Worthing Museum - A Hidden Seaside Treasure

My love for Worthing Museum & Art Gallery began in the summer of 2005 when a much younger version of myself attended a Junior Curators’ Club workshop there. I had always enjoyed History as a school subject and loved visiting museums and other heritage sites, but it was in the education room on that particular day where I first made a connection between my textbooks and the tangible past in the museum’s collections. Until then, I had never realised that my classroom learning could be in any way related to the historical material that museums curate, display and interpret, and there is no doubt in my mind that this was a pivotal moment for me. Many years and a Public History MA later, I am still incredibly passionate about museums and the positive influence they can have on community enjoyment and learning.

Photograph of Worthing Museum in 1908, when it was also home to the town’s library.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Worthing Museum

Founded in 1908, as both a museum and a library, Worthing Museum & Art Gallery hosts a varied collection of juvenilia, archaeological finds, fine and decorative arts, and local ephemera. The costume collection alone contains around 30,000 items, including a rare 17th-century Blackwork jacket and items of clothing that once belonged to Queen Victoria herself. It is the largest museum in West Sussex and home to the biggest collection of everyday clothing (hand-made and shop-bought pieces) in the UK, which also makes it particularly significant.

The ground floor of the museum is home to permanent archaeology and local history displays. There is also a studio gallery, a sculpture garden, an education room - where many of the museum’s on-site events take place - and a small shop selling a range of historical-themed gifts and works from local artists. Upstairs, guests can find the permanent fine and decorative arts displays, in addition to further gallery spaces, in which the exhibitions change throughout the year. The programme is always innovative and exciting, drawing in local visitors and tourists alike. Together, the collections and their respective displays serve as incredible research and educational tools, as well as helping to paint a picture of Worthing and the surrounding areas from the Palaeolithic period to the present day.

In 2018 I began volunteering at Worthing Museum, returning to the place where it all began over a decade before. I was thrilled to see that the education programme was not only still going strong but continues to expand and reach people of all ages, offering events and experiences that always promise to be creative, engaging, and beneficial to personal and community wellbeing. The museum staff are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and dedicated, as are my fellow volunteers.

Regular activities hosted by Worthing Museum and Art Gallery include:

Worthing Museum & Art Gallery is also known amongst local schools for outsourcing loan boxes, utilising the fantastic handling collection for on-site workshops and for providing tailored, pre-booked research visits and work experience opportunities.

In 2019 a new Costume Research Centre was opened after a major redevelopment project which sought to move the costume collection into a brighter and more spacious storage area. In doing this, it has allowed the collection to remain a valuable asset to the museum for years to come and remains a place where independent researchers, artists, universities, and other museums can collaborate with Worthing Museum. The sharing of resources and expertise not only aids understandings of the collections, but could equally influence future interpretations and displays, ensuring that the public also continues to benefit from the richness of knowledge being shared.

A stunning example of one of the many thousands of pieces in the museum’s costume collection: A shop-bought Susan Small 2-piece dress and coat from the 1960s, made of rayon.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Worthing Museum

2019 was a busy year for Worthing Museum and Art Gallery: November saw the birth of the Worthing Theatres and Museum trust (WTM), an amalgamation of Worthing Museum and Worthing Theatres. The museum is one of four venues in the trust, alongside the Connaught Theatre and Studio, the Pavilion Theatre and Worthing Assembly hall. This ensures that all sites of cultural interest in the town are under the same management body, allowing more freedom to continue developing exciting creative programmes and, as a charity, greater autonomy to apply for external funding in the future. As a cultural body, WTM seeks to inspire enjoyment and reflection within the arts, enhancing both personal and community wellbeing for all of those who engage. For Worthing Museum & Art Gallery specifically, it is hoped that being part of the trust will encourage widening access and participation for visitors to the museum, ensuring it benefits communities for many years to come.

Visitor Information

Address: Chapel Road, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 1HP, England

Worthing Museum can be reached by foot, car, or via public transport.

As of May 2021, Worthing Museum is currently open 10:00-20:00 on Thursdays and 10:00-17:00 on Saturdays. It is hoped that opening times will be extended from 21st June 2021.

For more information regarding visiting hours, accessibility, and upcoming events, please visit: wtam.uk/your-visit/venues

Entry to Worthing Museum & Art Gallery is free to all, however donations are always welcome.

The entrance to Worthing Museum & Art Gallery in 2021.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Emily Petretta

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Emily Petretta

Emily completed her Master’s degree in Public History from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2017. In her spare time, she volunteers at Worthing Museum & Art Gallery and is passionate about museum experiences being enriching, accessible and inclusive. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyPetretta