Boxall Road (originally Boxall Row) was named after Robert Boxall, the lessee, in the 1770s, of the old 'Greyhound Inn’ located nearby. Originally a carpenter, he had lived in Dulwich since 1759, and had become prosperous enough to turn his hand to property development. He purchased a site along the west side of ‘High Street Dulwich’, just north of his inn, and paid a local builder, William Levens, to construct the cottages at nos. 84-86 Dulwich Village and behind them, a row of six even smaller cottages and a wheelright’s shop, Boxall Row. Over the next few years he added three more cottages on the south side and four on the north side - behind The Laurels and The Hollies (originally built in 1767).
Boxall Row was extended up to Turney Road in 1876 when the Dulwich Cottage Company built 6 cottages on the spare site nearest to Turney Road. A report in the contemporary Builder magazine said “the promoters of the undertaking are desirous that the cottages to be built should harmonise, as far as possible, with the general character of the locality”. By 1895 the road width varied from 28 feet at the north end, to 18 feet at its opening into the Village.
Eighteenth Century standards of construction, particularly for houses for poorer people, were not good, and when the leases on the houses expired in 1895 the Architect and Surveyor summarised his report on their condition by saying “in my opinion they are not worth repairing and should be pulled down”. He then went on to note “In this road there are 14 Cottages which are both internally and externally in a dilapidated state. The roofs are covered in plain tiles and are in a very bad condition, many of the timbers being decayed at the ends, consequently serious settlements occur. There are no gutters to carry off the rainwater. The brickwork in many places much decayed and crumbling away and the flooring to living rooms, with one exception, is laid immediately on the clay soil and consequently is continually decaying owing to the want of proper ground ventilation.
The drainage to these cottages has for some time past given considerable trouble and I find that the premises are drained by an old brick sewer with branches from the WC’s at right angles to the main drain. There is only an intermittent supply of water to the premises, and the only storage accommodation consists of old and leaky water butts. Many of the cottagers have no supply within the house, and have to go outside in all weathers for water.
The Governors agreed that the cottages should be replaced and the Surveyor put forward a plan for 10 new cottages on the south side and 3 on the north side. They were to be built on an 18 foot frontage and set back approximately 10 feet from the road. The projected cost was £200 to £300 each and the suggested ground rent £3 per house.
The Surveyor considered that an average street width of 25 feet would be ample for this locality but flagged up the possibility that the London County Council, “under section 9, Part II, of the Building Act 1894”, might require a depth of 40 feet. This would of course mean that the cottages on the north side could not be built.
In May 1896 he reported “I am sorry to say that the LCC have again refused their sanction to the proposed widening and equalising the width of Boxall Row, and I am quite at a loss to understand why they have done so, and thus delayed and possibly prevented a manifest public improvement.” A possible compromise, which he explained in detail to the Governors on their Annual Review tour in June, was to build on the south side only and leave the width of the road to be agreed later, and this is what they did.
In July 1896 the Manager received an offer from Mr R Pearson, builder, of Dulwich Rise, to take a building lease for a “term of 84 years from Michaelmas 1896”. He noted that the cottages were to be built in pairs, with a common porch entrance to each pair, and that the accommodation to be provided was a sitting room, kitchen, scullery & WC on the ground floor, with three bedrooms above (there were no bathrooms). Mr Pearson offered to start building the 13 cottages at once at a total cost of £2000 but there was a slight delay when, in August 1896, the LCC confirmed that they required the cottage fronts to be 20 feet from the centre of the road rather than 15.
In 1895 the former Wheelwrights shop at the end of Boxall Row (now the Park Motor Garage) was in temporary use as a forge by a Mr Dudman though up until 1890 it had been a small workshop occupied by Mr Walton, a coach builder. The Surveyor noted that Mr Pearson wanted to control the whole frontage “so that the corner plot should not be let for trade purposes, which he alleges would be detrimental to the future tenants of the cottages” but in the end he had to agree to doing without it.
The lease was granted in February 1897 and by early January 1900 Mr Pearson had completed 12 of the cottages, and was about to start on the thirteenth. Before doing so he asked permission to vary the original plan by enlarging the back addition in order to provide increased accommodation. His experience with the other cottages, apparently, was that the sub-letting of rooms by the tenants was leading to overcrowding – records on other houses built for poorer ‘working class’ tenants (eg Dekker Road) confirm that many tenants could only afford the rents if they sublet rooms to other families.
Little happened in the road until October 1946 when, after an inspection by the Estate Trees and Surveys Committee, the footpath was found to be in a dangerous condition. Three estimates for tar spraying were obtained - the lowest was Messrs Johnson Bros (Aylesford) Ltd, but work was delayed endlessly while the appropriate building licence was obtained.
In February 1948 the Camberwell District Surveyor served a dangerous structure notice on the lessee of the Park Motor Garage, Mr F D Bolwell, saying that the rear wall was in a dangerous condition and would have to be rebuilt. Work started immediately but by late April the Surveyor reported that “much more work needed than originally thought including new foundations”. The final cost was £193 and the lessee asked for a contribution. The Governors offered £64 later raising the figure to £80.
In July 1950 the Manager inspected the exteriors of the houses, now nearly 60 years old, and reported “the whole block shows evidence of deterioration and neglect, brickwork flaking, painting very poor and woodwork suffering thereby, gutters and rainwater pipes needing overhaul etc. I understand from the tenant that internally the premises are in a similar state of neglect. The premises are held on leases, expiring at Michaelmas 1980 by the Universal Property and Investment Company Ltd at a total ground rent of £22 per annum and I am of the opinion that the Architect & Surveyor should be instructed to inspect and schedule the wants of repair”.
The schedule outlining the external repairs required came to £4000 and was served on the landlord on January 1952. In October the Manager reported that some work had been carried out, but that there was still much to be done, and that he was now receiving serious complaints from the occupiers about the condition of the interiors. He suggested that the Solicitor should be instructed to take action against the landlord and after some negotiations through following year, a reduced scope of works was agreed, but still nothing happened.
One positive, however, was that, while the Estate was trying to progress Nos 5-17 Boxall Road, it had the opportunity to acquire the former Dulwich Cottages Co. Ltd properties at the north end of Boxall Road, Nos 21- 29, and No 246 Turney Road. In February 1955 it paid £750 for these properties (and Nos 2 - 20 even Calton Avenue) – agreeing to waive any dilapidations.
In June 1956 the Surveyor inspected all the houses again. He said that “the property is still in the same unsatisfactory condition. I understand that the Sanitary Authorities have now served notices under the Public Health Acts on several of the houses in respect of defective roofs, windows, fireplaces, WC’s, sinks etc.”
The Solicitor was instructed to go to court and finally the properties were made habitable. The Estate became the owners in 1980 when the leases ran out and the properties have been subsequently refurbished and sold on to private owners.