Eastbourne Memories - A Victorian Perspective

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222                Old Memories of East-Bourne. [Chap. XVII.
transformed from a mere space into a properly finished and equipped public Park. The fields then collectively known as the " South Fields " comprised a very large field of 28 acres, belonging to Mr. 0. D. Gilbert, and 2 smaller fields, collectively making 14 acres, belonging to the Duke of Devonshire. I first broached the matter at a Meeting of the Local Board as far back as 1875. The Board responded to the suggestion, and negociations -were entered into with Mr. Gilbert's agent, Mr. Nicholas Whitley. Mr. Whitley professed himself friendly to the idea, if terms could be arranged. His original proposal was that the town should take a long lease of Mr. 'Gilbert's field, on a sliding scale of rent, which was to start at £20 a year, increasing thenceforward until some •defined maximum was reached. What Mr. Whitley's idea of a maximum was, did not leak out until some time afterwards. Whilst the matter was in this nebulous •condition, I went to see Mr. Henry Currey, the Duke of Devonshire's agent, to ascertain his views. He was most prompt in stating them, and frank at the same time. He said (I am giving his exact words): " If you [i.e., the Local Board] can come to terms with Mr. Gilbert, I will advise the Duke of Devonshire to give you his 14 acres, and throwing all the fields into one, so make a complete .and central Public Park." Alas ! that this could not be •carried out. Mr. Whitley's sliding scale as finally presented to the Board was a Rent growing from £20 a year in 1875 to £1000 a year in 1899. These last figures deterred the Local Board from any further attempts to acquire the South Fields for public purposes, not­withstanding that much public anxiety was shown to bring about a settlement. I find in my Diaries notes of meetings to agitate the subject held at Mr. Howard Palmer's house on July 12, 1880 ; at the Lamb Inn on October 20, 1884; and at the Devonshire Park on November 7, 1884, besides which a very influential memorial from tenants on the Gilbert Estate to the same effect was got up by Mr. J. G. Langham in October 1884. It was signed by 51 tenants, owning £350,000 of property on the estate.
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