Thursday 20 September 2018

The Stanford Family of Preston Place (now Manor). Successful Georgian farmers and Victorian Suburban Developers

The Georgian and Regency period offered many opportunities to the energetic determined on ‘betterment’ and who made good use of openings. The Stanford family of the East Dean area of Sussex are a good example. With the aid of loans from members of his network of farming relatives, Richard Stanford moved to a large farm at Preston, north of Brighton as a tenant of the Western family.

Preston Place as it was then by Pocock c1818  Brighton Art Gallery and Museum 

Preston Place faced north and is the building on the right of the tree clump. To the left is the church and the pump house for the water pump, part of which remains.  The house, much altered, now stands at the north end of Preston Park. 

During the eighteenth century, the chalk downs of eastern Sussex were a popular area for investors who wanted large farms of more than five hundred acres which specialised in the production of grain and wheat. The long period of evolution of these extensive farms helps to explain the decline in rural settlement on the downs. By 1750, these farms were considered profitable and good land for hunting and shooting, activities which were popular with town dwellers, land owners and their tenants and visitors to the seaside.

The development of Brighton as a seaside resort from the 1750s created a local market for produce and a demand for small rural estates such as the Stanford Estate which was one of a group around Brighton. The others included Moulecombe (in east Patcham), Ovingdean Hall (Ovingdean), Scutt (Hove, partly under Brunswick Town) and Hangleton (in Hangleton parish). Most of these small estates were developed for housing at various dates from the 1820s.

Preston Church as the first Stanfords would have seen it - watercolour by Petrie c1800

  Over most of the downs east of the Adur, land was bought from smaller owners by the larger estates and when land values and farm income collapsed in the later nineteenth century, these estates also sold land and played no part in the management of their development. Thus the Stanford Estate is a good example of a particular type of agricultural and suburban housing estate. 

Richard Stanford (1711-1769) became a tenant of Thomas Western of Preston in the 1740s. His farm was in South Road, Preston and he leased land in the northern part of the parish and in Hove. Richard was from a prosperous local family and he had at least two brothers, Edward and William. By 1769 Edward lived in Exeat and owned at least one property in Lewes. The family had strong links with Exeat and its vicinity. Richard was buried at West Dean church where in 1772, a well-known local mason, Morris of Lewes erected his tomb. 

William Stanford Ist. Brighton Museums and Art Galleries: Preston Manor

Richard may have borrowed from his family to raise the capital that a tenant of a large downland farm needed to get started with equipment, seeds and stock and to pay the outgoing tenant for the work he had done on the land such as manuring. There was a considerable amount of equity in the family, his brother William lent him a thousand pounds which may have helped him to become the tenant at Preston where he would have needed to buy equipment and the inputs into the land undertaken by the outgoing tenant such as manuring.

Richard married Sarah in 1760. When he died aged 58 in 1769 in an ‘apoplectic fit’ he left her a widow with three small children, Grace, Sarah and William (the youngest), born in 1764. Henry Campion of Danny, Philip Soale and Thomas Dodson, described in Stanford’s will as gentlemen of Hurstpierpoint served as the trustees of his assets which were to be divided equally between the three children. The three trustees supervised the management of the farm he owned in the Weald called Washbrook Farm and also his farm at Ford as well as the leased farm at Preston, Thomas Dodson undertaking much of the work, the account book reflecting this very clearly. The cash from livestock and grain sold at Lewes market was invested in stocks, mortgages and loans at interest, all assets then typically chosen by trustees. When Grace became ill in 1772, the trustees bought asses’ milk for her and, when she died, paid for her coffin. They also bought a harpsichord and other consumer goods for Sarah and paid for the education of William. 

William II  Brighton Museums and Art Gallery at Preston Manor

When William reached the age of twenty-one in 1785, the trustees’ work ended. He was a wealthy young farmer with about £5,000 in stocks. Sarah then received all the money due to her under the terms of Richard’s will.

When William married Elizabeth Avery in 1789, marriage, some land in Clayton, Keymer and Hurstpierpoint was added to the family holdings. In 1802, his second marriage was to Mary Tourle. Of their nine children, three outlived their father.

Meanwhile, the Stanford family remained tenants at Preston during the minority of Charles Callis Western, the owner of much of the land. His father had died in 1771 in a carriage accident near Brighton. In 1772, the Western trustees let the rest of the farmland to Thomas Dennett until Charles Western, then aged five came of age and could claim his estate. Mrs Western and the other trustees kept control of and access to Preston Place along a private road through Raddindean, the land to the south of the house that is now Preston Park. It was this land which William had his eyes on.

William’s chance to buy land came in 1793 when Charles Callis Western decided to sell the family holdings to concentrate on building up estates around Rivenhall in Essex. William bought the Western land in Preston, Hove and Brighton and, the Manors of Preston and Raddingdeane for £17,600.

The Western Estate included the Hundred of Preston, The Manor of Preston which had rights over the whole of the parish, the right to run the court leet and the court baron and collect the fees from them and from transactions involving copyhold land in the manorial court. The Lord also had the right to wrecks on the shore where the manor’s boundary was the sea. The sale included Preston Place, described as a freehold house with its out buildings, and about 25 acres of land around it, suitable for a sportsman or ‘person of distinction’ and described as having picturesque and beautiful views.

William’s new lands proved to be an excellent investment for the family because of the way in which the estate bounded the north and east sides of the steadily expanding resorts of Brighton and Hove. The manor of Preston’s land stretched to the coast where it had the right to wrecks and goods washed up on the shore. 

Ellen, Vere, son John and Ellen's mother Mrs McDonald (she remarried). Copyright as above. 

William remained at the farm in South Street and let Preston House as a school for to Mrs Norton the widow of John Bridger Norton who had been the collector of customs at Shoreham. She advertised it as a school for young ladies in 1796. Mrs Norton pointed out that the house was in a vale skirted by wood and meadow, that the house stood in a lawn of about six acres and that Preston was known for the ‘salubrity ‘of its air. 

Late C19th map of Brighton and Hove.
Look at the top of the map and there is the 'Preston Estate' section of the Stanford suburbs laid out and there is the park after the Corporation finally bought it. The area laid out round the County Cricket ground in Hove is also Stanford.  And the open space built up mainly after 1918 between the Preston developments and the built up part of Hove.  The Upper Drive crosses the undeveloped area and links the two sections - this was planned. 

Cleveland Road on the Stanford Estate - plan and build quality regulated by the Estate Surveyor  It is from the controlled estate developments of the C19th that quite a bit of building control legislation was borrowed.

William let the land in Hove for some years until his son took over the tenancy. By 1838 William II occupied it. The farm house and buildings were located where Fonthill Road now stands.

Not everything though was straightforward. The two Williams were known to be difficult men, the second was convicted of assault. Richard Stanford, son of William I and brother of William II married one of his servants and on his death, she made a false claim against the estate for the maintenance of ‘their son’ who was her nephew. William II realised what she had done and the case ended up in court.

William died when Eleanor, his only child, was very young and after a long period in trusteeship, after her marriage, the estate faced a very different future. By the time that Ellen, Vere her husband the Stanford Estate Trustees had agreed to develop the estate, Brighton was right up on the edge of it. Irresistible – development would raise the income of the estate and help to fund the Pythouse Estate which Vere owned in Wiltshire and Ellen and Vere’s expensive lifestyle. They did not live at Preston, Ellen’s mother had a life interest and remained there. Ellen and her second husband Charles moved there when her mother died.

Preston Drove - all of this area was the Stanford Estate
During Ellen and Charles’s occupation, the area surrounding Preston Manor as they renamed it was rapidly transforming into suburbs and the same applied to a large chunk of their land in Hove. This paid for the family lifestyle. 

The land for Preston  Park was sold by the Stanford Estate to Brighton Corporation 

There is more to come on this interesting family – here is a nice example of a family story where there are personalities emerging from the past, the fraud described above and  family rows plus the rise and decline of the wealth of a family within 130 years.

Original plan for the West Brighton Estate - First to Fourth Avenues in Hove on the Stanford Estate.
A copy of this is in Preston Manor 
Preston was more successful than Hove where the houses were too big and by 1914, quite a few were already flats.
See Sue Berry ‘The development of the Stanford Estate’ Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol 152 (2014) for the suburban development process. And for the evidence that, contrary to a local story, Eleanor did not have a child with her Butler.