A hundred years ago, there were only two two-storey houses on Worthing seafront between Heene Terrace and Splash Point.
Today, one survives – the former Coastguard House, to the west of Claydon Court and the old Lifeboat House.
The other is the main focus of this article.
The house in question – Parade Lodge, 49 in the old numbering of Marine Parade, and 80 in the numbering that applied from 1880 onwards – was owned for many years by a man called Thomas Banting, who was a notable and perhaps rather eccentric figure in 19th-century Worthing.
Nosing around the internet for information about Banting, I discovered that he was sufficiently well-known for the Eureka Herald – of Eureka, Kansas, USA – to report in its issue of August 20, 1874, that “the obese and celebrated Mr. Thomas Banting” had left a large sum of money “for building a convalescent home at Worthing”.
The word “obese” amused me, for when I was young, “banting” was in everyday use to describe a determined effort to use weight.
I was therefore intending to observe, in my chucklesome way, that Thomas was evidently Banting by name, but not by nature.
However I first wanted to check that “banting” meant exactly what I thought it did – and I was astonished by what I found in my dictionary.
I had expected to discover that the word was originally a verb, “to bant”, perhaps Anglo-Saxon in origin.
Not so. The word “banting” owes its existence to one William Banting.
A visit to the www.bantingfamilyhistory.com website provided the fascinating information that this William Banting (1796-1878) was the elder brother of our Thomas (1799-1874).
The Banting family business was the most famous firm of undertakers in Britain for most of the 19th century and for the early part of the 20th.
Banting’s conducted the funerals of – among other notable personages – King George III, King George IV, the Duke of Wellington, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.
In due course, William took over the family business from his father – Thomas senior – and continued to live in London with his family; while Thomas junior at some point moved to Worthing.
The Banting Diet
William Banting was enormously overweight – and was determined to do something about it.
His doctor advised changes to his diet, and William followed this advice, initially with mixed results – but he then found a diet that achieved the desired effect.
Banting wanted to share his success with others, and in 1863 he wrote a booklet called ‘Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public’, which set out his diet plan – which consisted of four meals a day, avoiding sugar, starch, milk and butter.
Each meal consisted of up to six ounces of meat, fish or poultry; plenty of vegetables (but no potatoes); and the “fruit of any pudding” (thus, without the pastry).
Banting was allowed tea without milk or sugar, and at dinner he could have two or three glasses of good-quality dry claret, sherry or Madeira; but champagne, port and beer were forbidden.
Initially, he printed the booklet at his own expense, but it was later published commercially, and it became so popular that “Do you bant?” became an everyday question in England; and the word entered the language.
Meanwhile, in sunny Worthing, Thomas lived a quiet life and never married. He died in 1874, and is buried in Broadwater Cemetery.
(It is clear, incidentally, that the report in the Eureka Herald conflated the two Banting brothers. Although it was indeed Thomas that left these large sums to charity, it was William who was “obese and celebrated”. Thomas was not famous; and we have no idea whether or not he was fat.)
Although his obelisk is in a prominent position near the entrance to the cemetery, the inscription – perhaps at Thomas’s own request – is modest:
Died at Parade Lodge
20th June 1874
Thomas Banting left the residue of his estate in trust to found a convalescent home for gentlewomen of good social position but reduced means who were recovering from a recent illness.
This home, which was located in the house where Thomas had lived on Marine Parade, opened in 1877 or 1878.
A lengthy account of the Thomas Banting Memorial Home in Kirshaw’s ‘Guide and Handbook to Worthing and its Vicinity’, published in 1878, provides much interesting information.
The guide informs us that the normal length of stay at the new home was 21 days, although this could be extended if necessary.
All expenses were met, “including laundress”, so that the lady convalescent had to pay only her travel costs.
At that time, there were five bedrooms for the convalescents – two of them single rooms and three of them with twin beds – allowing eight ladies in all to “become inmates of the home”.
There were three sitting rooms; the housekeeping was “on a liberal scale”; and good food was provided.
A Wealthy Man
Kirshaw’s guide also quotes a recent report about the new Home in a lady’s newspaper called the Queen.
The Queen reports that Thomas Banting “for years lived a very retired life at Worthing”, and that he left £67,000 to “various charities, mostly in the metropolis”, as well as £30,000 “in order to found a charity whose object should be to help convalescents”.
These are staggering sums – combined, the two bequests represent well over £7,000,000 in today’s money.
The Thomas Banting Memorial Trust still exists, incidentally, and as recently as September, 2011, awarded £470,000 to Guild Care of Worthing’s Healthy Living Programme.
The Queen newspaper is full of praise for the fact that the Banting Memorial Home was intended to serve a “class much it need of it” – and indeed expresses this in terms rather disconcerting to the modern eye.
“The clergyman or professional man who has to keep up a good appearance on a small income is often far worse off than the mechanic [craftsman] or labourer, who has little to do beyond providing for the daily wants of food, shelter, and clothing, and who has all kinds of help contrived for him.”
It is difficult to conceive quite what were the “all kinds of help” the author of the article thought were available to the working classes of those days – other, perhaps, than the workhouse – and the sub-text seems to be that such people were in effect a different species, with lesser requirements.
A report in the Nursing Record & Hospital World of March 14, 1896, also gives a detailed account of the home, and it is again clear that social distinctions lay at the heart of the offering.
“The Convalescent Home at Worthing, known as the Thomas Banting Memorial, meets the necessities of poor gentlewomen only, a class of persons who really need, from the small number of Institutions providing for their wants, such help and sympathy as this excellent home affords.
“Applicants, particularly schoolmistresses, governesses, and relatives of farmers, master-tradesmen, schoolmasters and tutors, and private persons, are requested to state such facts as will show that they are accustomed to associate with such ladies as are intended to be admitted.
“This is especially required of relatives of ‘merchants’ [the inverted commas are very telling!] or other traders, as only the better classes are intended.
“Each lady has a separate bedroom. The domestic comforts are in every respect those of a private gentleman’s family.”
One wonders how the “relatives of ‘merchants’ or other traders” were meant to prove that they “were accustomed to associate” with ladies of the class for which the home was intended.
The message on the back of my copy of the Edwardian postcard of the Thomas Banting Home – which is postmarked January 22, 1906, – is interesting in two respects.
The first is that the sender, who signs herself with just the initial P, was a resident of the Home.
“I am having a splendid time,” she reports.
“Every comfort. The card does not give the size of house. It is very large. My room is very nice. Lovely bed & good living.”
The second point of interest – with our own General Election imminent – is that P’s message continues: “Polling day here, so a lot of fun going on.”
This was the General Election of 1906, which produced a Liberal landslide, the Liberals, led by Henry Campbell-Bannerman, winning 397 seats to the Conservatives’ 156.
This was the last election in which the Liberals secured an overall majority in the House of Commons – and it was the first election that resulted in Labour Party representation of any significance, the party increasing its number of MPs from two to 29.
Before 1918, incidentally, general elections did not take place on a single day.
Polling was spread over several weeks, in this case from January 12 to February 8.
Wine Lodge & Ocean
Around 1946 the Thomas Banting Memorial Home moved to 28 Downview Road, near West Worthing station, before finally closing about 40 years later.
28 Downview Road is still a care home today, under the name of Tenby House.
Meanwhile, Banting’s old house on the seafront was incorporated into a new building, which extended also over the site of 81-82 Marine Parade to its west.
This new building served for half a century or so as a popular Worthing pub, initially – under the ownership of Roberts & Son – as the Parade Wine Lodge; and subsequently as the Litten Tree.
Since 2003, the site has been occupied by the magnificent Nautilus block, a textbook example of how a fine modern building designed in a harmonious, traditional style can enhance an old seafront – unlike the new Beach Residences and the adjacent hotel; or the two incongruous and excessively tall structures that, if Roffey has it way, will soon also be imposed on Worthing.
During the last few decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, the houses between Thomas Banting’s old house and New Street, like so many other buildings on Worthing seafront, generally served as lodging-houses.
Around 1927, No. 79 became the Lansdowne Hotel; and around the end of the Second World War Nos 77, 78 and 79 were combined to form the Ocean Hotel.
The Ocean advertised itself as “a sun-trap on the sea-front” and – somewhat improbably – as having “world-famous cuisine”.
There was also “dancing to the hotel’s own band”.
The terms the hotel used in its advertisements – and the two postcards it produced for its guests – suggest that the Ocean was an ambitious establishment. Perhaps over-ambitious, for by around 1961 it had closed.
For five years or so the block was the Ocean Flatlets, and then for many years the Regent Hotel.
Today, the three handsome early 19th century houses once occupied by the Ocean and the Regent are a Grade II listed building.
• I would like to thank the Friends of Broadwater Cemetery for alerting me to – and pointing me in the direction of – Thomas Banting’s memorial.