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Chapter 6 - Land Owned by Just Two Families

Modern Eastbourne owes its development to the fact that not only had the area retained much of its open countryside - unlike its neighbour, Brighton, or to a lesser degree, Hastings - but that there were two major landowning families, namely the Gilberts and the Cavendishes.

Davies Giddy Gilbert, 1767 - 1839

Davies Giddy Gilbert, 1767 - 1839

Davies Giddy was at one time Member of Parliament for Helston and later Bodmin. He bought land in Cornwall and as a result of his marriage with Mary Anne Gilbert of Eastbourne in 1808 took her uncle s surname in 1816 in order to inherit her estates. He was elected President of the Royal Society in 1827, and had a great interest in matters of a scientific nature. He was responsible for bringing to Eastbourne the Celtic cross which once stood in the Manor House grounds and now stands in St. Mary s churchyard. He died in 1839 and the Eastbourne Gilbert Manor passed in 1845, via Mary Anne, to their son John Davies Gilbert who became outright Lord of the Manor of Eastbourne in 1850. At John s death in 1854, the manor passed to his three-year-old son, Carew Davies-Gilbert.

Compton Place (Formerly Bourne Place) in 1783.
Built by James Burton in 1556

The second and stronger of the two major landowning families was the Cavendish family who originated in a village of that name in Suffolk and had been established at court in London from the 16th century. Much of their wealth had been acquired by marriage and estate speculation. The Eastbourne estates had devolved via Lords of Wilmington, and three Earls of Northampton, into the ownership of Lady Elizabeth Compton the daughter of the 7th Earl of Northampton, who in 1782 married Lord George Augustus Henry Cavendish, the third son of the 4th Duke of Devonshire and brother of William Cavendish the 5th Duke of Devonshire. Thus the Eastbourne estates became the property of the Cavendish family.

In 1831, Lord George Augustus Henry Cavendish was raised to the peerage as the 1st Earl of Burlington. During his life he purchased numerous properties in Sussex and when he died in 1834 he had acquired (partly by his marriage to Elizabeth Compton) 8,577 acres in Sussex including Compton Place, which together with other extensive properties passed to his grandson. William, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, embarked on a rebuilding programme of the ducal seats with the consequence that, at his death in 1858, he had amassed enormous debts. However, he was a bachelor and, there being no other direct male inheritor, the title passed to William Cavendish (the grandson of Lord George Augustus Henry Cavendish) who, as we noted earlier, had inherited the Eastbourne estates from his grandfather. It is this William Cavendish, as 7th Duke of Devonshire, who largely saw the development of Eastbourne through until his death in 1891. His achievement was outstanding and his statue at the top of Devonshire Place confirms the admiration the people of Eastbourne had for him. His achievements extended far beyond Eastbourne and included such appointments as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction and the Advancement of Science, Chancellor of both London and Cambridge Universities and President of the Royal Agricultural Society.

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