiday trades. (fn. 110) Besides private relief funds, the Mayor's Relief Fund spent £7,800, much of it in helping small business men, especially lodging-house keepers, about whom there was particular concern that they would be forced out of business altogether. (fn. 111) It was estimated that the epidemic had cost the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway £15,000; (fn. 112) the resort did not recover for several seasons, (fn. 113) and the growth of the town generally seems also to have been halted. (fn. 114) It was presumably those difficulties that caused some residents in 1895 to look enviously at Eastbourne, which had a duke to look after its interests. (fn. 115)
In the early years of the 20th century the entertainment facilities of the town expanded, (fn. 116) and Worthing continued to be favoured by both staying visitors and day trippers. (fn. 117) Edward VII stayed occasionally at Beach House with Sir Edmund Loder between 1908 and 1910. (fn. 118) The proportion of elderly residents in the population remained high; in 1918 casual gardening afforded higher rewards to local farm-workers than agricultural overtime. (fn. 119)
In the 1920s and 1930s Worthing expanded rapidly (fn. 120) as a dormitory for commuters to Brighton and London, (fn. 121) who were already important to the town by 1924. (fn. 122) Growth in that direction was encouraged by the corporation, (fn. 123) and facilitated by the electrification of the railway line in 1933 (fn. 124); by 1938 493 people had season tickets to London and 415 to Brighton from stations in the borough. (fn. 125) The town also continued to attract elderly and retired people in increasing numbers. In 1931 41 per cent of its population over 14 were unoccupied or retired, (fn. 126) and between 1931 and 1951 the proportion of the population aged 65 or over increased from 14.2 to 24.6 per cent, (fn. 127) the highest proportion for any town of 50,000 or more inhabitants in England and Wales. (fn. 128) Many of the immigrants were elderly women from London. (fn. 129) In 1921 births in the town exceeded deaths, but 30 years later there were many more deaths than births. (fn. 130) Before the Second World War, however, the high proportion of elderly people appeared to bring the corporation no difficulties. (fn. 131)
The resort also expanded in the 1920s and 1930s, the corporation taking an increasing part in its promotion. (fn. 132) The combined importance of the resort and of private residence to the town's economy can be seen from the fact that in 1931 29 per cent of those in employment were engaged in personal service. (fn. 133) In 1937 Worthing was being promoted especially as a winter resort. (fn. 134) In June 1921 there were an estimated 3,700 visitors in the town, most of them from London and the south-east, and apparently including a large proportion of clerks and their families. (fn. 135) In 1929 Worthing was said to be favoured by those working in London who could leave their families by the sea and commute daily. (fn. 136) Over 80,000 return tickets from Victoria station were booked in 1938, (fn. 137) and more than 53,000 day trippers visited Worthing on August Bank Holiday in 1935. (fn. 138) Wealthier visitors meanwhile were deterred by the lack of first-class hotels. (fn. 139)
After the Second World War Worthing at first benefited like other resorts from an increase in holiday-making. (fn. 140) In 1946 113, 346 return rail bookings from Victoria were made, mostly by staying visitors. Besides the Southern Railway many coach companies ran day excursions from London to Worthing at that period, one company handling 175,000 passengers on the route in 1947. (fn. 141) There was opposition, however, both then and later, to proposals aimed at attracting day trippers, (fn. 142) and in 1977 shops and refreshment and amusement facilities catering for them were confined to the pier and a small area round it. (fn. 143) In 1953 the town still depended greatly on holiday-makers. (fn. 144) In 1969 there were an estimated 55,000 staying visitors between May and September, and 30,000 during the rest of the year; most came from south-east England, a large proportion being old people. About 520,000 day visitors were thought to have come between May and September, nearly a quarter of them aged over 65. (fn. 145) The town continued to lack large hotels in 1977, but by then it had begun like other resorts to serve as a venue for conferences, albeit small ones. (fn. 146) Another new type of visitor was the young foreign student of English, (fn. 147) numbers of whom increased greatly during the 1970s; in August 1977 there were estimated to be c. 3,000 in the town. (fn. 148)
Since the Second World War, however, the residential and dormitory functions of the town have become much more important than its function as a resort. In 1953 there were still many rentiers. (fn. 149) In 1946 1,113 people, many of them apparently wartime evacuees, held season tickets to London from stations in the borough, and 609 held season tickets to Brighton. (fn. 150) The number of commuters to London had increased by 1961, but declined thereafter. (fn. 151) Meanwhile the corporation, and later the borough council, deliberately tried to increase employment opportunities in the town itself. Trading estates were established for light industries, especially industries relocated from unsuitable areas. (fn. 152) Many offices, of both government departments and private companies, were moved to Worthing. The Inland Revenue transferred some departments to Durrington in 1950, where they were joined by the Temperance Permanent, later Gateway, Building Society in 1957, and Lloyds Bank registrar's department in 1959. (fn. 153) Other insurance companies moved to Worthing in the 1960s and 1970s, (fn. 154) and with the re-organization of local government in the early 1970s Worthing became an administrative centre of regional importance, with the headquarters of the Southern Water Authority, established in 1974, (fn. 155) and of the West Sussex Area Health Authority, established in the former Courtlands hospital, Goring, in 1973. (fn. 156) The declining importance of the resort in the town's economy was shown by opposition in 1976 to proposals by the borough council and others to attract more visitors. (fn. 157) In the same year Worthing was described as a residential town with a resort attached to it. (fn. 158)
By 1961 the proportion of inhabitants aged 65 or over had risen to 31 per cent, compared with 19 per cent for Sussex and 11.9 per cent for England and Wales. In 1971 the comparable figures were 34, 21.5 and 13.2 per cent, and there were c. 40 hospitals and 65 homes for the old and disabled. (fn. 159) The high proportion of old people in the town had come to be a great problem since the Second World War. (fn. 160) By 1977, however, that proportion was increasing more slowly because there were new sources of employment, (fn. 161) and in 1977 the borough council was trying to limit the number of elderly settlers. (fn. 162)
Twenty-two people were enumerated in Worthing in 1086. (fn. 163) Twenty-three inhabitants were assessed to the subsidy in 1296, 11 in 1327, (fn. 164) and 34 in 1524. (fn. 165) There were 30 households in 1566 (fn. 166) and c. 40 people were listed for the hearth tax in the 1660s. (fn. 167) In the early 19th century Worthing's population accounted for most of that of Broadwater parish, which increased from 1,018 in 1801 to 2,692 in 1811, to 3,725 in 1821, and to 4,576 in 1831, (fn. 168) when the population of the town was estimated at 4,019. (fn. 169) In the mid 19th century Worthing's population rose from 4,702 in 1841, when it may have included some holiday visitors, to 5,805 in 1861, the rate of increase being nearly halved in the 1850s. Later, as the town's boundaries were extended, the population increased more quickly. In 1881 it was 10,976, and in 1901 20,015. The total of 35,215 in 1921 included c. 3,690 holiday visitors. In 1931 and 1951 the totals were 46,224 and 69,431. (fn. 170) In the 1920s the area of the town as enlarged in 1929 had the largest numerical population increase of any place in West Sussex, and between 1931 and 1951 Worthing had the largest percentage increase in any English resort of similar size. (fn. 171) In the mid 20th century the rate of increase again declined. Worthing's population had reached 88,407 by 1971, and an estimated 92,800 by 1975. (fn. 172)
Natives of Worthing include the architect Anthony Salvin (1799-1881). (fn. 173) Two of Percy Bysshe Shelley's earliest works were printed in the town in 1810-11. (fn. 174) Among 19th-century visitors were George Eliot (fn. 175) and Oscar Wilde, who during a holiday there in 1894 wrote most of The Importance of Being Earnest, (fn. 176) the principal character being named Worthing. E. W. Lane (1801-76), translator of the Thousand and One Nights, lived at Worthing from 1849 onwards, (fn. 177) the poet W. E. Henley lived there between 1899 and 1901, and the painter Antony Copley Fielding died there in 1855. (fn. 178) The naturalists Richard Jefferies (1848-87) and W. H. Hudson (1841-1922) are both buried in Broadwater cemetery. (fn. 179) Edward Knoblock the playwright bought Beach House in 1917 and refurbished it to the designs of Maxwell Ayrton, with much furniture from the Thomas Hope collection; among his guests there were Arnold Bennett, J. B. Priestley, and Sir Compton Mackenzie. (fn. 180)
Barracks were built in High Street by c. 1805 where a company of regular soldiers was stationed to prevent a French landing. They were converted into a school in 1812. (fn. 181)