Dulwich Wood Avenue is one of the few roads in the southern part of Dulwich which still retains a number of its mid-Victorian houses. Originally called ‘The Avenue’ and only renamed ‘Dulwich Wood Avenue’ in 1939, the road runs along the east side of Long Meadow connecting the roundabout at the bottom of Dulwich Wood Park with Farquhar Road. The junction which is now the roundabout was known at one time as ‘Avenue Gate’, though there was no gate as such. Long Meadow also had a different name, it was known for many years by locals as ‘French’s fields’ after the local dairyman, Thomas French, who grazed his cows there - his dairy, at No 74 Gipsy Hill on the northern corner of Cawnpore Street, is still there.
The previous article on Farquhar Road in the last Journal described the impact of the opening of the Crystal Palace on the demand for housing in the area. Dulwich Wood Avenue was part of that section of woodland purchased by George Wythes in 1853 and then sold on a few years later partly to the Crystal Palace Company and partly to a local Gipsy Hill based house builder, Richard H Marshall. While it took the Crystal Palace Company until 1863 to agree housing layouts with the Dulwich Estate for the southern end of the road nearest Farquhar Road (Nos 2-8), Marshall was far more adept and he agreed his layouts facing Long Meadow by the middle of 1859 and also managed to renegotiate the start dates of his leases, from Lady-day 1859 rather than the Crystal Palace Company’s Lady-day 1853. His first houses were built and occupied by the time of the 1861 Census. His original intention was to construct 19 houses, though only 18 were actually built (Nos 10-44) and four (Nos 22-28) remain. His obituary in the Norwood News in July 1902 noted that ‘He took great pleasure and pride in the improvements he had been able to make in the neighbourhood, having built houses and planted trees on Gipsy Hill, Alleyn Park, Kingswood Road, and the whole of the Avenue.’ While his houses may have been well built, it would appear that he paid less attention to the quality of the road, within ten years the residents were writing to the Dulwich Estate about its deteriorating surface and demanding that something be done about it. A few years later they were complaining about the small triangular area at the southern end of Long Meadow saying that it was being used both for fly tipping and as a playground by local boys. The Estate agreed to enclose it with a ‘rustic lattice of larch poles, somewhat similar to the field opposite.’ - it remains fenced off today though with metal railings rather than the original timber.
It took another ten years before the Crystal Palace Company completed their four houses in the road, in 1872. They were actually built by a builder based in Forest Hill, John Paterson Waterson, who had also worked on houses on the east side of Farquhar Road, and others in Crescent Wood Road, Dulwich Wood Park and Lordship Lane. He should be best known today as the builder in 1867-68 of most of the shops in the north parade (formerly called Commerce Place) in Dulwich Village - now 35-45 Dulwich Village. Of the four houses he built in ‘The Avenue’, three remain, Nos. 2, 6 and 8. No. 4 was there until demolished in the 1950s to provide a site for a double story block of garages for the adjacent tall block of flats, Lowood Court.
A few years earlier, in the late 1860s, there was a development of ten smaller semi-detached houses (Nos 1-19 odd) on the west side of the road, south of the junction with Colby Road - the builder was Edwin Cole, from West Norwood. On the other side of the junction another building contractor called Arthur G Owen leased the long thin triangular site backing onto the backs of the Colby Road gardens and built a large house for himself which he called ‘Oakfield’ even though there were at least two other houses with the same name in Dulwich at the time. In the early 1880s he added two more houses in his side garden by the junction with Gipsy hill, ‘Staffa House’ and ‘Iona Villa’.
As early as the First World War the larger houses on the east side of the road were seen as less desirable for wealthy residents. No 44, at the junction with Avenue Gate was a school as early as 1901, with German born Miss Anita Henkel running it as a ‘finishing school for the daughters of gentlemen.’ It became a Red Cross run hospital in 1916. In January 1917, ‘Woolsthorpe’, No. 10 Dulwich Wood Avenue, was acquired by the promoters of the Montessori Kindergartens - the Estate agreed to grant a licence to use the house ‘as a college for the training of young children and students in the Montessori system of education.’ Over the next few years, the organisation also acquired No 38 as a student hostel and later, Nos 40, 42 and 44
In the late 1930s, on the other side of the road, the Estate demolished six of the small semi-detached houses (Nos 1-11) and leased the sites, plus the corner site of No 63 and 65 Farquhar Road, to a building firm called Connell and Truett. They started a number of detached houses with Tudor style half-timbered elevations but WW2 intervened and they were not finished until the early 1950s. The remainder of the old houses down to Colby Road were demolished after WW2, with two sites leased to individual owners to build their own houses, and the remaining land went to the self-builders from the Enterprise (Camberwell) Building Society. Despite some bomb damage, most of the large houses on the east side of the road survived but their size, and the short leases remaining, meant that they were even less appealing to potential owners - indeed, there was talk in 1948 of three of the sites being sold for the construction of a Methodist church.
The Dulwich Development Plan produced in the early 1950s identified this part of the Dulwich Estate as ripe for redevelopment but, a combination of the need to have the London County Council’s agreement to the plan, and the impact of Building Licence controls, meant that there was no opportunity to move forward. In the spring of 1954 Camberwell Council tried to compulsorily purchase several of the sites but it was overruled by the Minister of Housing following a public enquiry. He referred to the evolving Dulwich Development Plan saying that the Dulwich Estate was preparing its own development scheme and it should be allowed to implement it. A preliminary site layout was agreed later in the year but it was not until February 1956 that the Estate Manager and Architect met developer/builder Wates to discuss how the scheme could progress. To speed things up they agreed that a small initial scheme should go ahead while a more comprehensive master plan was prepared. This first phase was on the site of Oakfield, and it was carried out using standard three-bedroom Wates semis designed by the in-house architect’s department - with some input from the estate architect, Austin Vernon & Partners, on the elevations. It was the first Wates development in the area and perhaps it was also a test to see how well the builder and architect could work together and whether Wates would deliver what they promised - the 14 semi-detached houses were completed within a year. By previous Dulwich standards these were very modern houses and, in his description to the Board meeting which approved the scheme, Austin Vernon, the Estate Architect, noted positively that ‘the elevations are designed in the modern contemporary style, which I think are not unattractive and, as the whole of the surrounding lands will be eventually developed with buildings of a somewhat similar kind, these elevations could be permitted’.
Planning consent for a mixed scheme of houses and flats on the site bounded by Dulwich Wood Avenue and Farquhar Road was achieved in January 1957. The first houses, Nos 1-4 Oakfield Gardens (named after the old house formerly across the road), were completed in October 1958 with another five terraces, Nos. 5-9, 10-15, 16-20, 36-38, and 39 - 41 Oakfield Gardens following, the numbering suggests that there were going to be others at a later date on the sites of Nos 22-28. The wide frontage two-story house had an L shaped plan and a large garden and were laid out in short terraces perpendicular to the road. Access to each house was via a footpath leading from the parking area and garage block at the front of the site. The front door was approached via a small courtyard behind a full height metal grille gate. On the other side of the projecting kitchen block there was a ‘back door’ which opened on to a smaller courtyard providing storage space for refuse bins and garden tools. Only in Dulwich would the sales brochure refer to it as a ‘tradesman’s entrance’!
The sites of Nos 36-44 Dulwich Wood Avenue, were not redeveloped until the late 1960s when the site was sold to W & C French. Two new service roads, Hunters’ Meadow and Bell Meadow, with detached houses on either side, were brought into the triangular site and a block of flats built in the acute corner. The detached house types alternated, wide frontage/narrow frontage, but were substantially the same in plan and elevational treatment, with all elevations clad in clay tiles above brickwork.
The final development in the area was in 1975-78 when Wates built two blocks of 12 flats and maisonettes at the southern end of Paxton Green. This was the last development to be built by Wates on the Dulwich Estate before they returned in the 1990s to build the ‘Huf’ houses in Woodyard Lane in Dulwich Village. The old houses on the site (‘Staffa House’ and ‘Iona Lodge’), were demolished in 1969. Planning consent was obtained in 1970 but it took a number of failed agreements with other developers, before Wates took over the scheme in 1975.