Clues throw light on Worthing photo mystery

Following an appeal for information about a Worthing photo mystery, several leads have been presented to the granddaughter of one of the women pictured.

Aileen Catterson from Abbotts Ann, near Andover, sent us the photo with the hope readers could help her discover who the formally-dressed group of women were and the reason the photo was taken.

She had some clues, as her grandmother, Frances Priscilla Merricks, was featured, third right in the middle row, the lady wearing the lighter-coloured outfit.

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Amy Perry, local studies librarian at West Sussex Library Service, spotted the story and alerted Martin Hayes, county local studies librarian, based at West Sussex Record Office in Chichester.

Can you help identify this group of women from Worthing?

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Worthing photo mystery

Martin said: “We think the photo is quite likely to be of a group from Worthing (Shelley Road) Congregational Church, given that the church had three women’s organisations, Women’s Fellowship, Women’s Social Hour and Ladies Working Meetings.”

The West Sussex Record Office catalogue has an impressive list of records on the church, including minute books, attendance registers and account books.

The record office is currently closed but once the lockdown restrictions are eased and the building is safe to use again, Aileen will be able to visit to view the records and search for any mentions of her grandmother, Frances Priscilla Merricks. Visit www.westsussex.gov.uk/leisure-recreation-and-community/history-and-heritage/west-sussex-record-office/visiting-the-record-office for information on how to book an appointment.

The photo was taken by Walter Gardiner and about ten years ago, Martin was in charge of a team of people cataloguing his collection at Worthing Library.

Wendy Greene, who was part of the team, also got in touch to say she had trawled through them all again on the West Sussex Past Portal to see if she could find Aileen’s photograph.

Wendy said: “I was one of a dozen people selected just over a decade ago to catalogue the Walter Gardiner Collection held by Worthing Library under the leadership of county local history expert Martin Hayes.

“The image you showed in the Herald is not among the 1,083 held by the library. Not very helpful but at least it does eliminate one source. There are others but this image is very specific to one group of ladies, so the one your reader has could be the only one.

“All I can add is that Gardiner did appear to use Beach House Gardens for locations, as it was very close to the studio. The skirts are long but the hats look more 1920s, and from experience in dating other photographs, I know Worthing was a little late following the short hemline fashion.

“It’s actually a pleasant reminder of the work we did. Since then, until the library closed for refurbishment, we have, between us, catalogued thousands of pictures, postcards, slides, artefacts and glass plates from a large number of collections.”