Continuing the theme of Sanditon for Laurel’s Group Read at Austenprose, I thought you might like to know more about Worthing, the seaside resort in Sussex which may have been the inspiration for Mr Parker’s resort.

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There has been much speculation about Jane Austen’s inspiration for the town of Sanditon: was the place completely  imaginary or did she base it on a resort with which she was familiar? Eastbourne in Sussex has been mooted as a candidate, though as far as I am aware, Jane Austen is not recorded as ever having visited that town.

But she is recorded as having visited Worthing, another Sussex resort, and this definitely has possibilities for being her template for the developing resort of Sanditon.

(Do note you can enlarge all the illustrations in this post by clicking on them in order to see the detail)

Worthing distant fifty none miles from London and eleven westward of Brighton possesses many attractions  which contribute to make it a desirable residence for those who wish to enjoy the benefits of sea-bathing or air…

(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Fletham)

In the late summer of 1805, a sad year for Jane Austen  during which her father died while they were living in Bath, she and her mother, her  sister Cassandra and Martha Lloyd ( James Austen’s sister in law) visited Edward Austen Knight at his home at Godmersham in Kent and later in the season in September  the Austen ladies and Martha together with Edward Austen and his wife, Elizabeth, his daughter Fanny

and her governess Anne Sharpe (with whom Jane Austen established a life long friendship) stayed for some time at Stanford Cottage in Worthing  to take the sea air and cures and to enjoy the surrounding countryside.

Writing to Cassandra from Godmersham Park on 24th August 1805 when Cassandra was staying at nearby Goodnestone Farm with Marianne Bridges,  Jane Austen confides some reasons for the planned visit to Worthing:

Little Edward is by no means better and his papa and mama have determined to consult Dr Wilmot. Unless he recovers his strength  beyond what is now probable his brothers will return to School without him and so he will be of the party at Worthing. If sea-bathing  should be recommended he will be left there with us ,but this is not thought likely to happen…

Her letter to Cassandra of 30th August indicates that she thought their plan to visit Worthing might have had to be cancelled due to a planned trip to London but in the end a merry party without little Edward, who must have recovered, eventually set out from Godmersham to Worthing  on 17th September.

In a letter to her friend Miss Chapman Fanny Knight-who is our main informant for the details of this visit- writes:

Papa, Mama, Aunts C and Jane Miss Sharpe and myself set out on Tuesday for Worthing in Sussex where Miss S will stay some time for her eyes but Mama Papa and I return in about a week.

The trip to Worthing passed though some interesting places for Jane Austen, and indeed some are motioned in the text of Sanditon.She would certainly have passed though Hailsham, and

according to Fanny Knight’s journal, on the  17h September:

Papa, Mama, Aunts Cass and Jane and I set off from Godmersham for Battel(sic) where we arrived about 4 and finding no accommodations we proceeded to Horsebridge where we slept. We saw the Abbey at Battel


Then on September 18th:

We proceeded to Worthing at 9, spent 2 or 3 hours at Brighton and arrived there at 5.We walked on the sands in the evening.


Worthing at this time was a developing resort. According to my copy of John Feltham’s A Guide to all the Watering and Sea Bathing Places (1803) :

Never was there an instance of the effects of public partiality more strongly exemplified than at Worthing In a short space of time a few miserable fishing huts and smugglers dens have been exchanged for buildings sufficiently extensive and elegant to accommodate the  first families in the kingdom.

Worthing had begun its development as a resort in the late 18th century. In 1798 Princess Amelia the youngest daughter of George III and Queen Charlotte  came to Worthing to take  the sea-cure to treat a knee complaint. She stayed for 5 months. Then began the rush to share in Worthing’s acceptability as a town with royal favour, and visitors from the  highest circles of society soon began to flock there.

In 1803 Worthing officially became a town in its own right, thus gaining independence from the village and parish of Broadwater, which in effect it was really a part until it outgrew its ‘parent parish”.

Worthing  had one serious drawback- a tendency to flood. John Fletham records that:

The inhabitants express considerable apprehensions from the inroads of the sea, which they say, has been progressively gaining ground for the last thirty years and some even recollect when houses stood where the sea now flows.

(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Fletham)

At high tides and during storms Worthing’s open drainage systems could not cope. And often the beach and along the walks next to the sea, large deposits of seaweed covered them.Unpleasant.. This was something  that Jane Austen decided  Sanditon’s rival resort, Brinshsore, should suffer from, to the delight of the competitive Mr Palmer:

But Brinshore, sir, which I dare say you have in your eye — the attempts of two or three speculating people about Brinshore this last year to raise that paltry hamlet — lying as it does between a stagnant marsh, a bleak moor and the constant effluvia of a ridge of putrefying seaweed — can end in nothing but their own disappointment. What in the name of common sense is to recommend Brinshore? A most insalubrious air — roads proverbially detestable — water brackish beyond example, impossible to get a good dish of tea within three miles of the place. And as for the soil — it is so cold and ungrateful that it can hardly be made to yield a cabbage. Depend upon it, sir, that this is a most faithful description of Brinshore — not in the smallest degree exaggerated — and if you have heard it differently spoken of — ” “Sir, I never heard it spoken of in my life before,” said Mr. Heywood. “I did not know there was such a place in the world.” “You did not! There, my dear,” turning with exultation to his wife, “you see how it is. So much for the celebrity of Brinshore! This gentleman did not know there was such a place in the world. Why, in truth, sir, I fancy we may apply to Brinshore that line of the poet Cowper in his description of the religious cottager, as opposed to Voltaire — ‘She, never heard of half a mile from home. ‘ “

Sanditon Chapter 1.

The facilities at Worthing did not include any assembly rooms, but there were circulating libraries:

The establishment of two very respectable libraries (Spooner’s and Stafford’s)at each of which the most popular newspapers are regularly received …

(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Fletham)

The first official guide to Worthing published in 1805 by the Reverend John Evans  is very proud of the superior type  of books that the Worthing libraries  afforded the visitors to the town. Aware as he was

…of the usual trash of circulating libraries I was pleasingly disappointed in finding so many volumes worthy of attention

in them.

In the Jane Austen Society Report of 2008 Janet Clarke  discovered that his phrase is strikingly similar to Sir Edward Denahm’s assessment of circulating libraries:

Sir Edward, approaching Charlotte, said, “You may perceive what has been our occupation. My sister wanted my counsel in the selection of some books. We have many leisure hours and read a great deal. I am no indiscriminate novel reader. The mere trash of the common circulating library l hold in the highest contempt. You will never hear me advocating those puerile emanations which detail nothing but discordant principles incapable of amalgamation, or those vapid tissues of ordinary occurrences from which no useful deductions can be drawn. In vain may we put them into a literary alembic; we distil nothing which can add to science. You understand me, I am sure?”

Sandition Chapter 7

I wonder if Jane Austen read this Guide when she stayed at Worthing? She would probably find the overblown and pompous style irresistible.

Worthing also won over other resorts in that it was supposed to be warmer than other resorts on the  coast and therefore that meant that sea bathing could take place nearly all year round.

It is surrounded at the distance of not quite a mile by the uninterrupted chain of the Sussex downs which forming nearly an amphitheatre completely exclude even in the winter months the chilling blasts of the Northern and Eastern winds. It is a very common thing to see a considerable number of bathers here even in the depth of winter, the thermometer being generally higher than at Brighton and upon an average, between 2 and 3 degrees above London.

(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Fletham)

Fanny Knight bathed in the sea on the 19th September:

I went with Gmama (Mrs Austen-jfw) in the morning to buy fish on the Beach & afterwards with Mama and Miss Sharpe to Bathe where I had a most delicious dip…We dined at 4 and went to a Raffle in the evening, where Aunt Jane won and it amounted to 17 shillings

In addition Worthing  had the advantage of an indoors warm bath-supplied with sea water for all year bathing.

..the erection of a very commodious warm baths (Wicke’s) sufficiently prove how far Worthing has risen in public estimation

(A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Fletham)

Cassandra Austen used these Baths on 20th September 1805:

Mama and I sat some time with Miss Fielding and I afterwards waited on the Sands for Aunt Cassandra coming out of the warm baths and then walked with Mama and me the Johnsons in the morning when I was walking with Gmama and again in the evening. We went to the Raffle in the evening.

The Knight party left on the 23rd September. The  Austen ladies and Martha Lloyd remained at Worthing until sometime in November. They were certainly there on the 4th November for on that date Martha Lloyd swore an affidavit in relation to her late mother’s will before the Rector of Broadwater parish, The Reverend Peter Wood:

The affidavit was witnessed by Jane Austen and also by Elizabeth Knight, who must have returned to Worthing  before the Austen ladies left for one more visit to the seaside.

And so there you are. It has to be admitted that Sanditon and Worthing  certainly possess many similar attractions and characteristics. Jane Austen’s sojourn of 2 months there certainly gave her the opportunity to assess the developing resort and the people it attracted. We shall never know for certain, but it seems likely to me that her trip to Worthing  provided her with much inspiration and food for thought, which she later put to good use when writing Sanditon.