Worthing store history reveals itself – two employees sent to war

Marks & Spencer, Montague Street, Worthing, c1940s
Marks & Spencer, Montague Street, Worthing, c1940s
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Having a large interest in researching local history, many projects have been compiled and six books have been published giving others the opportunity to learn what I have learned regarding local historical subjects.

This is, however, purely a hobby, and my full-time job as a facilities advisor for the store services department at Marks & Spencer naturally has to come first.

Marks & Spencer, Montague Street, Worthing, c1940s

Marks & Spencer, Montague Street, Worthing, c1940s

With the company now in its 131st year, I’ve enjoyed hearing stories from the old days but also visiting various stores in the South East.

Some of these stores are but a few years old, built using latest building techniques and often lacking in any architectural interest, however they do, of course, serve a purpose with their bright and airy open spaces.

However, my interest is quite often increased when a visit to an older store reveals signs of its past.

A customer visiting an older constructed store will see that the store has been brought up to date with modern lighting, polished flooring tiles, clean Formica panelling on the walls, the latest shelving and equipment which displays items, and the latest fashionable accessories and garments.

However, those with a sharp eye will see that behind much of the new modern-day cladding and signage, many of these earlier stores show much architectural grandeur.

Money is quite often spent on what the customer sees. Therefore, behind the scenes, an older store will quite often show signs of its past, such as old rooms still displaying 1960s/70s wallpaper, or ancient carpet, old signs with Marks & Spencer Ltd on rather than Plc, old lighting, redundant rooms still retaining out of use machinery or equipment, original goods lifts or loading bay doors, and signs of later extensions added onto the original buildings.

The Worthing store is by no means any exception and I’ve identified many things which date back to the days of old.

One obvious relic is the large green and gold clock that hangs from the centre column overlooking Montague Street, with a clock face facing in both east and west directions.

Dating back to the early 1930s, it is now computer- controlled and keeps excellent time.

One other fascinating feature, which is out of the customer’s view and inscribed in pencil on an original part of wall, are the words: “In memory of our fellow friends, R.B. Finn – Royal Air Force, and Sgt S. Williams – Royal Air Force, killed in action over enemy territory, 1945, and remembered by their colleagues at Worthing.”

Further research on these two men at the Marks & Spencer Company Archive has sadly been unsuccessful, however, I am keen to find out more about them.

What has been learned is they were two of 1,500 men, out of the 2,000 men employed by Marks & Spencer, who had been called up to serve in the armed forces.

They were also two of the 96 employees who had died on active service.

Fifty nine had become prisoners of war.

I do personally feel they deserve to be remembered properly on a plaque in view of both staff and customers, rather than pencilled on a brick wall at the back of a cupboard.

A future talk with the store manager will reveal if a small plaque with the same inscription can be put up somewhere in the store.

• If anyone locally can recall either a Mr R. B. Finn or a Mr S. Williams, Graham would be keen to speak to you on 07793 435428, or by writing to him at 3 Busticle Lane, Sompting, Lancing, West Sussex, BN15 0DH.