In 1898, Julian Charles Gaisford, the owner of Offington Park, inherited the Howth Castle estate of over 9,000 acres of land, near Dublin.
He decided to sell his property and Offington Park was eventually purchased by Lady Alice De Gex, the widow of Sir John Peter De Gex, the eminent Victorian Q.C., who had died in 1897.
Lady De Gex sold off part of the Offington Park estate to a company called Worthing First Garden City Limited, a company that had the address of 150 Southampton Row, London.
On September 16, 1913, Worthing Council minutes show that it “intended to proceed at once with the development of the Estate and enquiring whether the Council will supply to any houses erecting thereon, and if so upon what terms; and also whether it will be possible to drain the Estate into the Town’s sewerage system.”
The outbreak of the First World War seemed to have brought a halt to the scheme.
It was not until 1920 that the Worthing First Garden City issued its plans for the new estate.
The company made it very clear that they planned to create a Garden City that had been inspired by the ideas of Ebenezer Howard: “When considering the merits of Offington Park, it is interesting to reflect for a moment on those great changes that have come about in the minds of men during the last few decades as to the true meaning and importance to the home; they have been led on by a desire to live under conditions which disassociate from their minds the idea that work in itself is the aim and object of everything.”
The company pointed out that the 112-acre Offington Park estate was the ideal place to build a Garden City: “Only where absolutely essential will trees be removed, and that to no appreciable extent. The value, and indeed the necessity of open spaces has been considered to an unusual degree, for nearly one-fourth of the total estate is being laid out in open spaces, and in consequence of this overcrowding of buildings is impossible, for only a small number of houses will be permitted to the acre.
“The straight road is conspicuous by its absence, it has had to give way to something more akin to the country lane; and such is the care that has been taken in the plan, that it will be possible, from almost any point, to get a vista of open scenery.”
The Worthing First Garden City had ambitious plans for the estate. Offington Hall was to be converted into a residential sports club for the tenants’ use: “The question of sport and recreation has been good into with thoroughness and foresight which characterises the enterprise as a whole, and every opportunity will be afforded the tenants to indulge in their favourite pastimes.
“In the large open space south of the mansion it is proposed to lay out a polo ground, and no more delightful surroundings could have been selected for the devotees of this sport.”
The developers also had plans to build “a large number of tennis courts” and bowling greens for those “who may find polo and tennis somewhat too strenuous a form of exercise”.
The company also promised a large ornamental garden – in an area which eventually became Shirley Drive.
The company explained: “For so unique a position the land is offered at an exceptionally moderate price, and the value of the houses will somewhat depend on what the would-be resident feels disposed to spend, and as a business proposition there can be little doubt that money expended in securing a home on this exceptionally beautiful estate will be the equal of many a gilt edged security.”
According to S. G. Carver, writing in 1939, the original plan was to keep the building of the houses to a value of not less that £1,000. This is around £670,000 in today’s money.
The example given of what the Worthing First Garden City’s builders could provide was of a five bedroom detached house with a lounge, drawing room, dining room and kitchen.
It would seem that demand for these plots was not overwhelming. According to the records, the first houses were built in Poulters Lane. They were completed in 1924: Woodlands (84), Thanet House (68) and Notfar (66).
Another two houses were completed the following year: Littlewood (64) and Galledge (62).
That year the first house appeared in Shirley Drive. However, it was very different from the previous houses and I suspect it might have been at one time the company offices.
Pleasance Cottage (2) was originally purchased by the Rev. C. J. Ledger. It was to be another two years before he had a neighbour, a G.A. Saunders in Medindie (4).
Progress was slow until the late 1920s. Shirley Drive to Offington Avenue was the first road completed and, by 1931, the houses were numbered – a surprisingly large number still have the same house names.
Council minutes showed there had been a dispute between people living in Shirley Drive concerning the maintenance of the grass verges, an important aspect of the Garden City idea. According to the council minutes four residents had refused to pay for the grass verges.
On January 22, 1931, the Highways Committee reported: “The Town Clerk reported that in accordance with the Committee’s instructions at the last meeting he had again been in communication with the remaining four objectors to the scheme for the making up of this street with a view of securing their approval to the retention of the grass verges and to their paying the commuted charge for maintenance... The Committee has therefore come to the conclusion that it is impossible to secure unanimous agreement amongst the owners and that the only course open to the Council is to proceed with the making up of the street in the ordinary way without grass verges.”
Some local people complained about the building of the estate.
S.G. Carver, who lived in the area since boyhood, claimed that the area had deteriorated badly since before the First World War: “The Lodge at the entrance was always a picture, with a pretty garden and the avenue lined with trees leading to Offington Lane, where a stile gave access to Ashacre Lane opposite; the lane was lined with trees on both sides.
“Poulters Lane was known as the lovers’ walk, being heavily lined with trees which met overhead, and formed a delightful walk on a summer evening.
“The Park was enclosed on all sides with the famous Sussex flint walls... the property fell into the hands of a group of speculators... there needs to be a searching enquiry into the circumstances which led this once charming park into the deplorable mess that has been made of it.”
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