The 115-year-old building that stands at the heart of Worthing
During the do-called 'golden age' of postcards '“ dates vary, but the years 1901 to 1914 are as persuasive as any '“ the two most-photographed views in Worthing (excluding general views of the seafront) were, first, the view up South Street to the old Town Hall, and, secondly, various views of the building that still stands today just to the north of Steyne Gardens.
By an odd coincidence, the locations of the two buildings – at either end of Warwick Street – are the two locations that at different times represented the heart of Worthing.
Indeed it was the construction of the old Town Hall in 1835 that finally shifted Worthing’s centre of gravity two hundred yards west, from one end of Warwick Street to the other.
Until the end of the 18th century the historic junction where the Broadway building stands was the central point of Worthing, since this was where the long street known as Old Worthing Street, which wound from Broadwater to the sea, divided into two.
West Lane ran west and then south from this junction, following the line of today’s Warwick Street and South Street to the sea – while East Lane followed the line of Brighton Road as far as George’s Road, before itself turning sharply towards the shore.
With the development of Warwick Street and the creation of Ann Street and Market Street during the first decade of the nineteenth century, the centre of Worthing began moving westward, and, as already suggested, it was the construction of the old Town Hall in 1835 that “fixed” that change.
The old Town Hall featured in these pages on May 22, 2014. This and the next article in our ‘A Postcard from Worthing’ series will focus on the Broadway.
Over seventy different photographs of the Broadway were published as postcards, by over forty named publishers, as well as at least ten who remained anonymous.
The overwhelming majority of these postcards date from before the First World War, but a dozen or so were first published between 1914 and 1927.
What attracted the postcard photographers to the Broadway was the combination of a picturesque building and the elm-trees that stood adjacent to it, in the middle of the street.
The totality of the building has never had a name as such, so we are referring to it as “the Broadway building”.
The generalised name Broadway Mansions is sometimes used, but Broadway Mansions is in fact just one – though by far the largest – of the three “mansions” that today comprise the residential part of the building, the others being Warwick Mansions and Kent Mansions.
The flats in Warwick Mansions are on a single staircase accessed from an entrance on the High Street, and those in Kent Mansions on a staircase inside the entrance near the eastern end of the block.
Between the two is the entrance to Broadway Mansions, which serves two internal staircases, the flats in Broadway Mansions occupying about half the building in terms of floor area.
The building that had previously stood at this important location was Warwick House, which in Worthing’s early days was the best house in the town.
By the last decade of the nineteenth century Warwick House – which stood just behind where the Broadway building stands today – was empty and in a poor state of repair, and the house and its grounds were bought by a builder and developer called Ephraim Kellett.
Kellett demolished Warwick House in 1896, and its extensive grounds were built over between then and 1909.
The houses in Charlecote Road, Warwick Gardens, Wyke Avenue, Ash Grove and Elm Road are conventional dwellings, but the important plot of land facing Steyne Gardens and the sea was reserved for something special – and indeed the construction of the Broadway building coincided both with a new century and with the reign of a new monarch, Edward VII.
The building is, along with the Dome, probably the most interesting and attractive building to be erected in Worthing during the entire twentieth century – although this, sadly, is not a very competitive field.
The elm trees seen on these postcards had been part of the southern boundary of the grounds of Warwick House.
It is curious but rather charming that these trees were initially retained, but in the event they survived Warwick House by only three decades.
They were cut down in February 1928, following a heated Town Council debate during which it was suggested that the trees might become unsafe “some time in the future”. The controversial decision to fell the trees was made by a very small majority.
After the trees were removed, postcard photographers lost interest in the scene – but by then, in any case, the postcard craze was largely over, and only a fraction of the number of postcards were being produced compared to 20 years earlier.
About half the photographs of the Broadway that appear on early postcards were taken from the High Street end, and half from the eastern end.
This month’s article is illustrated with east-facing views, and next month’s will feature west–facing views.
Prior to the demolition of Warwick House, the section of Brighton Road immediately to the east of Warwick Street was no wider than it had been in the eighteenth century.
Until 1808 East Lane, as already mentioned, ran no further than St George’s Road, and Brighton could only be reached by way of the northerly road that is today the A27.
The reason that, around 1900, the section of Brighton Road opposite the former grounds of Warwick House was named the Broadway was that a strip of land just to the north of the elm trees was set aside to serve as the new carriageway for traffic travelling east towards Brighton.
The widening of this section of the street made it a “broad way” in comparison with what had been there before.
The new carriageway between the trees and the building was, however, narrower than the carriageway that led into the town, which now occupied what had previously been the entire width of the road.
It was possible to add only a fairly narrow strip of land north of the trees to the road because it had been decided that the line of the front of the buildings on the north side of the Broadway should continue the line of the buildings on the north side of Warwick Street.
Early twentieth century street plans suggest that the Broadway officially ended at Park Road, but street plans from the 1960s and 1970s have the Broadway extending only as far as Warwick Place, perhaps a more logical end-point.
Today “The Broadway” is no longer the postal address of the western end of Brighton Road, although it still appears in the addresses of the shops on the ground floor of the Broadway building.
We have no way of knowing what the original colouring of the façade of the block was, since no “true” colour photographs exist.
In the early days of postcards – indeed until after the Second World War – all colour postcards were colour-tinted versions of monochrome photographs.
In almost all cases the “colour-tinters” who worked for the postcard firms would never have set eyes on the locations they were colouring, and – while they were unlikely to go far wrong with the colours they chose for trees or the sea – in the case of buildings they simply selected whatever colours seemed plausible to them.
The two coloured cards on the bottom row, for example, offer diametrically opposed suggestions – one showing all the masonry as lobster pink, the other as a pale fawn-grey colour.
It is more likely that the masonry was in a variety of tones; and the colours used on the card at top right are more convincing.
Indeed it is just possible that in this particular case someone took the trouble to establish what the real colours were.
It will be left to a second article about the Broadway building, scheduled for next month, to focus on a few of the notable businesses that occupied the shops on the ground floor, so here we will merely mention that in the building’s early days, as today, the ground floor consisted of nine commercial units.
Most of these were single shops, but Nos. 8-9 was for half a century a larger shop, the grocers Ivens & Kellett (of which more in the next article).
The directories for the first few years have no independent listing for the occupants of the residential floors at the two ends of the building that are today called Warwick Mansions and Kent Mansions.
It seems likely that this was because these flats were occupied by the proprietors of the shops on the ground floor, and the directory listing for the proprietors was – reasonably enough – held to include both shop and accommodation.
Indeed although, when the son of Frederick Whittington, the bootmaker at No. 4, was baptised in 1908, Whittington gave his address as the Broadway, Whittington’s name never appears among the block’s flat-dwellers.
So he probably lived in a flat in the building that was regarded, for directory purposes, as an adjunct to his shop on the ground floor. (Later he lived in a house in the High Street.)
Equally, the 1911 census has Henry Ramsden and his sons dwelling at No. 7, The Broadway which was the address of their shop – but again there was seemingly no need to list separately in the directories the fact that they also lived there.
However John Chalmers, who owned the chemist’s shop at No. 3, The Broadway for fifteen years or so, also had a separate listing as a flat-dweller.
A possible explanation is that the flat allocated to the chemist’s shop was occupied by an assistant manager, while Chalmers himself chose to live in a grander flat in the central – and “unlinked” – part of the building.
These are only theories, however.
It is impossible to be certain about the original configuration of the accommodation at the block – not only because early directory entries are often confusing or contradictory, but also because so much internal alteration has taken place over the 115 years of the building’s existence.
Nonetheless the central section of the block – today’s Broadway Mansions – was certainly originally “independent” accommodation, even though it was there that John Chalmers lived.
In the building’s early days, this independent accommodation was known, depending on which directory is followed, as either “Broadway Flats” or “Broadway Chambers” – although in 1911 the accommodation was listed in one directory as (by then, five) flats at, rather mysteriously, “3, Broadway”.
By just before the Great War, it appears that the flats at either end of the building had ceased to be occupied by the shop-keepers below; and it was at this time that the accommodation on the western staircase was given the name Warwick Mansions and that on the eastern staircase Kent Mansions.
The change of name from Broadway Flats (or Broadway Chambers) to Broadway Mansions occurred at the same time.
When the block was first built, each flat above the Broadway shops was, as already indicated, substantial.
The Broadway Chambers section seems initially to have consisted of three large flats, but the first sub-dividing had already taken place as early as 1907, when the directories show four flats; and by 1911, as we have seen, there were five.
Over the years a great deal of further sub-dividing has taken place in all three of the mansions, and a block that seems originally to have contained only about half a dozen flats now consists of over twenty.
Some of these flats are large and well-proportioned, but others – as is often the result of sub-dividing – are small or awkwardly configured.
Many, however, particularly those in the centre of Broadway Mansions, have stunning views across Steyne Gardens to the sea.
This view is, indeed, arguably one of the best sea-views anywhere in Sussex, because – instead of offering a monotonous prospect of open sea, like most of the sea views on our part of the south coast – the foreground offers variety and perspective in the form of trees and green space.
• Antony Edmonds’s book ‘Worthing: The Postcard Collection’ (RRP £14.99) is on sale at the offices of the Herald & Gazette in Chatsworth Road, Worthing at the special price of £11.50.