The history of Worthing’s Stanford’s Cottage and the seaweed king

Bedford House and Stanford's Cottage in 1907
Bedford House and Stanford's Cottage in 1907

Stanford’s Cottage in Warwick Street, today the premises of Pizza Express, was named after its original owner, Edward Stanford (c. 1768-1858), a tailor, hatter and dealer in pianos.

A distinguished citizen of early Worthing, he was one of those that signed the petition of 1803 advocating the construction of a permanent theatre in the town.

Stanford's Cottage in 1963

Stanford's Cottage in 1963

The house, which was built at the end of the eighteenth century, is best known as having been where Jane Austen stayed with her mother and sister for between seven and fifteen weeks at the end of 1805.

But, as we shall see, it was briefly owned half a century later by someone who was as distinguished in his own field as Jane Austen was in hers.

In 1805 Warwick Street was not a fully-built street. Stanford’s Cottage stood in a group of four buildings at the eastern end.

Next to it to the west was Lane’s House, later known as Bedford House, demolished in 1940; and to its east was Lamport’s Cottage, demolished two or three years earlier.

Warwick Street, c. 1840

Warwick Street, c. 1840

Just to the north of Lamport’s Cottage was a pair of small houses.

Lane’s House, Stanford’s Cottage and Lamport’s Cottage all had open views towards the sea across a piece of ground known as Paine’s Field.

Between Lamport’s Cottage and Stanford’s Cottage a footpath ran from Warwick Street to the shore. Its northern end is still clearly delineated today.

On the Warwick Street side of Stanford’s Cottage was a paved courtyard with a pair of gates and an old chestnut tree in the middle.

Edward Cortis Stanford

Edward Cortis Stanford

The north side of Warwick Street was not yet built, the houses there being erected in 1807-08.

Just to the north, Ann Street had recently been created, but also was not yet built upon.

The outlook from the north frontage of Stanford’s Cottage was, therefore, over fields and a few scattered buildings towards Middle Street – subsequently West Street, and today North Street – with the downs beyond.

On the right-hand side of this view were various old houses and cottages along the High Street, as it ran north from the Colonnade.

The area to the east and south-east of the row of four houses, in which Stanford’s Cottage stood, was entirely open ground in 1805, since Steyne Row and the Steyne Hotel were built only in 1807-08.

The possessive approach to the naming of property was common in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and in those days, as today, an apostrophe was sometimes used before the ‘S’ in such instances, and sometimes not. We use whichever variant appears in any given source.

In 1805, Jane Austen’s niece Fanny wrote to her former governess giving the address as ‘Mr Stanfords, Worthing, Shoreham’, and the detailed street plan of Worthing that appears in all three editions of Wallis’s Stranger in Worthing, or New Guide to that Delightful Watering Place (1826, 1832 and 1843) has the building marked as ‘Stanfords Cottage’.

The form ‘Stanford Cottage’ – with no apostrophe – seems to have come into use around the middle of the 19th century, since it first appears in post office directories of that period.

This typical piece of Victorian tidying-up regrettably loosened the link with Georgian Worthing and the house’s original owner.

However, Stanford’s Cottage was the name used by Edward Snewin, writing in 1899 about the Worthing he knew as a child in the 1820s, and most Worthing historians, including Smail, Elleray, and Kerridge and Standing, use this version.

Just over a hundred years ago the house ceased to have a name of its own.

It was not lived in after 1906, and by 1919 it did not even have an address.

For most of the twentieth century it was simply an unnamed store-house behind the premises of the house furnisher Colin Moore, at 20-22 Warwick Street (since demolished).

When the house was given its Grade II listing in October 1949, the listing text stated: ‘It was originally called Stanfords Cottage but it is now only called a store-house.’

As the listing document makes clear, Stanford’s Cottage was originally smaller than it is today, the section at the north-west end being an addition at some point in the middle of the 19th century – perhaps at about the same time as the name Stanford Cottage came into use.

When Edward Stanford died in 1858, he left the house in his will to a young man called Edward Cortis, a cousin of Alfred Cortis, the first Mayor of Worthing.

Edward Cortis was a talented chemist and a keen early photographer. Three years earlier, when he was just 18, he was already advertising his photographic services in the Worthing Monthly Record.

Cortis and his two brothers were major beneficiaries of Stanford’s will, and one of its provisions was that they had to change their surnames, by deed poll, to Stanford.

It is not clear why Edward Stanford took such an interest in the Cortis brothers. He was not their grandfather, since their mother’s maiden name was Cortenay.

Edward Cortis Stanford had no use for the house he had inherited, and he sold it at some point between 1858 and his leaving Worthing in 1862, to take up the position of assistant demonstrator at the School of Pharmacy in London.

The sales particulars – this was during the period when the house was known as Stanford Cottage – state that the house had large drawing and dining rooms, a morning room, and eight dormitories (bedrooms). Also, unusually for that time, it had a “well fitted bathroom”, with “town water and gas laid liberally on”.

There is mention of the “deep lawn” in front of the house – in those days the front door was on the side facing the sea – and the house is described as being “altogether a rustic and agreeable residence”.

When Jane Austen stayed there, Stanford’s Cottage would not have had a bathroom, nor as many as eight ‘dormitories’.

Extra bedrooms were added when the house was extended in the middle of the 19th century, and it was probably at this time that the bathroom was installed.

Edward Cortis Stanford seems never to have returned to Worthing.

In 1862 he published an influential book called On the Economic Applications of Seaweed, and by the following year he was working in the kelp industry.

It is pleasing and perhaps not coincidental that a man from Worthing – whose beach has been plagued for over two centuries by seaweed – should have made his fortune out of it.

Stanford was an expert in iodine extraction, and made a significant advance in seaweed chemistry when he isolated alginate from the kelp seaweeds found on the coasts of Britain.

In 1864 Stanford went to Scotland to take up the post of manager of the British Seaweed Company, and he built the Stanford chemical works on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal to extract iodine and potash from seaweed.

In 1893, six years before his death, he became the president of the Society of Chemical Industry.

In the heading of this article we have taken the liberty of christening Edward Cortis Stanford “the seaweed king”, albeit with no expectation that this will catch on.

Nonetheless, this distinguished Worthinger perhaps deserves a blue plaque on Stanford’s Cottage, to sit beside Jane Austen’s?

:: The material relating to Stanford’s Cottage in 1805 is taken from my book, Jane Austen’s Worthing: The Real Sanditon. I discovered that Edward Cortis Stanford had briefly owned Stanford’s Cottage only when I chanced upon the sales particulars from c. 1858 on the internet, while I was preparing this article. The information I then obtained about Edward Cortis Stanford comes from the www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk website, where a full account of his life can be found. I am grateful to the website’s creator, David Simkin, for sending me the scan of the photograph of Stanford, which is taken from Robert Elleray’s Worthing: A Pictorial History. The photographs of Stanford’s Cottage are reproduced by courtesy of West Sussex County Council Library service, www.westsussexpast.org.