Shortly before World War One, Mr Charles William Neville,
on holiday at Eastbourne, while riding a car to Brighton and
seeing hundreds of acres of flat fields at Saltdean, had a
vision of a new town. He had already been something of an
entrepreneur, having started a newspaper in Toronto then journeying
to Australia where he bought a luxury schooner from 'Call
of the Wild' author Jack London and sailing to New Guinea.
He caught blackwater fever, returned to Canada and started
up a real estate business where he was hugely successful and
was complimented by the Canadian Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid
Laurier. He married Dorothy on return to England in Bexhill,
and had three sons, two of which - Roderick and Roland - later
became director and secretary of the Saltdean Estate Company.
His business dealings have been described as controversial.
Often companies would go into voluntary liquidation and were
bought out by new companies just formed, but undoubtedly Peacehaven,
Telscombe Cliffs, Saltdean and much of Rottingdean would have
not come into being without his drive and ingenuity as well
as satisfying a major housing need for over 20,000 people.Above
- Saltdean Vale with Coombe Vale veering eastward. The lone
bungalow - 'The Knap' has survived. Part of Looes Barn can
be seen on the left
Left - A close up of the Fordson petrol driven locomotive
which hauled the roadmaking train along Saltdean Valley at
about 1921 with Saltdean Barn behind.
At the turn of the century, between Rottingdean and Newhaven,
hardly a house existed. Pikes Directory of 1917 lists Joseph
Golds of Saltdean (coastguard) cottages as the only resident.
Neville gradually bought up all the land from the coast, inland
one and a half miles. In 1915 he began building Peacehaven.
During WW1, the land was compulsory taken over by the government
agricultural department but returned to him in 1919 and he
advertised in the national press for buyers which was an instant
success. He devised a competition which attracted over 80,000
entrants to come up with a name for the estate for which the
winner was New Anzac on Sea. He displayed legal ingenuity
by giving away building plots but actually making over £30
per acre profit, however, a series of court actions meant
that he paid most of the money back. This was Peacehaven.
Neville was a great believer in publicity stunts and in 1922
pipped the Daily Mail to the post to sponsor the first gliding
event for £1000. The Mail had organised a gliding event
in Lewes later that month. They subsequently stopped him advertising
in the paper ever again. In October 1922, Herr Anthony Fokker
landed at Saltdean where pictures were taken. Neville had
intended him to land in front of Peacehaven Hotel but winds
leant him towards Saltdean.
Left - Taken in the mid-twenties with the coastguard
cottages in the background and the columns being erected.
Neville also constructed homes in Rottingdean, among them
Tudor Close and Tudor Cottages. He modelled them on original
Tudor buildings using oak beams from long derelict barns
and farms. The Tudor Close Hotel became renowned with Hollywood
stars such as Bette Davis and Cary Grant staying there for
months at a time. Neville once remarked that the Hotel was
better known in Hollywood than in England.
From the end of 1922, various companies owned by Neville
bought land in Saltdean. In 1915 he had purchased two large
plots from Mr Beard near Peacehaven, on the 12th November
1922 land from Lord Abergavenney and finally on 31st December
1936 land in Lustrells Vale. Neville later recounted that
he had come down from London to buy the land and made a
mistake in timing of one hour. He arrived just in time to
shout the last - and winning - bid.
He was unable to buy Telscombe Tye from Ambrose Gorham
as he refused to sell it. In 1933 Ambrose Gorham died and
was very specific on the future of the village. He wouldn't
allow a shop or tea shop of any description there and under
the terms of his will he requested that the patronage of
Telscombe Village and the rights over Telscombe Tye be assigned
to Brighton Corporation for 'recourse thereto for quiet
and peaceful recreation and meditation'. This was accepted
by Brighton Corporation although transferred under the inclusion
of Chailey Rural District Council in October 1933 as it
actually lay in it's boundaries.
In 1923, Neville Construction Company built it's first
homes in Rottingdean Heights and pegged out many miles of
avenues and roads in Saltdean - The Downland Post reported
that over 20 miles of avenues had been laid out. Neville
stated that the contours of the land had made it necessary
to lay out Saltdean as it was (and is) as opposed to Peacehaven
where a square plan was more suitable. In 1924 wide roads
transformed Saltdean and over 6000 sturdy young trees were
planted but many died due to their unsheltered positions.
In 1924, the Estate office at the Coast Road soon had considerable
numbers of visitors and enquiries, including many from Newhaven.
Southdown Motor Company from February 1923 drove regular buses
(twenty each weekday, 13 on Sundays) to Brighton from Newhaven
Bridge Street via Saltdean Cottages - the fare was 7d for
a single journey. In the mid-twenties a sprinkling of properties
grew - close on 1000 plots were sold between autumn 1924 and
spring 1925 yet the properties were spaced well apart and
there was a happy coexistence of modern homes and age-old
pastoral farming. Many of the new plots sold were the lower
priced ones and the areas most in demand were those either
side of Looes Barn. Rottingdean Farm finally closed in 1928
however, many of the now unemployed shepherds, cowmen and
carters found work maintaining gardens for the new influx
of retired people coming to the area.
Above - roadmakers along Saltdean Vale with the growing estate
Left - A close-up of the seafront columns thought
to have been obtained from the 1924 Empire exhibition
Neville drew on the success of the Peacehaven 'Gift House
scheme' and offered a £1000 house on the coast road
corner of Saltdean Park Road and Chichester Drive East as
a prize - a gabled design evident on a dozen or so other
properties in Saltdean - or £1000 in gold. The winning
ticket sold had 'house' written on it and the other 766
were blank. The winning draw took place on 7 November 1925
at the Holborn Restaurant in London and 270 guests attended.
The winning ticket was won by a Miss Agnes Jackson who was
delighted that she had won. She had established a music
school in London and although she didn't take up residence
she regularly made trips to stay in her new house. This
scheme was subsequently repeated in the next few years.
Left - The Smugglers Haunt at the clifftop
In 1933 the undercliff walk was completed. 500 men worked
on the project and over 200 more on the coast road over
three years. The coast road was also a problem and in 1924
the coast road was widened and in 1934 a subway was built
under the road.
There was eventually an agreement to extend the undercliff
to Saltdean and the whole scheme eventually cost £400,000.
It was opened on 29 July 1935 by the Mayor of Brighton Alderman
SG Gibson opened the walk and the ribbon was cut into pieces
for souvenir hunters. They later walked to Rottingdean's
marble mosaic open-air bathing pool which was lucky enough
to have floodlighting installed the next week for late night
The Brighton Gazette noted that 'a curious feature about
this new Saltdean is that although concrete groynes are
closer together that at Brighton, shingle has not accumulated.
On the contrary, there now appears to be more sand. Bathing
should be improved by these developments, and Saltdean promises
to become a centre of aquatic sport in natural surroundings'.
Left - The cubist designs in Wicklands Avenue. The
one in the background was destroyed by fire
The sandy beaches at Saltdean Gap were reported by 'The
Downland Post ' as 'one of the prettiest and safest bathing
places on the south coast'. On the clifftop there was a
strange looking row of columns surmounted by griffins and
birds of prey that were thought o have come from the 1924
Empire exhibition. The fate of these is not known - they
may have been washed out to sea.
The Smugglers Haunt clifftop tearooms was opened on Whit
Sunday 1925 and as well as selling food also sold postcards.
From 1928 to 1935 this was ran by William Kerr until it
was demolished in the 1930's as part of the undercliff walk
development. In 1937 the Brighton Corporation gave the New
Smugglers Haunt - later to become the Whitecliff's Cafe
- to Kerr as compensation. This was equally popular until
the war and was the nearest thing that Saltdean had to a
community centre holding dances etc.
A Directory of Saltdean from 1928 includes the following
Longridge Avenue - Bella Vista, Chichester Drive - Chichester
House, Crowborough Road - Windy House and Lyndhurst, Founthill
Drive - Glendower, Saltdean Drive - Saltdean Estate Office
and the Smugglers Tea Parlour, Coastguard Cottages, Kittihawke
Hotel, and Sun Trap. One of the coastguard cottages was
converted into a general store and post office opposite
the Smugglers Haunt Tea Rooms.
From 1933 more houses were built along roads, including
the Spanish Lady Tea Rooms in Longridge Avenue. Lower Bannings
Barn was converted into two houses and at the eastern end
of Nutley Avenue the first purpose built shop was built
- 'K and B Stores' after Kitley and Bollomy who ran it.
The barn in the Oval was home to Saltdean Riding School
a venture of the Estate Company.
Building reached it's peak in 1928 and then the effects
of the Depression hit and due to declining profits the Peacehaven
Estate Co. was forced to go into liquidation and sell it's
assets to the Saltdean Estate Co. which were considerable
and included substantial amounts of property in Saltdean.
Planning reports in 1936 two Downland reports called for
a 300 foot contour limit to the development.
SALTDEAN GROWING Left - An extensive view from Oaklands Avenue in the
middle. The near completion of Chichester Close dates the
picture at around 1937
The Saltdean boundary has always been a highly contentious
issue. On the 1st April 1928, Brighton Corporation extended
their boundary up the Droveway - now called Longridge Avenue.
East Saltdean remained under control of Newhaven District
Council until 1932 and then Chailey Rural District Council
until 1972 when it was transferred to Lewes District Council.
Issues over a united Saltdean led to the formation in 1934
of the Saltdean Residents and Property-Owners Association.
A petition to local government was discussed by the committee
on 25 October 1935, 20 months later E.S.C.C. rejected a transfer
of Telscombe Parish after objections by Chailey Rural District
Council. War bought negotiations to a halt and they resumed
in July 1947 and remain unresolved today. For more information
on the boundary and referendum please view Saltdean News
Regarding design of Saltdean houses Herbert Julyan wrote in
a promotional leaflet for the Estate Company in 1959 that
'I suppose there is not another place like it in the United
Kingdom. The Houses are all ultramodern in their design..Italian,
Spanish and Cubist mixed with beautiful bungalows'.
There was a wide range in design over three main styles. The
first style was reproduction Tudor such as Chichester House,
the second was varying bungalow designs and the third was
a continental design - from the Spanish design of the Spanish
lady to the Moorish design of the White House. There was also
cubist designs by the internationally famous partnership of
Connell, Ward and Lucas in 1934. These buildings in Wicklands
Avenue were actually included on an Open University course
- History of Art and Design 1890-1939'.
The years towards the outbreak of war were a peak for the
Saltdean Estate Company. The 14 flat developed Chichester
Close had an inclusive rental of £135 p.a.Saltdean Estate
Company built similar blocks of flats at Chichester Close
and St Margaret's at Rottingdean.