Bradford Property Trust, Martlesham Heath & the new village

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Greg Zagni worked for Bradford Property Trust at Martlesham Heath from 1976 to 2009, managing the office from 1981. He was responsible for selling most of the Martlesham Heath village houses and handling BPT’s commercial property interests at Martlesham Heath. Greg kindly agreed to talk to MH100 recently. This article is based on his recollections and some further research.

BPT owned the Martlesham Heath land from 1942 and are responsible for most of the residential and commercial development we see today, following the closure of the RAF airfield in 1963. Martlesham Heath ‘new village’ was developed and built by Bradford Property Trust from the mid-1970s through to the early 1990s. 

Bradford Property Trust was established in 1930. It’s main business was house rental. BPT would often buy workers housing from established business with large workforces. The company was established and originally owned by two Yorkshire businessmen – Messrs Gresswell and Denham – and their families. Martlesham Heath village has both a Gresswell Court and Denham Court.

BPT soon owned and rented houses all over the UK. However World War 2 bomb damage to houses they owned in Clapham, South London prompted them to diversify. They moved into land.

The Brightwell Estate (the northern part of the Orwell Park Estate), owned by Major George Marcus Tomline Pretyman, was sold at auction in October 1942 in 73 different lots. It covered a huge 5109 acres, from Little Bealings and Martlesham through several parishes to Levington and Trimley St. Martin. It was mostly farmland, covering a lot of the land directly south of the Deben estuary. BPT bought sizeable chunks of the estate around Martlesham and Brightwell including Martlesham Heath, complete with it’s ‘sitting tenant’ – RAF Martlesham Heath. See also MHAS.

 … a Conveyance dated the Eighteenth day of December One thousand nine hundred and forty two and made between George Marcus Tomline Pretyman of the one part and the Vendor of the other part.
  Part of the Conveyance (‘contract’) when Bradford Property Trust
(the Vendor in the the above) sold Martlesham Heath houses;
referring back when they bought the land from Major Pretyman in 1942

Looking back it seems a very astute investment, but there were few certainties about buying land during the the middle of a World War, especially when it included a front-line military airfield. In the event BPT sold the Martlesham and Brightwell farms and farmland fairly soon in 1945.

When the RAF quit Martlesham Heath in 1963, BPT’s investment didn’t look immediately good – a large area of mostly low-value scrub/heath land. However a combination of foresight, good planning plus some good fortune has resulted in today’s Martlesham Heath. Firstly BPT persuaded the RAF to leave the buildings as they were. Often when the RAF left airfields they’d be razed to the ground. The ex-RAF buildings formed the core of BPT’s first development, an industrial estate – today’s Business Park. Then in 1968 they leased a large chunk of the old airfield to the GPO, for a purpose-built research and development site – today’s BT Adastral Park. After that came the ‘new village’.

BPT had been using Bidwells as managing agents since the 1942 auction. Christopher Parker, the head of Bidwells, came up the idea of a ‘new village’ in the early 1970s, to be built on the vacant parts of the airfield. Parkers Place is named after him. The village would be built as a number of linked hamlets with green space between them. There’d be a central village green, with shops, offices and a pub. The hamlets would be designed by different architects, with different costs/specifications and built by different builders. Definitely a village, rather than just another housing estate. And that’s what happened.

The village plans were approved by the local authorities in 1972, on condition that BPT build a dual-carriageway relief road between the commercial and the new residential parts of Martlesham Heath. This was to take increased traffic away from the original road, that ran from Crown Point through the old RAF buildings towards Brightwell; today’s Felixstowe Road, Gloster Road and Barrack Square. The relief road is part of today’s A12 – the section from the Park & Ride roundabout to just beyond Adastral Park.

Work on the village started late 1975. The first hamlet to be built was Swan Close/Avocet Lane. Greg Zagni recalls that selling these first houses, working with then manager Harry Higgins (after who Higgins Place and the Harry Higgins play space were named), was by no means easy. They were designed and built to a quite a high specification and priced accordingly. The next hamlet, Coopers Lane, was built and priced more economically. Part of the runway was still occasionally used for flying until 1979, which was something else to contend with. Greg also recalls assuring a very well-spoken lady that take-offs and landings were rare, only to have a large aircraft “something like a Dakota” thunder past the sales office (in what is now the vicarage).

Bradford Property Trust Martlesham Heath marketing brochure, plus sales pack for one of the hamlets (1985)

As the village became more established selling the new houses became easier. It took much longer than the ten years BPT had in mind to complete the main development though, due to the ups-and-downs of the property market. Fortunately for BPT they could fall-back on their house rental business where needed. For instance, the properties in Carlford Close and some in Westland and The Oaks were initially rented-out, then sold outright when the property market improved.The De-Brink-on-the-Green flats and houses were specifically built for BPT to rent. BPT initially owned the The Douglas Bader pub, but later leased it to the Tolly Cobbold brewery. It was opened by Sir Douglas Bader himself in the summer of 1979. Greg Zagni remembers the very low Spitfire flypast that went with the opening, that had most people on the green wondering if flat on the ground was a better place to be!

The majority of the village was directly developed by BPT and built for them by five local building firms: ES&H, Sadlers, FJ Construction, Haymills, and Gibbons. However they sold land to a local housing association to build Horseman Court and to a retirement home developer to build Bader Court.

BPT developed the Beardmore Park shop units in the 1990s and sold land to Tesco for them to build their superstore. In more recent years BPT sold-on their Martlesham Heath commercial and retail property to other developers. BPT itself and its property portfolio were taken over in 2003 and gradually absorbed into Grainger plc, another housing rentals business.

Looking back Martlesham Heath, especially the new village, was quite a radical departure for BPT. It’s directors were proud of what they’d achieved though according to Greg Zagni. They’d often visit and bring others with then to “show off” the development.

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