Inside Purley's Webb Estate
One of Surrey's most exclusive addresses, the Webb Estate in Purley is a tranquil oasis of multi-million pound mansions linked by beautifully manicured lanes. ENJOLI LISTON opens the gates on this hidden world of the rich and famous
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine November 2009
Over 120 years ago, Purley estate agent William Webb purchased 260 acres of suburban land and, over the course of three decades, transformed it into his utopian vision of a ‘garden village’ for the first generation of wealthy London commuters.
Today, the Webb Estate, just off Foxley Lane, remains a residential retreat for well-heeled urbanites, with the average house fetching between �1 million and �4 million – though ‘average’ is not a word that can truly be used to describe any of the homes within the estate’s beautifully manicured lanes.
“The larger plots usually range from 8,000 to 10,000 square feet and have all the trimmings one would expect – including, of course, an indoor pool or cinema room,” says Peter Bond, property consultant for Walter and Mair estate agents, who has been selling homes on the estate for the past 20 years.
When Webb designed the estate, he believed that although an English gentleman’s house was his castle, his garden was an equally important sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. He carefully crafted the grounds before any construction began, and the horticultural touches (such as the lines of enchanting poplar trees planted as a memorial to French soldiers who fell in World War One) remain a key part of its elite appeal. Peter says the covenant that protects these natural features, such as the roses of Rose Walk and the silver birches lining Silver Lane, only “adds to the atmosphere and sense of exclusivity that the residents buy into”.
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When the landscaping was complete, Webb sold off 225 plots so each individual buyer could build their own dream homes. And, as each property was designed to the requirements of each plot owner, every house is truly unique – a rare quality for many estates.
A resident’s view Since moving to the estate in 1992, former Crystal Palace chairman Ron Noades and his wife Novello have renovated their house “beyond recognition”. The additions include the must-have for any mansion – an indoor pool (famously used in the ITV drama, Footballers’ Wives) and a subterranean spiral staircase wine cellar. But the most recent alteration has been a stunning, state-of-the-art open-plan kitchen designed by Novello herself.
“Because of their age, most of the houses had features like servants’ quarters but lacked new necessities, like garages,” says Novello. “So there have been a lot of changes made to accommodate modern lifestyles. And one of the great things about the Webb Estate is that whatever you do to your house, you get your money back.”
While the individual nature of the homes certainly adds to the estate’s appeal, it is the combination of rural calm and commuter convenience that are the key attractions for many of the residents, including Novello.
"What makes it really special for me is that it’s so convenient for local shops, for London and for Gatwick Airport – while still being very green, calm and private,” she says. “When we sit in the garden we could be right in the middle of the countryside.”
And, of course, privacy is paramount for those residents whose careers put them in the public eye. “When you are high profile, it’s nice to have that level of privacy,” says Novello. “Francis Rossi of Status Quo used to ride around on his bicycle with his kids and was never bothered.”
The gated roads (and often gated houses) also have the added security benefit of having former City of London Police Commissioner Owen Kelly as the local Neighbourhood Watch coordinator.
Yet despite all of its magnificent properties and grounds, fascinating history, enviable seclusion and celebrity residents, Peter Bond says the Webb Estate is in fact undervalued.
“Although it offers a comparable level of exclusivity, it seems barely known outside the local area and certainly does not have the same high profile as St George’s Hill or Wentworth,” he says.
Undervalued charm The Webb Estate may not be the most famous residence in Surrey, but it certainly is one of the most charming. There is an extraordinary family atmosphere, partly created by neighbourly warmth and partly by the estate’s own school, which makes it feel more like a grand old-fashioned village than an elite residential development.
“I am very surprised it still isn’t better known” says Novello, who did look at properties in St George’s Hill before settling in Purley. “We’ve thought about moving a few times, but we’ve never found anywhere to beat it… it really is a hidden gem.”