Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2016)
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There are some fine examples of Willett-built houses in Eaton Gardens. This is number 7; note the decorative details
The Hove Courier (8 April 1882) had this to say:
‘Eaton Gardens, another aristocratic neighbourhood of detached residences with large gardens and bold carriage approaches, arranged and built by Mr Willett, is just becoming filled, six (all that is finished) of the twelve houses already being tenanted and last week one was sold for £4,680.’
By 1886 Eaton Gardens contained ten occupied houses; in 1888 the road south of Cromwell Road for a distance of 358 feet was declared a public highway
In around 1875 William Willett started his building operations at Hove with two houses in Second Avenue, in one of which he resided for some time. Afterwards he turned his attention to building on land belonging to the Stanford Estate. He constructed many residences in Wilbury Road, Eaton Road, Cromwell Road, The Drive, and Eaton Gardens.
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A Willet-built house was famous for its fine details, seen here at 7 Eaton Gardens.
In 1879 Willett lived at 9 Wilbury Road, in 1881 he lived at 1 Eaton Gardens but by 1883 he was located at The Drive where he remained until his death. It was in the latter house that Willett entertained General Booth of the Salvation Army in 1887. In 1893 the Willett Estate Office was at 79 The Drive.
J.W. Lister, Chief Librarian of Hove, wrote the following tribute:
‘The work of Mr Willett, senior, is a triumph of private enterprise and Hove can neither estimate nor repay the debt she owes to this worthy citizen … The quietest and most unassuming of men without advantage of birth, wealth or scholarship, he built upon the foundation of a good and honest heart … He was a pillar of Nonconformity and was given to charity and hospitality. His hobby was the building and maintenance of the Clarendon Mission Hall.’
It is worth noting that when he undertook the building of the Police Seaside Home in Portland Road he did it at cost price, thus foregoing any profit because he believed in the worthiness of the enterprise.
In fact his acts of charity were not trumpeted abroad because he preferred ‘to do good by stealth’. He retired in 1900 and died in 1913 exactly six years after his wife had died; he was buried in Hove Cemetery on the anniversary of her interment.
William Willett was so well known that his death merited an obituary in The Times (12 November 1913).
‘Mr Willett, a Colchester man, founded the business of building and contracting now carried on in Kensington, Hampstead and elsewhere.’ The firm enjoyed a high reputation for building solid town houses and the term ’Willett-built’ applied ‘to a type of residence, which is distinguished by individuality of design both inside and out.’
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Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove|
An 1915 advert from the Brighton Season Magazine for the sale of two Willett homes in Grand Avenue
His son, another William Willett (1856-1915) worked alongside his father in the business. He was also a member of Hove Council. Both Willetts had a horror of gloomy passages and dark corners and consequently ‘brightness and cheerfulness were always striven for’ in their houses. Willett, junior, was the originator of daylight saving or summer time but he died before his idea was implemented. His pamphlet The Waste of Daylight met with general derision but he had important supporters in Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, Keir Hardie, Balfour and Edward VII.
Willett, junior, died in 1915, only sixteen months after his father. Willett junior’s son, Herbert William Mills Willett died in 1917, 26 months after his father. It must surely be unusual for three generations of a family to expire within four years.
Today the name of William Willett is a byword for good quality building and interesting decorative details. Unfortunately, Hove councillors came rather late to an appreciation of such qualities and it is incredible to record that it was not until 1990 that a Willett Estate Conservation Area was established although it must be admitted that in 1989 numbers 3, 8 and 14 became listed buildings. Some people considered it a case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted because some of the handsome houses had already been demolished. But now the aim was to ensure the preservation of those that remained intact.
By 2001 the only original houses were as follows:
Numbers 3, 5, 7, 13 and 17 on the west side
Numbers 8, 10 and 14 on the east side
Edmund Yates (1831-1894) lived in the house from 1891 to 1894. He was a journalist and author and a friend of Charles Dickens. Yates was famous in his day and his name was one of four inscribed around the interior of the dome at Hove Library as being a noted Hove resident. The other three were Richard Jefferies, Roden Noel and Hablot Browne.
In 1987 developers wanted to pull down the house and build an eight-storey block of flats but planning permission was refused in July of that year. Michael Ray said the house was of particular importance because it occupied a prominent site and was screened by trees.
By 1990 the house had fallen into a bad state of repair and attacks from thieves and vandals made matters worse. In fact the situation was so bad that the building could not even be converted into flats. Hove Council was obliged to give permission for its demolition but the front wall must be preserved. Moreover, bricks salvaged from the demolition would be re-used together with other second-hand bricks; even the mortar would be treated to give it a mellow look.
David Garbutt of Garbutt McMillan was the architect behind the scheme and Newbay Construction were the builders. The development was called Eaton Gate and it proved to be an expensive undertaking.
In October 1991 Roderic Chaffin-Laird, chairman of Brightsky, spoke highly of the support given by local councillors, particularly Peter Martin, former chairman of planning, and Garry Peltzer Dunn, former leader of the council, in the enterprise.
The building has an impressive entrance hall with ornate plaster cornices and panelled doors. Flats were sold for prices ranging from £85,000 to £250,000. The completed building, which also has a frontage to Eaton Road, was deemed to be an architectural success.
This Willet-built house was erected in the 1880s and on 7 December 1989 it received listed building status.
In 1999 although the ground floor remained in use as a doctor’s surgery, planning permission was given for the charity Phoenix House to utilise the rest of the premises. It was stated that around eight former drug and alcohol users and their respective families would live in the house, which would replace a smaller establishment in Seafield Road, Hove. It later transpired that the house in Eaton Gardens would be able to accommodate twelve adults plus ten children under the age of twelve for a period of six months.
Naturally enough, there was uproar among other residents of Eaton Gardens with petitions and letters of protest flying about; the Evening Argus stated there were 498 signatures and 83 letters of objection while The Leader specified 49 names on the petition and 80 letters of objection. But whatever the exact numbers were, councillors took no notice and voted eight to four in favour of allowing the scheme to go forward.
The director of operations with the Phoenix House Housing Association said they had been established for over 30 years and were the largest drug rehabilitation association. A manager would be present in the premises on a 24-hour basis and there would be a strict family routine.
It was announced that from 1 June 2000 the Eaton Gardens Surgery would be known as the Eaton Centre and would provide general medical services as well as dental, chiropody and complementary health care. Eaton Gardens Surgery and Goodwood Court Medical Centre were to merge.
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In this photograph of 3 Eaton Gardens some of the intricate detailing can be seen.
During the Second World War the house was the headquarters of the Brighton & Hove League of Remembrance that supplied garments to the armed forces, hospitals and missions.
In the late 1950s Maud Stewart-Baxter lived at flat 5. She was of Scottish descent and became a well-known composer of her time and some of her works remain in print to this day. At the age of eight she composed her first song and when she was fourteen she won the Associated Board Open Scholarship for violin playing out of 300 entrants. She considered her best song to be Loveliness More Fair. In later years her advice to aspiring composers was never to waste time on poor lyrics because only fine words could inspire fine music. Her favourite composers were Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. She had a wide range of interests including swimming, fishing and shooting and she also read a great deal. She enjoyed collecting old china, fine glass and seals. She lived at various addresses in Hove including flat 2 / 35 Adelaide Crescent (1951) 49 Wilbury Gardens (1954) and Eaton Gardens.
In the 1880s Mrs Henrietta Challis put this property up for sale. Her husband called her Hetty and he was a member of the Reform Club. But he had recently died and she must have felt the house was too large for her now she was widowed. The house was first offered for sale on 17 November 1884 and again on 20 April 1885.
The property had a frontage of 165 feet and a depth of 145 feet; the house was surrounded by lawns and shrubberies and was approached by a carriage drive.
Glazed panelled doors fitted with cathedral glass divided the entrance and inner halls.
The dining room measured 22 feet 8 inches by 17 feet. There was a carved, marble chimney-piece, a decorative bronzed stove with tiled hearth, and there was an enriched ceiling.
The drawing room measured 22 feet 8 inches by 17 feet. There was a richly carved statuary marble chimney-piece and tiled hearth.
A broad staircase led up to the first floor where there were four principal bedrooms.
There were a further four bedrooms on the second floor.
The basement contained the housekeeper’s room, a spacious kitchen, large scullery, larder, butler’s pantry, manservant’s bedroom, wine, beer and coal cellars and several large cupboards.
In 1883 an inventory of the house contents was taken and the effects sold off on 13, 14 and 15 May 1885. Among the items were the following:
A wainscot oak dining room table with three extra leaves measuring 16 feet 3 inches by 13 feet 6 inches
A brilliant tone seven-octave tri-chord pianoforte in a walnut case by Broadwood & Sons
A 28-day clock in an ormolu case enriched with a Sevres china dial and eight Sevres china panels under a glass dome
Sevres china vases richly gilt
A table mirror in a Dresden china frame with raised flowers and figures (from the south front bedroom)
Most rooms contained a Berlin black ornamental curb fender
The contents of the cellars included the following:
One dozen bottles of Pol Roger champagne (1874 vintage)
Fifteen pints of T. Logette’s champagne
One dozen bottles of sparkling Moselle from Deinhard & Co
One dozen bottles of Amontillado sherry
One dozen bottles and eleven pints of Chateau Margaux claret
Twenty-three bottles of hock
In 1921 Hove Council gave planning permission for the property to be converted into flats.
In 1925 Mr A. Faulkner on behalf of the Willett Estate submitted plans to convert the property into eight flats. Hove Council gave approval but it appears the conversion did not take place.
On 7 December 1989 the house received listed building status.
In February 1990 the William Willett Trustees applied for listed building consent to demolish the house but Hove Council refused permission.
In November 1993 it was stated that the house was one of the last vacant and un-modernised Willett mansion houses in Hove and would be sold on 6 December 1993 in the ground floor lounge. There was planning permission for the house to be turned into nine flats with another five in a new block at the rear.
In 2001 it appeared that the bricks had been cleaned and thus it gives the appearance of what a Willett house looked like when it was newly built.
In 1905 Herbert Welsford Smithers (1868-1913) and his family occupied the house. The following year Herbert and his brother Edward Allfree Smithers founded their brewery at Brighton with the amalgamation of the North Street Brewery and Bedford Brewery. In 1913 they acquired West Street Brewery (Vallance & Catt) and in 1919 the firm purchased Portslade Brewery. Edward lived in a house called The Gables at Furze Hill. The brothers were unusually close and when Herbert died on 9 June 1913, Edward never got over his loss and died on 5 February 1914. The grieving father donated two stained glass windows in their memory at All Saints, Hove; he only had one daughter left, Mrs C. Somers Clarke.
But there was further tragedy in store for the family. Captain Reginald Cuthbert Welsford Smithers of the 7th Battalion King’s Own Light Infantry was killed in action near Ypres on 16 August 1917; he was only nineteen years of age.
Captain Smithers’ widowed mother married again, becoming Mrs A.J. Hollick and continued to live at 9 Eaton Gardens.
Sir Robert Hussey (1802-1887) occupied this house in the 1880s. He joined the East India Company in 1819 and followed a long and distinguished Army career, seeing action in Burma, India and the Crimea. He was eventually promoted to the rank of general.
In 1846 he married Emma, widow of Captain Gordon of the Madras Army. She died just four days before her husband’s death. He died at Eaton Gardens on 3 May 1887.
From at least 1940 the house was run as a registered nursing home and it was called the Eaton Gardens Nursing Home. On 3 December 1962 Richard Olivier was born there. He was the son of famous actors Sir Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) and Joan Plowright who married on 17 March 1961 when he was aged 53 and she was 29 years old. Unusually for those times, Olivier was present at the birth. This was Olivier’s third marriage, his first being to Jill Esmond. In 1940 he married the actress Vivien Leigh (1913-1967). Olivier was not content with being just an actor and tried his hand at being an actor-manager too, notably in three films of Shakespeare’s plays.
The actress Fay Compton (1894-1978) lived here for a year before she died in London on 2 December aged 84. She was the sister of author Sir Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972) whose most famous work Whisky Galore (1947) was made into a memorable film two years later. Fay and her brother came from a long, theatrical line, with both parents, a grandfather, a sister plus various aunts and uncles all being involved in the theatre.
Olive Gilbert, a friend of Ivor Novello, died in the nursing home aged 82 in February 1981. Olive Gilbert was born in 1898 at Carmarthen and thus shared a Welsh background with Ivor Novello, She started her career with the Carl Rosa Opera Company but in 1935 joined Ivor Novello’s company. She appeared in many of the musicals he wrote including Glamorous Nights (1935) Careless Rapture (1936) Crest of the Wave (1937) The Dancing Years (1939) Perchance to Dream (1945) and King’s Rhapsody (1949). Novello wrote We’ll Gather Lilacs especially for Olive (it came from Perchance to Dream) and it proved to be one of his most popular songs, almost trumping that other favourite Keep the Home Fires Burning. When Ivor Novello died on 6 March 1951 Olive was at his bedside and at his funeral We’ll Gather Lilacs was played and relayed to the crowds outside the crematorium.
Ivor Novello left Olive a cash legacy, as well as his collection of quartz, amber and jade items. In his biography of Novello the author MacQueen Pope wrote:
‘Ivor owed much to Olive who for a long time looked after him, controlled his staff and his flat, to say nothing of Redroofs, which became perhaps the best known theatrical home in the world.’
Ivor and Olive had separate flats at the Aldwych and she was one of a select party that accompanied him to his home in Montego Bay.
As for Olive’s musical abilities, even a stern critic like James Agate admitted her singing was admirable. She gave 2,000 performances as Sister Margareta in The Sound of Music.
It is said that in later life Olive lived at Brunswick Square, Hove and her friend, celebrity vet Buster Lloyd-James, also lived in Hove. He moved from Courtenay Gate to a house near Hove Park and she presented him with some lilac trees and a magnolia. When she became too frail to live on her own she moved into Eaton Gardens Nursing Home.
Ethel Read celebrated her 108th birthday at the home in September 1992; she was believed to be the oldest person in Sussex. She died in October 1993, two weeks after her 109th birthday, by which time she had lived at the home for eleven years.
Mike Enright had run the home since 1979 after he retired from the Royal Navy, having served for 27 years. In June 2001 Mr Enright, 66, and his wife Mary announced that they were closing down the home and 24 residents were obliged to move out and find alternative accommodation. The Enrights were caught in a cleft stick, as it were, because on one hand there were strict planning regulations governing what they were allowed to do to the house while on the other hand new Government regulations were due to come into force in April 2002. The new measures aimed at the comfort of the residents meant that it was no longer financially viable for small homes to stay open. During the previous year, 54 beds in Brighton and Hove had been lost because of the new rules. Perhaps the last straw for the Enrights was being told to close until a new lift costing £600,000 had been installed; the reality was that planning permission for such an improvement had already been rejected.
Sir Joseph Sheridan (1882-1964) lived in this house in the 1960s. He was born in Ireland and was called to the Irish Bar in 1907. He entered the Colonial Service the following year and rose to become Chief Justice in Tanganyika in 1929 and Chief Justice of Kenya from 1934 to 1946. He was knighted in 1932. He was married to Muriel, also from Ireland, and they had two sons and four daughters. Sir Joseph died on Boxing Day 1964.
James Bull (1844-1911) lived in this house when he came to Hove in 1888. He was born in Bedford and educated at Bedford Grammar School. He followed the career of civil engineer and spent some 30 years working on various projects in Spain including constructing railways and developing mines. When he lived at Hove he still made periodic visits back to Spain. He called his Hove residence Valverde House because of his Spanish enterprises and it was named after Valverde del Camino (Heulva). He was married to Mary and they had two sons and three daughters.
In 1900 Bull was elected to Hove Council and to East Sussex County Council. At Hove he was chairman of the Works Committee and his knowledge of engineering was of great value. During this period the King’s Gardens extension scheme and Kingsway widening scheme were carried out. Bull was also chairman of the sub-committee formed to design the layout of St Ann’s Well Gardens. He was one of the original members of the Hove Bench and gave liberal assistance to All Saints building fund. In 1902 Bull and George Cheesman were both proposed for the position of Alderman but in the ensuing vote, Cheesman won. Bull was a Freeman of the City of London and a member of Turner’s Company.
Bull suffered from heart trouble for three years and for the last eighteen months of his life, he was unable to leave the house. He died on 14 January 1911 and was buried in Hove Cemetery where his grave is marked by a white cross.
He left a widow who died on 16 July 1946. One of his daughters married Captain Grant of Third Avenue while another became the wife of Captain Herbert Spencer of Byfleet.
Today, Bull’s residence has long gone and a block of flats now occupies the site but it is pleasant to record the name of Valverde House is still in use.
Ronald Martin lived here in the 1960s and his career spanned both commercial and fine art. His most famous design was for the Mars bar wrapper. He also worked on many paintings of the old Hove Town Hall, one being a watercolour he completed just two months before the building was wrecked by fire. Hove Museum purchased it for its collection. Martin also painted the Town Hall as it was being demolished.
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The ‘notorious Marquess of Ailesbury and his plebeian wife’ once lived at 13 Eaton Gardens.
The ‘notorious Marquess of Ailesbury and his plebeian wife’ occupied the house in the 1890s. He was George William Thomas Brudenell-Bruce, the 4th Marquess (1863-1894). The residence in Eaton Gardens was called Savernake House because the Brudenell-Bruce family were hereditary Wardens of Savernake Forest. The lady came from very humble circumstances and attended the Central National School in Brighton. But when she grew up she achieved fame on the stage as Dolly Tester. She married Viscount Savernake in 1884 at Brighton Registry Office and two years later she became a Marchioness. She attended the last Polo and Hunt Ball held at the Royal Pavilion resplendent in white satin and flashing diamonds. Her husband maintained an interest in horse racing but ended up being warned off every course in the country.
By the 1980s this villa was in use as a nursing home and it received listed building status on 7 December 1989. In 2001 it was still a registered nursing home called Sunningdale.
In 1891 Mrs Campbell and Miss Campbell obviously thought that 16 Eaton Gardens was not spacious enough for a grand social event. They hired the newly-built Clarence Rooms attached to the Hotel Metropole, Brighton, where the local Press reported they gave a charming ‘At Home’. The Campbells hired the Fraser Quintet from London to provide the music and the guest list included Lady Pocock, Lady Napier and General and Mrs Holland.
Captain Sir Henry Digby-Beste (1883-1964) lived at flat 5 in the 1960s. He had enjoyed a remarkably varied career in the Navy serving with special distinction in Indian waters. His experience stretched from sailing ships to service with the Royal Indian Marines, and from being Port Officer at Bombay to being in charge of the Indian training ship Dufferin. He was Chief Scout Commissioner in the 1940s.
This house is one of the originals. An unusual detail is the imposing porch standing guard over the entrance. The pillars are of a peculiar design because they start off plain and unadorned and then halfway up they turn into Corinthian columns.
In around 1944 the residents of Eaton Mansions formed their own dining club and it was after the war that the landlord expanded the small restaurant. In around 1953 he sold it to Mrs Barber who ran it as a high-class restaurant. In 1960 Mrs Barber sold the enterprise to Mr Daniel and two years later John and Tony Cutress, directors of Forfars, purchased the business from Mr Daniel’s liquidators.
|Photograph from the 1910 Brighton Season Magazine showing |
Forfars Confectionary Department in Hova Villas
Mrs June Cutress devised the re-decorating scheme, which was carried out by Ring’s and Braybon’s. It was keeping business in the family, as it were, because John Ring was June Cutress’s father. It was John Ring who fitted the luxurious and specially designed carpet.
There were 120 wines on the wine list to choose from and it was appropriate since John Cutress was a Chevalier de Tastevin. John Rowlins was the manager and the restaurant could seat 85 people while the function room could accommodate 40.
In 1980 the Eaton Restaurant won the Golden Crowns Award, the highest distinction awarded by the Automobile Association. The restaurant was run as part of the Forfar’s group initially, and then as a family company. By 1987 it was described as one of the most distinguished restaurants in the area, having also won awards from both the AA and Michelin.
In September 1987 the Cutresses sold the Eaton Restaurant for £200,000 to a company headed by Councillor Alfred Feld of the Norfolk Resort Hotel. It was re-named the Eaton Gardens Restaurant.
In November 1991 Gilles Ferrod, the French manager, declared the restaurant a Beaujolais free zone. He said the much-publicised event was nothing but hype and the quality of the wine had gone down.
In March 1992 there was a full-page in the Evening Argus celebrating the restaurant’s 25th anniversary. By then it could seat up to 120 people and 90 wines of quality were on the wine list. However, John Cutress retorted that celebrating a 25th anniversary was a trifle premature since Resort Hotels plc had only been there five years.
On 23 March 1997 the actor Terence Morgan and his wife Georgina celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary with a ball at the restaurant. Among their guests were Lord and Lady Attenborough, Donald and Diana Sinden and Judy Cornwell. Morgan met his wife at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, while working with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in The Skin of Our Teeth. They married in Caxton Hall. Morgan took a leading role in 26 films and played the part of Hamlet early in his career. The couple had lived at Hove since the late 1950s.
In 1994 Robert Feld was managing director of Resort Hotels when the company collapsed with debts of over £70 million.
In May 1998 it was revealed that Club Moor, registered in Crawley, but owned by a Brighton businessman, was the new owner of the restaurant. But staff refused to reveal his identity. The restaurant employed 17 full-time staff.
In March 1999 the council refused to grant a public entertainment licence to the management because new electrical work had not been carried out as required. The restaurant later closed and in July 1999 was put up for sale by contractual tender. The property included numbers 11 and 13 Eaton Gardens as a freehold investment beside the restaurant premises. The house contained 15 self-contained flats comprising 8 studio flats, 5 one-bedroom and 2 two-bedroom flats.
In October 1999 Bourne Property Developments put in a planning application to convert the restaurant premises into five flats and consent was granted by December.
John Cutress said he was very disappointed about the outcome. He remembered what a popular place it had been with its fine wines and traditional English cuisine; he had employed the same cook for 25 years.
Bramber Court, Steyning Court, Valentine Court
These blocks of flats were built in the 1960s
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Eaton Court was built with red bricks, in start contrast to the pale bricks used in the Willett-built houses, known oddly enough as white bricks.
This block of flats is built on the corner of Eaton Road and Eaton Gardens.
In 1978 the sites of the old houses numbers 15 and 17 were to be numbered as 15 Eaton Gardens and the new property was to be called Eaton Hall.
This block of flats was built in around 1980.
It was named after the house of the same name at number 12, that once occupied the site and engineer James Bull lived there.
It was built in 1989 and contained 31 double-glazed apartments; there was garaging underneath the building. Prices were from £69,000 to £300,000. In July 1999 a two-bedroom flat was on sale for £105, 000.
This block of flats was built in the 1980s. A resident, Maurice Michaels, waged a long battle with the council about improving the lighting in Eaton Gardens. It began in February 1989 and some 90 letters later in February 1998 the council at last got its act together, putting up an experimental higher-powered lamp outside Veric while the rest of the lighting in the road was also to be improved.
In 1883 an orphan servant girl Mary Christmas was working in the kitchen of one of the houses in Eaton Gardens when her clothes caught fire. Her mistress, Mrs Mary Taplan, ran to the front door and called for assistance. But nothing was done until a neighbour, Mrs Isted, ran in and smothered the flames with a blanket; the unfortunate girl meanwhile cursing callous onlookers for doing nothing to help. At the inquest held the very next day the coroner remarked that apart from Mrs Isted nobody else had behaved with much credit.
In 1976 Peter Hadlow was cleaning windows at a block of flats in Eaton Gardens when he slipped and fell five floors down to the ground. He suffered multiple fractures and was blinded but he survived.
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