Worthing Pier, West Sussex

Designed by Sir Robert Rawlinson and commissioned by the Worthing Pier Company, the first pile of Worthing Pier was driven 6ft (1.8m) into the chalk seabed on 4th July 1861. Opening some 10 months later on 12th April 1862 Worthing Pier consisted simply of a 960ft (291m) long by 15ft (4.6m) wide promenade deck, with a landing stage at the seaward end. Although very popular from the start, both with locals and visitors, entertainment wasn't considered until 1874 when a 9-piece orchestra was engaged to play for three hours a day 'weather permitting'. Some years later, in 1881, a German band from the Rhine was contracted to play daily and conditions were improved for the audience and band alike with the construction of two shelters.

In 1888 substantial improvements were made at a cost of £12,000. The pier neck was increased from 15ft (4.6m) to 30ft (9.2m) and the head was increased to 105ft (32m) to facilitate the construction of a 650-seater pavilion. Two new kiosks, one for tolls and one a bazaar, replaced the previous central tollgate. Viscount Hampden duly opened the revitalised Worthing Pier on 1st July 1889. Worthing's popularity grew and soon the resort was playing host to busy steamer traffic. This was not without its problems though, the shallow depth of water at low tide seriously hampering schedules. An extension was proposed, but almost immediately abandoned after engineers reported that even if the length of Worthing Pier were doubled, the depth would only increase a further 6ft (1.8m).

As is often the case with piers, disaster was to strike and on Easter Monday 1913 gale force seas once again proved how vulnerable man's structures can be. A hardy audience of about 30 had braved the weather and settled down to a programme of light music by the McWhirter Quintet in the pavilion. With the storm's ever-increasing ferocity, the audience and band members finally decided that enough was enough. Clutching their possessions, they hastily made their way to the relative safety of the promenade, where a large group of onlookers had started to gather. At around midnight Worthing Pier could not take anymore and in one violent moment the wooden neck of the pier collapsed into the sea leaving the pavilion isolated, later to be affectionately named 'Easter Island'. Over a year later on 29th May 1914 the repaired Worthing Pier was re-opened by the Lord Mayor of London.

The Worthing Corporation purchased the pier for £18,978, in 1920. Several years later improvements were made that included extensive repair work to the existing structure and the construction of a new shoreward end pavilion designed by Adshead & Ramsey. Opening on 26th June 1926, having cost the Corporation £40,000, the 1,000 seat pavilion was to become the permanent home for the Worthing Municipal Orchestra, one of the earliest, full time, all-year-round orchestra's at a seaside resort.

The final remnant of the 1888 Worthing Pier was to disappear on 10th September 1933 when a blaze destroyed the seaward end pavilion. Hundreds of trippers, many still in their bathing costumes, assisted fire crews in trying to stop the blaze spreading along the pier neck, by ripping up the timber decking with crowbars and pickaxes. The pavilion was replaced two years later at a cost of £18,000. In addition a central amusement pavilion was opened midway along the neck in 1937, and windshields were erected down the piers length.

Worthing Pier was sectioned in 1940 for fear of German invasion after the retreat at Dunkirk. The shoreward end pavilion was adapted as a recreation centre for troops, providing concert parties and cinema shows. The pier pavilion re-opened in June 1946 but a shortage of materials meant the remainder of Worthing Pier remained closed until April 1949. In March 1958 the shoreward end pavilion was refurbished and in 1959 the adjacent Denton Lounge was added. In 1963 an information kiosk at the shoreward end caused considerable local controversy as its style was not in keeping with the other buildings. The shoreward end buildings were closed between 1979 and 1982, as major restoration work on the substructure was required.

Worthing Pier is still owned by the Worthing Corporation and several new developments are in the pipeline including a covered walkway and improvements to the seaward end pavilion.


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