I went to lunch in the small Sussex seaside town of Worthing at the weekend – vegetable soup, haddock and trifle with a rather good Chilean white wine, if you must know. It is always a pleasure to see the town’s underestimated array of lovely art deco buildings – especially the pier with its curves and contours still beautifully preserved from the time when a very damaged 19th. Century pier was replaced in the 1920s and 30s.
photo: Norman Atkinson
Sadly, since those exciting Modernist days, English seaside resorts have lost a lot of their initial architectural glamour so it was good to see the pier complex in such good nick.
It still manages to conjure images of those lovely, Utopian, holiday posters from yesteryear when even travelling on English trains was seen as a thrilling adventure.
The fine Connaught Theatre is still there too, just, I hear, as a working theatre in these days of English cultural cuts.
Onslow Court too, once a very chic set of seaside apartments has begun to let itself slip but at least it is still there in its commanding position on the seafront.
Elsewhere round the town there are still pleasant surprizes if you look for them…..
..and don’t mind some of them losing some of their original sophistication.
That lunch, by the way it was excellent in its traditional no-nonsense English hotel way, was in another of Worthing’s Art Deco buildings, the Beach Hotel.
I have spent more time inside its hallowed walls than I would like to calculate. From over-awed child, bored teenager to amused adult, I have sat through formal family gatherings here with the coming and going of generations not dissimilar to The Forsyte Saga. The lunch, last weekend, was the last in that long line because, at the end of August, the place is being demolished. Apparently it would need too much money invested in it to bring it back to its glory days now that it has been allowed to grow gently seedy.
It was, in all honesty, an eccentric construction, the Art deco facade was attached to a row of Victorian houses and converted into a hotel in 1935. The Thirties were a good decade for Worthing and I have to admit that I don’t miss that dull Victorian terrace.
All my life, the slightly shabby but gauntly imposing building has dominated the seafront and I am sad to see it go.
It will be replaced by a sleekly corporate building which has already inspired controversy because the squat tower in the middle, a hint of deco homage, and the only vaguely original bit of the design has angered Conservative councilors who say it is too tall. Bland is the word I think they mean. No one knows what it will look like in eighty years time, maybe even more worse for wear than its noble predecessor. The new building will be a mix of hotel, restaurant and apartments – I wish it well, grudgingly.
It will never really replace that wonderful mix of the dismal, the down-at-heel and the elegant that, for me at least, is the glory of the English seaside – especially when the sun don’t shine.
All things must change and one day even the Sistine Chapel ceiling will turn to dust so I will just have to pack away my memories of the Beach Hotel, Worthing and wonder how the local council allowed its destruction.
If they had at least kept the exterior shell then I could have bidden farewell, I guess, to the rambling interior even with its mix of childhood memories.
If you like anything here, they are selling everything off at auction so get ready with your bids. I want those signs.
So that lunch was a pleasure and a sadness in mixed measure as I took a whimsical view out over to the promenade and the sea in the August drizzle.
Please, Worthing citizens, let this be the last piece of vandalism that you allow to pass through the hands of councilors and building developers. I can’t be the only person who remembers many splendid buildings being demolished to make way for bland apartment blocks.
Much of Victorian Worthing has now disappeared, don’t let it happen to your Art Deco inheritance too.
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