Generations of holidaymakers and Worthing residents have enjoyed visiting Worthing Pier. British seaside piers date from the early 1800s. Worthing’s pier was the thirteenth to be built in England at a cost of £6,500 by the Worthing Pier Company. The first pile was driven into the seabed on 4 July 1861. Designed by Sir Robert Rawlinson, the Pier was officially opened on 12 April 1862. Over the years it has been rebuilt and enlarged.
The Pier was a success from the start and inevitably there were soon plans for improvements. Two kiosks were added on the landward end of the Pier in 1884 to house the tollhouse and a souvenir shop. By 1889 a pavilion had been erected at the southern end of the Pier. The landing stage was also at the southern end. It was very important to the success of the Pier as Paddle Steamers regularly moored there. The best known was the Worthing Belle, in recent years the Waverley has been a regular visitor.
Disaster struck the Pier on Easter Monday 1913. Strong gales had developed throughout the day and by 9 o’clock in the evening the wind was blowing at 80 m.p.h. Crowds gathered on the shore to watch the Pier being battered by the waves. Soon after midnight the Pier’s electricity supply was lost and within minutes the decking between the pavilion and the shore had been washed away.
The stranded pavilion was nicknamed ‘Easter Island’ by local and national newspapers and it was soon possible to buy postcards showing ariel views of the wreckage. Repair work commenced immediately and the Pier was reopened on 29 May 1914 by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir T. Vansittart Bowater Bart.
Worthing Borough Council purchased the Pier on 23 March 1921 for the sum of £18,978. 15s. Visitors to the Pier were charged 2d which included admission to hear an orchestra play in the South Pavilion. Five years later the Council demolished the kiosks and replaced them with a new pavilion to seat 1,000 people. It was designed by architects Adshead and Ramsey. A new souvenir shop was built next to the building; the tenant was granted the right to sell photographs taken along Marine Parade.
Disaster struck again on 10 September 1933 when fire destroyed the South Pavilion. Volunteers helped the fire brigade to remove furniture from the burning building and rip up decking to stop the blaze spreading any further. The Pier was repaired within two years. On its opening the new South Pavilion, re-furnished and fully equipped for dances and refreshments, was dubbed by the Daily Mirror as ‘the sun trap of the south’. Both the central amusement pavilion and the windshield that runs along the length of the Pier were built in 1937.
When war broke out in 1939 the south coast became a fortress against possible invasion. In 1940 drastic steps were taken to hinder any enemy attack by blowing a 120-foot hole in to the Pier’s decking near the South Pavilion. In 1942 when fears of an invasion had lessened the Pier became a recreation centre for troops complete with a canteen, library and billiard tables.
After the war the Borough Council put in a claim to the Government’s War Damage Commission to repair the hole in the decking, and refurbish the Pier after years of military occupation and general neglect. The Pier reopened in April 1949 but as materials were in short supply recycled cast iron water mains were used for some of the Pier’s piles. In 1947 there was only one shipload of green-heart timber imported into Britain and half of it was used as piles for the landing stage.
The Pier still continues to bring enjoyment to visitors and residents. The Pavilion Theatre sits at the northern end and the southern end pavilion has recently been totally renovated and returned to its former glory as a cafe & venue having been a night club for several years. An amusement arcade is in the middle of the Pier. It is a regular attraction for people to take a stroll along the deck and for fishing.
960ft (296m) in length and 36ft wide, the Pier remains a fine example of its kind and for more information see the book ‘Worthing Pier – a history’ by Dr. Sally White. Available from Worthing Museum.