Worthing, through the 1920s-1930s, had been rebuilt from a small, rather sleepy seaside town into an edgy, modern town. Today, in the early years of the 21st century, the town’s most iconic buildings are still from that period; the Art Deco frontage of the Connaught, the massive streamlined building on Stoke Abbot Road and the stylish civic Assembly Hall opposite, the interior flourishes of the monumental Town Hall, the Moderne pier cutting it’s way to sea and the landmark buildings along the seafront, from the Rowing Club at Splash Point to the stylish captain’s house at Marine Gardens.
In 1946, everything changed. The Maybridge Estate, built to the west of the town, provided nearly 500 homes for returning servicemen and for the workers at the Inland revenue, being moved out of London into an ex-service hospital nearby. Planned by Charles Cowles-Voysey (something of a social visionary, he also designed Kingsley Hall in London with monastic cells for charity volunteers to live in) the estate has the best buildings in Worthing but has never had the recognition it deserves. It did early on, with buildings being copied for the Olympic Exhibition in 1948 and visited by the royal family, but Worthing has never understood the architectural gem it has.
Of course, this was the fate of most of the post-war council estates. Immediately after the war there was an optimism, but that soon sunk back into traditional views of class. Even when I grew up in the 1970s-1980s in Maybridge, the estate had a tough reputation in a firmly middle class town. Undeserved; we had good solid houses with Crittal windows and outdoor coal-sheds, decent sized gardens and green hedges, playing fields and open space aplenty (although the short-sighted council have slowly filled these in and fenced them off). Stoutly working class neighbours kept us children in check, and swept pavements and polished their doorsteps. I grew up in a house with a black and white telly, a coal fire and an immersion heater for hot water. I never felt badly done by – I had space and streets and friends, a battered Boy’s Club behind my house, and could ride my secondhand bike to the edge of the estate and still find a cornfield and a stream full of leaches and sticklebacks. My wife, the same age as me, lived in well heeled Goring, with MTV, foreign holidays and an early computer. I prefer my childhood.
And that’s because Maybridge was well planned. Cowles-Voysey anticipated a mix of residents living alongside each other, building everything from flats to small bungalows for older residents and lacing them together with green spaces and grass verges. Most of the estate is made up of red brick semi-detacheds, built by prisoners-of-war working for 46.5 hours a week. The first people moved in in 1947; Mr & Mrs Stillwell and their three children were welcomed by the Mayor of Worthing, old man Bentall.
The most long-term residents we knew, two generations living side by side, a dustman and a dinnerlady with an old, old Sussex name, only left when they won the Lottery. My dad still lives there. In many ways, I still do too.
(originally published on danthompson.co.uk)