Worthing Food and Drink Festival in 2019, with Phil Gilbert, left, and Clive CobbWorthing Food and Drink Festival in 2019, with Phil Gilbert, left, and Clive Cobb
Worthing Food and Drink Festival in 2019, with Phil Gilbert, left, and Clive Cobb

​Looking back at fantastic Worthing festivals, past and present, filled with arts and culture

​​With Worthing Festival set to return bigger and better for its second year in 2024, we have taken a look back at other festivals hosted in the south coast town over the years.

The Worthing Festival is billed as the first of its kind, with nine days of events celebrating the area’s diverse arts and culture, but it is by no means the first festival in Worthing.

Volunteers with a passion for promoting the town and the talents of its people have gone out of their way to put on performances and entertainment for visitors from far and wide over the years.

Back in 1894, George Warne converted York Terrace, in Steyne Gardens, into Warnes Hotel and helped attract motorists by claiming it to be the first hotel garage in England.

An early motoring enthusiast, Warne promoted his hotel as The Motorist's Mecca in 1899 and subsequently held motor carnivals on the seafront and children’s festivals.

Warnes was Worthing's premier hotel and famous visitors included King Edward VII, King George V, Emperor Haile Selassie, Winston Churchill, General Montgomery and General Eisenhower.

Worthing Rotary Club was founded in 1922 and three years later, it launched the annual Rotary Carnival, with it's August Bank Holiday Monday procession filled with floats and a host of other entertainment.

Worthing Lions Festival followed, an annual celebration held in July, formerly known as Worthing Seafront Fayre, featuring classic cars, a bus rally, seafront markets, a fun fair and fireworks.

To celebrate Worthing's links with Oscar Wilde, the Wilde Weekend was launched in the mid-1990s and ran for two years. Paul Brown, a drama teacher at Durrington High School and much-loved leader of several local drama groups for adults and children, dressed as Oscar. He and fellow actors walked around the town performing excerpts from Wilde’s work.

Worthing Art Trail was launched in 2001 by Dan and Tracey Thompson. It took in 50 venues, included five artists' homes, and ran for two years. From that early start by Revolutionary Arts grew Worthing Artists’ Open Houses, which is still running today.

Dan also organised the Ice Prince Festival for Worthing Arts Council in 2009 with Stef Sykes and Wendy Greene, to commemorate the arrival of tons of wood on Worthing beaches in 2008.

Worthing Arts Council awarded grants of varying sizes to a number of local artists and groups, including the first stained glass windows on Worthing Pier, Plank Attack by Chris Brown. The festival featured a weekend of events with award winners and other artistes.

Wendy also ran A Wonderful Week in Worthing, ten days of multi-arts events, in 2019, supported by town centre manager Sharon Clarke. These included a Big Beach Clean, the food festival, events at the beach chalets near Splash Point and the mayor's charity concert at the Assembly Rooms with Elvis and numerous local musicians and choirs.

Melody Bridges ran Worthing WOW Festival from 2014 to 2016 as a multi-arts event. It was a World of Words, promoting arts, culture and heritage in Sussex, and there was a monthly page in the Worthing Herald where people shared their poems, stories and songs.

For 2024, Worthing Borough Council has pledged Worthing Festival will be back bigger and better. The multi-arts celebration is confirmed to be returning with two weeks of action-packed events covering music, dance, art, heritage, comedy and more from June 8 to June 23.

Back in 1894, George Warne converted York Terrace, in Steyne Gardens, into Warnes Hotel and helped attract motorists by claiming it to be the first hotel garage in England.

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