Looking down on Worthing from a great height

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After the First World War ended, there were a lot of spare aeroplanes and out-of-work pilots.

Some of these planes and pilots were put to use photographing British scenes from the air, to be published as postcards.

Postcard A ' From the band enclosure to the Dome (Pan-Aero Pictures)

Postcard A ' From the band enclosure to the Dome (Pan-Aero Pictures)

Although the postcard craze that had gripped Britain for the first two decades of the 20th century had begun to subside after the war ended, many millions of cards were still sold and sent every year.

My collection includes over two dozen different aerial postcard views of Worthing, most of them dating from between the two World Wars.

They vary in quality. Many of them, while effective in giving a general impression of a section of the town, are not sharp enough to show much detail.

The five I have chosen for this article, however, are all crisp and clear.

As a postcard enthusiast and a respecter of the integrity of original cards, I am normally reluctant to doctor them in any way.

On this occasion, however, the photographs are of interest primarily as photographs, and the fact they come from postcards is less important.

Therefore, the borders that all five cards originally had have been cropped off; and in the two cases where the caption appeared on the photograph itself, it has been “airbrushed” out.

Relatively few postcards of aerial views seem to have been sent through the post – people often bought them to keep themselves – so in most cases there are no postmarks to offer clues to the dates of the photographs.

However, there is usually enough evidence from buildings visible on the cards to allow them to be dated reasonably closely.

Postcard A

Several pieces of evidence allow us to date this photograph with confidence to the early 1930s.

The bandstand inside the band enclosure is not the original Adshead & Ramsey bandstand of 1926 (Looking Back, September 25), but the round version that replaced it a few years later and survives today inside the Lido.

On the left of Cambridge Terrace can be seen the back of the New Theatre Royal – the words “Theatre Royal” are just visible – and, since this building was demolished in 1934, the photograph can have been taken no later than that year.

In addition, the old County Club building is prominent – jutting out beyond the line of the other buildings on Marine Parade, just east of Cambridge Terrace – and this was demolished around 1935.

None of the seafront buildings seen to the west of Montague Place survive today. The attractive building at the sea-end of Montague Terrace, demolished in 1975, was known as Montpelier Terrace or the Montpelier Houses.

Postcard B

This photograph dates from the early 1920s. I know this because I have a companion postcard looking south towards the pier, taken at the same time; and on that card the pier kiosks, demolished in 1925–6, are still present.

This view shows how the old Town Hall stood at the very heart of old Worthing.

The area seen to the north-east of the Town Hall serves as a tragic reminder of what was lost when a large part of historic 19th-century Worthing was demolished at the end of the 1960s.

Visible here – but no longer in existence today – are the north side of Ann Street; the whole of Market Street; the west side of High Street; and the south side of Chatsworth Road (though this dated from the start of the 20th century).

Had imagination and foresight been applied 45 years ago, this area could today have been a charming quarter of small shops and houses. In Brighton, little old streets comparable to Ann Street and Market Street were valued enough to be gentrified instead of flattened.

Postcard C

This photograph dates from just after the First World War. On the back of the postcard it is described as “a bird’s-eye view of Worthing taken from a AIRCO machine flying above the town”.

I have this postcard both in the original version seen here and in a slightly later reprint by Photochrom, which was sent through the post on April 12, 1921. My guess is that the original Pan-Aero Pictures postcard was published a couple of years earlier.

At this time there were grass tennis courts at the northern end of Steyne Gardens, along with a modest portable bandstand in the centre. This bandstand had been in use on the seafront until it was replaced in 1897 with the attractive “birdcage” bandstand that stood there until 1925.

There were still numerous bathing machines on Worthing beach just after the First World War; but their days were numbered, and within a few years all were gone.

Postcard D

This photograph dates from the second half of the 1930s. We know this because it shows both the current sea-end pier pavilion, built in 1934 to replace the earlier pavilion destroyed by fire the previous year; and also, just west of the band enclosure, Marlborough House, which was demolished in 1940.

Warwick Street was still open to traffic at that time, forming part of the A259, the main road running west to east through the centre of the town.

Although the photograph is slightly blurred at the bottom and right-hand edges, it shows clearly the area of the tragic demolition at the end of the 1960s, when the two blocks at the right-hand corner were wiped off the face of the earth – including Worthing’s original theatre of 1807, visible half-way along the north side of Ann Street.

By this time, the grass tennis courts at the Broadway Mansions end of Steyne Gardens, seen in photograph C, had been replaced with hard tennis courts situated at the sea-end.

Postcard E

Part of the interest of this photograph, which is slightly less crisp than the others, lies in the fact that it shows the configuration of the three children’s play areas that used to be located to the south-east of Beach House.

Numerous postcard views exist of these attractions, but it is difficult to work out from photographs taken at ground level how each was situated in relation to the others. This aerial view offers clarity.

Peter Pan’s Playground can just be seen on the south-east corner of the grounds of Beach House. I believe this attraction dated from the early 1950s; and the photograph was probably taken about that time.

To the east of the playground, the boating pool is prominent, just to the west of New Parade.

To its north is the large house known as Beachfield, which for the first half of the 20th century had been the Catherine Marsh Convalescent Home. By this time it had been converted into flats, before being demolished around 1965 to make way for the Aquarena swimming pool.

Immediately to the north-west of the boating pool is the children’s paddling pool, which for some reason seems to have had no water in it at the time this picture was taken, even though it was clearly summer – the trees are in full leaf.

Although Beach House had by now lost part of its grounds to Peter Pan’s Playground, it still had an attractive “hinterland” that it does not have today.

At the far left of the picture is Warnes Hotel, and to its right is the Eardley Hotel.

Both are now gone, of course, but happily, the recent replacement for the Eardley is the magnificent building that closely imitates the original Victorian terrace.

• Antony Edmonds is the author of ‘Worthing: The Postcard Collection’ (Amberley, 2013).