Bantham village sale raises fears for future

Bantham beach, Devon
Image caption Surfing spot Bantham beach is mainly free of commercial exploitation

The sleepy village of Bantham in south Devon is waking up to a new era.

After nearly 100 years in the hands of the same family, the picture-postcard seaside settlement is to be sold next year by its owners, Evans Estates.

Rosemary Jeffrey, 79, was born in Bantham and still lives there, selling lettuces, sprigs of mint and eggs from a table outside her front door.

Apart from the local pub, The Sloop Inn, her honesty box is the only evidence of commercialism in the village.

Bantham, as everyone who spoke testified, is that kind of place.

Image caption Ryan Hooper said the Evans family had nurtured the estate "like their back garden"

But selling this 750-acre piece of real estate - with a reported price tag of about £10m - has created uncertainty among villagers about what the future will hold.

At least 20 homes in the village are occupied by people who lease them from Evans Estates, such as Mrs Jeffrey.

The estate's properties are easily identifiable because all the window frames are painted green.

Tenants of a row of thatched estate homes, called The Cottages, were reluctant to talk but include a number of families with young children.

Estate ethos

One tenant, who declined to be named, said: "The Evans family haven't gone for exploitation, but it makes you wonder if the next landlord will be so benign."

The family made their money in coal mining and bought the Bantham estate in 1922.

Since then they have "loved and nurtured Bantham, like their back garden", according to estate manager Ryan Hooper.

Image caption A row of thatched estate cottages in the village are rented to tenants

The estate's ethos had been "bringing life to the village", which explained why many tenants were young families.

Tim Hunt and wife Helen were walking their dog on the beach, a honey pot for surfers, walkers and families.

And they could probably have spent most of the day walking on the 750 acres of the Evans Estate which takes in the river valley, the golf club on the western side of the River Avon and the river itself.

Bantham had been a centre for smuggling and the tin industry down the centuries with ships sheltering in its natural harbour, shielded from the weather by huge dunes.

On the beach, surfers were making the most of the beach break at Bantham, the best known surfing spot in south Devon.

'Insecure moment'

"It is a really special place, full of artists, surfers, people with businesses, normal people," said Mr Hunt.

Image caption The estate dominates the area around the River Avon at Bantham

He said that keeping local people in the village was "really important for the fabric of the whole area".

"But it's a really insecure moment," he said.

"It could be sold to anyone and it will come down to who has the most money.

"We have taken it for granted that it would stay in the Evans' Estates."

Apart from the £5 summer entry free, the beach is mainly free from commerce which many surfers are grateful for.

'Difficult decision'

Apart from a surf school and a mobile cafe in the summer, there are no cafes, restaurants and bars, unlike many other Devon seafronts.

"It's a wild beach," said surfer Josie Cuffe.

"And we'd like it to stay that way."

James Baker of estate agents Strutt and Parker, which is handling the sale, said that the directors of the estate wanted to sell it one lot.

"The directors had a very difficult decision to sell," he said.

"Our job is to find the right buyer and the directors prefer someone who is going to keep the estate in the manner of the current owners. That is very important to them.

"They have preserved the beauty and tranquillity that everyone enjoys at Bantham and they hope the new buyer will continue in the same vein."

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