By Nikki Sheeran
Take a stroll along Worthing’s prom in an easterly direction and eventually you will discover Denton Gardens, a walled garden and hidden treasure where one can escape the hustle and bustle of daily life. Many people visit the gardens, with families enjoying picnics in the summer, children playing ball, friends having a game of mini golf and others simply sitting appreciating the peace and quiet at the edge of town.
Historically, during the early 1900s, the land was a small, privately owned grassy enclosure and wild garden adjacent to the beautiful Georgian Beach House. Early postcards show a narrow path – somewhat unattractively named “Faggots Walk” – between the sea and the flint wall boundary of the southern-most end of the land. Beach House in its halcyon years was occupied by a magistrate, Member of Parliament and playwright. It gave sanctuary to children who were evacuees from the Spanish Civil War, whilst during the war years it housed the Air Training Corps. Under threat of demolition, fortunately it was saved and returned to private apartments. It stands today, gleaming white overlooking the gardens and the sea.
During the 1920s the private land next to Beach House was bought by Alderman James Denton, who gifted the land to the people of Worthing, along with funds for Worthing’s Assembly Hall and Café Denton next to the Pavilion Theatre.
In 1924, the gardens officially opened to the public, with formal flower beds, a small fish pond, fountain and ornate stone planters. Two mini golf courses were created. This was a popular pastime that can be seen on postcards from that era.
Double-sided shelters were built on the southern end by the 1930s for people to sit and enjoy both the gardens and on the south facing side, a view of the sea. The small path had been widened, becoming part of Marine Parade, to create a promenade, and many people would stroll along the prom to watch the sea at Splash Point.
In the war years, some of the land was turned over to allotments. The gates and railings disappeared as part of the war effort. The shelters were cordoned off and concrete blocks placed in front, for fear of German invasion along the coast.
From the 1950s until the 1980s, the gardens became a carpet of colour, with ever-changing floral displays which featured on many postcards and tourist brochures.
For a time, the golf course closed. Many of the colourful flower beds changed to grasses and evergreens to cope with both successive droughts and council cutbacks. But recent years have seen a change. The mini golf has reopened and is now home to the BMGA British Masters Mini Golf Tournament. There are moves afoot to establish a “Friends of Denton Gardens” to protect the little oasis of green at the edge of town as a haven for families and communities to enjoy, just as it was intended by Alderman Denton more than 90 years ago.
So next time you are in Worthing, or if indeed you already live here, do take a stroll along the prom to discover a lovely little piece of hidden history.