Denton and all he did for Worthing – has it all been forgotten?

James Gurney Denton was a man, you could say, who loved Worthing. He loved it so much that when he died, he left the bulk of his vast fortune to the town.

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 9:40 am

He had no wife or children and felt he could do no better than to devote his wealth to the town where had spent most of his life.

Indeed, during his lifetime, Mr Denton, four times mayor of Worthing and freeman of the borough, gave Denton Gardens to the town in 1922 and in July 1933, he gave £40,000 to enable the Assembly Hall to be built.

But what we are focusing on today is a piece of his history that seems to have lost its link to its founder – the Denton Lounge, now called Pavilion Atrium.

The mayor and mayoress of Worthing, Horace Bradley and his wife, at the opening of the Denton Lounge in July 1959. Picture: David Nicholls

The bar and restaurant was built on to the side of the Pavilion Theatre and funded out of Mr Denton’s bequest to the Worthing Corporation. When the Denton Lounge was officially opened on July 31, 1959, hundreds of people gathered outside to watch.

Photographer David Nicholls, who was there to take pictures for the Worthing Gazette, remembers it well and questions the recent name change.

He said: “Why has the name of the Denton Lounge been replaced with the title Pavilion Atrium? The building was opened in 1959 after a bequest by James Gurney Denton, who was mayor of Worthing from 1908-10 and again from 1922-24.

“As a grocer, he had purchased Chandlers in South Street in 1883 and several other shops in Sussex. His success enabled him to buy seafront land – now Denton Gardens – for the town, together with the Assembly Hall.

Hundreds of people watched the ceremony of the opening of the main door. Picture: David Nicholls

“All three attractions are still enjoyed by the town. These pictures, taken by me for the Worthing Gazette, show the official opening of the Denton Lounge on July 31, 1959, by mayor of Worthing Councillor Horace Bradley, accompanied by the mayoress Mrs Bradley.

“The ceremony of the opening of the main door was watched by hundreds of people. A bronze bust of James Denton is displayed in the Assembly Hall, with a smaller version in the Denton Lounge.”

Worthing Pier opened on April 12, 1862, and a pavilion was built at the southern end in 1889. The pier was sold to the Worthing Corporation in 1920 and the Pavilion Theatre, at the shore end, was opened in 1926, meaning the building at the other end was renamed the Southern Pavilion.

During World War Two, the Pavilion Theatre was taken over by troops and used for entertainment but it reopened to the public in June 1946, with the Denton Lounge being added in 1959.

Unveiling the plaque which record the donation by Alderman James Gurney Denton. Picture: David Nicholls

In 2015, the Denton Lounge was refurbished and renamed The Denton. The foyer area was redesigned to create a new visitor information point, following the closure of Worthing Tourist Information Centre, which had originally been at Worthing Town Hall and later moved to the Dome Cinema.

At the time, Worthing Borough Council leader Dan Humphreys said: “I think it’s fantastic. It’s a great leap forward. I don’t think we are reinventing the wheel or anything but what we have done is go from an overly expensive way of providing information that depended on an expensive fixed location that was not easily accessible for everybody, to a position where we are expanding the points around the town providing the same information for far less money.”

Jane Dore, local historian, has provided information about Worthing Pier and the various buildings associated with it for the council’s website.

Regarding the Denton Lounge, she writes: “The suggestions for this building began some years before an actual decision to build was passed.

The Denton Lounge was built on the side of the Pavilion Theatre, at the shore end of Worthing Pier. Picture: David Nicholls

“There was a good deal of original opposition to the building, with the decision to take the project forward only passing by one vote. This was initially a ‘winter garden’ scheme with that name being put forward as the most suitable to give the finished building.

“However as the finances for the scheme were going to be found from the residual part of the ‘Denton Bequest’, it was finally decided in April 1959 that the building would be called the ‘Denton Lounge’.”

The design of the building was by J. Brandon-Jones, with some of the exterior decoration designs by Laurence Bradshaw. The Denton Lounge was built by a Brighton-based builder Messrs Rice & Sons Ltd, who managed to finish the building a week ahead of the agreed time scale – much applauded at the time.

What are your memories of the Denton Lounge? And what do you think of the name change? Email [email protected]

The Denton in November 2007. Picture: Stephen Goodger W47469H7
Unveiling of the new visitor information point in March 2015, from left, Georgina Coningham-Naylor, Amanda O'Reilly and Worthing Borough Council lader Daniel Humphreys. Picture: Liz Pearce LP1500223
Pavilion Atrium, as the former Denton Lounge is now called