Union Place Worthing

The ‘vision’ for a better future continues in Worthing – Union Place

There are notices around the town in Worthing advertising the vision for Worthing, you might have noticed them and in particular the boards about Union Place. Worthing Borough Council (WBC) obtained the land last year and this latest acquisition is part of the bigger regeneration plan for Worthing which has been going on for some time now. The Union Place project will bring with it 198 new homes, new commercial spaces, a cinema and an extension to the Connaught Theatre, in fact in this application the theatre is called the ‘site anchor‘. The proposal describes all the opportunities and the constraints associated with such a huge development and is worth a read (link below).

In a statement Adur and Worthing Borough Council say this:

‘Worthing will be recognised as a highly desirable place to live, work and visit, continuing to attract high calibre businesses and significant inward investment that will help the town’s economy to grow and improve its regional competitiveness. It will be a vibrant place where people can enjoy a high-quality environment that combines the best of coast and countryside, a diverse cultural and leisure offer, modern infrastructure and economic opportunities.  [Worthing prospectus 2016]

It is interesting to look at the map of 1932 on page 3; ‘The Heritage Strategy’, we can see the Connaught Theatre as a cinema. It was in 1935 that the cinema had a face lift and became the Connaught Theatre. The architect of the face lift, creating a new façade, was the same architect who designed Onslow Court, A T Goldsmith.

The significance of why Onslow Court features in this huge planning document starts to make sense. Some of those aforementioned constraints are probably there because of our Onslow Court, the Connaught it is a very important listed building in Worthing and it sits slap bang in the middle of the Union Place site making this project slightly more architecturally sensitive than it might otherwise have been and don’t forget, it is called the ‘site anchor‘ in this application.

Onslow Court is included as a visual reference in the outline planning application (page 6), although their document doesn’t reference the architect, or why our building is slotted into this glossy tender.  Onslow Court is prominent in the application and it is placed alongside other ‘designed’ buildings.

It is great that Onslow Court is recognised as a building of importance. We come under the heading, ‘Proposed Character’ and we are the only local building other than the Connaught Theatre in the application.

Read the full application and view all 8 exhibition boards here and the consultation information here.



Art Deco Traveller Guide

I think it is fair to say that we are all quite passionate about the Art Deco era; the period when Onslow Court was built.

Now it looks like someone else is too and not just the era, but also our building.

Onslow Court is catalogued in the latest Art Deco Traveller Guide, written, researched by the Art Historian, journalist, writer and author Genista Davidson.  Genista is also the Chairman of the Art Deco Society U.K.

This is an invaluable location guide for any art deco traveller in the United Kingdom and for all lovers of 1920s and 30s nostalgia and all that that entails: the opulence and decadence of the legendary Jazz Age era. In this edition you will find us alongside De La Warr Pavilion, the Assembly Hall in Worthing, Saltdean Lido and Pells Pool in Lewis. Plus Stoke Abbot Court Worthing, Embassy Court, Shoreham Airport and Marine Court in St Leonards-on-Sea. Readers might be interested to read Genista’s blog post here on Shoreham Airport and other local Art Deco hot spots!

Onslow Court was always an important piece of architecture on the south coast, it lost its polish and allure in the 70s 80s and the 90s, but now thanks to the new climate of interest in this era and the intensive restoration program which has spanned the last 8 years, starting in 2012 with the replacement of the communal boiler, we are starting to see confirmation that Onslow Court is being noticed and recorded once more.

The ‘Art Deco Traveller Guide’ is available to buy in all good bookshops.


STOP PRESS>>>> There is another book coming out soon on Onslow Court written by the daughter of the developer/builder of our building. This new book will feature other Worthing buildings that her family built in the 30s and we wait in anticipation for publication day. We will tell you about it here first!

Ammunition Found in Flat 29! – 1949

Ammunition 1949

We all know from living at Onslow Court about our strange water distribution and stopcocks, but none was more strange that this story from the local paper in 1949.

Nine-year-old John Millkin, of 29 Onslow Court, Worthing slept for several months within a few feet of a quantity of live, 303 ammunition without knowing it.

This week it was discovered by accident and removed by the police – all 15 rounds of it.

It came to light because of the faulty bathroom tap. It was necessary to switch off another tap in the medicine cupboard in Johns bedroom and while Mrs. P.D. Millikin, Johns mother and a porter at the flats were examining the inside of the cupboard, they saw some of the ammunition wedged in a partition.

Five rounds were extracted and John and his sister (Jill) later found another ten. Onslow Court was occupied by the military during the war.

Paper cutting provided by Zoe Bailey Flat 12a.


Art Deco in Worthing

In late 2002 Worthing Borough Council Executive Member for Planning and Economic Development, Councillor Chris Sargent, appointed Saville Jones Architects to undertake a study of Worthing. The purpose was to record buildings of interest within the Borough, excluding those that were statutorily ‘Listed’ so that people interested in the town might be encouraged to appreciate some of the buildings of note and interest.

The objective was not to create a list of buildings to be preserved, but a catalogue of structures for public record.

The research shows what a rich architectural heritage Worthing has. Particularly taht of the Art Deco period – A period of art and architecture that is undergoing a resurgence of interest.

The built environment has to reflect changing lifestyles and patterns of living and not everything can be preserved. However, many buildings, including some that have been catalogued, have been spoilt by insensitive alterations and extensions. especially in the use of uPVC porches and windows. Future development in the town should now reflect a quality and integrity of design of their period, just as the buildings within this study were of theirs.

Onslow Court

This building is a good example of International style architecture, comprising a four-storey apartment block that sweeps around this prominent corner site.
The building is flat-roofed with an architectural composition of alternating solid render panels with steel framed glazing. Decorative relief features within the render have been subtly detailed within the elevation. The large corner windows project on the ground, first and second floors to take advantage of the sea views. The original lettering has been retained and the facades have been carefully maintained.

The Letter Behind the Radiator

In 2006 an old letter was found unopened, wedged behind a radiator in Onslow Court. Imagine the surprise and excitement of George Rudd who used to live in flat 18 when he unearthed it. Unopened it presented so many interesting ideas, who had sent it and what did it contain?

The letter is dated February 1942; it had fallen from sight and lay undiscovered and unopened for more than 63 years. It appears to have been sent by a Mrs Comfort from Bromley, she sent it to Gunner R. J. Comfort of 3rd Field Regiment, Canadian Army in Worthing. The letter implies that Mrs Comfort is his wife; is the referred to boyfriend a joke or a euphemism or code even?

We know that there were many Canadian soldiers billeted in Worthing during WW2, but no one is sure they ended up in Onslow Court. Research at Worthing Library was made to try and find out more. Unfortunately records were scant and for a very good reason, groups of soldiers in buildings were kept secret during the war, records were either heavily censored or not made at all for fear of them (and the soldiers) getting into enemy hands.

Below is a transcript of the letter. If only the Royal Mail was as efficient now as it was then!

21 Bourne Road, Bromley, Kent. 4th February 1942

“My Own Dearest Husband,
I got your letter first post this morning. I am sorry to hear you’ve broken your nose again darling. I hope it doesn’t hurt too much. Tony has got to go for his Medical tomorrow, for this Army Training school. Joan is writing to you.

“I hope you can get up at the weekend, even if it’s only for one night dear. Have you got all that washing done yet? My boyfriend came to see me for a little while this afternoon. Of course you are forgiven for accusing me of putting port in your beer. It would be a waste of good port, besides spoiling your beer.

“I am sorry if the room was dusty. I only swept and dusted it Saturday morning, by the time you finish dusting it, you have to start all over again.

“It is not quite as cold here today. What is it like down there. Your letters don’t take very long to get here. The one I had this morning left Worthing at 8 o’clock last night, and I got it at 7.30 this morning. You left your Palmolive After Shave Talc here and your darts.

“Mrs Staples said Brian keeps telling her that Uncle Frank’s a soldier. John’s in disgrace again after being good all this long time. Mrs Staples has to stay away from work for a week as she is run down. I dreamt you were chasing me with a knife last night.

“I’m sorry this is such a short letter darling, but there’s nothing else to tell you.

All my love and kisses,
Yours forever dearest – Pegtips”

Did Gunner R. J. Croft ever receive the letter?

The letter is now in the care of Worthing Museum. Transcription, scans and research by Jan Beeson Flat 9

WW2 People’s War extract from the BBC Series

“I was born in the East End of London, Poplar, near Bow; so I am a Cockney. I came to Worthing when I was 6 and my father worked at Onslow Court at the bottom of Brougham Road. The block of flats belonged to Knight & Co, which when I was asked by one of the girls at school did they belong to my father, I said yes as my maiden name was Knight. They were the luxury flats of Worthing which were Winchelsea Court, Onslow Court, Downview Court, Hastings Court and Romney Court.

“We used to have Bertran Mills circus in the next field where I lived which belonged to Pearson’s Retreat and having the abattoir also in Brougham Road we would see the cows and sheep that came from the station to be slaughtered as they walked through the streets. This was like wonderland. It was 1936.

“Then of course things changed. We were “invaded” by the French Canadians and Worthing was a big garrison ready to go to Dunkirk for the rescue of the men from France.

“I was then evacuated from Worthing, having attended Lyndhurst Road school with Miss Wilson as the headmistress, and was sent to Leicester where I was put on a smallholding and had to work very hard as the lady’s two sons were called up for the Navy. I was with another girl, Brenda King, who when one day I was told to scrub the pantry said “I will do it for you Kit” and I said “No I’m Cinderella you’re the ugly sister”.

I came back after two and a half years and within the first week a German aeroplane tried to shoot us as it tried to bomb the gasworks. I could see the pilot and his goggles as we were running across the playground to get to the shelters. Also soon afterwards a German plane came down in Lyndhurst Road killing nine French Canadian soldiers.

“At 14 I was put in a bakery at Broadwater to keep away from the soldiers when the soldiers would come to us on their route marches for their cup of tea and cake. I was too young to appreciate them but the other girls in the shop had a good time as they would take them back to their camp for dances but make sure they got home safely at night time.

“My grandfather was a master baker and my three uncles; one was Lumley’s (my mother’s sister married), my mother’s twin brother was Joe Harrington who lost his shop in London and came to Worthing and was porter of Downview Court and my Aunt Kate’s husband was a porter in Hastings Court. My mother’s eldest brother had five shops in Hove and Brighton, he was Jack Harrington.”

(Extract from the BBC series – ‘WW2 People’s War’ Copyright Catherine Maylin (nee Collins, nee Knight)/ WW2 People’s War’)

All in the numbers

All in the numbers, Number 13 – unlucky as ever
Spot the mistake; flats…11…12…12a…14…15…” Did you miss a count? No you didn’t. Be it a house number, or a floor number the practice of excluding the number 13 from any series is widely prevalent, as much today as it was in 1934. The number 13 is replaced with random alternatives like “12B” or they jump straight to “14”.

You wouldn’t think that people would let superstition put them off moving to number 13. Many first-time buyers would consider it a lucky omen to be able to get a foot on the property ladder at all. But with a reported one in 10 people afflicted by triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number 13), it seems that there is more than bricks and mortar at play when it comes to moving home.

The number 13 will always be a contentious number with many buyers and renters, the majority of purchasers even refuse to complete on Friday the 13th. And it is for reasons like this that the original developer of Onslow Court would not allow a number 13 in the address.

Streamlined Moderne Art Deco

Modernism in its most general sense is a term that applies to all modern architecture of the twentieth century. A number of ‘modern’ styles emerged in the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, and spread to Britain. The term Art Deco is widely used as a ‘catch-all’ for all Modernist buildings, but it is important to make a distinction. Onslow Court is classified as Art Deco.

You really get a sense of the space when you stand on the flat roof of the building. This was and still is ambitious architecture. This different boomerang shaped building with its balconies and huge windows must have looked astonishing compared to the Edwardian and Victorian brick houses of the day.

The general feeling amongst the trail blazing architects of the 20’s and 30’s was that new homes should be uncluttered, functional and light open spaces and made of modern materials. They thought they were creating utopian settings where residents would be able to lead far more enlightened lives.

Flats like Onslow Court attracted the middle-class intelligentsia eager to try out modern living and all that entailed. It is true the flats at Onslow Court do have certain grandeur; even the smaller flats have fabulous proportions.

Front Entrance hall Onslow CourtThe ground floor main cornered flat has a column situated in the sitting room which is clearly a structural column; this is a feature that occurs in modern deco buildings and we see it again in the hallways of Onslow Court. When a structural support was required prior to this movement the normal solution was to place this in a wall; the new open spaces craved by the Moderne architects made columns like this into features in order to open up the spaces.

This sort of architecture was actually a very early equivalent of buying a lifestyle off the shelf. As with many other moderne and art deco apartments what they said to people was move in here, have a minimalist life and bring as little with you as possible, this was a whole new movement that revolutionised the modern life and took away all that Edwardian and Victorian clutter. Clearly, it was not a time of owning many clothes, the cedar-lined wardrobes found in each bedroom has as much space as a single wardrobe of today, but with ample storage space for hat boxes. Onslow Court was originally marketed as rental apartments that were fully furnished. Hot water and heating was free and electric was charged at 3/4d a unit, recharged by the Landlord.

Onslow Court flats and others like it broke down the notion of closed houses. The huge panoramic windows that run the length of the rooms create a transparency to the entire living space. Some flats with sunrooms allow an almost 180 degree panorama across the English Channel; this was seen at the time to be the next best thing to being right outside. The overall effect is very elegant, this was a time when space was celebrated without distracting ornamentation and it was all about proportion and elegance.