Robert Varty 1835-1926

The man who sold Benfleet to Londoners

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.

Mr Robert Varty at the 1892 General Election

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  • This is very interesting and confirms everything I have discovered about this branch of the Varty family. I am particularly interested in anything anyone might know about what happened to his daughter Kathryn.

    By Tricia Moore (09/05/2022)
  • All very interesting. I have lived at Jarvis Hall for 22years.


    By Catherine Ives (01/04/2016)
  • I have a copy of Robert Varty’s Will dated 1926. It would be helpful to talk to any next of kin about it.

    By ray woodberry (31/01/2016)
  • Hi,

    My Mother sadly passed away earlier this year and, after going through all of her documents I found that Robert Varty’s name is on the original land deeds.

    By William West (01/09/2015)
  • Hello everyone, I am a descendant of Robert Varty & am just learning about his achievements, very interesting man.

    By Debbie Varty (24/08/2015)
  • Caroline,   There was no woodland between Downer Rd North and Rhoda Rd North back before WW2 it was open hillside fields, it started to get overgrown in the war years and after. PS, As a child in the 1940s and 50s we lived in an old rundown bungalow in Rhoda Rd North, probably a Robert Varty plot along side St Peters churchyard (long gone now) called Seapoint there now stands a very large modern white house that bares the same name Seapoint, at one time you could have seen the sea from there. We used to play in the hillside fields you refer to that has become woodland now. I remember walking home one dark summer night with my parents up the dirt track by the fields and seeing the hillside glowing with hundreds of little lights from the Glowworms, Magic.

    By Pete Robbins (27/07/2014)
  • Did his estate reach as far as Downer Rd North and the woodland that is still there?  If so are there any photos showing the use of land at this time?

    By Caroline Huggett (26/07/2014)
  • Julie has the same theory and where the roads are located is on an estate that was once owned by Robert Varty. So it is a sound assumption.


    By Christine Coley (17/11/2013)
  • I assume Rhoda Road and Downer Road are named after Robert Varty’s second wife Rhoda Kate Downer.

    By Pete Robbins (16/11/2013)

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