Lost houses of Dulwich: Hall Place
by Bernard Nurse

Demolished in the 1880s, Hall Place was one of Dulwich’s most historic houses. It was a large house with extensive grounds which occupied roughly the present 64-74 Park Hall Road. It was renamed ‘The Manor House’ about 1860 in the mistaken belief that it had been the manor house of Dulwich and the residence for a time of Edward Alleyn. Hall Place is more likely to have been the centre of a manor called Knollys which had separated from Dulwich in the early medieval period, but brought back in the 16th century. Later leases describe a moat surrounding the house but the appearance of the medieval house is not known as it was rebuilt in the 18th century.

Patrick Darby has written extensively about the early history of this property and the confusion over whether Dulwich Court in Court Lane or Hall Place was the manor house for Dulwich. This article will focus on the occupiers from 1768 until its demolition about 1880. For almost a hundred years the residents, including two lawyers, a government official and a gunsmith, enjoyed the premises as a family home in the countryside, near to London. In the twenty years before demolition the occupiers were property speculators who saw the potential of the land for building development as the London suburbs extended southwards. 

The old wood and plaster house was acquired in 1768 by a London lawyer, William Kay, who purchased the remaining seven years of the lease on the understanding that it would be renewed at a low rent and he would spend a large sum of money (£2000) on repairing and improving the building. It is not clear how much of the old building remained after he had rebuilt it in brick. In his own words, he converted the same ‘into a habitation fit for the residence of a modern gentleman’. In 1773, it was described by the auctioneers, Christies, in true estate agent’s style as ‘a brick building firmly erected, judiciously planned and neatly finished in the present taste. It is an open, delightful situation, perfectly retired and free from Noise, dust or the inconvenience of adjoining neighbours. The encircling vicinage genteel, the prospects diversified with distant Hills, rising Woods and verdant Fields, and an extensive right in Dulwich Common’. The magnificent oak staircase, spacious entrance hall and lofty rooms were noted in a description published in 1875 just before demolition.

William Kay remained there until 1807 and seemed to be continually in dispute with someone. He argued with his neighbours over access to Dulwich Common, and built Alleyn Road to link his house to Gallery Road and Dulwich Village. He complained to the Archbishop of Canterbury about the despotic rule of Dulwich College over their tenants, and had to apologize for making the complaint before being granted a new lease in 1790. His will written in 1799 shows how much he had fallen out with his children:

My two sons have for many years past deserted and disowned me for their father and behaved themselves towards me and their mother in the most undutiful perfidious and iniquitous manner…and wantonly and wickedly used their utmost endeavours to ruin we both in fortune and fame and therefore have no reason to expect any benefit or emolument from me. He nevertheless forgave one son his debts and gave the other a small annual payment while leaving the bulk of his estate to his daughter.

Kay was succeeded as occupier of Hall Place by Daniel William Stow, who took over the remainder of Kay’s 21 year lease and was granted a longer one of 42 years when this expired in 1811. The lease entitled him to a pew with four seats in Christ’s Chapel, and he lived in Dulwich until his death aged 78 in 1836. Stow died a gentleman with a considerable sum in insurance policies and a much better relationship with his family than Kay. He left all his possessions to his ‘beloved wife and dear children’, a daughter and three sons, paying tribute to them in his will, ‘what a happiness and what a blessing you have been to me…God only knows.’

Stow was working for the General Post Office when he was married at the age of 30 and still working for them the year before he died. He was interviewed at length about his duties by commissioners who were carrying out an enquiry into the working of the Post Office. Stow was in charge of the Inland Department responsible for letters sent from and received in London, but the commissioners were particularly interested in his role as proprietor of the Money-Order Office. This was run as a private operation using his own capital and branches of the Post Office to transfer small sums of money for a fee. It was mostly used by soldiers, sailors and ‘a great number of the lower Irish people’ so they could send money home. As a result of the enquiry the system was transferred to a business which charged less and was eventually taken over completely by the Post Office which introduced the postal order still in use today.

In 1837, the Camberwell Tithe map shows Christopher Temple occupying the house, with three acres of gardens and pleasure grounds, and a field of ten acres to the south. The moat had by then been reduced to an ornamental pond. In the 1841 census he is recorded as living there with nine other members of his family and three servants. Temple was a barrister created King’s (later Queen’s) Counsel in 1834 and appointed Chancellor of the County of Durham in 1851. By then the family had moved from Dulwich. He had tried three times unsuccessfully to stand for Parliament, once standing against Disraeli. He had five sons and four daughters and when he died in 1871 at the age of 86 had been a barrister for over 60 years, one of the longest serving members of the bar.

About 1850, Temple was followed by a gunsmith, Samuel Smith, with premises in Princes Street, Soho. Smith had patented a special type of ‘Imperial’ percussion cap which was claimed to be quicker, more reliable and produced less recoil than others available. His trade labels referred to him as ‘Gunmaker to His Majesty [William IV] and the Duke of Gloucester’. It was a family business founded by his father, William, and his sons Samuel and Charles succeeded him and his brother. He did not live long in Dulwich as he died there in 1855 at the age of 60.

Smith’s widow, Jemina, assigned her lease with land that now covered seventeen acres to Frederick Doulton, brother of the famous ceramics manufacturer, Sir Henry Doulton. From then on the house and land were seen as having development potential and a few years later able to take advantage of the new railway line to the centre of London opened south of Herne Hill. Doulton was granted a new lease of 84 years from 1859 which could be extended if agreed on condition that he spent £30,000 within 11 years on building. He was not able to carry out his plans because of several scandals. He was the Liberal MP for Lambeth from 1862-8 but suspicions of corruption in Lambeth and charges of fraud in Belgium ensured he did not stand again. In 1866-7 he was charged with falsifying a contract for building work in Brussels in order to secure a large commission. As the alleged fraud took place in England, he managed to escape prosecution by the Belgian authorities. However, The Times described the case as ‘L’Affaire Doulton’ and his reputation suffered.

By then Doulton had already assigned his lease to David Chinnery, another business man later charged with dubious business practices. Chinnery was the Consul-General in England for the new Republic of Liberia in West Africa, but was sued over a large loan which he had negotiated and taken 25% commission. Finally the last occupier and one who also got into financial difficulties was John Westwood, who lived in what was by then called ‘The Manor House’ with his wife, several visitors, two servants and a coachman at the time of the 1871 census. He held 28 acres of land, parts of which were for building purposes. Westwood was Secretary of various irrigation and canal companies in India, private companies which invested in the provision of water supplies and transport links. He was granted a lease in 1871 and left the house sometime between 1875 and 1881, about which time it was demolished, much to the regret of many. The story of the area’s subsequent development is described by Ian McInnes in the autumn 2009 issue of the Journal.

Sources

W H Blanch, Ye Parish of Camberwell (1875)
Patrick Darby, Dulwich Society Newsletters 49 and 50 (1980) ‘Where was the Manor House’ and ‘Hall Place’; The Houses in-between (2000)
Dulwich College Archives, Hall Place leases
William Young, History of Dulwich College (1889)
Patrick Darby, Newsletter 50, p13, plan

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