History of the Museum

Worthing Museum and Art Gallery owes its origins to Dr Howard Nicholls who approached the Borough Council in 1900 with an offer to lend the town his large collection of British birds, all of which he had shot and stuffed personally. In return he asked the Borough Council to provide suitable premises for their display. The Council accepted his offer and the birds were displayed in the former Council offices in Rowlands Road. Dr Nicholls became the first honorary Curator with instructions to acquire other objects. The collection grew slowly as he was reluctant to exhibit anything other than birds.

In 1906 the town’s Librarian, Marion Frost, persuaded Andrew Carnegie to pay for a new library.

On the 4th December 1906 correspondence was sent to the Mayor of Worthing from Messrs. Verrall & Son Solicitors.


His Worship The Mayor

Dear Mr Mayor,

If it is the intention of the Town Council to at once proceed with the erection of a new free library for Worthing we are glad to inform you that a client of ours (whose name we are not permitted to mention) will be glad to have the opportunity of providing the whole cost of erecting an Art Gallery and Museum for the town upon the following conditions :-

(i) That the plans and the estimates are approved by the donor
(ii) That the building shall be erected simultaneously with the erection of the free library; and
(iii) That it shall never open on Sundays.

We are requested to add that it affords our client much pleasure to ask you as one of your closing acts of office to make this announcement to the town council.

If the offer be accepted we are prepared to settle all details.

Yours Faithfully

(Signed) Verrall & Son

Resolved, on the motion of Alderman Piper, Seconded by Alderman Fraser, that the best thanks of the council be given to Mr Carnegie and to the unknown donor of the proposed Art Gallery and Museum for their Munificent proposed gifts.

This last resolution was qualified in the manner described in the resolution accepting the gift.

The anonymous benefactor was later identified as Alfred Cortis, the first Mayor of Worthing, who paid for a museum to be built as part of the library construction on the corner of Richmond Road and Chapel Road. Dr Nicholls retired in 1920 and Marion Frost undertook the role of curator alongside her duties as librarian.

The original building comprised 6,088 square foot of Gallery Space, and toilet staff room and kitchen which were shared with Library Staff.

The cost of the complete building including the Western Gallery was to be £6,377 9s 11d .

Marion Frost with the help of her deputy (and later successor) Ethel Gerard expanded the collections, organised regular temporary exhibitions and displays and identified the importance of educational work within any museum. Between them the two women ran the library, Museum and Art Gallery for forty-one years.

In 1928 a report on the legal position of the Museum was prepared in response to the suggestion that the Museum should be moved from its Chapel Road site to Beach House.

It was concluded that a de facto charitable trust existed and would have to be challenged through an application to the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice for an order authorising them to apply the existing building to any other uses but as a Museum/Library ‘which should be as nearly as possible in accordance with the wishes of the donor or to afford such relief as should the Worthing Corporation wish to relocate or consider it impossible to maintain the Museum on the existing site’.

In other words only a decision High Court could agree to other uses of the building other than those set out in the original bequest unless an alternative Museum could be provided for. The continued use of the building

Two major developments were added during this period. During that time Harry Hargood bequeathed money to the museum in 1935 for the construction of the Hargood Room to house his family’s navel relics. Over the years use of the room changed; first as a temporary exhibition gallery and then, in 1990, as the Twentieth Century Costume Gallery: in 1935 The Hargood Room and in 1959 a Store Workshop and Darkroom which created an additional 3,013 of space.

Worthing Carnegie Library

Following Ethel Gerard’s retirement in 1949 Len Bickerton was appointed as Librarian and Curator. Under his management the museum’s first Assistant Curator, Geoffrey Lewis, was appointed in 1958. Gradually the museum’s role expanded and took on responsibility to conduct archaeological excavations in the area and the collections grew accordingly. During that time various building were brought into use around the town as temporary storage until the museum gained the use of two retired cemetery chapels as stores, one of which was converted with a grant from the Museums and Galleries Commission (now MLA).

In the 1972 Local Government reorganisation responsibility for libraries was transferred to the newly created West Sussex County Council and a new library was built in Richmond Road. Worthing Borough Council retained responsibility for the museum and appointed the first full time Curator, John Norwood. The museum was supposed to take over the whole of the former library but instead one of the Council’s departments took over the ground floor of the library as offices.

In 1973 a report was considered by the Museum Sub Committee and Adopted by the Council in November of that year recommending that the whole of the present Library Premises be allotted for Museum and Art Gallery Use when the library move out.

1974 the council confirmed their decision.

3rd December 1974 Cultural Activities Sub Committee

As requested by the Leisure and recreation Committee, the sub committee considered the future use of the existing library accommodation for Museum and art gallery Purposes. The Director of Development and Amenities

Storage and workrooms on the Museum site were reduced when 1,152 sq feet of space was demolished from the Museum in order to build the Central Library. The curtilage was also substantially reduced following the widening of Richmond Road and then the pedestrianisation of the front of the building with the loss of the original gates and courtyard.

In May 1975 following a heated public debate the council reversed its decision and chose to place offices within the former library space.

The Director of Development and Amenities submitted plans for the conversion of the present central Library building into accommodation for the Borough Amenities Department.

The reasons given for this were that

  • There was a lack of adequate office space in the Town Hall
  • There were inadequate funds to afford the refurbishment of the area for Museum Purposes however the Council did authorise the spending of £28,000 to convert the area to offices

The decision was made however with the codicil that if in future additional funds and alternative accommodation were made for those offices then the museum would automatically revert to its original purpose

In 1991 the Tourist Information Centre moved to occupy offices and reception area in the Southeast Corner of the Building. Toilets were installed in the basement – removing the staff room and storage areas. Funds were provided to enable the Education Room to be created from former office space.

In 1993 The Norwood Gallery and Store opened to house the permanent Collection of Historic Art. In 1994 the Costume Collection received a boost with the

Significant developments have included a Sculpture Garden in 1993 in the south-west corner of the museum and in 1994 an additional art gallery, the Norwood gallery, and a picture store were built on to a section of flat roof. Porta-Cabins which had been used as an Education Room and Storage at the rear of the building were removed and the Friends of Worthing Museum raised the funds for the refurbishment of what is now the Garden sculpture gallery. In 2003 a stone ramp was erected at the front of the building to improve access to both the museum and Tourist Information Centre.