The fascinating forgotten faces of Littlehampton

Littlehampton has been home to some fascinating characters over the past 150 years, from pioneering businessmen to family-friendly entertainers, and all have helped make the town what it is today.

Harry Joseph
Harry Joseph

Littlehampton Museum will be taking a special look at some of our favourites in a brand-new exhibition between January 8 and March 14.

Here is a little taster of some of the characters on show.

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Harry Joseph and his performance troupe began entertaining Littlehampton audiences in 1892.

Dr John H Candy

The troupe was very popular with holidaymakers during the summer season, when they would perform on a stage on the Beach Green.

During the winter, Joseph and his company moved to warmer premises, taking their show to Victoria Hall in New Road.

The main attraction of Joseph’s show was his Pierrot troupe, whose programme boasted ‘good class singing, popular and humorous songs, concerted numbers, sketches, pantomimes, revues and burlesques’.

They billed themselves as the ‘most versatile and probably the oldest established Pierrot entertainment in the county’.

George Groom

Despite their popularity, the summer shows on the Beach Green began to upset the residents of South Terrace, who complained that they were disturbed by the excessive noise of the performances.

Occupants of the road were also angry that the stage erected during the summer blocked their exclusive views of the sea.

In 1911, Harry Joseph’s Pierrot troupe entered the Great Palladium Concert Party Contest in London, run by the London Evening Times.

The Pierrot won the competition after receiving nearly 20,000 votes, and were awarded a solo show at the London Palladium.

After this success, and a number of subsequent bookings in London, Joseph returned to Littlehampton with grand plans.

On the back of his London triumph, Joseph opened his Kursaal; a Pierrot theatre and fun palace, next to the Littlehampton Windmill on the seafront.

His performances now took place here all year round.

Harry Joseph’s Kursaal later became the Casino Theatre and sadly ended its days as a penny arcade.

In 1932 both the theatre and windmill were demolished to make way for Butlins.

George Groom came to Littlehampton from Suffolk in 1892 and promptly opened his first grocery shop, George Groom’s Provision Merchants, in the High Street.

From that moment Groom swiftly began to build up his business empire, dealing in groceries, china and wine; trades that benefited from the rapid growth that was taking place all over Littlehampton during the latter part of the 19th century.

Within a short space of time Groom had stores not only in the High Street, but also Western Road, Pier Road and Wick Street.

Located on the first floor of Groom’s main shop in the High Street was Littlehampton’s very first telephone exchange.

Groom became a prominent figure in the town; he was the chairman of the Littlehampton Urban District Council and one of the instrumental forces in campaigning for the building of the swing bridge to cross the River Arun.

George Groom also lived for a time in one of the town’s grandest buildings, Manor House, which is where the museum and town council offices are housed today.

Sadly Groom seems to have eventually over-reached himself, and is reported to have turned to drink, possibly due to growing business worries.

He was still high in favour in 1906 when he officiated at the opening of the town’s new library, but after this date his name began to feature less and less in local affairs.

It is notable that he is not mentioned at all in 1908 as part of the opening ceremony for the swing bridge; which is odd due to his strong involvement with the project from the start.

In 1910 George Groom mysteriously went missing for a week, after which his body was found in the back office of one of his shops, with an empty spirit bottle beside it.

The site of Groom’s original High Street store is now occupied by Sainsburys.

Dr John H Candy was one of Littlehampton’s leading physicians during the 19th century.

He lived for a time in the Manor House, which is where the museum is housed today.

Candy began practicing medicine in the 1830s and he was a prominent and well respected local figure who went on to become the first chairman of the Littlehampton Board of Health in 1855.

He stayed as chair for three years, returning to serve again between 1865 and 1878.

The Board of Health was replaced in 1894 by the formation of the Littlehampton Urban District Council.

While out on his rounds, Dr Candy drove about in an open phaeton (carriage), pulled by a pair of grey horses.

It is recorded that he travelled at a very leisurely and sedate pace, making quite the contrast with the other leading doctor of the time, a Dr Evans; a bluff, jovial man who lived in Winterton Lodge and dashed about the town on a high stepping black horse, never failing to make his presence known.

‘Forgotten Faces’ will be in the Community Gallery between January 8 and March 14, 2014.

For more information, please contact Littlehampton Museum on 01903 738100 or at [email protected]