On 11 October 1938 Brighton Corporation and the builders Braybon Limited signed an agreement to develop a site of about 168 acres in the Withdean area to the north of Brighton. The estate was 'known or intended to be known' as the Withdean Estate West.
Braybons owned most of the land, having legal charges dated 19 June 1937 and 13 November 1937 to acquire portions of the land from George Francis Donne, a partner in the law firm of Nye and Donne of 58 Ship Street, Brighton. A previous agreement made between Varndean Estates Ltd and Elizabeth Caroline Colebrooke Gordon Curwen on 25 October 1935 for the remainder of the land was also assigned to Braybons.
It was proposed to build houses and bungalows with a density between 8.5 and 9.6 homes per acre with two business areas. The layout of the proposed estate, drawn up in May 1938, was attached to the agreement and is shown on this page. Unfortunately, the copy of the plan from which this scan was made had been repaired with sticky tape at some time in the past and not very accurately aligned. This had then been photocopied again, resulting in its poor quality. An attempt has been made to clean it up to make it easier to read. Nonetheless, anyone who knows the area can compare the proposal with the way the estate was actually built.
The 1930s had been a time of development in the part of Withdean west of London Road. Valley Drive, the earliest part of which was previously known as Reynolds Avenue, had been developed as far as Valley Close. Colebrook Road, the name of which came from the land-owning family (see above), and Hillbrow Road had already been developed patchily with mostly detached houses by the late 1920s, as had Croft Road. Withdean Stadium had opened in 1936 with the country's best tennis facilities apart from Wimbledon. But, as it turned out, with war looming, 1938 was not the best time to propose new housing estates and, in fact, most of the building of the Westdene Estate did not take place until the 1950s and 1960s.
There are three public open spaces on the plan. Open Space No 1 is the eight-acre Westdene Wood to the west of Eldred Avenue. Nearby, Open Space No 2 is the playing field known now as 'the green'. The third is a circular space below Green Ridge, which does not exist today but would have been in the vicinity of Highbank. These three pieces of land were to be sold to Brighton Corporation by 25 December 1938, the conveyancing costs--'not exceeding ten guineas'--to be paid by the Corporation. [According to a settlement dated 5 September 1892, these spaces had previously been owned by Eldred Vincent Morris Curwen, Chaloner Frederick Hastings Curwen, Edith Margaret Spence Collis, Gilbert Robert Henry Collis, Henry Fraser Curwen, William Henry Domville and Charles Whitbread Graham.]
Each of these spaces was to be maintained by the Corporation as 'a public open space, park, garden or recreation ground', with the right to erect 'pavilions, glass houses, toolsheds, shelters, conveniences or other buildings or erections for the better enjoyment of the said land'. However, there was an injunction against building public lavatories on Open Space No 2 ('the green') for five years. None was ever built. The space was later used for bowling greens; these were not popular, although the pavilion still stands beneath the trees. The children's playground is enclosed by the wall of an old farmyard that was once attached to Newman's Barn, which survived from the late 1700s until the early 1960s.
There is also a 'private open space' near the western end of the estate. This is the area between Redhill Drive and Millcroft that has caused recent controversy because of plans to develop housing on the site (see below).
Several street names are already present on the plan, albeit not always following the same line as at present. Working southwards from the top of the plan we find Green Ridge, which leads into Fernwood Rise at its eastern end, with Bramble Rise running parallel, much further east than its present line. These two meet at the top end of Copse Hill (Road No 21). There is no Windmill Drive as such (part of it is called Green Ridge), although there is a condition in the agreement that a road will be built between the top of Eldred Avenue and London Road above the southern end of the railway tunnel--a road that is now Brangwyn Crescent.
Mill Rise runs from the north-west of the estate in a straight line down to 'the green'. At one point, where it is crossed by a long curving road, is a 'general business area'. The southern part of this curve is called Dene Vale, but this now roughly part of Mill Rise, further west than today's Dene Vale (Road No 2 on the plan). The road now called Fairview Rise was regarded as an extension of Redhill Drive. Road No 5 ran from Redhill Drive to the northern end of the then Colebrook Road near the junction of Hillbrow Road, and became the higher part of Colebrook Road.
Otherwise the roads are numbered rather than named. Road No 9 is the top of Valley Drive and Glen Rise, Road No 8 is Millcroft, Road No 7 is Hillcrest, Road No 6 is Westdene Drive, Road No 18 is Highbank and Road No 17 is Deneside. There was no provision for today's Downside. The Ordnance Survey map amended to 1938 shows that Dene Vale and Barn Rise had already been developed with housing as far as Newman's Barn.
All the roads and street works were to be built by Braybons within three years. Within six months of completion the Corporation was to reimburse half the cost.
The 'general business area' on Mill Rise became Loyal Parade, a smaller and less focal shopping area than appears to have been intended.
The bridge under the railway on The Deneway is marked 'for pedestrian traffic only'. Running north from the triangle of open land where The Deneway meets Eldred Avenue were proposed shops and, remarkably, a' hotel site'. Again, this planned business area is larger than that actually built, stretching from The Deneway to a point opposite the lower end of Copse Hill.
The plan could be critised for not including schools, churches, pubs or any other community facilities, the nearest of which would have been some distance away. (Still the case with pubs!) However, a small church, the Church of the Ascension, was built on a difficult site at the corner of Dene Vale and Fairview Rise. It was dedicated in February 1958. Westdene (Primary) School was opened in 1961 in the centre of the estate--where Mill Rise had been intended to run--and the adjoining Westdene Library was opened on 13 March 1964.
The Braybon family clearly liked the area. Having had a home in Eldred Avenue, one of the first new houses was built on Redhill Drive at the corner of Colebrook Road and called Coppercliff. In 1965 it became a hospice for cancer patients. When the Martlets hospice in Hove opened in 1997, Coppercliff was renamed Outlook House and became a residential care home.
For the record, paragraph 13 of the Agreement reads as follows:
'The Owners shall not at any time use or permit to be used the land coloured green on the said plan and marked "Private Open Space" (hereinafter called "the Private Open Space") and having an area of seven point seven (7.70) acres or thereabouts otherwise than as a ground for sports play rest or recreation or as an ornamental garden or pleasure ground and shall not erect a building or execute works required for or incidental to the purpose for which the said Private Open Space is reserved Provided always that if and when the said Private Open Space shall come into the ownership of the Corporation these conditions shall not apply but the said Private Open Space may thereafter be used for such purposes as the Corporation may determine subject nevertheless to the observance of the restrictions contained in the before mentioned Agreement dated the second day of July one thousand nine hundred and thirty four.'
The conditions of the agreement of 2 July 1934 are not defined but are the ones that applied to the public open spaces.