A professional appraisal of the Adshead & Ramsey project

Worthing Pier Pavilion ' The Main Entrance
Worthing Pier Pavilion ' The Main Entrance
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In 1920 the Worthing Corporation purchased the town’s pier for £18,978, and five years later the characterful “lemon-squeezer” kiosks at the land-end (Looking Back, July 24) were demolished, and work started on the building that occupies the site today.

This was a new pavilion, in complementary style to the original pavilion at the sea-end, which sadly was to be destroyed by fire in 1933.

For many years, the new building was known as the Pier Pavilion, the New Pavilion or the Music Pavilion; but today, of course, it is called the Pavilion Theatre.

The pavilion – which cost £40,000 and had seating for 1,000 – opened on June 26, 1926. It became the permanent home for the new Worthing Municipal Orchestra, one of the first full-time all-year-round orchestras at a seaside resort.

In the immediate post-war period, the orchestra played seven days a week, sometimes three sessions a day.

It was disbanded in 1978 and replaced with the Worthing Symphony Orchestra, still a major musical presence in the town today.

At the same time as the pier kiosks were demolished, the “bird-cage” bandstand of 1897 was also removed, and it was replaced with the bandstand and enclosure seen in the photographs at the bottom of the page.

A few years later, the 1926 bandstand – with its distinctive angular two-part pitched roof – was replaced by the more attractive round-roofed bandstand that survives today inside the Lido.

The bandstand and enclosure was part of the same scheme as the Pier Pavilion, the firm of architects employed being the Adshead & Ramsey partnership.

Stanley Adshead (1868–1946) – who in 1914 became Professor of Town Planning at the University of London – and Stanley Ramsey (1882–1968) had joined forces in 1911.

Their first major project was to design the Duchy of Cornwall Estate in Kennington, and they remained in practice together until 1931.

The two new Adshead & Ramsey buildings in Worthing were sufficiently interesting and important to attract – on November 12, 1926 – a four-page feature in a journal of the time called ‘The Architect & Building News’.

Two-thirds of the first page consists of an uncredited 830-word article with a single picture above it, the other three pages each being occupied by two photographs of the new buildings.

All seven pictures are reproduced here. The paper on which they were printed in the original journal was not of very high quality, so the images are not as crisp as would be ideal.

The captions given here in every case use the wording of the second part of the original caption. In the journal, each is preceded by “Worthing Pier Pavilion” and a colon. This applied even in the case of the two pictures of the bandstand.

The original article, which is reproduced here in its entirety, consisted of four long paragraphs, but here it is printed in short sections that are easier on the eye.

The style of the writing is somewhat ponderous, and indeed in places perhaps rather pretentious; but I think that many readers of the Herald & Gazette will find the article of interest.

The first paragraph will have an ironic resonance for a 21st century Worthinger – for it was written nine decades ago, when relatively little damage had yet been done to the architectural integrity of Worthing.

If the author were alive today, it is easy to imagine how vehement his condemnation would be of the demolition over the past 75 years of dozens of attractive Georgian or Victorian buildings in the town, many of them of considerable historical importance.

‘The beautiful towns on the south coast of England (wrote the anonymous author of the article in ‘The Architect & Building News’) have suffered, and are still suffering, so much damage at the hands of estate developers and others that it is pleasant to draw attention to a quite modern seaside building which represents the best traditions of seaside architecture.

Messrs Adshead & Ramsey’s design for the Worthing Pavilion, while distinguished by the spirit of urbanity which marked the best work of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, yet strikes a note of modernity.

We recognise immediately on glancing at the suave composition of architectural forms that we are in the presence of twentieth century design.

This spirit of modernity is especially evident in the interior of the pavilion where we see exposed a series of steel trusses which support the great domical roof.

The design of this roof symbolises an intellectual victory and marks, as it were, the end of the epoch, for it implies that the industrial age has passed, or is on the very verge of passing, through its first phase when in the flush of triumph in its new found scientific and inventive ability it took pleasure in displaying constructional forms which had no other merit than that derived from mechanical efficiency.

The time has now come to civilise these constructional forms and, while doing full justice to the scientific skill of those who first showed us how to create them, to make the engineer subservient to the artist.

This is not an unintelligent reversion to the eighteenth century on the part of doctrinaires who see no virtue in the accomplishments of the industrial age, but a deliberate attempt to take the forms of construction which the inventive genius of that age first taught us how to use and bring these forms into the aesthetic fold.

Messrs Adshead & Ramsey have scorned to employ the simple device of concealing their roof trusses behind a shell of lath and plaster, but have decided upon the bolder and.more original course of exposing the steel trusses in all their nakedness.

They have, however, designed them in such a manner that this exposure, so far from giving offence, actually contributes to the merit of the composition.

How to make a pattern of the framework composing the steel truss is one of the most important problems of modern design.

In the present instance the architect, while being limited by conditions which dictated a somewhat severe economy of costs, have roofed their pavilion by a series of arched members on each side of the building, the distance between them being spanned by other trusses, the lower members of which are horizontal, while above is a low-pitched roof supported by another orderly array of steel girders.

Whatever degree of intricacy the roof design may possess does not in the least disturb us for, in fact, it forms a pleasing supplement to the greater formality of the plan and wall elevations.

As is proper, the grand form of the proscenium arch is the climax of the composition, but the remaining wall surfaces are distinguished by an interesting pattern of trellis work.

The colour scheme forms a remarkable symphony of dull and bright colours and helps to give the hall its appropriate character as a place of entertainment.

Externally, the building displays an interesting silhouette defined by the contrast between the elliptical dome of the vestibule and that of the main building which is surmounted by a clerestory and low-pitched roof.

In front of the pavilion is a courtyard, having on each side two smaller buildings united to it by flat roofed corridors curved on plan.

These subsidiary structures with their concave roofs were necessary to the composition inasmuch as they enable the pavilion to enter into a more intimate aesthetic relationship with the horizontal lines of the promenade.

The band enclosure also illustrated here is a delightful design which seems to express the perfect seaside character.

Of horseshoe plan, the enclosure at the far end, where the bandstand is situated, projects beyond the tidal line and so is, as it were, half-way to being a pier.

Around the open space in the centre is a covered portion of ample dimensions.

The whole scheme is distinguished by the elegant classic detail of which Messrs Adshead & Ramsey have shown themselves to be past masters.

One criticism occurs to the present writer and this relates to the discrepancy in texture between the band enclosure, which is whitewashed, and has the lightness of tone appropriate to its environment and the pavilion where the bare concrete surface, with its peculiarly lifeless dull grey, has unfortunately been exposed.

It is to be hoped that when funds permit, this blemish will be removed, and the walls of the pavilion be given the same attractive finish as now distinguishes the band enclosure.

The municipality of Worthing is to be congratulated upon having the wisdom to give these artists an opportunity to make such an important addition to the amenities of their sea front.’

• Antony Edmonds’s new book, ‘Oscar Wilde’s Scandalous Summer: The 1894 Worthing Holiday and the Aftermath’, is out now in hardback, price £20.