Ferring in the 20th Century

The beginning of the new century is marked by the 1901 Census – a detailed account of all the housing and inhabitants of the parish. It shows little change from the census of ten years earlier: the population was slightly up at 243 but there had been hardly any new buildings or demolitions. The Land Tax valuation survey of 1910 shows very much the same picture of land ownership and occupation. 1911 Census shows a further slight rise, to 256 (close to the 19th Century average of 251). The change came after the 1914-18 war.

Ferring did not change much during that war: certainly many of the young men were in the army or navy (and five did not come back) and Edwin Henty died in 1916, but the farms, and the Henty estate, continued to operate much as normal. It was the peace that changed Ferring. In 1919 and 1920 no additional houses were built but the local directory shows an influx of new people living in the larger houses, and from 1921 a number of them, including a series of retired officers, had new houses built, in Sea Lane, near the beach, and in Ferring Lane.

Edwin Henty’s widow, ageing and childless, put the southern half of the estate, including the Grange, up for auction in early 1921. It failed to achieve its reserve price of £30,000 (highest bid £27,200); individual plots were sold off, however, in both North and South Ferring, over the next two years. Confidence in the housing market grew quickly and between July 1923 and April 1924 the whole of South Ferring was indeed sold off, in three or four large lots – to the Hon Lionel Guest (58 acres in the south east corner), Reginald Smart, the last tenant-farmer of Home Farm (more than 60 acres on the west), Ridley Hooper (the Grange and its parkland) and other large areas to Maj. Norman Charles Draycott. They in turn then sold building plots on this land, to a stream of buyers, mainly from London (a 1929 advertisement in The Times offered four-bedroom houses for £1,150, in an estate with private roads where charabancs were banned and ‘the tripper element has been entirely eliminated’). The building boom was now underway. In 1921 the population was still 256; in 1931 it was 795; the agricultural population had been swamped by the bungalow owners from the London suburbs. The Building Plans Register shows that 200 houses (predominantly bungalows) were build between these two dates.

Ferring Grange became a boys’ school, then an increasingly fashionable hotel. Mrs Guest encouraged her ‘society’ friends to take houses for the Summer. Professional tennis tournaments were held and, biggest catch of all, the Prince of Wales stayed a few weeks in 1928 (with his mistress). Many other (middle class) visitors came for the day in their cars and the beachside Blue Bird Café was opened in 1928.

The northern half of the estate, along Langbury Lane and Ferring Lane was also being developed in the mid-1920s, as Mrs Henty sold off choice plots, but when she died in October 1928 her executors still had 275 acres to dispose of – which they did at auction in 1930. Now the land around Langbury Lane and Ferring Lane began to develop as quickly as that in South Ferring five years earlier, and the overall population was well over 1500 by 1939. Agriculture and market gardening continued north of the Littlehampton-Worthing road, even into the 21st Century, but south of it the fields filled up with housing and ‘estate’ roads, covering the entire area south of that road and between the Rife and Sea Lane, down to the very beach.

This process was interrupted by the 1939-45 war, during which many residents moved out and many servicemen moved in, but was virtually complete by 1960. A small Council estate had been built in the 1950s, west of the village centre and the creation of Goring Way, immediately east of the village centre, just before the war, and the building along that road post-war, created a continuity with the Worthing suburbs which could not be denied, however much it was regretted.

The population had risen to 3,449 in 1961. Soon after this came redevelopment, as most of the large houses built in Sea Lane, and near the beach, in the 1920s and early 1930s were demolished and replaced with bungalows and flats. By 1971 the population had reached 4,292 and it stayed close to this level for the next 30 years. By this time Ferring had become very much a retirement community, with twice the national average of over-60s and half the national average of under- 21s. Increasing development was now being resisted: in 1988 the ‘Ferring Conservation Group’ was launched, and had very soon enlisted over 1,300 members.

Although the old Henty estate south of Littlehampton Road and down to the beach had been covered with housing in the third and fourth quarters of the century, more than half of the land area of the parish had, in fact, been spared development. The top of Highdown Hill had been declared an Ancient Monument in 1930 and was then acquired by the National Trust; the farmland on the other side of the hill remained very much as it had always been. The southern slopes were not built on, and remained largely rural (although with an increasing ‘urban fringe’ character). The lower stretch of the Rife still ran through a green corridor, and the fields of the old (East Ferring) Manor Farm from Sea Lane to the Goring boundary and down to the sea still provided good harvests and a place for quiet recreation. The protection of these ‘countryside areas’ and ‘strategic gaps’ had now been built into the planning policies of the local authorities.