12 October 2020

Western Esplanade (Millionaire's Row)

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2022)

copyright © Mr G. Osborne


Background

Now popularly known as Millionaire’s Row, these properties were originally called Aldrington Beach Bungalows, then they became Seaside Bungalows, and by the 1920s the official designation was Hove Seaside Villas. Although they stand on Western Esplanade, they are on private land with a private road. In fact, the properties are unique in having their own private beaches, although previously the houses in Courtenay Terrace also shared the same privilege until Hove Council decided they wanted to enlarge the esplanade and acquired some of their gardens with a Compulsory Purchase Order.

There is some confusion about where ‘Millionaire’s Row’ is actually situated, and it is interesting to note that the issue stretches back as far as the 1920s when artist David Jones (please see below) described the house in which he was staying as being in Portslade. In recent times the problem has been compounded because Western Esplanade has been given the post code BN41. At some point, someone, somewhere, decided the post code meant the site was in Portslade, and indeed this myth appears in the pages of the Argus, as well as on-line. But the properties are not within Portslade’s boundaries, although they are part of Aldrington, if you wish to be absolutely correct. The east boundary for Portslade starts at Wellington Road / Station Road.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
A 1949 map of Aldrington showing the location of the Western Esplanade (Hove Seaside Villas) 500 metres east of  Portslade, the Portslade-Hove boundary runs down the centre of  Station Road and Boundary Road

Western Esplanade lies within the Parish of St Leonard's Church, Aldrington, Hove.

It must be admitted that the geographical setting of ‘Millionaire’s Row’ is somewhat strange because it is not sited in a remote area but right next to a thriving, industrial area known as Aldrington Basin and the Port of Shoreham. Furthermore, Portslade Gas Works was situated at no great distance. Perhaps in the days of tall ships the area had a more romantic air.

copyright © Mr G. Osborne
This Edwardian photograph shows Western Esplanade on the south side of the Aldrington Canal section of Shoreham Harbour.

Building the Bungalows

Mr E. J. Holland of the Aldrington Estate was the architect of the bungalows and the developer was Michael Paget Baxter of Glendor Road, Hove. Plans for the bungalows were approved by Hove Council over several months, with the first one being approved on 19 March 1908, and the last batch approved on 3 June 1909.

Original features included 12-in thick concrete walls, and stoneware pipes to individual cesspools. However, it is doubtful if the cesspools ever existed because in August 1909 Hove Council stipulated that the company (Aldrington Estate) must undertake to maintain the sewers south of the Adur Hotel (now The Gather Inn) without any cost accruing to the council.

copyright © Mr G. Osborne
£7 7s in 1910 is equivalent in purchasing power
 of about
£895 in 2021
Foundations were sunk 20-ft into the foreshore, and a huge concrete platform was laid. The bungalows were constructed of concrete blocks reinforced with railway sleepers. Local people were dubious about the safety of the enterprise, and considered the bungalows might be washed away during winter storms. Perhaps not surprisingly, it took ten years to complete the bungalows. Then, in a curious piece of marketing judged by present day views, they were advertised as a winter retreat when a bungalow might be rented, fully-furnished, for seven guineas a week, while it was a bargain price in the summer months at only four guineas a week.

The details of the original bungalows were as follows:

Entrance hall 9-ft 6-in by 16-ft

Dining room / drawing room 9-ft 6in by 16-ft

Two bedrooms over 12-ft square

Four other bedrooms

Bathroom where hot sea-water baths could be enjoyed

Usual offices

A capacious verandah extending for 11-ft on either side

Extensive sea views from the West Pier, Brighton, to Worthing

Nowadays there are twelve villas, since there has been in-filling. One new property is of tiny proportions when compared to its more spacious neighbours. It was in August 2009 that plans were revealed for a new residence to be built on top of a garage already existing between two villas, and it was the owners of the garage and villa – the Knox-Peebles family – who were behind the development. The plans were drawn up by Sanei Hopkins, architects of London. There would only be two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and dining room, and a study, plus a basement store. The house would match existing properties, and would be eco-friendly with a ground-source heat pump.

copyright © Mr G. Osborne


Michael Paget Baxter

He was the son of Revd Michael Paget Baxter, the founder and original owner of the Christian Herald, and a friend of Edward VII.

In 1920 Baxter offered to give work to 20 or 30 unemployed men picking up flints from the beach at Aldrington. He proposed to pay the men six shilling per load, which would average £2 a week, part-time. The men would also be given free meals at a canteen. During the General Strike of 1926 Baxter lent three horses, free of charge, to the Chief Constable of Hove for the use of mounted special constables.

Baxter was also Lord of the Manor of Aldrington, and owned land as far west as Lancing. He became something of a thorn in the side of Hove Council over the knotty problem of Hove Lagoon. Hove Council had purchased the land in good faith, and had begun to develop it as a pleasure ground when Baxter suddenly asserted his rights over it as Lord of the Manor. Negotiations started on 5 September 1923, and dragged on until 14 January 1926 when Hove councillors were informed the matter was at last concluded.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
The hospital ship of the Geneva Red Cross Society moored next to Number 1, Western Esplanade for the visit of Queen Alexandra on 1 July 1915.
  

Legal Matters

The following were the terms agreed between Baxter and Hove Council.

Mr Baxter of Hove Seaside Villas Ltd and Atlas Syndicate Company convey their rights in Hove Lagoon to Hove Corporation.

Hove Corporation grant to Hove Seaside Villas Ltd a free right of way for fifteen years over a strip of land extending southward from the esplanade, and immediately to the east of the eastern garden of 1 Seaside Villas over frontage of 30-ft east to west, and a depth from the esplanade to high water mark, with right of way from that piece of the esplanade to the road leading to the main road.

The said right of way to allow Hove Seaside Villas to convey spoil of the beach limited to ‘blue boulders, compo, or coarse sand bean beach, which will pass through a sieve of half an inch riddle, and pea beach’.

Hove Corporation will not prevent taking of spoil from beach between the east wall of Hove Seaside Villas to the east boundary of the Gas Company’s land.

After five years Hove Corporation have the option to purchase for £5,000 all the foreshore rights. After five years, if no purchase had been made, they would still have the option, but for £500 less than the original £5,000. After ten years had elapsed, the rights would pass to Hove Corporation free. Upon transfer the right of way would be extinguished.

Hove Corporation would continue to maintain the adjoining concrete groyne.

Within three months the Deed of Conveyance of the rights of Hove Lagoon would be presented to Hove Corporation.

copyright © Mr G. Osborne

Still a Question of Rights

It is interesting to note that in 1984 the rights of property owners to their own private beach were still not clearly understood. Indeed, many people believed that any beach between high water mark and low water mark belonged to the crown, and was therefore open for anybody to enjoy. Naturally, the property owners thought otherwise, and erected a fence to block off access and stop people from walking along the beach in front of their properties. A notice was also erected to tell people the land was private. This led an irate company director to lodge a complaint with Hove Council But the council’s solicitor pronounced that the property owners were quite correct and that their private beach extended down to the low water mark.

Protests

In the 1990s there were angry demonstrations against the practice of exporting live animals from Shoreham Harbour for slaughter abroad. Animal rights activists were up in arms about the unnecessary suffering the animals would be put through. Shoreham Port had to take measures to guard their property against vandalism. The protests had an impact on the villa occupants too. They found themselves virtual prisoners in their own homes. But it was for their own safety that they had to pass through two reinforced steel gateways to reach their properties. 

copyright © D. Sharp
Western Espanade ('white houses' in the centre) surrounded by the industrial buildings of the Aldrington Canal section of Shoreham Harbour

 

‘Macca’s Mutiny’

The banner headline in the Daily Mail (22 May 2003) was ‘Macca’s Mutiny’. This was because there were plans afoot at Shoreham Harbour that would adversely affect the McCartney property, as well as the other residents. Therefore, under the banner ‘Western Esplanade Management’ the residents protested about plans for a peat processing facility less than a mile away from them, and next to the Power Station. The residents’ case rested on the ‘extremely serious health and environmental impact’ the development would cause not to mention the pollution, dust and odours. Should planning permission be granted, some 50 lorries a day would pass nearby; on the plus side, 50 jobs would be created. A disgruntled nearby resident said the stars knew their homes were next to Shoreham Harbour, which had been an industrial area long before their villas were built. He added that some of them had only been there a couple of years, but already were shouting the odds.

However, planners rejected their protest. On the other hand, residents of Hove and Portslade felt annoyed that West Sussex County Council could make a decision that would directly affect them, and lead to an increase in traffic.

A Desirable Property

Sussex Life (June 2009) printed two spectacular colour photographs of one villa with Mediterranean blue skies and sea in an advertisement from Hamptons Internation and the following description, ‘a charming Edwardian beach house adjacent to its own private beach with far reaching views of the south coast, located on a private road, two excellent sun terraces and garaging.’ The price was £1,995,000 freehold.

On TV and Film

The properties, being home to so many stars, and in such a unique position, have proved a popular location for films and TV programmes, including the following:

Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978) Thames television

Through the Keyhole – no less than three times – 1989, 1994, 2006 – television

Lovejoy (1991) television

Ellen and Derek Jameson – television

Hot Property (1996) television

The Hustler (1996) film, a re-make of classic Andy Warhol film

copyright © Mr G. Osborne

Number One and the Baxter Family

Public Domain

The Baxter family moved into the first residence on the esplanade. It was a spacious property because the main house had several sitting rooms plus around twelve bedrooms, while the annexe was for the six live-in staff that included butler, cook, nanny, and maids. The garden contained tennis courts and a rose garden.

The eldest daughter was Betty Baxter and for twenty years she was chairman and managing director of the Christian Group of Charities, a position she took over from her father. Her grandfather put her in charge of the Hostel for Stranded Girls in the East End when she was still only eighteen years old. Batty Baxter earned herself the sobriquet of the Silver Lady by giving silver to homeless people sleeping rough on the Thames embankment so that they could buy food. She also set up mobile Silver Lady Canteens, painted blue and white, that went out daily to distribute hot coffee, free meals and free cigarettes to the homeless at midnight – sometimes at Charing Cross there was a crowd of around 600 people waiting patiently for the arrival of the van. There were Silver Lady Canteens on the south coast, run by her, and one was at Hove near the Christian Herald printing works on the south side of Aldrington Basin. Betty Baxter died in 1972.

During the Second World War the villas were painted black to try and camouflage them from the air. The villas were requisitioned by the military authorities, but Paget Baxter refused to leave his property, and stayed put, together with his wife Selena, their daughters Betty and Enid, and grand-daughter June, while officers of the Royal Canadian Air Force took over a wing of the Paget property with other ranks assigned to the rest of the properties in the terrace. Paget Baxter liked to take his binoculars with him up onto the roof during bombing raids so that he could observe the action. On one occasion June was watching events from the verandah when she was nearly hit by bullets from a passing Messerschmit; she rushed indoors and hid under the brass bedstead.

In the 1970s June was better known as the clairvoyant Giulivia Crystal – Giulivia being her middle name. She was a newspaper astrologist and wrote for the Brighton & Hove Gazette, before moving to the Evening Argus where she wrote a column for twelve years. Later on in the 1980s she wrote for the Daily Mirror, and then for the Sunday People.

June Penn believes that her clairvoyance was inherited because her grandfather and grandmother, as well as Betty Baxter, were all physic. Indeed, it was Betty who taught her the Tarot cards. June’s first physic experience was a distressing one when she was aged five and in Switzerland. Her father was about to set off on a mountain ramble, but she suddenly felt terrified and screamed ‘You mustn’t go.’ He went anyhow, and later a thunderstorm broke out – he was afraid of storms – and somehow he slipped over a precipice, dying the same evening. Her grandparents then brought her up in Hove Seaside Villas.

June later married Victor Groves and they had a daughter Linda, but the marriage ended in divorce. Her second marriage was to Peter Penn, a property developer and actor. He sometimes enjoyed sleeping out on the verandah in balmy weather, and was startled one night by a patrolling policeman who inquired if he was all right.

In the 1970s June decided to divide the property into two separate residences, and in 1979 Lew Norris moved into the larger one. In June 1985 June put her house up for sale for £295,000, and prepared to move to a smaller villa, a few doors away. She had a premonition of Peter’s death when she heard her grandfather’s voice inform her Peter would not live in the new house – and he died within six months from an accident. June believed that in a previous life she was burned to death as a witch. June also stated that she had feared Princess Diana would meet a violent end because she drew up an astrological chart soon after her marriage. She never published her findings but she did keep a record of events.

On a more practical note, June Penn was a director and chief shareholder of the Western Esplanade Company and South Wharf Investments.

copyright © J.Middleton
Number 1 Western Esplanade in 2009
 
Celebrities and Millionaire’s Row

Since the residents are super-rich and super-private, it is difficult to establish just which celebrity lived in which villa – that is apart from the Paget Baxters. Therefore the celebrities who have lived, or still live there, are listed in alphabetical order.

Adele

Adele was born in Tottenham, and named Laurie Blue Adkins. She became a superstar singer and had hits with Hello and Someone like You, as well as with Rolling in the Deep. Early in 2012 Adele, aged 23, purchased a property in Western Esplanade for £2.5 million. Like most other residents upon acquisition, she too planed a large building project complete with a two-storey atrium, and an extension towards the beach; there would be three terraces, a study, a state-of-the-art kitchen a dining room, an open-plan living area, three bedrooms, and a bathroom with his and hers sinks.

copyright © D. Sharp
Adele's former home, in the foreground is Hove Lagoon


A national newspaper claimed that there were tensions between Adele and other residents, but her neighbour Dr Malcolm Vandenburg said there was no truth in the stories, and on the contrary, relations were ‘harmonious’. 

It is said that Adele moved to Hove to be nearer her boyfriend Simon Konecki, whom she went on to marry, their son Angelo being born in 2012. It was not surprising that Adele decided to take a year out of her career in 2013 to enjoy motherhood. She could well afford to do so, having built up a fortune of £45 million as the world’s richest musician; indeed she enjoyed the number one spot on the ‘Rich List’ 2012. In 2014 it was reported that Adele owned two houses in London plus two adjacent houses at Hove. She had also purchased a flat for her mother in London at a cost of £650,000.

On 1 July 2016 Adele sold the property in Western Esplanade for £2.85million, thus pocketing a profit of £350,000 and leading to headlines such as ‘Rolling in the Cash’. Adele and her husband split up in 2019, and today she lives in Los Angeles. She has been in the news lately with her strict diet and exercise regime that enabled her to lose a considerable amount of weight, some claim it is up to seven stone.

Nick Berry

Nick Berry, an actor, came to national notice when playing barman Simon Wicks in Eastenders. While he was appearing in the series, he met Rachel Robertson who was attending stage school, and he proposed to her on her 17th birthday. Berry had a brief success in the Pop world with the single Every Loser Wins, which reached the number one spot. Then he spent six years as P. C. Nick Rowan in ITV’s Heartbeat. But in January 1998 he left the show because he said he did not want to be type-cast. In 1997 he laid out £500,000 on buying a house in Western Esplanade called ‘Breakers’, which had two reception rooms, five bedrooms and two bathrooms. There were renovations and alterations before he moved in with Rachel, and two-year old Louis. In February 1999 there was a new TV series called Harbour Lights. It was produced by Valentine Productions, an independent company set up by Berry and Steve Lanning who was also the producer of Heartbeat. It was filmed at West Bay where Lanning lived, and Berry played ex-Naval officer Mike Nicholls who returns to his home town to become harbour master. It was most unfortunate that filming was delayed when Berry was attacked by a drunken on-looker.

Berry amassed a tidy sum during his acting career with some estimates putting his fortune as being in the region of £5million. But whatever it was, it gave him the option of being an on-hands father to their two sons, Louis and Finlay. He has never regretted his decision to be there for the children, and he derives a great deal of pleasure from his gardening activities too. It is pleasant to record that he and Rachel, whom he describes as his soul-mate and business partner, were celebrating their 17th wedding anniversary in 2011. Besides their Hove home (described as a beach house) the couple also have a house in Epping, Essex.

In the 1990s at neighbouring Hove Lagoon there was a campaign called Splash and Paddle, which was a fund-raising venture to try and raise money for a paddling pool. Naturally, the council did not have the funds for such an amenity and so it was up to the local community to stump up the cash. Nick Berry heard about it, and kindly gave the fund a very generous £7,000, which was of course the largest donation. The paddling pool at Hove Lagoon opened in 1999.

copyright © Mr G. Osborne

Arthur Bourchier (1863-1927)

Sometime during the years 1917 and 1927 when the Lewensteins rented a Seaside Villa, Arthur Bourchier also occupied a villa. He was a well-known English actor who married the equally famous Violet Vanbrugh, but they later divorced. Bourchier excelled in classical roles, and was especially associated with Shakespeare; he was was also a theatre manager. It is a remarkable coincidence that fellow neighbour Oscar Lewenstein displayed an early interest in Shakespeare and grew up to become a theatre manager.

Joseph Robert Clynes (1869-1949)

Clynes was born in Oldham, Lancashire, and from the early age of ten years, he was hard at work at a cotton mill. He was keenly aware of his lack of learning, and set about educating himself. He had an astonishing rise from humble beginnings to high office, serving in both the first and second Labour governments. It is a long road from being the organiser of the Lancashire Gasworks Union to becoming Lord Privy Seal in the Labour Cabinet, and later on a Privy Councillor. Clynes lived in one of the Seaside Villas at the same time as the Lewensteins occupied theirs between 1917 and 1927.

Clynes became Home Secretary from 1929 to 1931 in the second Labour government. He earned a place in history by refusing to allow Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) to settle in Britain after Stalin expelled him from Russia in 1929. It was a wise decision because Trotsky caused unrest and ferment wherever he went. Instead, Trotsky lived in Turkey, Norway and France. At length he found it expedient to seek asylum in Mexico, after a Soviet Court had sentenced him to death in his absence. Trotsky was famously assassinated in Mexico City by Ramon de Rio wielding an ice pick of all things.

Norman Cook and Zoe Ball

Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) married Zoe Ball in 1999. Their property in Western Esplanade is the largest because they purchased three of the villas, using two as their residence, and the third as a recording studio, the latter once belonging to Oscar Lewenstein. They called their residence HMS House, and it was worth £3million. From the outside, you would not expect the interior to be so spacious, but there are eighteen large rooms. They shared the premises with their young son Woody, his nanny, and Pickles, their black and white dog. Norman is proud of his own bar complete with neon sign announcing Norm’s Bar. In an upstairs lounge the décor includes a 360 degree panorama of the night-time Manhattan sky-line. But apparently it spooked the film crew who did not want to film there because the panorama included the Twin Towers.

There are sliding glass doors leading down to wooden decking, and from thence steps go down to the beach. Norman keeps a telescope handy so that when he spots photographers in boats, he grabs his telescope and starts to watch them. However, in January 2003 reporters and cameramen besieged the property when it was reported that Norman and Zoe had split up. Although they did make another go of it, eventually the marriage ended.

copyright © J.Middleton
The Cafe at Hove Lagoon

Norman Cook has an active interest in nearby Hove Lagoon, taking over the cafe there from Heather Mills in 2013 and calling it Big Beach Cafe offering a more inclusive menu than just vegan food. Cook provides a huge boost in the task of raising Hove Lagoon’s profile, which it must be admitted has been somewhat neglected by Brighton & Hove City Council. For example, at the popular Lagoonfest in 2018 he played a two-hour set, and some 6,000 people were attracted to the event.

Derek Jameson (1929-2012)

Derek Jameson and his wife Ellen purchased their property, number 7, in the late 1980s from Tony Lewis, show-business agent, and his wife. Since Jameson had just published the first volume of his autobiography Touched by Angels, they decided to call their house Angel’s Rest. Jameson worked his way up from being a being a mere messenger boy at the age of fourteen to top jobs in Fleet Street; he became the editor of national newspapers such as the Daily Star, Daily Express, News of the World, and in later days he was a columnist in the Argus from September 1999 to October 2000. Perhaps Jameson was unduly sensitive about his humble origins because when someone called him ‘an East End barrow boy made bad’ he was so outraged that he sued the BBC for libel. But pride came at a terrible price because he ended up with a legal bill of £75,000. True, he did have a ‘gravelly Cockney’ voice but that was part of his identity, and anyway he hosted a breakfast show on Radio 2, which was popular, as well as a TV series Do they Mean Us?

The Jamesons enjoyed living close to the sea, although there was a constant battle against erosion. Jameson said he could not leave his car outside his garage for a single night because it would soon be covered by a salty film. Winter storms combined with a high tide could also lead to anxiety. On the plus side, they enjoyed entertaining such luminaries as Ross Conway, Shirley Bassey, and Danny La Rue.

In 2000, after some fourteen years there, the Jamesons decided to live abroad, and put the property up for sale. They were astonished at the queue of celebrities who were eager to purchase. There was Pauline Quirke, star of Birds of a Feather who wanted to live next door to her old pal Nick Berry; Noel Callagher of Oasis expressed an interest, while actress Jane Horrocks thought it would be an ideal place to bring up her two children. In the event, in the summer of 2001 it was Heather Mills, fiancee of Paul McCartney, who who made the purchase at a price reputed to be around £1million, although another estimate was for £750,000.

The Jamesons then purchased a luxury apartment in Miami. This was all fine and dandy until 2008 when they wanted to return to England to be near the grandchildren but were unable to sell the apartment because of the property crash in the USA. Fortunately, the couple had retained possession of a four-bedroom house in Worthing. Jameson died in September 2012.

copyright © Mr G. Osborne
 
David Jones (1895-1974)

The artist and poet stayed at number 5 Western Esplanade in the late 1920s and early 1930s. This was because his father worked for Paget Baxter (developer of the properties) in the production of the Christian Herald. Mr Jones, senior, used to rent number 5 every year as a holiday home during the 1920s and 1930s, and David Jones stayed there too. David Jones was also confused about the location of the villa writing, ‘in 1927 or ‘28 in a house at Portslade near Brighton, from the balcony of which I used to make paintings of the sea.’ It proved a productive time for him, and among his paintings while resident in the house were the following:

Veranda Wall, Portslade (1927)

Portslade (1927)

The Factory Coast (1929)

The Terrace (1929)

Sea View (c. 1930)

Place for Ships (1931)

Manawydan’s Glass Door (1930)

David Jones was born in Buckley, Kent, and although English-born, he felt an affinity with Wales and was fascinated by Welsh mythology. His grandfather came from Holywell in Clwyd while his mother was a talented amateur artist. As a child, David particularly enjoyed drawing an imaginary Welshman out on the hills accompanied by his wolf-hounds.

During the First World War David Jones served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The experience provided his with the incentive to write In Parenthesis, published in 1928. The poet Kathleen Raine, who knew Jones personally, considered that the poem could ‘now clearly be seen as the great work to have spoken for the generation of the First World War’. Later on, the actor Richard Burton took part in a radio broadcast of In Parenthesis, and he said it was one of the most satisfying pieces of work he had ever done. It is fascinating to note that Jones started writing this great work while seated on the verandah at number 5.

The painting Manawydan’s Glass Door has already been mentioned. It is considered an important work because it was the swan-song of a particular style. There followed a gap in his artistic work until the 1940s because he suffered a mental breakdown, and his doctors warned him that painting aggravated his condition, their advice being to cease work at once. Conversely, when Jones suffered a relapse in 1947, he was given the opposite advice, and told to paint away so as to learn to confront his demons.

In 1921 Jones converted to Roman Catholicism; he was introduced to Eric Gill while still a student. He joined Gill’s group of Catholic craftsmen at Ditchling, known as the Guild of St Dominic. Joseph Cribb, who was one of the members, remembered that Jones always carried pieces of wood in his pocket, and he would carve a piece with his penknife wherever he was; then he would polish it and sell it for five shillings before starting on his next piece.

In 1924 when Gill moved to Capel-y-ffin in Wales, Jones went as well, and he was also engaged to Gill’s second daughter, 18-year old Petra. He was so busy with his artistic work that perhaps he neglected his young lady. At any rate in 1927 Petra broke off the engagement, perhaps realising that Jones was an unlikely prospect as a husband.

It is ironic that although Jones thought of Wales as a sort of spiritual homeland, when he came to meet actual Welsh people, he found them strange and frightening. His working conditions at Capel were better than they had been at Ditchling, but even so in the winter months he was obliged to wear his trench coat buttoned up as well as having a scarf wrapped around his neck. Jones executed 37 wood-cuts to illustrate Gulliver’s Travels printed by the Golden Cockerel Press; he made copper engravings to illustrate other books; created boxwood carvings, and returned to painting.

Number 5 was sold in June 1985 for £158,000.

copyright © Mr G. Osborne

Oscar Lewenstein (1917-1997)

Lewenstein’s mother, her three younger sisters, and their parents arrived in London in around 1892. The family life had been based in Moscow where Lewenstein’s maternal grandfather had worked as a bookbinder, binding books for such luminaries as Tolstoy. He must have been excellent at his craft because it was unusual for a Jew to be allowed to live in Moscow. Lewenstein’s father was born in Lodz, which although located in Poland, was part of Russia in those days. He always considered himself to be Russian, and although a long-time resident of London, he never applied to become a British citizen. Both families had come to England to escape anti-semitism.

Lewenstein’s parents were married in 1916 and Oscar arrived on 18 January 1917 at Hackney. He was given the names Silvion Oscar, although he never knew quite why such names were chosen – his younger siblings received more conventional names – Natalie, Paul and David. But during his time at Hove, his family called him Sonny. When he was just a few months old in mid-1917 the family moved from London to Hove where they rented a house in Western Esplanade, known as Seaside Villas.

His parents employed a nurse and an under nurse. Sonny saw a great deal more of Nanny Green than he did of his parents. If his father was at home, and the children became too boisterous, his father would shout ‘To the Nursery’ and Nanny removed them there promptly. The family did not live as orthodox Jews – the food was not kosher and the special festivals were not observed. When Sonny went to school he was never subject to discrimination because most of his fellow pupils had never met a Jew before, and he was in a tiny minority.

copyright © Mr G. Osborne
An Edwardian photograph showing Aldrington Canal with a sailing ship moored by Western Esplanade

Sonny used to play with his siblings on the beach, together with Eric who lived next door, and Boy Garman. Eric’s father happened to be the family’s accountant, while Garman lived on the beach in a black hut, his father being a local works foreman. When he was older, Sonny liked to play tennis with Mrs Prince, who was also a neighbour, and whose husband Arthur was a ventriloquist. Mrs Prince told Sonny’s mother that he was a very bad loser. Sonny’s parents enjoyed horse riding on the Downs – his father would do this regularly, but his mother not so often. When Sonny was aged nine he was given twelve horse-riding lessons as a present. He was glad of the ability to ride because when he was in the Army, he was able to go riding with friends when stationed in the countryside.

Sonny’s mother Mary was a great friend of Selena, wife of Michael Paget Baxter. The two ladies had a great deal in common, both being of Russian descent. They were also somewhat deaf, and needed to raise their voices over the teacups of an afternoon but privacy was never an issue because they spoke Yiddish.

By the time Sonny was aged four, his father was a successful business man, and since the business was based in London, he used to spend the week at the Wardorf Hotel, only travelling back to Hove for the weekends. He worked for the firm of Vickers, managing a plywood factory. Unfortunately, his father was involved in a dispute with Vickers, and lost his job. Although he came away with £10,000 as a golden handshake, he had never bothered to save money or purchase a property when times were good, and so there was nothing to fall back on. His wife insisted that part of the money should be spent on Sonny and Natalie’s education, and off they went to boarding school. Although Sonny and Natalie were apprehensive at the prospect, they had only been there one hour when they felt absolutely at home. No doubt this was because the school was Dunhurst, the junior school of the well-known Bedales. Dunhurst was a progressive establishment, which allowed children to spend a a great deal of their time pursuing subjects that interested them – in Sonny’s case it was the love of theatre and Shakespeare. Although the children only stayed there for a short time because their father felt he could not afford any more fees, Sonny declared that the year was ‘one of the happiest and most influential of my life’.

Sonny was aged ten when he left Dunhurst, and the family left Seaside Villas as well, still owing rather a lot of rent. They spent a few weeks in a small house nearby before moving to the Isle of Wight.

Oscar Lewenstein became a film-maker and theatrical impresario. In 1952 he co-founded the English Stage Company with George Devine and Ronald Duncan. He believed in promoting contemporary talent, producing The Threepenny Opera by Bertold Brecht in the West End in 1956, and organising a season of works by Joe Orton when he was artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre. But he took a dim view of all the aid granted to the new National Theatre, fearing it might affect the rest of the subsided theatres. Naturally, this view was not popular in all quarters.

In 1952 he married his second wife Eileen Edith Mawson who was a well-known potter, later on she became the editor of a journal.

Lewenstein must have had fond memories of his childhood days in Hove because in the 1960s he returned to Western Esplanade after a 50-year gap, and lived there for almost 30 years, although it was a different house to his childhood home. It may be the case that he was compensating for the loss of his family’s previous villa, and being able to purchase one of his own was to announce to the world that he had made it. But it must be admitted he was a ‘champagne socialist’ and what was a member of the Labour Party doing in ‘Millionaire’s Row’! In his youth he had been a member of the Communist Party. In 1994 he published his memoir Kicking Against the Pricks, which sounds like an apt title for him.

It is said that Lewenstein intended to leave the property to his sons. Perhaps he never got around to stipulating this in a will. At any rate, after he died in 1997, his widow had sold it within a year, and moved to London.

The Mawby Triplets – Since the name is practically unknown in the present day, it is hard to realise just how famous the Mawby Triplets were in entertainment circles back in the day. For a start, the girls were not actually triplets – they were twins with a sister who was eleven months their senior. But this was a minor detail to be ignored by Hollywood publicists anxious to give maximum publicity to three adorable little girls with their blonde hair and cute smiles, not to mention their quaint English accents. Sylvia Angella Mawby was born on 20 August 1921, while her sisters, Claudine and Claudette, were born on 10 August 1922.

The girls were English-born and only went to the United States because their mother was recovering from a kidney operation and the doctor advised them to move somewhere warm and sunny to speed her recovery. The Mawby family arrived in southern California when the twins were four years old. Quite by chance a newspaper photographer noticed the sisters and could not resist taking a snap of them; MGM scouts soon picked up on it, and the rest is history.

Their first appearance on film was in The Baby Cyclone (1928). How the youngsters managed to fit in lessons with their busy schedule is unclear, because within the space of three years, there were 24 films to their credit. They were reputed to earn £25 a day, and met famous people such as George Bernard Shaw; when Joan Crawford married Douglas Fairbanks, junior, the Mawby triplets shone in their role of bridesmaids.

copyright © National Library of Australia
Daily Standard (Brisbane) 13 June 1930

But the Hollywood dream turned sour in 1932 with the kidnapping of the famous aviator Charles Lindberg’s baby. The triplets received threatening letters, and on one occasion, it is claimed some men tried run their vehicle off the road. The Mawby family no longer felt safe and headed home to England. For a while, the Mawbys lived at 10 Western Esplanade. Neighbours found the girls somewhat shy, with their mother keeping a strict eye on them. This was hardly surprising, if she were still afraid of kidnappers. The girls found fear of a different sort. They loved their rooms overlooking the beach on balmy summer days, but when winter arrived with the occasional gale from the south-west, they found in unnerving, especially when pebbles were thrown against their windows.

copyright © National Library of Australia
The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton) 16 August 1938

In June 1942 Claudette Mawby was to be found in a modern flat in Marine Gate, Brighton, which had only been built just before the Second World War. It is not exactly clear whether it was her flat, or if her parents and sisters lived there too. Marine Gate was an unfortunate choice because by the end of the war it had earned the unenviable title of the most bombed building in Brighton, having been bombed on three separate occasions. On 27 June 1942 Claudette was standing by the lift in Marine Gate to go to Flat B7 where she had moved two or three days earlier, when a bomb hit the building and she was thrown down the lift shaft to her death. Her sister Claudine, who was in Scotland, fainted at the moment her twin died. Their mother and sister Angella were standing near the lift too, but were unhurt.

Claudine married William Walker, a spitfire pilot and war hero, and the couple had seven children. The youngest, Tim Walker, once worked at the Argus. Claudine lived in Dorset for forty years, and she and Tim used to go swimming together if the weather permitted, even when she was in her eighties. She died at the age of 90 in September 2012. Angella also married into the RAF, so to speak, because her husband was Wing Commander Bob Carr. They had two children and lived in Sussex.

Heather Mills and Paul McCartney

In the summer of 2001 Heather Mills, fiancee of Paul McCartney, purchased number 7 from Derek Jameson and his wife Ellen. The price has been reported at around £1million or £750,000. In addition the couple spent a further £100,000 on refurbishment, wishing to replace the 1970s décor. The ground floor became one huge room, and the roof terrace was extended. On 11 June 2002 the couple were married in Ireland, and their daughter Beatrice was born in 2003. The couple separated in 2003 and divorced in 2008.

While Paul McCartney moved out, Heather continued to live in Western Esplanade. She took an interest in nearby Hove Lagoon, taking over the cafe there, and turning it into a vegan cafe called V-Bites, which was formally opened on 4 July 2009 accompanied by a great deal of publicity. She said she wanted to do something for Hove because she had lived there for ten years, while her grandmother lived in the town for 38 years. However, the cafe closed for the winter of 2010/2011, and in 2013 there came news that Norman Cook would take over. Heather Mills also opened a V-Bites in Brighton in 2013 but it was closed in 2017.

Walter Nell and Susan Wilding

Walter Nell purchased a double property in Western Esplanade, numbers 9 and 10, in the 1950s; he was the managing director of Unigate Dairies, and thus was popularly nicknamed London’s Milkman. If that sounds prosaic, he was married to a very glamorous lady – Susan Wilding. Legend has it that she married five millionaires in her time. She owned such a vast collection of clothes and accessories that two dressing rooms had to be devoted to their storage, and there was a maid to help her dress every morning. She imparted a touch of Hollywood glamour to Western Esplanade by installing a silver ceiling in the sitting room. The beautiful actress Ava Gardner once came to stay, and it is thought that Frank Sinatra was another guest. Mrs Wilding knew a whole host of Hollywood stars as well as royalty such as Princess Margaret.

When she was born in 1908, Mrs Wilding was given the names Rosina Helena Lazetta Bates. She did not like her Christian names at all, and her signature was plain R. Bates. But seeing as she worked her way through five husbands, it is amusing to note that when she planed an autobiography the title was to be What was Your Last Name again? It must have been a great puzzle for people to know how to address the lady. Her first marriage was to Andre Simon, the great guru of fine wine, and a famous wine merchant. Her third marriage was to Michael Wilding with the wedding taking place in the United States.

She married Walter Nell in 1950. He was around fifteen years older than her, and he was obviously besotted because he presented her with a gift of jewellery worth £30,000. At least she managed to hold on to the jewellery because some years later she was able to sell it at Christie’s, earning herself a fantastic profit. Not that she needed money of course. She rather went off owning fine jewels after a robbery removed £40,000 of jewellery from her house, and she had neglected to have it insured. Far safer to invest in property, which she did with gusto so that her portfolio contained fifteen properties in London and seven in Brighton. She freely admitted that money did not buy you happiness but, in her trenchant words, ‘it made you bloody comfortable’. (Information kindly supplied by Sue Jones.)

Walter Nell preferred a more masculine environment, and so he lived in the west wing of his Hove property where one of the rooms was designed to resemble a ship’s cabin, complete with portholes, a binnacle, and a ship’s bell. He wore a Naval blazer, and flew the Union Flag from the top of his flagpole.

The house was called Villa La Mer, and in August 1998 it was up for sale at £850,000. It had seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a disco room with flashing lights overlooking the sea.

Lew Norris (1924-2009)

In the 1970s June Penn decided her home was far too large, and so she divided the property into two. Lew Norris moved into the larger part in 1979, and it must have been an amicable move, because his wife Beryl was already a close friend of June Penn. Lew and Beryl had three daughters, and the couple spent ten years on refurbishing the property, which remained in the family for thirty years. But after Lew Norris died, his widow Beryl put it up for sale in 2010 for around £3million.

Lewis Hunt Norris was a Sussex man, born and bred, having been born in Cuckfield. He was educated at the private Lewes Grammar School, afterwards attended West Ham Technical College, and then landed an apprenticeship with the well-known firm of Harland & Wolff. It is pleasant to record that Lew got on so well with his two brothers, Ken and Eric, that they all worked together in mid-Sussex, either at Burgess Hill or Haywards Heath (depending on source). Eric Norris had already trained to be an accountant, but when Ken and Eric decided to establish their own design consultancy, Eric joined forces with them. The business was known at first as Norbro Engineering.

Before the Norris brothers embarked on their fruitful collaboration with Donald Campbell (1921-1967) the famous speed ace, Lew had already gained experience of specially designed boats built to break speed records by working on White Hawk (K4). It was Frank Hanning-Lee who thought up the project of this jet-powered hydrofoil, but someone smart was ‘needed to do the sums’. In fact Lew ended up designing K4 too. It must have been an exciting experience for him, but he was disgusted when it dawned upon him that he was expected to do it all for no pay – he left. When it came to dealing with Campbell, he ensured that the project went ahead on a solid financial base.

Lew and Ken Norris will be for ever associated with the legendary Bluebird. First off was the hydroplane boat Bluebird (K7), then followed the gas turbine powered car Bluebird (CN7) on which they began work in 1955 and completed in 1960. Between the years 1955 and 1964 Donald Campbell achieved no less than seven world water speed records. It must have been a fearful shock for the brothers when Campbell was killed while attempting another record on Lake Coniston. At once the brothers flew north to enquire into the tragedy, and it must be stated that a design fault was not the cause of the fatality.

Lew Norris was a qualified pilot as well. It seems there was another Norris home in the Channel Islands, and he would fly back to Shoreham Airport, keeping up the practice until he was 75 years old. In 1997 when he patented a flexible diaphragm for use in a diaphragm pump, he gave his address as Alderney. Indeed, his mind was still active with new ideas until shortly before his death. It is interesting to note a patent taken out way back in 1963 in conjunction with BP might prove very useful in the future; it was a patent to produce drinking water from sea water.

Arthur Prince (1881-1946)

He was a popular Music hall entertainer, and appeared in the very first Royal Command Performance. He was also a ventriloquist, and his ‘doll’ was Sailor Jim; his act was so well received that he went on a world tour. Prince would often perform an impossible stunt whereby Sailor Jim sang a song while he enjoyed a drink or a smoke. The audience was astonished. But of course it was an illusion because in reality there was someone off stage who sang the song. When Prince died, Sailor Jim was buried with him.

The Princes lived in a Seaside Villa, and in the 1920s Mrs Prince used to enjoy playing a game of tennis with a neighbour, young Oscar Lewenstein. Since she was an adult and Oscar was still a child, it was often the case that she won. Mrs Prince told his mother that Oscar was a terrible loser. He admitted that this was most probably true, but then neither he nor his father could understand the English attitude to winning and losing. His father explained that when a team from one of his factories came off the field of battle looking miserable, it meant they had won, but if they looked happy, it meant they had lost. It was incomprehensible.

copyright © Mr G. Osborne

Robin Ray (1935-1998) and Susan Stranks

Originally, the couple wanted to purchase number one, but the deal fell through. But there was a plot of land between number one and the rest of the terrace, and so they purchased that. They designed their own house to go on it with the help of a qualified architect plus an experienced marine builder. For safety reasons they decided that the villa would be built 6-ft further back from the beach, and 6-ft higher than the rest of the villas. It was a very sensible decision because the years 1998 and 1999 were a time of worry for residents because of some exceptionally high tides.

While the building was going on Robin and Susan remained in London. It seems that the couple had never found a residence quite to their liking, and had moved no less than 26 times, but once they were settled at Western Esplanade, there they stayed.

Robin was the elder son of the famous comedian Ted Ray, but it was the younger son Andrew who first found fame by appearing as a cockney urchin in the film The Mudlark (1950). When Robin was ten years old, his father purchased a record of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and it sparked a life-long interest in music. Aged twelve he found inspiration in the piano concerto The Dream of Olwen from the film While I Live. He was equally enthusiastic when he heard Cyril Smith playing Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto at Hornsey Town Hall. His father also introduced Robin to the violin, remembering his own father’s advice that if you could play the violin you could always earn a living. Indeed grandfather Ray had started out on his career by appearing as Nedlo, the gypsy fiddler.

However, Robin preferred the piano, and dreamed of being a concert pianist until he came to the reluctant realisation that he was simply not good enough. His one attempt at being a stand-up comedian was disastrous, but, like his brother Andrew, he decided upon an acting career and went to RADA. Then followed the interruption of National Service when he earned a commission in the Royal Army Service Corps.

In January 1956 he made his TV debut in a play called The Guv’nor. In 1960 he married Susan Stranks; he must have wondered if he were destined to play the part of house husband because while he stayed at home peeling potatoes, she appeared in the popular TV series Emergency Ward 10, and in 1968 she became the presenter of the children’s programme Magpie. Initially, they decided not to have children, but later changed their minds and Ray was aged 44 by the time Rupert was born.

In 1965 Robin Ray became the first presenter of Call my Bluff. Although he was soon replaced by the urbane Robert Robinson, Ray returned later as a panellist. He soon became a familiar face on TV, and in 1966 appeared in The Daring Young Men on the Black and White Keys about virtuoso pianists. Ray finally made his name in Joseph Cooper’s Face the Music, which was first broadcast on TV in 1967, and carried on for several years afterwards. It became such a popular programme that it could even hold its own in competition with such legends as Steptoe and Son. Other TV programmes included Sounds Exciting, a music series for children, Robin Ray’s Picture Gallery about the cinema’s treatment of historical figures, and in 1980 he chaired the quiz show Cabbages and Kings.

On radio in the 1970s he presented Sounds Funny, The Year in Question and The Music Quiz. Amazingly, he also found time for the theatre. For example, in 1974 he composed the music for Jean Onouilh’s Waltz of the Torreadores and he created Cafe Puccini, which was produced at Wyndham’s Theatre in 1986. In 1994 he co-wrote and introduced Let’s Do It at Chichester. Ray wrote books too – Time for Lovers (1975) Robin Ray’s Music Quiz (1978) and Favourite Hymns and Carols (1982).

People were astonished by Ray’s wide range of musical knowledge, and he put this to good use by classifying the Classic FM Library. Within the space of one year, he had listened to, and classified, some 10,000 pieces of recorded music.

He resigned as musical advisor to Classic FM in 1997. Then he became involved in a legal wrangle with the company about the overseas copyright of his musical catalogue, which in March 1998 he won. The decision created case law, and enabled Ray to claim royalties when his play-list was used overseas, which included many little-known works.

In 1999 the widowed Mrs Ray heard that Classic FM was going to appeal against the decision. Finally in December 1999 it was stated the two sides had settled their legal battle, and agreed to an out-of-court settlement.

Robin Ray died of cancer at the age of 63 in 1998. His death merited only a brief mention in the Argus despite his glittering career, and the fact he lived in Western Esplanade for around 23 years. Happily, The Times and the Daily Telegraph were more generous. Derek Jameson, his neighbour at Hove, said he was a lovely man and very brave. He always appeared very sun-tanned, and favoured white shirts and slacks. Ray’s estate was valued at £325,312.

Lady St Oswald – This lady lived at 11 Western Esplanade from around 1936 to 1938. It would be interesting to know whether or not her fellow residents of this most up-market address knew about her fascinating past. The family seat was Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire.

But the lady was certainly not born with a silver spoon in her mouth, being plain Nellie Greene, the daughter of a restaurant manager. However, what she lacked in status, she certainly made up for in beauty, together with a lively personality. She worked as a chorus girl in London theatres with the stage name of Evie Carew. How and when she met the Hon. Rowland George Winn, her dashing Coldstream Guardsman, is unknown to history. But he must have fallen deeply in love, and never mind what his snooty relatives might think, they married in secret at St Saviour’s Church, Paddington, in October 1915.

Perhaps his war experiences led him to be reckless because when he was only twenty-one he had been sent into the thick of it with the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914. Indeed, his family received notification that he was dead, the Coldstream Guards having suffered severe casualties. In fact, he was only injured, and a mistake had been made. In the chaos of war, it was not unusual for such mistakes to be made. The most famous case concerned Rudyard Kipling’s beloved son who died in battle but nobody knew where his body was, and so his family clung to the hope of him being injured or taken prisoner. It is only in recent years that the remains have been officially identified and a standard headstone erected.

Winn’s family ought to have been grateful to her because in fact she saved his life at a time when so many aristocrats were losing their heirs in battle. The scandal meant that Winn had to resign from the Coldstream Guards because being connected with royalty, such an unsuitable marriage was not to be countenanced. Instead, he joined the 13th Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, the precursor of the RAF. The couple went on to have two children.

Members of the upper class falling in love with show girls was nothing new. There was Harriot Mellon (1777-1837) who first went on stage at the age of ten, and was appearing at Cheltenham when she caught the eye of Thomas Coutts; the couple married shortly after his ailing wife died. The Coutts had a large house at Brighton. When Coutts died in 1822, she became the richest widow in the kingdom. Then she took a toy-boy, and became a duchess by marrying the young Duke of St Albans – her wedding gift to him being £30,000. They lived in Brunswick Terrace, Hove, for a while.

Then there was Princess Bariatinsky (1869-1921) who was born in Kiev, and appeared on stage as Lidia Yavorska where the prince spotted her. Naturally, his family were appalled and refused to receive her. She died in Carlisle Road, Hove.

Finally, there were two Gaiety Girls, who used to stay at the Metropole Hotel, Brighton. Rosie Boote became the Marchioness of Headford, while Gertie Millar married the 2nd Earl of Dudley.

Dr Malcolm Vanderburg

In October 2010 it was reported that this house had been sold for £1.7 million. Dr Vandenburg was a retired Harley Street doctor who lived at number 4 Western Esplanade. In 2015 he rather ambitiously put the property up for sale at £4million. But nobody came forward to buy it, and the price was subsequently reduced to £3.25 million

David Walliams

When Walliams purchased his house in Western Esplanade in 2009, the asking price was said to be £1,995,000. Naturally, he wished for some alterations to be made, and he instructed the London architects Cassion Castle to draw up the plans.

David Walliams is a man with many strings to his bow ranging from becoming a television personality, actor, and comedian, to a famous children’s author with no less than fourteen titles to his credit, not to mention seven picture books, and five books of short stories. He is also famous for two epic swims performed on behalf of Sport Relief – the English Channel in 2006 and the length of the River Thames in 2011, although the latter stint did not do his back much good. In 2010 he married Lara Stone, a Dutch model, and their son Alfred was born in 2013, but by 2015 the couple had divorced.

copyright © D. Sharp
Western Esplanade (the 'white houses') on the far side of Hove Lagoon

Up for Sale

In the Argus (11 March 2022) there was a full-page article about a property in Millionaire’s Row up for sale for more than £3 million. Perhaps the old nick-name of Millionaire’s Row is a little out-dated, because a mere one million would get you nowhere today. The article was accompanied by no less than ten images in colour with seven concentrating on the interior. Perhaps the most luxurious touch was the bathroom on the roof terrace that means you can enjoy a good soak in your bath while admiring an extensive sea view. There are three living rooms, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a plunge pool. If clean, modern lines are your style, then this is the place for you. But one hopes the insulation is excellent because there seem to be no cosy carpets for warmth when the south-west wind blows.

Sources

Thanks are due to Mr G. Osborne for allowing me to reproduce eleven of his wonderful photographs from his private collection.  

Argus (28/5/03 / 8/3/09 / 23/12/09 / 11/3/11 / 12/4/12 / 2/7/12 / 14/9/12 / 18/8/16)

Chambers Biographical Dictionary (2007)

Daily Mail (22/5/03 / 17/9/11/ 13/9/12 / 16/10/14 / 1/9/20)

d’Enno, D. Brighton at War 1939-1945 (2021)

Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Hove Council Minute Books

Internet searches

Lewenstein, O. Kicking Against The Pricks (1994)

Mail on Sunday (24/8/08)

Metro (15/5/14)

Miles, J. Eric Gill and David Jones at Capel-y-ffin (1992)

Miles, J. & Shiel, D. David Jones, the Maker Unmade (1995)

National Library of Australia

Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove

Sussex Life (June 2009)

Wilson, P. S. Life was a Grand Hotel (2008)

Copyright © J.Middleton 2020
page layout and additional research by D.Sharp