In the distant past, when the population was smaller, people’s houses would have been identified by their owners’ name. Only very grand houses such as the Manor House were given an actual title. As development progressed however properties were often linked to a person’s name: in the Middle Ages, John and Cristina de Reygate gave their name to a property later called Reygates. A house named after them, Ryecotes, was demolished in 1967 to build the road called Ryecotes Mead. Kingswood House, it is believed, was named after Edward King, a tenant in 1535. Sometimes the houses were decorated in coloured paint which lent the house its name; probably this is how Blew House is so called. Ironically, the house where the blacksmith lived (the site of Harold George, ladies’ hairdresser) was called the White House and there was also a house in the Village called Plas Gwyn which also translates as ‘White House’. A house could also be named for other distinguishing features, such as Coppedhalle on Dulwich Common, named for its roof, or Wood House, on the edge of Dulwich Woods however, which was named for its location rather than its building materials.
From the early 1800s houses were often given names that reflected their location such as College Place (now Belair), Fivefields Cottage, West House on Dulwich Common. Fairfield in Dulwich Village which has its name on the stone pillars supporting the front gates and also on the gates themselves, might reflect the location of the earlier house on this site or the fell in the Lake District. Crossways at the junction of Red Post Hill, East Dulwich Grove, Dulwich Village and Village Way is a good example of this tradition though it was not built until 1927. The house named Eastlands was, as its name suggests, on the east side of the Dulwich Estate and survives in the name of Eastlands Crescent.
As the Dulwich population grew it became necessary to identify houses more systematically. Houses had been given numbers from the 1750s though it was not until the 1850s that this became properly regulated and organized. Even today some houses on Dulwich Common only have a name, not a number. At first houses were numbered consecutively up one side of a street then down the other before the present odd/even system was adopted whereby houses on the left heading out from the centre of an area are given odd numbers and houses on the right have even numbers. In Dulwich however this system was not always adhered to. Builders often started from both ends of a street at the same time, as can be seen in Woodwarde Road where the odd numbers 51 - 55 are missing from the middle of the road as the builders miscalculated the numbering.
Once streets were numbered, house names were not strictly necessary for locating a house, though people continued to use them. Now the names tell us something about the people who chose them: the image they wanted to project, the ideas they had about their homes. Builders often allowed the first resident to choose the house name which was then inscribed on the fanlight above the door; if no name was chosen then this could be left clear. Often only the person who named the house can tell us the reason behind a name but house names also went in fashions and additionally, by identifying residents on censuses we can gather clues from information such as where they were born, etc. which help us identify why names were chosen.
In the 19th century it became popular to name houses descriptively, after elements of nature, in particular for trees. This fashion is well represented in Dulwich, not surprising given its green and pleasant environment and the increase in development at this time. We see houses named The Hollies and The Laurels in Dulwich Village and The Chestnuts and The Willows on Dulwich Common. Among the many houses named for elms, Elm Lawn on Dulwich Common is in the vanguard of the trend as a house with this name has been on the site since possibly as early as 1739. Additionally, Elm Lodge is the name of the surgery in Burbage Road and The Elms was on Dulwich Common, close to where the Rosebery Gate to the park stands now. Before the advent of Dutch elm disease, elms were some of the largest and most distinctive trees (see Constable’s ‘Hay Wain’) and were used as landmarks and boundary markers which may account for the number of houses named for elms in Dulwich. Cypress House stood on Dulwich Common and Sycamore Villa was near the Old College gates, though both were demolished to make way for Dulwich Park. Cedar House was next to Gail’s Bakery, where North House and South House are now and was the tied accommodation for the Lower School (later Alleyn’s) headmaster. Ash Cottage, at the junction of Court Lane and Calton Avenue and Oakdale on Woodwarde Road still stand. As well as the many houses named after trees there are also those named after plants as seen in Woodbine, Rose and Briar cottages in the Village. Roses were popular and we see Roselea, Rosebank and Rosemead.
The Orchard was a boarding house of Dulwich College but surprisingly not many houses were named after apples, cherries or other fruit. Berry Cottage, which was near the chapel, was not actually named after any berries that grew there but for the Berry sisters who lived in it. St Martin Pomeroy was named for the parish in Cheapside which had been covered in apple orchards, rather than for any orchards here in Dulwich. I haven’t found any house names connected with other kinds of food either. It seems that house names borrowed from nature showed a sentimental rather than a practical link.
The fashion for giving houses names continued into the late Victorian/early Edwardian period, a time of huge development in Dulwich as elsewhere. Houses often had their name written in gold paint on the glass above the front door or inscribed within the stained glass leaded lights. Excellent examples still exist all over Dulwich, giving us a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of the people who named them, either the builder, or one of the first people to live there. In Calton Avenue we can still see Marlborough, Melrose, Ringwood and Abinger painted on the glass above front doors, all places which may have meant something to the first residents and Woodwarde Road has Waroona (Aborigine for resting place), Arosa and St Keverne.
A popular way of naming houses in Victorian times was after literary connections or beauty spots. Sir Walter Scott, celebrated the scenery of Scotland and Queen Victoria also did much to boost its popularity with her championing of the Highlands.. It became common to twin the word glen with other descriptive words so we see Glenholme and Glencoe in Calton Avenue, Glenlea on Dulwich Common (now Tappen House) and Glenmaye on Desenfans Road. Other places used as house names in Dulwich include Wimereux in France, Vigo in Spain, Parknasilla in Ireland, showing us that Dulwich residents either had fond memories of their travels or that they yearned to visit these places. The many houses called Melbourne may have been named in admiration of the Prime Minister or perhaps of the village in the Peak District. In amongst the Chestnuts and Elms of Alleyn Park we find names redolent of the Raj and though I have not been able to connect the residents of Khyber House, Bela or Umballa directly to India, they were in businesses such as stockbroking and shipping and so would have had links around the world. Indeed, Nils Schjott, a shipping agent, was born in Norway, married in France, lived in Constantinople and could easily have had the kind of connection with India that led to him calling his house Cawnpore.
Towards the end of the 19th century groups of houses in a road often had their own name and within that name would typically have a number rather than another name. These rows of houses were built for renting and would be named by the builder, sometimes the name and date would be incised in the stonework along the front of the terrace. Examples here in Dulwich include Gorleston Villas and Alleyn Terrace on Park Hall Road, now demolished. Similarly a row of houses on Boxall Road was named Pearson Terrace after its builder.
As part of transforming a house into a home, the names people chose often reveal autobiographical information about them and Victorian Dulwich is no exception. Thus, people often named their house nostalgically, after a place they had left behind. Sir James Douglass named Stella House in College Road after the place in Northumberland where his father was born. The Lampards named their Calton Avenue house Hollingbourne after the village they came from in Kent; Velindre is named for a family’s birthplace in Wales and similarly, Bungaree, the Aborigine for hut, commemorates the Australian heritage of the family who first lived in it. Toksowa may come into this category as it may be a transliteration of То́ксово a place in Russia. These transferred names might sometimes reflect a honeymoon or memorable holiday - perhaps Pentire, Lyme Regis or Stresa were linguistic souvenirs of fondly remembered holidays. For Victorians, unlike for cats, the naming of houses sometimes was ‘one of your holiday games’ (pace T S Eliot).
Other popular ways of naming houses include memorialising saints: St Austin’s, St Ronan’s, St Cyril’s; or ancient history: Tusculum, Pandura; or people: Marlowe House, Pickwick House, Tappen House. You could even name your house after your best beloved, as James Cocken did when he named his Woodwarde Road house Florence, after his wife. In the 1930s people often blended their own names to produce a symbolic name such as Ronilda or Gladroy just as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford had blended their surnames to call their Hollywood house Pickfair. However, this does not seem to have happened often in Dulwich although there is Derval in Gilkes Crescent, named after the owners’ children Derek and Valerie. Finally, Dulwich residents might like to know that, so long as they use their house number in their address, they can use any house name they like without having to notify the post office or local council. If no house number is allocated then the house name forms part of the official address and permission to change it must be sought from both the local council and the Royal Mail.