Worthing Museum & Art Gallery

Stories of Worthing

Worthing Museum and Art Gallery - A brief history

In 1905 Dr Henry Nicolls wanted space to display his extensive taxidermy collection of birds, which he had collected while travelling throughout Britain and the Empire. He persuaded Worthing Corporation to give him space in a room on Richmond Road.

 Alfred Cortis First Mayor of Worthing

(Alfred Cortis First Mayor of Worthing, Photograph Public Catalogue Foundation of WMAG Collection)

The collection continued to grow to include many curiosities and in 1906 after much pressure being brought to bear by Marion Frost, the first curator, the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie agreed to fund a much needed library building. The first Mayor of Worthing Alfred Cortis anonymously donated £12,000 to build a purpose built Museum which were to be built together. The gifted land and building was presented in 1908 to the assembled citizens of Worthing as an educational and cultural hub for the town.

From the first the collections grew significantly. In the years immediately following the First World War, a generation of Worthing's matrons had fewer daughters-in-law to whom they could pass on dresses and other personal items. Combined with the effect of Worthing as a favoured retirement location for the sons and daughters of the empire returning from service abroad, leading to an aging population, the result was that the costume and accessories collection particularly from the late Georgian and Victorian periods grew exponentially.

The Worthing Archaeological Society, also set up by Marion Frost, was and is still extremely active. From the 1920's they worked with similar societies in across East and West Sussex to excavate many important sites. The result was that the artefacts are often spread between museums from Lewes, Brighton and Horsham. They also contributed a significant geological collection. In the 1930's the museum chose to exchange any archaeology it held which was not of Sussex origin and to restrict its future collecting to that specialism.

In the 1930's the Hargood family donated a large collection of artefacts relating to Admiral Hargood who served under Lord Nelson at Trafalgar including his Captain's Trafalgar Medal, sword, and a portrait of Lady Hamilton.
 The Hargood Medal (The Hargood Medal; Photograph James Pike)

Other art works including those by a founding member of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood and the Camden Town Group were also gifted to the museum through numerous bequests and donations. 
 Bianca (Bianca by William Holman Hunt, WMAG Collection : Photograph by  Public Catalogue Foundation)

Barclays Wills set about documenting the lives of shepherds of the downlands and amassed artefacts relating not only to their work but their social lives, stories and songs.

Over time the museum has also documented both the civic and social history of the town and its communities through the family bibles, photographs, advertising literature and other printed materials, alongside toys, evidence of the working lives, shopping habits, and schools.