Although farming in Dulwich was virtually dead by the First World War, a couple of smallholdings survived for some years after. One of these was the remnant of Dulwich Wood farm which had stood at the top of Grange Lane since the early decades of the eighteenth century. Most of its land had been absorbed by the expansion of the Dulwich & Sydenham Hill golf course, another 20 acres being laid down as sports fields and leaving under two acres for the former dairy farm. Farmer W E Sharpe was its last occupant and he had run it for some fifteen years as a pig farm, using the former cowsheds as pig pens. Recently, some old newspaper cuttings have come to light which record the farm’s closure.
It was finally the question of blocked drains which did for Farmer Sharpe and June the Pig and her piglets and fellows. Bones in the pig swill had led to the clogging of the drains which ran in several directions, towards the Toll Gate and also towards the Grove House, opposite The Grove PH on Dulwich Common. The farm, which until the late 1880’s had had to survive on water drawn from a 30’ well was, fifty years later, still not connected to the main sewer in College Road.
As the Dulwich Estate’s tenant, Mr. Sharpe was responsible for the drains but as he was nearing retirement, he was unwilling to run to the considerable expense of putting in new drains . As a result he offered the remaining five and half years of the lease on Dulwich Wood Farm back to the Estate, who accepted it and reimbursed Mr Sharpe to the tune of £250.
An inspection of the farm in 1935 showed that there was a two-storey farmhouse and another single storey house; the whole comprising six bedrooms, three reception rooms and a kitchen and bathroom. with the addition of a large number of farm outbuildings.
Although a couple of tentative offers to take the farm as the site of a new house were received, the Estate instead decided that it would demolish the buildings which it considered were beyond repair and clear the site. The land is now covered partly by the Gun Site Allotments and partly by the South London Scout Centre (The Fort). An early occupier of the cleared land which was being restored at the time by the golf club who were negotiating to take it over, was Wilson’s Grammar School, Camberwell who used it as a sports ground.
In the summer of 1938, D H Allport, a distinguished local Dulwich historian who was also a Scout district commissioner received permission for scouts to camp on the fields. He was only just in time as shortly after the War Office served a requisition notice and occupied all of the former Dulwich Wood farm site, and an adjoining two acre field, as an anti-aircraft gun site. A formal 20-year lease was agreed and there was some haggling over the cost of putting in new drainage. There was also a covenant that the site would be restored to its original condition at the end of the lease.
By December 1939, and just three months after war had been declared, the army had erected a number of huts on the former farm and it was not long before the personnel had formed a pig club, so the tradition of running pigs in the area, once a perk for Dulwich’s medieval villagers, enjoyed a twentieth century revival. The army remained in occupation long after the end of the war, using the site as a weekend training centre for Territorial Army soldiers.
In 1961, after the military had left, part of the site was acquired on a lease from the Dulwich Estate by the Scout association. A full account of this, and its subsequent history by Michael Rich may be found in the Spring 2008 edition of the Journal available online. The remainder of the former farm was converted into the present existing allotments.
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