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Worthing Pier - Pier of the Year 2019

Worthing Pier is the UK Pier of the Year for 2019 and to celebrate we've created this special section which gives details of the award and includes episodes of its fascinating history as written by local historian Jane Dore.

See also:

PR19-065 - Worthing Pier at low tide. Winner of Pier of the Year 2019


Worthing Pier voted the best in the UK 2019

Civic leaders today expressed delight as Worthing's iconic pier was voted the best in the UK for 2019.

The National Piers Society today announced that the pier, which it describes as “beautifully maintained by Worthing Borough Council” had been voted the best in a poll of its members. The pier is now one of very few which has won the award twice in the 23 year running of the competition.

The Mayor of Worthing, Cllr Paul Baker, said:

“I am delighted the National Piers Society has recognised what a fantastic pier we have down here in Worthing. It really is a beautiful and iconic landmark for the town reviving so many great memories for people who have used it down through the years.”

“What I particularly like about it is that it symbolises all that is classic about a traditional pier. It's not garish but elegant, you can see a great show there, take tea while enjoying spectacular views, have a nice meal, fish for your supper, or just take an evening stroll. What more could you want from a pier?”

Society chairman, Gavin Henderson, said:

“As a one time player in the town's Municipal Orchestra I am really pleased to give three cheers to Worthing pier for all its historical significance and current glory.”

The Grade II Listed Art Deco pier has been placed second or third for the past four years but this year it triumphed, repeating its win in 2006, backed by a sparkling set of testimonies by those members who voted.

“It is a beautifully kept totally original 1930s Art Deco pier.”

said one, while another added

“While we enjoy many strolls along a variety of seaside piers Worthing is the one that always delights us whatever the season.”

The pier was opened on 12th April 1862. It was designed purely as a landing stage but in 1889 a Pavilion was erected on the pier head. In March 1913, however, a storm severed it from the pier. The gap was soon restored and the pier reopened in May 1914.

In 1920 it was sold to the Council. A shoreward Pavilion opened in 1926 and became home to the Worthing Municipal Orchestra. The building at the pier head was renamed the Southern Pavilion but in September 1933 it went up in flames. It was replaced in record time at a cost of £18,000 and reopened in August 1935. Two years later a matching Modernist style amusement arcade was added.

At the outbreak of World War II entrance Pavilion was taken over by troops who enjoyed snooker, table tennis and darts there as well as a canteen and a library. It reopened to the public in June 1946 and the Worthing Municipal Orchestra disbanded the Southern Pavilion was put to various uses including a model railway museum, a cinema and a zoo. In the 1980s it became a nightclub but this closed in 2005 and the building lay empty until a local businessman, Phil Duckett, restored it. It is now an eating place as well as a performance area and wedding and conference venue. Negotiations are currently taking place to find a successor to Mr Duckett.

PR19-065 - Worthing Pier voted the best in the UK 2019

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A New Pier for Worthing

In 1860 a campaign was launched in Worthing to design and build a pier. The original design was created by Sir Robert Rawlinson and the structure was built at a cost of £6,500. The money was largely raised from within by the inhabitants of the town through the purchase of £1 shares.

The pier was completed and opened to the public on the 12th April 1862 when it was described as an “elegant pier of iron, 960 feet long, for promenaders only ...” The pier, which was constructed of wooden decking laid onto the iron framework, was about 5 metres wide and included seating down both sides. The strolling public could walk up and down on the decking and rest on the seats at their leisure.

In 1884 two kiosks were added at the northern end of the pier. One Kiosk was a small shop, described as a “fancy repository”, and included a Post Office. The other acted as a Toll House to collect the small sums of money people had to pay to enter the pier. The first pier master was named Henry Hayden.

In 1887 work began to completely reconstruct and enlarge parts of the pier to commemorate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The designs were by James Mansergh and were carried out by Alfred Crouch who had previously built the two kiosks. The reconstruction work included adding the new Pavilion at the southern end of the pier and a landing stage. The work was done at a cost of £12,000.

Jane Dore, local historian

Sketches and photos of Worthing Pier
(images copyright West Sussex CC Library Service - West Sussex Past)

1a New Pier for Worthing - sketch (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

1b New Pier for Worthing - sketch (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

1c New Pier for Worthing - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

1d New Pier for Worthing - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

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The storm of 1913

The Easter weekend of 1913 found Worthing full of holiday makers strolling around the sea front area, many taking the opportunity to visit the pier little knowing what was to come. There was an unusually strong wind blowing on that morning but no-one was unusually concerned. By late Sunday afternoon there was a dramatic change in the weather as a thunderstorm brought torrential rain resulting in flooding around the street of the town near to the beach area. Weather reports of the day recorded “Barometers oscillating violently” and described “a red sun in an angry purple sky.” By mid-evening the winds had reached 80mph and most except the really hardy people had left the area. Among these was the McWhirter Quintet who had been performing in the Southern Pavilion and their 30 strong audience.

Worries about the storm had led the pier master to remain at his post until just after midnight and it was only some minutes after he left that an electric manhole cover, on the promenade near to the pier, suddenly blew off accompanied by a bright flash and the whole parade was plunged into darkness. This power failure was caused by the electric cables from the pier hitting the water as the centre section of the pier's iron structure wobbled and then collapsed into the sea water. It only took 5 minutes and amid shouts of “The pier's going!!” from the shore that the entire centre part of the structure disappeared under the sea.

The south pavilion with its landing stage area remained structurally sound and virtually untouched by this disaster but now stood totally marooned from the shore. It was knick-named 'Easter Island' by local inhabitants. The town began rebuilding in the July of 1913 and the new pier was opened to the public on 29th May 1914 by the Lord Mayor of London.

Jane Dore, local historian

Photos of Worthing Pier after the storm
(images copyright West Sussex CC Library Service - West Sussex Past)

2a Damage to Worthing Pier after the storm - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

2b Damage to Worthing Pier after the storm - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

2c Damage to Worthing Pier after the storm - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

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The Pavilion

In 1921 the Pier was purchased by the Borough of Worthing and within a few years a domed pavilion costing around £40,000 was designed and built at the southern shore end of the pier. The building replaced the two kiosks which had previously stood at the pier's entrance. It was designed by architects, Adshead and Ramsay and employed various local contractors, including Sandell's the builders, in its construction. The pavilion was officially opened on 25th June 1926, with a grand ball hosted by the Mayor and Mayoress of Worthing, Walter and Annie Gardiner.

The food served at the ball was described in glowing terms in the local newspaper the following week. It had 'included many practical dishes besides those intriguing trifles often described as 'food for the gods'. It is also interesting to note that the orchestra, which included many local musicians from Worthing as well as nearby locations, was directed by a lady; one Madame Kettle. One of the musical highlights of the grand ball was the premier of a piece of music written especially for the occasion by composer E. Joseph Shadwick called 'The Worthing Waltz'.

In 1958 a major refurbishment was carried out at the Pavilion which cost £24,000. Other alterations and changes have happened over the years but the structure remains very much in its original format.

Jane Dore, local historian

Photos of the Pavilion being built
(images copyright West Sussex CC Library Service - West Sussex Past)

3a New Pavilion on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

3b New Pavilion on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

3c New Pavilion (interior) on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

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The Pier Fire of 1933

On the 10th September 1933 tragedy struck Worthing Pier as a fire broke out in the Southern Pavilion. The Daily Sketch report of the fire, which was published on the following day, suggested that the fire was caused by the dropping of a cigarette onto the wooden floor of the Southern Pavilion.

Whatever the cause it did not take long for the fire to take a firm hold and within 30 mins the Southern Pavilion was completely destroyed. Crowds of holiday makers had rushed to the scene and created a human chain passing furniture from the point of the fire down the walk way of the pier to safety. One gentleman even brought a motorised vehicle onto the walkway to help speed up the removal of everything they could manage to save. The Fire Brigade had not arrived very quickly, a circumstance never really explained, but by the time they did arrive some 20 to 30 minutes later it was too late and the pavilion and southern end of the pier was lost. The blaze itself was so fierce that it could be seen at Beachy Head.

It did not take the town long to begin to replace the burnt out building. A new pavilion described as 'The Suntrap of the South Coast' was erected and opened in July 1935 at a cost of £18,000. Over £13,000 of this was paid out by the insurers while the council had to find the rest.

Jane Dore, local historian

Photos of the fire on Worthing Pier in 1933
(images copyright West Sussex CC Library Service - West Sussex Past)

4a The 1933 fire on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

4b The 1933 fire on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

4c The 1933 fire on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

4d The 1933 fire on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

4e The 1933 fire on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

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Worthing Pier during the Second World War

As the war moved from its beginnings and into the early months of 1940 the South of England began to be fearful that the Germans would invade along the coast and so moves were made to add defensive measure to the coast line. These moves included Worthing where miles of barbed wire were laid long the beach and huge concrete blocks (known as tank-traps); gun emplacements and pillboxes were placed along the seafront. On 24th May 1940 the Military Authorities requisitioned the Pier placing the Pavilion, Kiosks and Lavatories out of public use. To further defend the beach area and make landing more difficult they proceeded to blow a 120 foot long hole in the decked walkway of the pier from just north of the Southern Pavilion.

Invasion did not occur and by 1942 Worthing was playing its part in the war effort. Troops were stationed in the town and it was felt that provision needed to be improved for them in terms of rest and recreation. The Pavilion became one of these recreation centres with a canteen, library, dart boards, table tennis and billiard tables provided. There was also the staging of weekly entertainment for the troops which included the showing of films and various concert parties which were very popular at the time. The pier itself did not open to the public again until after the war was over.

Jane Dore, local historian

Photos of Worthing Pier during the Second World War
(images copyright West Sussex CC Library Service - West Sussex Past)

5a Worthing Pier during the Second World War - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

5b Worthing Pier during the Second World War - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

5c Worthing Pier during the Second World War - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

5d Worthing Pier during the Second World War - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

5e Worthing Pier during the Second World War - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

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The Denton Lounge

The suggestions for this building began some years before an actual decision to build was passed.

There was a good deal of original opposition to the building, with the decision to take the project forward only passing by one vote. This was initially a 'winter garden' scheme with that name being put forward as the most suitable to give the finished building. However as the finances for the scheme were going to be found from the residual part of the 'Denton Bequest', it was finally decided in April 1959 that the building would be called the 'Denton Lounge'. This bequest had been left to the town by Alderman J. G. Denton who had been the town mayor from 1908 to 1910 and whose original part of the bequest enabled the building of the Assembly Hall in 1935.

The design of the building was by J. Brandon-Jones with some of the exterior decoration designs by Laurence Bradshaw. It was built by a Brighton based builder, Messrs Rice & Sons Ltd, who managed to finish the building a week ahead of the agreed time scale - much applauded at the time. Denton Lounge was officially opened by the Mayor of Worthing, H. W. Bradley on 31st July 1959.

Jane Dore, local historian

Photos of The Denton lounge on Worthing Pier
(images copyright West Sussex CC Library Service - West Sussex Past)

6a Denton Lounge on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

6b Denton Lounge on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

6c Denton Lounge on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

6d Denton Lounge on Worthing Pier - photo (image copyright West Sussex Past Pictures)

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Nightclubs on the Pier

The Southern Pavilion has seen many different types of use over the years since it was built. Having stood empty for a period during the late 1970's it was renovated and opened as a seasonal café named 'Simpson's Bar'. They were licensed to be open between March and November each year. In June 1985 'Simpson's Bar' was opened at the end of the pier.

By June 1990 the building was again vacant and new tenants were being sought.

In February 1991 the council were in discussion with two local licensees; R. Pollard and C. Rutherford. A short time later the building was re-opened as a nightclub known as 'Rutherford's'. There were some problems with the club and various reports in local newspapers at the time describe drunken behaviour and police intervention.

However, Rutherford's continued until around 2003 when a new nightclub name appears in the advertising called 'Lush'. This nightclub also ran for a few years, although many of the problems persisted, but by April 2006 the building was again standing empty.

In 2007 the whole building was refitted by new tenants and re-opened, on the 20th December of that year as yet another nightclub - 'The Pier'. This venture also had its problems and despite attempts to alter the situation for the better the licenses were suspended at least twice, the second time for a period of 3 months and eventually the business closed its door.

It has since been completely renovated and is now an attractive bistro restaurant which houses many special events and live music.

Jane Dore, local historian

Advert for Rutherfords Nightclub on Worthing Pier

7 Advert for Rutherfords Nightclub on Worthing Pier

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Postcards from the Pier

Earlier this year The Worthing Society received an incredible donation of a collection of vintage postcards which illustrate the town's social history and in particular the seafront and our award-winning Pier.

In this memory of Worthing Pier, we share Miss Kathie Way's postcards as she wanted her collection to be used and enjoyed.

Miss Way, previously a curator in a London museum, has lived most of her life in Worthing and the postcards reflect her memories of the town.

These postcard images are copyright Miss Kathie Way and The Worthing Society.

Susan Belton, The Worthing Society Chairman, helps tell the story...⁣

Worthing Pier - hand-coloured high level view down the length of the pier

Worthing Pier - the Pier and seafront, looking west
Worthing Pier is an iconic Grade II building which is central to the traditional seaside character of our town. Our Pier has brought enjoyment to visitors and residents for many generations since its official opening on 12 April 1862 . The Pier has had an interesting history and holds very personal memories for everyone.⁣

Worthing Pier - Horse drawn lifeboat heading off to a wreck

This year The Worthing Society were delighted to receive a very special donation of an historic Post Card collection from an elderly Worthing resident, Miss Kathie Way. This personal collection catalogues the evolution of Worthing Pier as a visitor attraction.

Before most people owned cameras, and certainly well before the availability of today's social media, Miss Way recorded the history of Worthing Pier through the early 20th century by collecting this series of seaside postcards over many years.

⁣From the development of photography in the mid 19th century postcards became a very important and visual way of recording our social history. Miss Way's collection illustrates the history of the Pier and its visitors from the late 19th century.

The postcards we have selected highlight the different fashions worn by the Victorian and Edwardian visitors, through the attractive Art Deco period to the present day. Various forms of transport are also featured.⁣

These views clearly show the Pier has⁣ always been the focal point and indeed the “jewel in the crown” of Worthing's seafront.⁣

Can you guess the era of each of the postcards?

Worthing Pier - early had drawn view of the landward end of the pier before the Pavilion was built

Worthing Pier - The entrance kiosks to the Pier

Worthing Pier - One of the entrance kiosks to the Pier

Worthing Pier - people promenading on the pier in their fine clothes

Worthing Pier - people on the promenade near the bandstand with the pier in the distance

Worthing Pier - view towards the beach along the length of the Pier showing people promenading on the Pier

Worthing Pier - view of the esplanade and Pier from Steyne Gardens

Worthing Pier - view towards the beach along the length of the Pier

Worthing Pier - view of the Pavilion and down the length of the Pier

Worthing Pier - variety of iconic views of the Pier

Worthing Pier - Pavilion and Pier

Worthing Pier has been awarded the National Piers Society Pier of the Year 2019!

We'd love to hear your memories of the pier too. Comment on any of our pier posts on #Worthingpieroftheyear

Video: A travel through time with Worthing Pier

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