The Old Town Hall in Worthing

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A fine building now demolished. The Old Town Hall in Worthing

This article was updated on 22 February 2023. Reason for update: Restoration of the old town hall bell.

The old town hall in Worthing stood at the northern end of South Street until as recently as 1966 when it was demolished.

This town hall was the most instantly recognisable and the most-photographed building in Worthing, and it is a great loss to the heart of the town that it is no longer there.

Source: Sussex World. The building that stood at the heart of Worthing. 2014.

The Worthing Herald’s correspondent reported about the demolition of the old town hall

Most people think South Street looks a lot better without the Old Town Hall, which finally disappeared this week. Its site will remain open and is to be landscaped, pending redevelopment of the area to the north-east. This picture was taken yesterday (Thursday) morning from the roof of Hubbards store by Herald photographer Rod Pounsett.

Source: Worthing Herald, 29.07.1966. Newspaper clipping (with an associated photograph of the empty site) found in the Heritage Box, 1st floor, Worthing Library.

Before the demolition of the old town hall in Worthing, I was not a resident of Worthing and did not have the opportunity of seeing this fine building. Perhaps that’s just as well as I am sure I would be lamenting its demise all the more.

In its place, as part of Worthing’s relentless post-war uglification process, are the steps leading to The Guildbourne Shopping Centre, which opened in 1974.

I have no intention of showing you a photograph of the Guildbourne Centre…

Old Town Hall in Worthing

The Old Town Hall in Worthing

Above image: Detroit Publishing Company, 1905. Forms part of Views of England  in the Photochrom print collection. Print No. 11337. View between 1890 and 1900.

In the early 18th century, when most working class people did not own watches due to their expense, Michael Morrah, one of Worthing’s doctors, proposed that a clock tower be built with monies obtained by public subscription.

The amount of money raised surpassed what was needed for a clock tower and was sufficient for a town hall to be built, into which the clock tower was to be incorporated. The building, was completed in 1835.

Worthing’s fire engine was located below the debating chamber. The long fire escape ladder had to be ready for emergencies and was a prominent feature, leaning against the front wall of the building.

Cells for prisoners and vagrants were also located beneath the chamber. During summer, the stink from these cells was so bad that the Town Commissioners found it difficult to conduct business in the chamber above.

The new town hall in Worthing

The New Town Hall in Worthing

The old town hall in Worthing remained in use for chamber business until 1933, when it was replaced by the current building close by on Chapel Road.

Associated image attribution: Tim Baker / Worthing Town Hall

In 1950, the old town hall clock tower was found to be structurally unsafe, and the bells were prevented from ringing so that further deterioration of the structure would not occur.

The clock tower’s removal signalled the old town hall’s end. The inside had fallen into disrepair by the 1960s, and the rest of the structure was demolished in 1966.

The bell from the old town hall

The bell from the old town hall

The bell from the clock tower has somehow survived. It is displayed, without historical reference to its origin, inside the Guildbourne Centre shopping centre beneath a staircase leading to the upper floor of the centre.

Source: Secret Worthing, James Henry and Colin Walton. Amberley Publishing. 15 July 2016.

Associated image © South Coast View

While many English towns had attractive town halls, the uninterrupted and spectacular vista looking north along South Street towards the old town hall in Worthing, held a unique allure.

Restoration of the old town hall bell in The Guildbourne Centre

Updated 22 February 2023

The old town hall bell in Worthing’s Guildbourne’s Centre has been restored and pictures and historical information will be added. The bell will become part the Worthing Heritage Trail starting 22nd March 2023.

Source: The Guildbourne Centre Facebook Page

References also used

British History Online. Worthing: Local government and public services. Accessed 12 February 2023.

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