Built in the grounds of the historic Pond House between 1958-63, Pond Mead consists of 17 two and three-bedroom maisonettes in two and three-storey blocks facing landscaped garden areas - though there are also three units over the garage blocks. The north–east end of the site contains five two-storey terrace houses in a stepped layout, and all the units are in grey brick - presumably chosen to compliment the old house. Pond House itself dates originally from 1759, but a large part of its appearance today is the result of a major refurbishment scheme which took place at the same time as the construction of Pond Mead.
The pond which gave the property its name was open to the road, but after an unfortunate accident in 1823, when the local butcher's boy fell in and drowned, it was ordered to be enclosed within the garden of the house. Now, of course, it has disappeared completely. The original house was probably a re-build of a much earlier house and was the work of John Tinkler, carpenter of Covent Garden. In 1753 Tinkler apparently designed and built nos. 1 & 2 King Street, Covent Garden, two substantial 4 storied houses, as well as another in nearby Bow Street. He served as church warden of St Paul’s Covent Garden in 1760/61. It therefore seems unlikely he was the actual occupier of Pond House but perhaps a developer. From 1772 a Thomas Dunn lived there, followed by William Schneider (1784-85), John Henry Schneider (1785-1792) and Peter Thompson (1792-1807); one of his sons is buried in the Old Burial Ground in Dulwich Village.
The house and its contents was up for sale at auction in July 1836 but the purchaser, a Mr Groucock, only lived in it for a short time before subletting it to a Mr Boull and then a Mr Beaston. The 1851 census records the occupant as a city wine and spirit merchant, John George Marzetti - the local press reported that his daughters ‘were such striking beauties that they were known as the "Toasts of Dulwich"’. In 1861 the tenant was Herman Kerkhoff, 45, General Merchant (born in Hamburg but a naturalised British citizen) plus wife, 2 children and 3 servants. He was followed in 1864 by Thomas Lynn Bristowe, a wealthy stock broker, future MP for Norwood, and the man behind the creation of Brockwell Park. At the time, the Estate minutes described the house as having three sitting rooms and six bedrooms, with convenient, but rather low, basement offices, and a billiard room. It also had a three-stall stable and a double coach house.
Bristowe occupied the house for a very short time as, within a year, the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company had compulsorily acquired the site to build the railway line between North Dulwich and Tulse Hill. The track must have been constructed quickly, as by September 1866, Fullers, the London Auctioneers, were selling the house on behalf of the railway company. They described it in glowing terms as the ‘leasehold family residence known as Pond House, Dulwich, with stables and outbuildings, lawn, pleasure grounds, and grounds, prettily laid out and timbered. Held upon lease from Dulwich College for a term of which about 20 years unexpired, at a low rent and well worth £250 per annum.’
The purchaser, who agreed to pay only £150, was Richard May, a wealthy timber merchant, and managing director of R May & Sons, whose yard was at Acorn Wharf on the Grand Surrey Canal. Founded in 1853, the business dealt mainly in English timbers, especially oak from Kent and Surrey. He died in November 1869 and the house was taken over by his son, Richard James May, then just 23 years old.
Richard James May remained in occupation until his death in 1932. It was not always a happy time, a newspaper report on 12th January 1891 reported the death of a son, Charles Musgrove, aged 17 months, and just over a year later, on 26th September 1892 another newspaper noted ‘the death, from scarlet fever, of Richard Stanley, eleven-year-old son of Richard and Ellen May’. He carried out major changes in 1885-86 when he renewed his lease at the same rent, £150 a year. The Estate agreed an extended term of 28 rather than the usual 21 years on the basis that he improved the house by spending at least £500 in taking down the old wing and rebuilding it to provide a new large billiard room with two bedrooms and a new bathroom above it.
When he died his executors paid dilapidations of £280 and the lease was then acquired by James Cornell, previously living nearby at 8 Red Post Hill, who ran a chain of butchers’ shops. The Estate asked for £250 per annum but agreed to £155 – only £5 more than it had been 100 years earlier. In February 1933, Cornell applied for permission to build an aviary and, in May, he advertised for two moorhens, presumably to go in it. In 1936, he put in a swimming pool. His wife was still in occupation when the lease ran out in 1953 – the dilapidations report noting that the house was in generally good condition and ready to be re-let.
Pond House was listed Grade II in 1954 and Mrs Cornell finally left the property early in 1955. In the summer, the Estate advertised it for rent – at £250 a year. There were four prospective purchasers, one of them a language school, but the successful applicant was Edward Light RIBA, an architect. He clearly saw the development potential of the site and, in spring 1957, he approached the Estate seeking a new 99-year lease on the old house along with permission to build additional houses or flats in the garden. In December, the Governors agreed to a redevelopment scheme for three small detached houses and a planning application was submitted in the following February. Unfortunately, in September, Camberwell Council turned it down on the basis of inadequate density. Mr Light tried an alternative scheme for a block of 12 three-storey flats but, when that too was rejected, he put the house on the market for a premium of £4,000. The Estate offered him £2,500, which he finally took. Almost immediately the Estate offered Pond House to Dulwich College as being suitable for assistant masters’ housing – finding reasonably priced accommodation for them was a particular problem at the time. The College were initially very keen but the conversion cost proved to be too high and it could not be delivered quickly enough.
Over the next few months Austin Vernon & Partners produced a detailed flat conversion scheme for the old house while, at the same time, submitting a planning application for a block of 12 maisonettes in the garden, very similar to Mr Light’s. Tenders for the scheme came in very high and Russell Vernon was told to talk to the London County Council about demolishing Pond House, notwithstanding its listing. Clearly the LCC were not enthused as, in January 1962, the Manager reported that he had tried again to lease the main house but without success – the problem being not so much its by then dilapidated condition but the prospective blocks of maisonettes to be built in the garden.
However, luckily for the Estate, the adjacent property, Lorne House, 5 Red Post Hill, had come onto the market and it purchased it for £5500, 10% less than the asking price. Including this site with Pond House meant that 5 additional houses could be added making the development more financially viable. In July a revised scheme with five houses, 17 maisonettes and 20 garages, in four separate blocks, was agreed. The lowest tender was £103,805 – from local Dulwich Village contractor, W J Mitchell & Sons Ltd.
While the maisonettes were under construction the Estate Manager continued to try and let Pond House as a single property. The problem was finally resolved in November 1962 when a young couple, Mr & Mrs Nigel Graham Maw (he was the son of one of the former Estate Governors) agreed to take the house and pay a premium of £3,000 as well as funding the cost of a more imaginative and radical refurbishment scheme. The aim was to return the house to a more ‘Georgian’ appearance – the upper part of Richard James May’s extension was removed, the front entrance was reconstructed, and garages and a loggia added on the ground floor. The house was sold again in 1970 to the current owners.
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