Guest Blog: In Search of Small Town Sussex

Back in 2006 Jeremy Hammond took time out to travel around 50 states of the U.S. in 50 weeks. Here he takes a look at a Small Town Sussex – Lancing and compares it to the small U.S. towns he found during his travels.

According to Wikipedia:

Lancing is a large coastal village and civil parish in the Adur district of West Sussex, England, on the western edge of the Adur Valley. It occupies part of the narrow central section of the Sussex coastal plain, between smaller Sompting to the west, larger Shoreham-by-Sea to the east, and the parish of Coombes to the north. Excluding definitive suburbs it may have the largest undivided village cluster in Britain. However, its economy is commonly analysed as integral to the Brighton / Worthing / Littlehampton conurbation.  It’s settled area beneath the South Downs National Park covers 3.65 square miles (9.5 square kilometres; 2,340 acres), the majority of its land.

It is a mix of no more than mid-rise coastal urban homes and farms and wildlife reserves on northern chalk downs. The oldest non-religious buildings date to around 1500 CE. The 2002 Census states the population was around 19,000, being measured at 18,810 in the 2011 Census. The latter Census included the population of Coombes.

The village was a popular seaside resort in the mid-nineteenth century, gaining favour from the gentry of the time for its secluded atmosphere. Summer tourist hallmarks are the traditional guesthouses on the A259 coast road, as well as a caravan/campsite in Old Salts Farm Road, and beach chair hire and ice cream businesses.”

It only goes to show just how wrong ‘Dear Wiki’ can be at times. Mainly because there are actually two caravan / campsites in Lancing.  I know this, because I live in the shabbier one.

Jeremy Hammond

My name is Jeremy Hammond, and I am the author of “In Search of Small Town America.” Published in seventeen volumes, the work is a collection of over 340,000 words, and around 2,400 original photographs.  A year-long exploration, documenting the many factors at work transforming many of North America’s smaller communities.

Although it alludes primarily to the demise apparent in much of ‘Small-Town America’, it is also a positive testament to those towns that are surviving the onslaught of mechanisation, technology and ‘Big Business’. It is in no way intended as an authoritative work, or as a ‘guidebook’. Although focussed primarily on small-town culture, it is very much a random, personal view, including a variety of incidental observations, societal, media, political comment and carefully considered insight.  Often related with caustically casual humour, it’s an occasionally flippant, but always an informed view, of an iconic part of the wide American landscape.

Mineral Rail Road Station Virgina 2006
Rail Road stop at Mineral in Virgina, U.S.A. during 2006 © Jeremy Hammond

For each of the States, a ‘target-town’ was selected: The chosen small town should be as close as possible to the physical centre of each State, and will have a population of between one thousand and ten thousand.  The route finally passed through over 1,500 small towns and villages. Being primarily ‘a nation of drivers’, many American small towns are not linked via the railroad system, and if not connected, close to the the network of Interstate highways, they will most probably be in a state of slow but steady transformational decline.

Super Valu store Bowman in North Dakota 2006
Super Value store at Bowman in North Dakota U.S.A. during 2006 © Jeremy Hammond

Another contributing factor to a town’s demise is the impact of ‘big business’. As an all-too typical, and singular example: “Wal*Mart not only offers an incredibly wide range of products, and of course: “Low prices – Always“, but also, hard to come by employment opportunities.

Faced with the existent probability of decimating ‘downtown’, what are the financially challenged folks to do? Stick-up for the preservation of the somewhat pricey, local hardware store, or go find super-cheap light-bulbs – and maybe a job even – at the brand-spanking-new ‘hyper-market’.

If, however a small town is spared from this particular ‘mixed blessing’, it will retain one, perhaps two well-stocked food-stores, acting as a tenuous anchor for the smaller ‘Mom and Pop Stores’ which mainly surround it on Main Street.

ASDA store at Lancing 2023
Asda Supermarket in Lancing 2023 ©Jeremy Hammond

In Lancing, when the 11,500 sq,ft. Asda Store opened next to the railway station, in August, 2009, it will have had the same effect, ensuring the future of the other businesses thriving on South Street. Although now owned by the entrepreneurial Issa brothers, under the ‘EG’ banner, between 1999 and 2021, the Asda chain was owned by Wallmart, but in Lancing at least, the new arrival did no economic harm.

Lancing ASDA store entrance with the Railway  Station adjacent
Lancing Railway Station 2023 © Jeremy Hammond

As well as the food store, a ‘larger’ small town might also have a movie theatre, and many of them are still operational, having been lovingly restored to their original condition.

McLean Texas 2006 Cinema
Cinema at McLean in Texas U.S.A. 2006 © Jeremy Hammond

Others, like the ‘Avalon’ in McLean, Texas, have simply applied a facelift to their frontages. In 1984, McLean was the last of the Texas Panhandle towns to be by-passed by Interstate 40. It was also the last of the popular ‘Route 66 towns’ to be affected by the coming of the new arterial, this reducing its population significantly. However, the town’s very lack of growth is the reason why it now can be experienced as a nostalgic and romantic step back in time.

In 2004, ‘The McLean Commercial Historic District’ was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In Lancing, the Luxor Cinema opened in January 1940, with the famous ‘Crazy Gang’ starring in the feature ‘Frozen Limits’. The event was delayed due to wartime shortages of materials.

Luxor Cinema frontage Lancing 2023
The Lancing Luxor Cinema Frontage, 2023 © Jeremy Hammond

A ballroom was part of the original plan, but this never came to fruition, and the space was used as a store room. Shops were built on either side of the lobby entrance. The cinema had a total seating capacity of 998. 800 of those being in the stalls, and the remainder in a single, steeply raked balcony. The proscenium was thirty six feet wide, and the stage was twenty feet deep, large enough to cater for live theatre, but these shows finally came to an end in 1957. Films continued to be screened until June 1965, when the building was converted into a bingo hall, which ran successfully until the early 1980s.

Having fallen into disrepair, in 2018 the auditorium part of the building was demolished, and the space was transformed into twelve luxury flats, creating studios, one bedroom and three bedroom apartments. The cinema’s frontage remained intact, with the Luxor signage still in place, and the foyer area became a retail space, retaining the staircase up to the circle.

Promenade Seaside Heights New Jersey 2006
The Boardwalk at Seaside Heights in New Jersey USA, 2006 © Jeremy Hammond

Back to Wikipedia: “A boardwalk is an elevated footpath, walkway, or causeway built with wooden planks, that enables pedestrians to cross wet, fragile, or marshy land.” The Atlantic City Boardwalk, in New Jersey, is the oldest in the United States, and the longest in the world.  Fantastic boardwalks can be found all down the eastern seaboard, in small towns such as ‘Sunset Beach’ in North Carolina, ‘Seaside Heights’, New Jersey, and ‘Ocean City’ – one in New Jersey, and another in Maryland. Of course, they’re what we’d call ‘The Prom’ – the promenade – it just so happens that in the States, they’re very often made of wooden boards.

Ocean City Promande Maryland 2006
The Boardwalk at Ocean City in Maryland U.S.A. 2006 © Jeremy Hammond

Lancing has its fair share of lovely coastal walkways, and one can amble all the way from Widewater Court in Shoreham, adjacent to the Widewater Lagoon Nature Reserve, and continuing, past the Sailing and Kitesurfing clubs, then south of Beach Green and the children’s playground, to just past Chester Avenue in Lancing.

Lancing Promenade South of Beach Park 2023
Lancing Promenade Beach Park 2023 © Jeremy Hammond

I relocated, in the summer of 2018, to a lovely-little ‘shoebox’, on the Eastern Sands Caravan Park, east of Lancing centre, on Brighton Road. Pretty-much right on the beach – and it was the best move I’ve ever made. Born in Brighton, my previous address was on a busy main road in Hove. Seriously annoying traffic noise, and just a wee-bit ‘polluted’.

Moible homes Estancia New Mexico 2006
Mobile home park at Estancia in New Mexico U.S.A in 2006

The difference is amazing. Clean air. So peaceful, so quiet, and all I can really hear is the sound of the sea, as the tide rolls in and out. OK. It can get a tad rough when the wind blows, but that’s just a reminder from Mother Nature, to show us who’s boss.

Lancing Eastern Sands Mobile Homes 2023
Mobile home in Lancing’s Eastern Sands Caravan Park in 2023 © Jeremy Hammond

The story though, is that the delicious tranquillity of the place, at long last has allowed me to finally complete my ‘Magnum Opus’.

Jeremy’s book is now available on Amazon / Kindle – Click this LINK

Or if you go direct to Jeremy’s website and download the first volume (PDF) of his books FREE >

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Jeremy Hammond
Author: Jeremy Hammond

Jeremy is a writer and photographer, based in Lancing, West Sussex. He has an absolute fascination with, and fanaticism for, the history, politics and progression, of the United States of America. In 2006 he took time out to travel the 50 States in 50 Weeks. He's published several volumes about what he heard and saw during this time.

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