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Marine Parade and beach - geograph.org.uk - 1378472.jpg
Marine Parade and beach
Grid reference: TQ148028
Location: 50°48’51"N, 0°22’16"W
Population: 103,200
Postcode: BN11 - BN14, BN99
Dialling code: 01903
Local Government
Council: Worthing

Worthing is a large seaside town in Sussex, forming part of the Brighton-Worthing-Littlehampton conurbation. It is situated at the foot of the South Downs, 10 miles west of Brighton, and 18 miles east of the county town of Chichester.

The area around Worthing has been populated for at least 6,000 years and contains Britain's greatest concentration of Stone Age flint mines, which are some of the earliest mines in Europe. Lying within the borough, the Iron Age hill fort of Cissbury Ring is one of Britain's largest.

For many centuries Worthing was a small mackerel fishing hamlet until in the late 18th century it developed into an elegant Georgian seaside resort and attracted the well-known and wealthy of the day. In the 19th and 20th centuries the area was one of Britain's chief market gardening centres.

Modern Worthing has a large service industry, particularly in financial services. It has three theatres and one of Britain's oldest cinemas. Writers Oscar Wilde and Harold Pinter lived and worked in the town.

Name of the town

Worthing means "Weorþ's people", from the Old English personal name Weorþ (Worth). The name was first recorded as Weorðingas in Old English; then as Ordinges in the Domesday Book of 1086, Wurðininege in 1183, Wurdingg in 1218, Wording or Wurthing in 1240, Worthinges in 1288 and Wyrthyng in 1397. Worthen was used as late as 1720. The modern name was first documented in 1297.[1][2]

A local myth is that the name of Worthing is derived from a natural annual phenomenon. Seaweed beds off nearby Bognor Regis are ripped up by summer storms and prevailing Atlantic currents deposit it on the beach. A rich source of nitrates, it makes good fertiliser. The decaying weed was sought by farmers from the surrounding area. Thus the town would have become known as Wort (weed) -inge (people).


In the Neolithic period, the South Downs around Worthing was one of Britain's chief flint mining areas, with four of the United Kingdom's 14 known flint mines lying within 7 miles) of the centre of Worthing. An excavation at Little High Street dates the earliest remains from Worthing town centre to the Bronze Age. There is also an important Bronze Age hill fort on the western fringes of the modern borough at Highdown Hill.

During the Iron Age, one of Britain's largest hill forts was built at Cissbury Ring. The area was part of the civitas of the Regni during the Roman occupation. Several of the borough's roads date from this era and lie in a grid layout known as 'centuriation'. A Romano-British farmstead once stood in the centre of the town, at a site close to the town hall.

In the 5th and 6th centuries, the area became part of the Kingdom of Sussex. The place names of the area, including the name Worthing itself, date from this period.

Worthing remained an agricultural and fishing hamlet for centuries until the arrival of wealthy visitors in the 1750s. Princess Amelia stayed in the town in 1798 and the fashionable and wealthy continued to stay in Worthing, which became a town in 1803. The town expanded and elegant developments such as Park Crescent and Liverpool Terrace were begun. The area was a stronghold of smugglers in the 19th century.

The later nineteenth century was one of growth, fashion and prosperity. From a village with no church, Worthing became full of churches. The arrival of the Salvation Army in the 1880s, with their message of temperance, led to rioting in the town by the Skeleton Army, put to it by the brewers. Oscar Wilde holidayed in the town in 1893 and 1894, writing the Importance of Being Earnest during his second visit.

The town was home to several literary figures in the 20th century, including Nobel prize-winner Harold Pinter. During the Second World War, Worthing was home to several allied military divisions in preparation for the D-Day landings.


St Paul's Church
St Andrew's, the parish church of West Tarring

Worthing has some 50 active Christian churches, and also a Sunnite mosque. There are also 16 former church buildings which are either disused or in secular use.

The town was without a parish church until 1812, when St Paul's was built in 1812; previously, worshippers had to travel to the ancient parish church of Broadwater. St Pauls became "the spiritual and social centre around which the town developed".[3] Residential growth in the 19th century growth led to several other churches opening in the town centre. Of the Church of England, Christ Church was started in 1840,[4] St Andrew's Church brought the controversial "High Church" form of worship to the town in the 1880s—its "Worthing Madonna" icon was particularly notorious;[5][6] and Holy Trinity church opened at the same time but with less dispute.[6][7] Other Anglican churches were built in the 20th century to serve new residential areas such as High Salvington and Maybridge; and the ancient villages which were absorbed between 1890 and 1929.[8]

Each village that became part of the town had their own church. Broadwater's church had Anglo-Saxon origins,[9] St Mary's Church at Goring-by-Sea was Norman (although it was rebuilt in 1837),[10] St Andrew's at West Tarring was 13th century,[11] and St Botolph's at Heene and St Symphorian's at Durrington were rebuilt from mediæval ruins.[12][13]

Protestant Nonconformism has a long history in Worthing: the town's first place of worship was an Independent chapel.[14] Methodists, Baptists, the United Reformed Church and Evangelical Christian groups each have several churches in the borough The Salvation Army have been established for more than a century: their arrival in Worthing with their message of abstinence from alcohol prompted large-scale riots involving a group called the Skeleton Army, promoted by brewers and publicans. These riots continued intermittently for several years in the 1880s.[15][16]

A townwide youth service, CrossRoads, brings together young people from all denominations. New Song Café performs a similar function for the town's church musicians. Other Christian organisations include Worthing Churches Homeless Projects and Street Pastors.

In October 2009, a Mission Festival Weekend was held to celebrate the range of mission agencies based in Worthing; the centrepiece was a parade from Worthing Pier to St Paul's Church.[17]

Heritage and culture

Buildings and architecture

Beach House, built by John Rebecca in the 1820s
Boat porches, found only in Worthing.

There are 213 listed buildings Worthing and its surrounding towns, of which three are Grade I listed:

  • Castle Goring
  • St Mary's Church at Broadwater and
  • The Archbishop's Palace at West Tarring

Pale yellow bricks have been made locally since about 1780, and are commonly encountered as a building material.[18] Flint is the other predominant structural material: its local abundance has ensured its frequent use. The combination of flint and red brick is characteristic of Worthing. In particular, walls built alongside streets or to mark out boundaries were almost always built of flint with brick dressings, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[19]

Boat porches are a unique architectural feature of Worthing. These structures surround the entrance doors of some early 19th-century houses, and take the form of an stuccoed porch with an ogee-headed roof which resembles the bottom of a boat. Historians have speculated that the cottages, examples of which are in Albert Place, Warwick Place and elsewhere, may have been built by local fishermen who used their boats as a basis for the design.[20]


The Midsummer Tree, an oak, stands near Broadwater Green and is said to be around 300 years old. Until the 19th century, it was believed that on Midsummer's Eve skeletons would rise from the tree and dance around it until dawn, when they would sink back into the ground.[21] The legend was first recorded by folklorist Charlotte Latham in 1868.[22] Since 2006, when the oak was saved from development, meetings have been held on Midsummers Eve there.[23]

It was once believed that monsters known as knuckers lived in bottomless ponds called knuckerholes. There were several knuckerholes in Sussex, including one in Worthing by Ham Bridge (on the present Ham Road), close to East Worthing railway station and Teville Stream.[24]

According to legend, a tunnel several miles long led from the now-demolished mediæval Offington Hall to the Neolithic flint mines and Iron Age hill fort at Cissbury. It was said to be sealed, and there was treasure at the far end; the owner of the Hall "had offered half the money to anyone who would clear out the subterranean passage and several persons had begun digging, but all had been driven back by large snakes springing at them with open mouths and angry hisses".[22][25]


In literature, Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest while staying in the town in the summer of 1894.[26] The play’s central character is named Jack (or Earnest) Worthing, a foundling:

The late Mr Thomas Cardew, an old gentlemen of a kindly disposition found me and gave me the name of Worthing because he happened to have a first class ticket to Worthing at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It's a seaside resort.[27]

Salvington in Worthing was the birthplace of philosopher and scholar John Selden in 1584.[26] In the 1960s, playwright Harold Pinter lived wrote The Homecoming at his home in Ambrose Place. Jane Austen's unfinished final novel Sanditon is thought to have been significantly based on experiences from her stay in Worthing in 1805.[28]

Worthing on film and television

Many films and television programmes have been filmed using Worthing as the backdrop including:

  • The Birthday Party (1968), Harold Pinter
  • Dance with a Stranger (1985)
  • Wish You Were Here]] (1987)

Open spaces

Lake at Brooklands Park
Beach House Park

The town contains a considerable number of parks and gardens, many laid out in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

  • Beach House Park – named after nearby Beach House, the park is home to one of the world's most well-known venues for the sport of bowls. The park is also home to a possibly unique memorial to homing pigeons that served in the Second World War.
  • Beach House Green
  • Broadwater Green – Broadwater's 'village green'.
  • Brooklands Park
  • Denton Gardens
  • Goring Green
  • Highdown Gardens – a beautiful garden at the foot of the South Downs, deemed to be of national importance.
  • Homefield Park – formerly known as the 'People's Park' it was once home to Worthing FC
  • Liverpool Gardens – overlooking the graceful Georgian Liverpool Terrace, the gardens and terrace are named after Lord Liverpool. Overlooking the park from the east are four bronze heads known as Desert Quartet, sculpted by Dame Elisabeth Frink.
  • Marine Gardens
  • Palatine Park
  • Promenade Waterwise Garden
  • Steyne Gardens – which includes a sunken garden re-landscaped in 2007 with a fountain of the Ancient Greek sea god, Triton, by sculptor William Bloye.
  • Victoria Park – was donated by the Heene Estate to the poor of Worthing in commemoration of the death of Queen Victoria. (Taken from title deeds to property owned in St. Matthews Road.) The land was previously used for market gardening and once sported a paddling pool which was closed due to foot infections in the children. Victoria Park is very popular for club and casual footballers.
  • West Park – has a running track and basketball court and lies next to Worthing Leisure Centre.
  • Field Place – tennis courts, lawn bowls, putting and conference facilities. Can be found north of Worthing Leisure Centre.

Annual events

Worthing Open Houses is an annual festival of arts and crafts. The 2010 event was the largest so far, 45 venues and over 200 artists on the last two weekends in July.[29]

In January, the ancient custom of wassailing takes place in Tarring to bless the apple trees. A flaming torchlit procession takes place down Tarring High Street culminating in hundreds of people gathering around an apple tree to shout, chant and sing to drive away evil spirits.[30] The apple trees are toasted with wassail, apple cider and apple cake, followed by fireworks.[31]

On May Day, a procession and dancing takes place in Worthing town centre, culminating in the crowning of the May Queen. Also in May, the Three Forts Marathon starts and finishes at the Norwich Union building on the outskirts of Worthing before taking in the ancient hill forts of Cissbury Ring, Devil's Dyke and Chanctonbury Ring over the rough and steep terrain of the South Downs.[32]

The Worthing Transition Festival 2010, was held between 4 June and 26 June at the Heene Gallery, Heene Road, Worthing. Being the first of its kind in Worthing, the Festival provided a month-long showcase for art inspired by themes such as climate change, sustainable transport, local food, and the end of cheap oil. There was a photographic competition based on 'local food', and visitors to the Heene Gallery were invited to help create a Timeline for Worthing between 2010 and 2030.

The Worthing Festival is held in the last two weeks each July with open-air concerts in the town centre and a fairground along the town's promenade.

Worthing is now the home to the International Birdman competition (formerly hosted in Selsey and Bognor Regis). In 2011 the Worthing International Birdman will be held on the 13 & 14 August.[33]

September 2011 will see the next The End of the Pier International Film Festival, which is held at various venues across Worthing, including the town's two cinemas. Pier Day takes place on Worthing Pier and the nearby promenade every September.

In October 2010, Worthing hosted the inaugural "Wukulele Festival" – the south coast's international ukulele festival. This three day event presented concerts by international performers, ukulele workshops for all levels, school performances and a festival fringe with free events in and around the town centre.


Worthing's location between the sea and the downs makes the area a popular location for outdoor recreation. Its wide open water and five miles of coastline provides for many types of watersport, especially catamaran racing, windsurfing and kitesurfing and the town has held a regatta for rowing since at least 1859. The South Downs is popular for hiking and mountain-biking, with around 22 trail-heads within the borough. Two of Worthing's three golf clubs, including Worthing Golf Club are also located on the Downs, which is also the location for the Three Forts Marathon, a 27-mile ultramarathon from Broadwater to the three Iron Age hill forts of Cissbury Ring, Chanctonbury Ring and Devil's Dyke.

Worthing FC is the town's main football club. Formed in 1886, they are nicknamed "The Rebels".

Home to Bowls England, Worthing is, with Johannesburg, one of only two locations in the world to have hosted the men's World Bowls Championships twice, events were held in 1972 and 1992, both at Beach House Park, which is sometimes known as the spiritual home of bowls, and is also the venue for the annual National Championships each August.

  • Worthing Cricket Club
  • Worthing Rugby Football Club (“The Raiders”)
  • Worthing Football Club (“The Rebels”)
  • Worthing United Football Club (“The Mavericks”)
  • Worthing Thunder basketball club

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Worthing)



  1. Elleray 1998, p. 112.
  2. Mawer & Stenson 1929–1930, p. 194.
  3. Elleray 1999, Preface.
  4. Pevsner
  5. Elleray 1977, §151.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Elleray 1998, p. 48.
  7. Elleray 1977, §150.
  8. Elleray 1998, p. 96.
  9. National Heritage List 1025810: Detailed Record: Broadwater Church (St Mary's), Broadwater Road (east side), Worthing
  10. National Heritage List 11182106: Detailed Record: St Mary's Church, Goring Road (north side), Worthing
  11. National Heritage List 1354775: Detailed Record: West Tarring Church (St Andrew's), Church Road (south side), Worthing
  12. National Heritage List 11182239: Detailed Record: St Botolph's Church, Lansdowne Road (north side), Worthing
  13. National Heritage List 1263369: Detailed Record: Durrington Church (St Symphorian's), Durrington Hill (west side), Worthing
  14. Elleray 1998, p. 54.
  15. Elleray 1998, pp. 124–125.
  16. Elleray 1985, §58.
  17. "Worthing Mission Community Festival". Worthing Mission Community Festival. 2009. http://worthingmission.community.officelive.com/default.aspx. Retrieved 9 November 2009. 
  18. Elleray 1998, p. 41.
  19. Elleray 1998, p. 76.
  20. <Elleray 1998, p. 40.
  21. "Time running out for the Midsummer Tree". The Argus (Newsquest Media Group). 28 March 2006. http://archive.theargus.co.uk/2006/3/28/209322.html. Retrieved 23 November 2009. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Latham, Charlotte (1878). Some West Sussex Superstitions Lingering in 1868. 1. London: The Folk-Lore Society. 
  23. the-Midsummer Oak and its Skeletons - Strange History
  24. Hare 1991, pp. 3–4.
  25. Simpson 2002
  26. 26.0 26.1 Elleray 1998
  27. ’’The Importance of Being Earnest’’, Oscar Wilde
  28. Halperin, John, "Jane Austen's Anti-Romantic Fragment: Some Notes on Sanditon", 1983, University of Tulsa
  29. Open Houses
  30. Worhting Events Archieve
  31. Sompting Village Morris Men
  32. 3 Forts Marathon – Go the extra mile!
  33. Worthing Birdman website


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