A typical land sale by Robert Varty

Articles in The Pall Mall Gazette in 1891

Trying to find when Robert Varty started selling land is difficult. However the three articles from the Pall Mall Gazette here must be from when he started selling land in Benfleet.

The first is a typical advert:

The Pall Mall Gazette – Thursday 9th July 1891

Benfleet, near Southend-on-Sea. – The choices, land in the district. Five minutes’ walk from Benfleet Station, and only a short distance from the populous town of Southend.

MESS’RS. PROTHEROE AND  MORRIS will SELL BY AUCTION, on the Estates on WEDNESDAY, July 15th, at 1.30 o’clock, 400 PLOTS of FREEHOLD BUILDING LAND. on the Hopes Green, Thundersley Park, and Jarvis Hill Estates, commanding the prettiest views in the county; also several shop plots and a corner hotel site. Free conveyances. Payment by easy instalments. A special train will leave Fenchurch-street on day of sale. Return tickets will be issued to intending purchasers at a nominal charge of 2s., and free luncheon will be provided. Particulars and plans had of T. Durant, Esq, Solicitor, 5. Guildhall Chambers, E.C.; A. Higgins, Esq., Surveyor, 89, Leadenhall Street, E.C.; R. Varty, Esq. (the vendor), 89 and 90, Leadenhall Street, E.C.; and of the Auctioneers and Land Agents, 67 and 68, Cheapside, E.C., and Leytonstone.

The next is a lovely description of a typical sale.

The Pall Mall Gazette – Wednesday 30th September 1891


A day among the little landowners of Essex.

YESTERDAY morning, shortly after eleven o’clock, one of the platforms at Fenchurch-street Station was crowded with men and women who were waiting for a special train to convey them to Benfleet, in Essex.

Presently Mr. Varty, of Jarvis Hall, Benfleet, a gentleman who for the last two years has been experimenting on the land question in Essex, appeared on the platform. The train came in. Mr. Varty stepped into a saloon carriage. About two hundred passengers took their seats. There was an air of business about the men and women. A stern, but serene, smile lighted up the face of Mr. Varty. Even the guard seemed to understand that something serious was in prospect; for he ushered the auctioneer into the saloon carriage with a solemn bow, and closed the door gently. The signal was given, and the train moved slowly out of the station.

Mr. Varty is manager of the Middlesex Bank. He is a wealthy man, and can afford to have crotchets. The curious thing is that his crotchet puts money into his pockets. His crotchet is to give the land back to the people. For the last two years he has been buying land in Essex, and selling it in small plots to cockneys and others. He belongs to the “statesmen” of Cumberland, and he believes that if the people own the land they will live and thrive upon it in Essex as they do in his native place. Judging by results, he is a shrewd man, for as fast as he buys land he sells it at a profit. His example is being followed by others. Rich men are buying land in Essex as a speculation and selling it in small plots. Syndicates are being formed for the same purpose. So, quietly, almost without notice, cockneys are establishing themselves as small land-owners in Essex.

The special train ran without stopping to Benfleet, and deposited the passengers on the platform, whence they could see a big tent that had been erected in the centre of the plots they had come to purchase. Some had been to previous sales; others were strange. The owners of land pointed out their plots as they walked up the hill, and expatiated on the views and the neighbourhood.

“Only threepence-halfpenny from here to Southend,” said a man who is about to build a cottage on his plot. “Can’t you smell the shrimps?”

“The cheapest line in the kingdom; only a halfpenny a mile third class!” remarked another.

“Two shillings return to London with one of Mr. Varty’s tickets,” said a third man. “Healthy neighbourhood to live in, and a fine place for a Sunday’s outing.”

In the tent was a substantial lunch of cold beef, ham, pies, cheese, salad, and beer. The landowners, or buyers, fell to work, almost in silence, looking sometimes at the plans of the plots, and preparing for business. Directly the plates and dishes had: been cleared away, the auctioneer mounted a platform and began his work.

The men and women spread out the plans on the tables and prepared to bid. The plots averaged 20 ft frontage by 150 ft in depth, in other words, about the fourteenth part of an acre. The upset price was £3 15s. a plot. Plots on the main road went up to £10 and £12. Sometimes two or three plots were sold together. Three hundred plots were put up to auction during the afternoon; and the bidding went on without excitement. The men and women knew what they wanted: they had made up their minds what to buy before leaving London, They bought their land cautiously, listening without a smile to the jokes of the auctioneer. The men smoked, and drank whisky and soda; the women had tea while they carried on the bidding. In about two hours the plots were all sold, and the cockneys wandered away to look at their purchases.

Another sale was going on at Hadleigh at the same time; and, considering that Hadleigh and Benfleet are only about two miles apart, it may be safely said that nearly five hundred East-end men and women were purchasing land yesterday in Essex, Some paid for their plots at once, with a discount of 5 per cent on the purchase-money; others arranged to pay by instalments, with 10 per cent deposit. All purchasers received a free return ticket and lunch, two shillings being charged to non-purchasers for food and fare, in order to keep out idlers and roughs.

“Who are the purchasers?” will be asked.

Licensed victuallers, pawnbrokers, publicans, housekeepers and care-takers, chemists, small tradesmen, engravers, fish porters, ivory turners, tennis-bat makers, and others.

These people come from all parts of London, but chiefly from the East-end. Policemen are good purchasers. One tall policeman in uniform was seen picking plums on his plot, and preparing to take them back 1o London. He explained that he would be obliged to make them into jam himself, for his wife was away; but he was going to try his hand at the jam, and he was quite aware that it would need a great deal of sugar.

Another policeman bought a plot for his “missus,” saying that she was fond of poultry, and he would live there when it was time to retire.

Mr. Varty guarantees a stone house for one hundred pounds, and a wooden house for eighty pound. Models of “economic cottages” were exhibited during the sale by Messrs. Allen and Co., of 55, Charing-cross.

“It gives a man some reason for saving,” remarked a thin, eager-faced cabinet maker, “when he knows he can get a bit of land and a house for a hundred pounds or a hundred and fifty.”

“Yes,” said a man beside him; “especially when one can get possession by paying 10 per cent. deposit, and the balance by sixteen quarterly instalments, for one scarcely feels the money leaving one’s pocket.”

A great many men buy for their wives or children; and Mr. Varty has noticed that the teetotallers form the greater number of the purchasers. The people pay their instalments regularly, and part with their land at a profit. One man buys and retails to workmen at 4d a week. He is a thrifty man, the happy owner of seventy children and grandchildren! Sometimes fathers buy for their sons, saying that the land will one day be valuable. One man, who had bought land to the value of ten pounds, was very anxious that the plots should be divided equally amongst his children, and made his will to that effect, stating that the English law which makes the eldest son heir to his father’s land is iniquitous. A young man who is engaged to be married buys plots, and presents them to his young lady with great ceremony. He takes her to the sale, buys a plot with his savings, and then wanders off with her to inspect his purchase, thus combining pleasure with business.

The pride with which the people regard their land, and show it, is great. On Sunday they go down to see the plots, and become quite sentimental over the prospect. They buy land for diverse reasons sometimes to build upon, sometimes to sell again, generally because it is a safe investment. The land cannot run away. They can see it, or measure it. It is their very own – something they can leave to their children.

Mr. Thomas Durrant, the solicitor who shows such a deep interest in the scheme, relates that the solemn transactions which take place in his office with regard to the land are sometimes both pathetic and ludicrous. The purchasers arrive in their best clothes, accompanied by wife or eldest daughter, to sign the deeds and receive the pieces of parchment which put them in possession. Gold and bank notes are produced out of hidden pockets – the savings of a life-time are brought out and carefully counted.

The following Sunday the happy landowners go to look at their plots, and discuss what they shall do with them. They take their families to tea with Mr. Varty, and sometimes they borrow a foot-measure in order to be sure that the land is all there just as they bought it.

“When the money is in a bank one can’t see it,” said a man; “but land can always be seen, land is safe. It’s the best sort of investment.”

During the last two years Mr. Varty has bought for about £4,500, and sold for about £9,000, making about £2,000 profit on these land sales. He proposes to sell larger plots to small farmers, and to establish a co-operative scheme by means of which the produce of the farms will be collected and sent to the London market. The Hadleigh Hall estate, which is now being sold, joins General Booth’s farm. Altogether, then neighbourhood deserves a visit from all who are interested in the land question.

The last is Mr Varty’s reply to this article.

The Pall Mall Gazette – Friday 2nd October 1891



Sir, – In the descriptive account of the land sale held at Benfleet, in this day’s paper, may I be allowed to correct that part which states that £9,000 worth of land has been sold? On one estate more than that amount was realized. I am now cutting up and offering by auction three more estates into plots of from one-fourteenth of an acre to three acres, which are being bought by the public as described by you. Already I have enabled over a thousand people to become possessed of their own freeholds. Those that have already bought again attend the sales and make further additions to the land they have already purchased. –

Yours truly, R VARTY,

89 and 90. Leadenhall Street Sept. 30. 

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