The lost open-air children’s play areas of Worthing seafront

This series of articles usually focuses on postcards from before the First World War, when Worthing was at its most charming and picture postcards at their most attractive.

Peters Pans Playground from the south-west (Shoesmith & Etheridge, c. 1955)
Peters Pans Playground from the south-west (Shoesmith & Etheridge, c. 1955)

This month, however, we come a little more up-to-date – although it is sobering to reflect that the most recent of even this selection of postcards is some 40 years old.

In a letter published a few weeks ago in the Herald & Gazette, Peter English, of Pembury Close, articulated his dislike – shared by most Worthingers – of the Roffey plan for the Aquarena site, which would include a high-rise building that would change Worthing’s seafront skyline for ever.

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Roffey, incidentally, tell us that the tower-block will be “iconic”. This smacks of presumption.

Peters Pans Playground from the south-west (Shoesmith & Etheridge, c. 1955)

Iconic status is earned, not imposed. The Dome, I suppose, has it, but the Dome has grown in Worthing’s affections over many decades – and indeed I dare say that when it first appeared some people regarded it as a piece of cheap tat that disfigured the seafront.

If the tower-block is built, it is Worthingers that will in due course decide whether it is “iconic” or is, to use Prince Charles’ famous phrase about the proposed National Gallery extension 30 years ago, a “monstrous carbuncle”.

Peter English also expressed his view that the Aquarena site should be used for the community, reminding readers that the people of Worthing had already lost their “beloved Peter Pan’s Playground, the boating pool and the paddling pool”.

His point is that until a few years ago the area between Beach House and New Parade had both an enclosed swimming pool – the Aquarena, which opened in 1968 – and open-air children’s play areas.

However, the cost to Worthing Council of the new Splashpoint swimming pool has sadly meant that there was never any prospect of the Aquarena site being set aside for so economically unproductive a purpose as open-air recreation.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Southsea, where there remains on the seafront an area devoted to old-fashioned out-of-doors attractions not unlike those that used to exist to the south-east of Beach House.

At its heart is the Canoe Lake, where pedal-boats shaped like swans and ducks weave their way through the real swans and ducks that congregate there. There are two open-air children’s play areas, a mini-golf course, and a model village. Close by is a large walled rose garden, which even in October is full of sweet-scented roses in flower.

It is fair, however, to point out that Southsea has much more seafront land available for such purposes than Worthing, since Southsea’s seafront terraces and hotels are well set back from the shoreline – whereas in Worthing the only “amenity land” on the seafront (other than Marine Gardens and Steyne Gardens) is the area between Splash Point and Splashpoint.

It was in 1927 that Worthing Council acquired the grounds of Beach House, and the paddling and boating pools on the eastern side of the land opened ten years later. Peter Pan’s Playground followed in 1951.

One of the aerial photographs printed in Looking Back on October 9 shows exactly how these three sites were located in related to each other; but the postcards reproduced here also give a good idea of the geography of these lost attractions.

When the area was designated for the new indoor swimming pool five years or so ago, Clive Hagger, who leased the site from Worthing Council, hoped the council would be able to find another location for Peter Pan’s Playground; but no offer was forthcoming.

So the playground and the paddling pool closed for the last time at the end of September, 2010. The boating pool had already been unused for some years, and had been grassed over in 2008–9.

Numerous postcards exist of the boating pool, and a fair number of the playground, so there was no shortage of views of these two attractions to choose from to illustrate this article.

Cards of the paddling pool, however, are rare – perhaps not surprisingly, since a paddling pool is not very photogenic – and the two rather dull cards reproduced in the centre of this article are the only two in my collection that feature the paddling pool on its own.

It is unusual for messages written on the back of postcards to refer to the scene depicted on the front, but these two cards both have such messages.

The card of the paddling pool looking towards Brighton Road was sent to Dolly Jones of Crawley on August 23, 1939. Dolly had unaccountably failed to find the two pools on her own visit to Worthing, so the sender of the card gave her clear directions for future reference.

“Fancy your not being able to find this lovely boating and paddling pool!” he or she wrote (the signature is not legible). “It is a lovely spot for children.

“As you face the pier, turn left and keep walking. You come to Splash Point. The cars cannot get further than Splash Point. Follow the path. You come to putting greens, park, tennis courts, and boating and paddling pools.”

Dolly, however, would very soon have had other things on her mind than looking for pools – for 12 days after the card was posted, Great Britain declared war on Germany.

The postcard of the paddling pool looking south-east was sent on August 26, 1952, by Kitty and Lily to Mr and Mrs Hall, of Stockton-on-Tees.

“This is a smashing place,” they wrote, “and we are enjoying every minute of it. The weather is scorching hot. It is just what we need. We are at present sitting watching the children in this pool and thinking that David would love it.

“It is an ideal holiday spot. Will be sorry when home time comes, except that we are thinking of Frankie, and hoping he is alright.”

• Antony Edmonds is the author of ‘Worthing: The Postcard Collection’ (Amberley, 2013).