In this issue Michael Coupe and Ian McInnes draw our attention to the government’s new draft planning bill and highlight the benefit which places such as Dulwich have from being within a Conservation Area. Conservation areas are defined as an area (usually urban or the core of a village) of special architectural or historic interest, the character of which is considered worthy of preservation or enhancement. East Dulwich is not included in either of Dulwich’s two conservation areas but is fully qualified to have its own such status granted.
Several years ago the East Dulwich Society was dissolved and its remaining officers asked the Dulwich Society to take over its interests. They also passed over the residual funds of £3000. The Dulwich Society was reluctant to extend its activities beyond the loose boundaries of the Dulwich Estate but agreed to accept some responsibility for East Dulwich. until a new society could be launched. The funds of the East Dulwich Society were immediately allocated to provide a ‘green wall’ in front of Goose Green Primary School in order to alleviate the effects of traffic pollution. Previously there had also been areas of mutual interest, including the site of Dulwich Hamlet FC, Greendale and the Dulwich Hospital site. Furthermore, the Dulwich Society had, in 2013, placed a number of plaques to commemorate civilians killed in WW2 in areas of East Dulwich. In this issue of the Journal there is the first of three articles by Gavin Bowyer recounting the history of the Friern Manor estate which occupied about half of what today is known as East Dulwich.
East Dulwich has in recent years gathered a reputation as an attractive and trendy place to live and many former Dulwich residents have downsized into its Victorian houses.
Professor H J Dyos in his seminal book The Victorian Suburb (1961) examined the growth of Camberwell and devoted much attention to the development of East Dulwich, pointing out that it was transformed from farmland to an area of dense housing within a generation. As a consequence, East Dulwich sits within a time capsule of Victorian house design when its developers (many of them insurance companies) built cheap accommodation essentially for the growing lower middle-classes, mostly an army of clerical workers employed in the expanding areas of insurance, banking and commerce. The builders sought to individualise the houses in the more or less uniform streets by detailing them with intricate decorations around the doorways, bay windows and porches, gables and paths.
With a few exceptions, where German bombers in WW2 had found a target, the area remains almost as intact today as it was when it was built up between the 1870’s and the 1890’s. Now, a new generation of houseproud owners are restoring its tessellated front paths, gardens and architectural features.
Unfettered redevelopment would deal a devastating blow to East Dulwich and its residents should be in the forefront of a call for it to be designated as a Conservation Area. The Dulwich Society could play a role in assisting this process, initially by calling a meeting of residents of the area to highlight the advantages which such a status attracts.