St Austin’s, Dulwich Village - and who lived there
By Ian McInnes
St Austins, the James Allen’s Girls School pre-prep department (JAPPS), was built in 1901-02, as a private house. It replaced a late eighteenth century property known as ‘The White House’ whose site stretched south along Dulwich Village as far as ‘Beech House’ (another large house next door to Dulwich Hamlet School) and west along Village Way. The builder/developer was Alfred C W Hobman, a successful south London tar paving contractor, and he agreed to pay the Dulwich Estate just over 5s 6d per foot run of frontage and to build five houses, the large one at the corner (St Austins), for his own use, was to cost at least £1500, and four others (Nos 4-10 Dulwich village), with prices varying between £1000-£1200. He was a prosperous man and St Austins was a large house, with a large hall, three reception rooms, a billiard room, and the usual kitchen offices on the ground floor, and six bedrooms, a bathroom, and servants’ rooms above. The Estate Minutes also noted that all the interior walls were in solid brickwork, and that the floors were to be ‘off fire-proof construction.’
The house was complete by late 1902 with the others following on during 1903 but, unfortunately, Mr Hobman did not live there for long. He developed a serious mental illness and, as he was no longer able to control his own affairs, the Estate minutes reported that ‘the ‘Trustees in Lunacy’ had taken over his estate and endeavoured to dispose of the house, but without success, despite a very low reserve’. The asking price was £3500 and it was see advertised by Marten & Carnaby - with a masterpiece of estate agent speak
This very attractive modern residence, only 20 minutes from the city near the beautiful Dulwich and Brockwell Parks, 2 minutes from North Dulwich Station (L B & S C Railway) and within a few minutes’ walk from Herne Hill (with magnificent train services to City and West End from 3:15am); the motorbus route from Herne Hill to City and West End is within easy reach. The famous College and Picture Gallery are close at hand; near churches of various denominations - RC Church on Brixton hill, excellent shopping facilities at Brixton; post and telegraph office in Village; golf at Dulwich & Mitcham. Designed in red brick and roughcast, with tiled roof. Erected by the present owner for his own occupation absolutely, regardless of cost, but with a view of its being inexpensive to maintain in every respect, and this ambition has been realised. Replete with every modern luxury and convenience. It stands on its own grandly-timbered grounds in this popular and favoured residential district, with wide well-timbered and quite countrified roads, which is quite a pleasing feature, and secure seclusion to the property, approached by a double carriage way............. the house has electric light installed throughout. Is heated by hot water radiators, and is a fireproof construction. Great attention has been paid to ventilation. The reception and billiard room and three of the bedrooms have pitch pine floors. Good cupboards in most of the bedrooms. The modern stabling for two horses, with large paved coach house combined,35 feet long - but ample room is provided for accorded for construction of further stable accommodation, or motor garage. The charming pleasure grounds adjoin the well-timbered cricket ground and are adorned by some of the finest trees in the district, and disposed to great advantage in walks, with flower beds and borders, pleasure lawn, with artistic artificial pond, spanned by rustic bridge, grass and tar paved tennis courts, forcing house and vinery, the latter 40 feet long, both heated by hot water pipes. Productive kitchen garden, fully stocked and planted with standard fruit trees and seasonable annuals’; fruit wall. Brick dog-kennel and run. Range of very good brick-built and tiled poultry breeding houses and runs, and aviary.
It was finally sold in 1908 for £2850 to a William Cooper whose profession in the 1911 Census was described as ‘horticultural builder’. The description, though true in part, hardly did him justice as he was, in fact, the owner of Messrs W Cooper Ltd of the Old Kent Road, one of the largest manufacturers of prefabricated or temporary buildings, and conservatories in the country. He didn’t have much time for the niceties of dealing with the Dulwich Estate and assumed, as many did (and do) that once he had bought the house he could do what he liked. He was soon disabused of this and, in November 1910 had to apply for retrospective permission for a new greenhouse, the Surveyor reported that the building ‘was satisfactorily constructed. As it is an addition to the value of the property, I think the Governors may approve the work as carried out.’ Only a month later there was an argument about a trellis above a fence and a large rustic screen in the front garden - again erected without consent. This time the Estate Solicitor was told to sort it out.
Cooper was a fascinating character. Born in 1866, his name was actually William Busk. He was first a glass bender and then a carpenter before becoming a builder. In 1896, he acquired William Cooper Ltd, a manufacturer of wooden garden sheds and started calling himself William Cooper. Clearly a successful entrepreneur, he built up the company, adding other products, and running several factories on different sites in south London, at Peckham Rye, Thornton Heath and Brixton Hill. He even manufactured bicycles. But he also had another unusual business interest, Turkish baths. The Graphic of 2 April 1910: reported that ‘Mr Wm Cooper has acquired Turkish Baths all over London, and under the title of the Savoy Baths has equipped them with all modern conveniences’. In the four years leading up to WW1 he purchased a total of eight Turkish baths in London, his first acquisition being the Stamboul Baths in Brixton. The vendor was Henry Rance and Cooper also bought two others from him including the Savoy Hill Baths near the Savoy Hotel. The latter was probably the most lavishly equipped, as it was purpose-built and designed by C J Phipps, the architect of the Savoy Theatre. The association of the name Savoy with a quality hotel made it an obvious name for the new company. The only baths that Cooper actually built were at 120 Kensington High Street, but the chain was expanded by the purchase of three others from E H Adams, at Caledonian Road, Jermyn Street and Duke of York Street. The last two were situated around the corner from each other and the latter was for women only.
Turkish bath management brought William Cooper into contact with the law. As early as 1913 there was a Shops Act prosecution against the company over its use of the description 'Droitwich Brine Baths' for its own brine baths. The court ruled that Droitwich Brine Baths could only be obtained at Droitwich. Much later, in October 1931, he was successful in an appeal against the London County Council’s decision to revoke the licence of the Savoy Turkish Baths Ltd to ‘carry on an establishment for massage and special treatment’ at 92 Jermyn Street. The magistrate at the Marlborough Street Police Court awarded £10 10s costs against the LCC saying that he was not ‘in the least satisfied that anything happened which would justify either his or any other court taking away the licence’.
In 1916, and nearer home, Cooper purchased the site opposite Brockwell Park, between Norwood Road and the the railway, which is now known as the Bath Industrial Estate. Since 1894 it had been the site of the ‘Herne Hill Rustic Works’, a small-scale manufacturer of greenhouses, pergolas and garden benches. The owner, H E Riley, had died in 1915 and Cooper bought the site initially to provide additional manufacturing space for his temporary buildings company now called T (as in Turkish) Bath & Co. After 1919 there was much less demand for his products and Cooper redeveloped the site with the shops and workshops that are still known as the Bath Industrial Estate today.
Cooper died in 1937, the short obituary in the London Gazette recorded him as the ‘governing director’ of T Bath and Co Ltd, the Savoy Turkish Baths Company Limited, and W Cooper Ltd. Shortly afterwards it became clear that he had never officially changed his name and nor had his wife. A short statement in the London Gazette in 1942 said ‘NOTICE is hereby given that EMILY ELIZA BUSK of " St. Austin's," Dulwich Village in the county of London Widow heretofore commonly known as Emily Eliza Cooper has assumed and intends henceforth upon all occasions and at all times to sign and use and to be called and known by the said name of Emily Eliza Cooper in lieu of and in substitution for Emily Eliza Busk and that such intended change of name is formally declared and evidenced by a deed under her hand and seal dated the 25th day of April, 1941’
The family continued to live in the house until 1941 when it was rendered uninhabitable by blast from a bomb in the garden. The house remained empty until May 1948 when, following Mrs Cooper’s death, Harrods sold the furniture and effects that were still in the house at an auction on the premises. The remaining 38 years on the lease were then acquired by a Dr Arthur John Ireland and his wife, with the Estate taking back much of the large garden. In September 1950 it let a large part of it to Sainsbury’s to add to the adjacent Griffin Sports Ground which they already leased. At the same time, the Estate Surveyor took the opportunity to check out how the house was being used and found that it had been split into flats, illegally as far as the Estate was concerned. Dr Ireland was threatened with court action and he approached Sainsburys who agreed to take over his lease and convert the house into residential staff quarters for the company, along with additional amenities for the Griffin Athletic Sports Club.
With thanks to John Cooper and Malcolm Shifrin.
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