worthing history


Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated
William Kenny
VICTORIA CROSS: The only known picture of William Kenny

WFC, of Lancing, asks if the Victoria Cross had ever been awarded to a local man. So far as I have been able to ascertain, the answer is no. But there was a recipient of the Victoria Cross who worked in Worthing, doing a rather unexpected job.

     DURING the first half of the 20th century, almost every VIP who visited Worthing stayed or dined at the prestigious seafront Warnes Hotel.
     They included Winston Churchill, Emperor Haile Selassi of Ethiopia and his family, Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, General (later, President) Eisenhower, King Edward VII, King George V, John Philip Sousa, the famous American bandmaster and composer of The Stars and Stripes, and more film stars than I care to mention.

Everything about the Warnes Hotel had a cachet that was difficult for competing local hoteliers to rival. And, in the early 1930s, they even had as a commissionaire someone who was a legendary recipient of the Victoria Cross.
     Meeting and greeting the good and the great at the front door of the hotel – and opening the doors of their limousines – was former army sergeant William Kenny, VC.
     In 1933, when Prince George stayed at the Warnes, he stopped and had a long chat with Kenny, delaying the booking-in of his tired entourage for several minutes. Kenny was a great character.

A flower seller among the cars
FLOWER POWER: A flower seller among the cars parked in South Street, Worthing, on Christmas Eve, 1932. In the background is the old Town Hall, opened in 1835 and demolished to make way for the Guildbourne Centre in 1968.

He even had the distinction of living to read a report of his own death – the premature report being printed in an Irish newspaper during 1917.
     Sergeant Kenny’s Victoria Cross was awarded “for conspicuous bravery” in the first year of World War One. According to the official citation in the London Gazette: “He rescued wounded men on five occasions under very heavy fire, in the most fearless manner, having twice previously saved machine guns by carrying them out of action.
     “On numerous occasions, Drummer Kenny conveyed urgent messages under very dangerous circumstances over fire-swept ground.”
     Besides the ultimate ribbon commemorating his bravery, commissionaire Kenny also proudly wore four other medal ribbons on his smart Warnes Hotel commissionaire’s uniform, having been awarded two decorations by South Africa, the Delhi Durbar medal for his service in India and the Order of St George (second-class) by Russia. 
      “And that,” his employer, George Warne, was quoted as saying, “was the only second-class thing we ever knew about William Kenny.”

The Worthing that Victoria Cross recipient William Kenny knew in the years between the two world wars was photographed by the Rev Frank Hooper, who spent several holidays in the town during the early 1930s. Using the simplest Kodak box camera, bought for the equivalent of 25p in today’s money, he made a set of photographs that to historians are priceless.


Offington cemetery
GREAT SCOTT: Offington cemetery, at Offington Corner, with a gatehouse and chapel designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, had been opened in 1927, but when this picture was taken in 1934 was still hardly used. The trees on the right, in Findon Road, were decimated by the great storm in the 1980s.


A lone police sergeant
THE BILL: A lone police sergeant on his bike cycles along an otherwise empty Arundel Road at Patching. Was he going home - or on duty?


OUT OF THE ARK: This unique shop at the High Street end of Lyndhurst Road, Worthing, has long since vanished, but, in the 1930s, was fittingly named The Ark and sold antiques and bric-a-brac

Forty of Worthing’s most deprived houses in 1933
HOME DISCOMFORTS: Forty of Worthing’s most deprived houses in 1933 were these in Gloucester Place, a cul-de-sac off Montague Street

A plague of caterpillars invaded Broadwater
INVADED: A plague of caterpillars invaded Broadwater in September, 1932, and decimated this field of cabbages next to Livesay Crescent.

young girls perched on a wall
WALL GAME: These young girls perched on a wall of the Manor Sports Ground, in Broadwater Road, Worthing, for several hours in May, 1934, hoping to get a grandstand view of the Duchess of York – later Queen Elizabeth – as she drove by on her way to officially open Gifford House

The old Town Hal
OUT WITH THE OLD: The old Town Hall, relinquishing its civic mantle in colourful style

Worthing’s new Town Hall
IN WITH THE NEW: It was May 22,1933, the day Worthing’s new Town Hall was officially opened by Prince George, the Duke of Kent. Sure enough, Frank Hooper was there to capture the atmosphere with his trusty Box Brownie.