Thursday, April 28, 2022

A Visit to the Seaside: Worthing

by Lauren Gilbert

Located on the coast in West Sussex, Worthing is between 50-60 miles south of London, and 10-12 miles west of Brighton and Hove (depending on routes taken). It has a long and fascinating history.

Stone Age people were in the area approximately 60,000 years ago. By the New Stone Age or Neolithic era (between about 4000 BCE to about 2000BCE), Worthing was the centre of flint mining; Romans also settled the area. The Iron Age (about 750 BCE-about 43 AD) hillfort Cissbury Ring is the largest hill fort in Sussex, and the 2nd largest in England. It contains one of the Neolithic flint mines found in the area.

Easternmost Part of Cissbury Ring by Slbs June 29, 2008 Creative Commons

At the Norman Conquest, the Manor of Worthing included the Ordinges and Mordinges estates. William de Braose received the Manor. The estates were joined, and Bramber Castle was built. The Manor was then leased to Robert Le Sauvage. Worthing was included in the Domesday Book.

Remains of the Norman keep of Old Bramber Castle by Margaret Anne Clarke Sept. 20, 2013, Creative Commons

During Georgian Era, Worthing saw great change. For decades, Worthing was a fishing village, with mackerel as the prime catch, until the temperate climate and seaside started attracting visitors in the 1750s. It was also a stronghold of smugglers throughout the 19th century.

As other watering places such as Brighton became more congested, less crowded places, such as Worthing, became more attractive. As physicians extolled the benefits of sea bathing for health, more visitors came. George III (who had popularized Weymouth as a seaside destination, visiting numerous times in 1789-1805) thought it might improve Princess Amelia’s health and brought her to Worthing in 1798.

By 1803, streets had been built, along with some hotels and fine homes. The early visitors were wealthy fashionables, who expected comfortable accommodations and entertainment. The medical benefits of sea bathing attracted some. Others confined themselves to travel within the United Kingdom due to the difficulties of foreign travel resulting from the Napoleonic Wars. In 1803, Parliament passed an Act, establishing Worthing as the Town of Worthing, and establishing a group of commissioners to manage cleaning, lighting, improving streets and roads, and to establish a police force.

There is also a Jane Austen connection-she stayed at Stanford’s Cottage in Worthing, with her mother, her sister Cassandra and her friend Martha Lloyd for several weeks in late 1805. Worthing is considered the likely inspiration for SANDITON. Edward Ogle (a prominent businessman) and Warwick House, which he purchased in 1801, may have been models for Mr. Parker and Trafalgar House.(1) Now known as Stanford Cottage now has a blue plaque declaring that Jane Austen stayed there.

In 1813, John Feltham described Worthing and said, “In a short space of time, a few miserable fishing huts and smugglers’ dens have been exchanged for buildings sufficiently extensive and elegant to accommodate the first families in the kingdom. The establishment of two respectable libraries (Spooner’s and Stafford’s) at each of which the newspapers are regularly received, and the erection of commodious warm baths (Wickes’s) within a few years; sufficiently prove how far it has risen in public estimation.” (2)

In 1821, The Esplanade was built to create a suitable place for people to promenade. After 1825, Worthing was no longer considered a fashionable resort, and drew a much smaller crowd of visitors, which resulted in financial difficulties for the town in the 1830s. It became a suitable resort for families and those seeking health.

During the Victorian Era, as its status declined, Worthing again experienced financial difficulties in the 1850s. In 1862, the Pier was built, and in 1865, the Esplanade was expanded and renamed the Marine Parade. By 1889, a pavilion had been built on the southern end of the Pier. Paddle steamers, providing popular day trips along the coast, moored there to pick up and drop off passengers. Oscar Wilde is known to have spent time there in 1893, and liked it well enough to spend the summer and autumn of 1894 in Worthing, writing THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. In 1897, a bandstand was built west of the pier. Band concerts became a crowd-pleasing feature.

The Pier, Worthing, England-print-1890-1900, Library of Congress, public domain

The Pier was badly damaged during a storm on March 24, 1913 (Easter Monday). Repairs were begun promptly, and the pier reopened in 1914. In September 1933, fire destroyed the South Pavilion. This was repaired, and the pavilion subsequently reopened.

On October 9, 1934, there were clashes between Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and anti-fascist protestors, an event which became known as the Battle of South Street. During World War II, Worthing was a prime defensive place in the event of an enemy landing along the coast. In 1942, it became a popular recreation area for the troops. Worthing also served as the embarkation site for the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

After World War II, the town was repaired and refurbished. The population has grown steadily. In the 1960s, Worthing was a popular music venue. It evolved to a retirement haven in the 1970s and 1980s. From the 1990s to present, major corporations have located there, attracting younger workers with families. In 1998, 1999 and 2000, Worthing was voted the most profitable town in Britain by Experian. In the 21st century, Worthing continues to grow and thrive as the seaside location continues to attract visitors and residents.


(1) Edmonds, Antony. JANE AUSTEN’S WORTHING The Real Sanditon. Pp. 9-11, pp. 14-30.

(2) Feltham, John. A GUIDE TO ALL THE WATERING AND SEA-BATHING PLACES FOR 1813. Vol. 2, p. 463.

Sources include:

Edmonds, Antony. JANE AUSTEN’S WORTHING The Real Sanditon. 2015: Amberley Publishing, Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Evans, John. PICTURE OF WORTHING To Which Is Added An Account of Arundel and Shoreham, with Other Parts of the Surrounding Country. 1805: printed by C. Stower, London. Reprint published by Sagwan Press, imprint of Creative Media Partners. Scholar Select.

Feltham, John. A GUIDE TO ALL THE WATERING AND SEA-BATHING PLACES FOR 1813. With a description of The Lakes; A Sketch of A Tour in Wales and Itineraries. Vol. 2 1813: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, London. Reprint published by Franklin Classics, an imprint of Creative Media Partners. Scholar Select. “History of Worthing.” (No author or post date shown.) HERE “Worthing,” last edited April 20, 2022. (No author shown.) HERE

All images from Wikimedia Commons.

Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life. An avid reader, she pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a minor in Art History. She is a contributing writer to both volumes of CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. She has two novels, HEYERWOOD A Novel and A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, currently in print and is working on a new nonfiction work. A long-time member of JASNA, she has presented programs for the JASNA Palm Beaches Region, the JASNA annual general meeting in 2011, and the Jane Austen Fest in Mount Dora in 2022. She lives in Florida with her husband. Visit her website here.