The discovery of a giant anchor off Worthing has sparked a maritime mystery on the 150th anniversary of a major tragedy that left the town in mourning.

Lifeguards patrolling the coast in their fast rescue boat spotted the 10ft anchor partly buried in the sand at the low water mark, several hundred yards off The Plantation in Goring.

It was rusty and covered in barnacles and seaweed, but had no distinguishing marks to identify the boat it came from.

Lifeguard Dave Winstone said: "Our main worry was that it could cause a lot of damage if a boat hit it, so we knew we had to get it taken away as soon as possible."

It is believed the anchor was uncovered during storms that battered Worthing last year.

Worthing Borough Council contractors used a digger to drag it up the beach, where it will stay until the council decides what to do with it.

Mr Winstone said: "We don't know exactly how long it has been there or what boat or ship it came from."

The anchor has been found on the 150th anniversary of the Lalla Rookh disaster, when 11 Worthing fishermen drowned going to the rescue of an East Indiaman foundering three miles off the town in a storm.

Their boat capsized, leaving eight widows, one of whom was struck dumb by the news, and 36 fatherless children.

A newspaper report of the day stated: "The boat had reached within 200 yards of the vessel when it was capsized.

"Four or five of the unfortunate fishermen clung to the boat as a last resource."

Another boat containing 20 men was launched from the beach to rescue the desperate sailors, but by the time it had battled through the raging surf, there was no trace of them.

The Lalla Rookh, carrying rum and sugar, rode out the storm without any casualties and continued on its voyage.

The tragedy led to a lifeboat being stationed in Worthing until 1930.

Local lifeboat historian Rob Blann today suggested a commemorative service could be held at the 'fishermen's church' of Christ Church or at Broadwater Church, where there is a stone tablet with the names of those who died.

He says the anchor could be from the schooner Kings Hill, wrecked off Goring on February 17, 1915. The Worthing Lifeboat capsized during the rescue and crewman Jack Burgess drowned.