The kiosks at the land-end of Worthing Pier

Although this article is in the “Buildings of Old Worthing” series, at first sight it could just as well be one of our “A Postcard from Worthing” articles, since all the illustrations are from old postcards.

The reason for this is that the pier kiosks were photographed so often during the golden age of postcards that most of the best views we have of them come from picture postcards.

Worthing Pier kiosks

Worthing Pier kiosks

All the postcards here date from before the First World War – indeed also from before the Pier disaster of 1913 (Looking Back, June 19) – apart from the card with the paddle steamer in the centre, which probably dates from about 1920.

The original version of Worthing Pier had been built in 1861-62, and the first major enhancement was these two attractive kiosks that were added at the land-end in 1884 to replace the plain toll-house that had stood there till then.

The kiosks remained in place until 1925, when they were demolished to make way for the Pavilion Theatre that occupies the site today.

One of the kiosks served as the new toll-house – I believe this was the more westerly of the two – while the other sold newspapers and souvenirs.

This series of articles has always, where possible, identified an interesting individual associated with the buildings featured; and in the case of the pier kiosks there are two.

The first is Alphonse Conway, the 16-year-old local boy with whom Oscar Wilde became scandalously involved during his stay in Worthing in the summer of 1894.

During the trial of the Marquess of Queensberry on charges of criminal libel against Wilde the following year, Queensberry’s counsel, Edward Carson, referred to Alphonse’s having had a job selling newspapers in one of the kiosks at the end of the pier.

This seems, however, to have been after Wilde’s stay in Worthing, for Wilde insisted he knew nothing of it; and the next day, when his own counsel, Sir Edward Clarke, returned to the subject of Conway’s employment as a newspaper seller, Wilde had a witticism ready.

“I never heard of it,” he said, “nor had any idea that he had any connection with literature in any form.”

As we saw in Looking Back on June 19, there is a direct connection between Wilde himself and the other end of the pier, for in August, 1894, he made a speech in the sea-end pavilion.

Just over a decade after Alphonse Conway’s association with the pier kiosks, King Edward VII found himself in close proximity to them, in somewhat awkward circumstances.

A full account of this episode appeared in the Herald & Gazette last year, so here we will provide only a brief summary.

On December 12, 1908, as the king was being driven through Worthing, he noticed that the pier was almost deserted.

He asked that they stop, and he and his party paid at the toll-kiosk in the usual way and walked to the far end of the pier.

Only a couple of people had seen the king arrive, but word spread rapidly, and a large crowd quickly gathered.

A friend of the king’s returned to the kiosks to buy the king some newspapers and, at his suggestion, a senior policeman who had arrived on the scene told the toll-keeper not to admit any more people.

Nonetheless, it was clear that the king needed to be rescued from his devoted subjects, and, guided by the senior policeman and a constable, who did their best to keep the crowd back, the king and his friends were with some difficulty evacuated from the pier.

After the king was safely back in his car, two of the party were found still to be stranded on the pier, cut off by the crowd; and the king’s motor engineer had to go back past the kiosks to ask the people to let the king’s friends through.

The party then drove out of Worthing – stopping once they were clear of the town so that the king could stroll on the shore without interruption.