Robert Varty was instrumental in the development of Benfleet as it looks today particularly in the area of Thundersley and Kents Hill. So, how did a man born in the north of England come to be a key player in the sale of Benfleet plot lands in the 1890s and right through to the early part of the twentieth century?
Robert Varty was born in Penrith, Cumberland in 1835. his father, Calvert Varty, was an auctioneer and was married to Alice Earle. Robert spent his early life and teenage years in Penrith. However by the age of twenty six he was living in Liverpool with a relative, Joseph Varty and his family, who was a Master Mariner. He had set up in business with William Francis and was a Master Grocer. His business must have flourished as by 1861 he is listed as employing ten men and two boys.
He married Elizabeth Altham in 1864 and they went on to have four children. Selena Helena Elizabeth born in 1868, Ada Maria born in 1869, Richard Cobden born in 1870 and lastly William Calvert born in 1871.
During this period of a growing family a number of changes occurred. In 1866 his partnership with William Francis was dissolved, he moved his family first to Poulton cum Seacombe, Cheshire and then by 1876 to Marylebone, London and sadly his wife died. Also along the way he encountered some financial difficulties, and though in later life he was accused of going bankrupt he had avoided that problem and had managed to pay out his creditors.
By the 1881 census, his occupation is listed as a General Merchant, and he has offices in Crosby Square, London. His property portfolio grew as he also had tenancies in various locations in London as well as offices at 90 Leadenhall Street, which is the listed address for the Middlesex Banking Company Ltd, which he set up in March 1885, and by the 1891 census he lists his occupation as Banker.
Around this time he took advantage of the sale of large farms in Essex. The dramatic fall in the price of grain was forcing many of the big landowners to sell their farms. Amongst the properties put up for sale were Hopes Green Farm and Jarvis Hall. The Chelmsford Chronicle for 5th December 1890 records the details of the auction.
Robert Varty purchased both the farm and Jarvis Hall and after selling off the farm machinery and implements, set about measuring out the farm land to sell off as plots. These he advertised in London attracting prospective buyers mainly from the East End.
His marketing strategy was to encourage prospective buyers to travel down to Benfleet by train, promising a free lunch and if they purchased a plot, to pay their two shillings train fare. He also offered a discount on the price if paid in full or the option to pay a 10% deposit and spread the cost over 19 quarterly instalments. An article in the newspaper The Pall Mall Gazette for 30th September 1891 describes one of these day trips to Benfleet and the type of Londoners attracted to the prospect of owning a piece of land in the countryside of Essex.
However he retained Jarvis Hall for his children to live in and though he still had offices in London at Leadenhall Street, he listed Jarvis Hall as his abode.
1892 was a busy year for him as he married Rhoda Kate Downer and also stood as the Liberal Party candidate for the Harwich District in the General Election of that year. He was narrowly beaten by the Conservative candidate who also beat him in the 1895 election.
He settled his new bride into Jarvis Hall and all three children from this marriage were born in South Benfleet.
He continued to live at Jarvis Hall well into the twentieth century and died at Westcliff Nursing Home, Pembury Road on 10th September 1926 at the age of 91.
Throughout the thirty odd years he lived at Jarvis Hall he bought and sold land in Essex, which included Thundersley Manor Estate as well as land in Pitsea and Southend.
So how do we know that these plot land sales had an affect on the make-up of South Benfleet?
The population figures for the census returns for South Benfleet show a dramatic increase between 1891 and 1901. In 1881 the population of South Benfleet is recorded as 681, this declined to 575 by 1891 but by 1901 it had nearly doubled to 1,024. The number of houses recorded similarly increased from 155 in 1881 to 156 in 1891 but by 1901 was 285. One explanation for this population explosion in South Benfleet could be the dismantling of the large farms and the sale of plots of land by Robert Varty.