Stanford Estate

Imagine what the land stretching from Preston Park in Brighton to Grand Avenue in Hove would cost. When Brighton was a small fishing village and Hove a sleepy parish, it is amazing to think that this enormous plot of land belonged to just one family.

The original manor house of Preston was set on a vast estate owned by the Bishopric of Chichester since before the Domesday Book was compiled. The Elrington family, the Shirleys and then the Westerns controlled the Manor before it was purchased by William Stanford in 1794 for £17,600 from the proceeds of his father’s will. The Manor itself has been massively modified over the years and the Preston Manor of today arose from the substantial 1905 remodelling.

William Stanford was said to be the richest private individual in Sussex at his death in 1841. He left the bulk of the estate to his eldest son, also William, who, like his father, resisted the temptation to develop the land. William Stanford the younger left the land to his daughter, Ellen Stanford who then married an army officer and politician, Vere Fane-Benett, It was Ellen who began selling sections of the 1000 acre estate after the Stanford Estate Act was passed by Parliament in 1871 which allowed her to override the will.

Brighton Council purchased 67 acres for £50,000 and formally opened Preston Park, Brighton’s first public park, in 1884. A number of the fine villas surrounding the park had been constructed by 1885. Hove Council bought 40 acres for £14,600 and opened Hove Park, originally known as Goldstone Bottom, in 1906 after fierce opposition on the grounds of cost. The surrounding houses were slower to develop. The Stanford Estate’s only seafront land was developed as First, Second, Grand, Third and Fourth Avenues from the 1870s as a fantastic yellow brick set-piece.

The Stanford Estate is obviously no longer intact but many reminders remain scattered around the city. The most obvious is the name of the council ward around Hove Park – Stanford Ward. Elrington Road, Shirley Drive, Shirley Street, Western Road, Western Street, Stanford Avenue Stanford Road, Ellen Street, Vere Road, Benett Avenue and Benett Drive all take their names from those mentioned above.

I should mention that after the sale, the Stanford-Benetts were left substantially worse off. Most of the income went to lawyers and the state – a bit like selling a house today!