worthing history


Come dancing with the Queen
Arundel Castle
Arundel Castle

FOR several years, starting soon after the end of World War Two, the annual Arundel Ball was the undoubted highlight of the Sussex social scene.

   In those days, the late Duke and Duchess of Norfolk were the occupants of Arundel Castle and it was the Duchess who conceived the idea that their imposing turreted home would make the ideal venue for a social `bash’ that could raise a lot of money for deserving charity causes in the early post-war years.
    So, indeed, it turned out. The Arundel Ball became the most sought-after `ticket’ in the Sussex social calendar.
   When you are Earl Marshal of England (as Dukes of Norfolk have been for hundreds of years) and have one of the most imposing homes in the country you can attract some mighty high-powered guests-of-honour – and in this case that included the Queen, Prince Phillip and the late Princess Margaret.
    What fantastic nights they were. I remember so well the informality as the royals jigged, jived and generally had a very good time with the rest of us.
    The Queen, who often spent the night at Arundel Castle if she was attending official functions in the area or watching her horses race at Goodwood, was known in her younger days to `let her hair down’ as far as she dared at the Arundel Ball, albeit usually only for a short time before adjourning to bed.
    Princess Margaret, on the other hand, would frenetically dance the night away though, like the Queen, she always had to be the one who made the choice of dancing partner.
   A friend of mine mustered sufficient nerve during one Arundel Ball to flout royal convention and ask Princess Margaret to dance with him.
   If one look could freeze, it appeared on the face of Princess Margaret at that moment. `Oh do excuse me’ were the only words my friend could mumble before ducking out of her laser-sharp glare.
    So far as I can recall, neither the Princess or the Queen ever joined us for one of the fabulous breakfasts served by the ducal staff in the open air during the early hours of the next morning. Full English on the lawns within castle battlements is something to be savoured…..
    Sadly, it was to be a Worthing man (an estate agent seemingly with a death wish) who brought about the demise of what had become THE annual event in West Sussex.
A keen sportsman on snow, he got the idea of emulating a simple form of snow-boarding on breakfast trays down the steep sides of the grass mound on which stands the castle’s crenellated keep.
   To top it all, he then climbed to the top of the keep and stole the Royal Standard.
   Understandably, the Duke and Duchess could not overlook either the dangers or insurance risks of the tray-boarding – and certainly not the lese-majeste perpetrated on the Queen’s own flag while she was a castle guest.
   Fortunately for the perpetrator his name was never made public and I understand he went to live abroad. Otherwise the other guests might have lynched him for spoiling their annual royal fun.
    PS: I wonder if the Queen remembers, too?