20th Century ‘stars and stripes’ Broadsands

THE WESTERN TIMES
Broadsands to be Made Accessible to the Public
12th July 1919

Lovers of Broadsands, that beautiful sandy beach between Brixham and Paignton, will be pleased to know that, through the Churston Parish Council, an agreement has been made with Lord Churston and Mrs. Charles Williams for a public path, 4ft wide, to be made to give access to the beach from the public roadway near the Galmpton Warbro’. It is stipulated that if the fields are trespassed, the concession will be withdrawn. Messrs P.F. Doble and J. Beer have been depited by the Parish Council to see that the work is satisfactorily carried out. Mr. Hammett has collected about £7 towards the cost of the two stiles, but this sum is inadequate to meet the total expense, as one of the stiles will be expensive on account of the marshy nature of the soil on which it has to be erected. The new pathway will confer a great boon on the Galmpton villagers.

In many ways this opening of a new public path to Broadsands beach 100 years ago was the starting gun for the development of not only the beach, but of the amphitheatre of residential housing with its focal point the sandy strand of Broadsands, Elbury Common, and the waters beyond. Remember, up to this time, Broadsands was largely isolated from its hinterland, the only trackway being down to Elbury Farm along Elbury Lane, and short extension on down to the salt water marsh and reed beds. At the Northern end of the beach there was a farm track down from Hookhills Farm, passing under Broadsands Viaduct, but no public road.

Credit: Churston Development Co circa 1935

FLORIDA USA – A look alike?

During the 1930’s Broadsands was to become the dream development site for a newly arrived couple to South Devon, the Elmhirsts of Dartington. With Dorothy’s immense wealth   The Churston Development Company was set up to create a prestigious area of real estate and tourism, exploiting the natural features of this area of Torbay. This picture was an illustration on the front cover of the promotional sales brochure seen World Wide!

The development was to include:-

500 houses with associated Country Club

Luxury 5 star Hotel (situated on Elbury Common!)

Shops – Tea House – Beach facilities

Credit: Churston Development Co – circa 1935

As a part of the restoration of the Dartington estate the Dartington Hall Trustees created Staverton Builders Ltd.

The Elmhirsts, already employing World famous architects Louis de Soissons and William Lescaze at Dartington, would widen their influence to Broadsands.

To open up access, firstly the descending curves of Broadsands Road were constructed, of concrete, still visible  in 2020. It is thought a German construction company was responsible for this long lasting structure!

The American landscape and garden designer Beatrix Farrand, again employed by Dorothy Elmhirst at Dartington Hall, would be made responsible for landscaping here at Broadsands.

Three of the original properties can be seen in the picture, on the skyline top right.

Pevsner quotes from Building publication of 1935:

probably the most ambitious attempt to build a comprehensive modern scheme to a uniform style’; all rendered, with flat roofs, sun terraces, and progressive features such as corner windows, grouped in some variety, although later additions have obscured the play of geometric asymmetry

Of the original six houses completed by 1935 only one sold immediately!

It seems that for all their imaginative flair, market research had not taken regard of the fact that the Devon climate did not quite match that of California or Florida and that flat roofs were decidedly inappropriate considering the materials of the time. Even a stupendous view could not counteract a constantly leaking roof!  Wisdom prevailed and for the remaining build, although nothing like 500, the architectural style was adapted to suit a more temperate maritime climate. One can imagine the bemusement on the faces of many from the village communities at seeing this development rising out of their countyside, together with the fact that for them it was still the outdoor privy and water from the village tap.

Rock Close 1998

For the Churston Development Company the proposed 500 Florida style dwellings was not to be, but the edifices remaining on top of the hill today, especially against a blue sky, are a signature of changing times and concepts and now, quite happily accepted as part of the scenery, 90 years on.

One major proposal however, that was not to be, partially due to the arrival of the war, was the construction of the luxury hotel on Elbury Common. I record these words with an immense constant sigh of relief!

Elburry Common – credit: John Risdon 2000