On the Street where you live - Ian McInnes continues his series of articles of Housing in Dulwich around 1900
An article in the magazine 'Builder' dated 29/1/1876 noted that 'there is a probability of a large number of dwellings for the industrial classes being shortly erected on the Dulwich College Estate. This is in addition to the mansions and other residents for the wealthy which are springing up so rapidly on other various portions of the Estate. The Company has been registered within the last week or two, and we understand that negotiations will immediately be entered into with the Governors of the College for acquiring the necessary land for the first block of cottages to be erected. We also learn that 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'
At this time the general character of the locality was largely agricultural land. The 1893 Ordnance Survey map shows the Village shops and a few houses behind with the future Calton Avenue a footpath leading to the recently completed St Barnabas and the Presbyterian Church in East Dulwich Grove. Eastlands House was the only other major building in the area.
Only one block of working class dwellings was actually built but the demand remained and, over the next twenty years, rents for such housing rose because of the limited supply. By 1900 several residents, and particularly members of the local clergy, had been complaining about the Governors attitude to such housing, one of the latter saying 'they know very little about the district - most living at a distance, only paying occasional visits, taking none but a strict business interest in the property'. In addition, early in 1901 Camberwell Council wrote to the Estate requesting a grant of land to enable them to build housing for the working classes in the Dulwich area.
Attacked on three fronts the Governors were finally pressured into building their own working class housing and instructed Charles E Barry, the Estate's Architect and Surveyor, to carry out a development in Dekker Road.
Just before this the Estate had also finally responded to the large amount of housing being built in East Dulwich and decided to sell off some of the agricultural land at the far end of Woodwarde Road to speculative builders. The first area was Eynella Road leading down to Court Lane; it was known as the 'ploughed field', area 608 on the Estate Map, and they entered into a building agreement with a Mr John Frampton of 32 Belvoir Road, East Dulwich. The Estate's Surveyor said 'he builds well for a speculative builder. He owns a number of houses in East Dulwich and Peckham and is believed to be a fairly substantial man. His solicitors, Messrs Moser & Sons of Kendal, Westmoreland, would be prepared to finance him and Mr Frampton states that they would no doubt, be able to satisfy the Governors in regard to security of the performance of the building agreement'.
However, as often happened on the Estate, things did not go quite according to plan. Mr Barry was critical of the design of the houses and, in August 1900, Mr Frampton's architect, Messrs Allen & Hoare of West Hampstead, wrote complaining over the delays. 'We may say that from the beginning of the negotiations our client fully intended to build the Eynella Road houses first. As you are aware, with this end in view, he has already put upon the land nearly 100,000 bricks and other materials and, if any long delay ensues, it will entail serious loss both in money and the building season will have gone. If progress is not made at once, no houses can be tenanted this year and the carcasses will not be roofed in before the winter'. We forget that, before the widespread adoption of cement mortar, which dries in any weather, building houses using lime mortar was not feasible in the winter.
The next road to be developed was Calton Avenue. Here, a builder called Mr Cooper entered into a building agreement in March 1901, offering to build seven pairs of semi detached houses to cost not less than £675 for a 30 foot frontage and £550 for a 25 foot frontage. The following month the Estate's Surveyor reported 'the houses will have a frontage of 26 feet and will contain, on the ground floor, drawing room, dining room, kitchen, scullery and other offices and a conservatory. On the first floor three bedrooms, bathroom and separate WC and, on the second floor, two more bedrooms and a box room. The house will have red brick fronts with the flank and rear walls in stock bricks with tile roofs. They will cost £900 -6s'.
Although these houses were relatively expensive, this development appeared to be more successful than Mr Frampton's in Eynella Road (he was still building as late as 1907) and Mr Cooper followed it up by taking a 386 foot frontage on the east side of Woodwarde Road at the Village end. Further sites were sold to another builder, Mr Eastman, and a substantial number of houses in the road were complete by 1905.
Desanfans Road was next. Here another builder, Mr Bendall, took the site in late 1905 following his successful development in Turney Road. He agreed to build 52 houses within five years.
In the same year the Estate entered into another building agreement with a Mr Gale Branson on Druce Road. The road was originally to be named Bourgeois Road but the Governors were forced to change it by the London County Council who thought the name would be too difficult to spell. The road and its sewer cost £1024 2s 3d and was built by a Mr Charles Pearce of Forest Hill. It cost £5 2s 3d more than the original quotation because of 'certain additional minor matters required by the Borough Engineer'.
The next major development was in Dovercourt Road. Messrs Williams offered to 'erect on the land within six years 62 semi detached houses in accordance with plans to be submitted to and approved by the Governors and to cost not less than £450 each house'. The name Dovercourt Road, which has no local connections, was put forward by the builder to the LCC without consultation with the Governors as the Estate had forgotten to include a clause in the agreement requiring them to do so.
Messrs Williams were clearly very customer focused and had carried out some market research on what their future tenants might want, particularly with regard to kitchens. The Estate's Surveyor reported 'After exhaustive enquiries of the tenants of other houses of similar size, erected by them on the Estate, Messrs Williams find that the ordinary kitchen is to a great extent a wasted room. All the cooking is done on the gas stove and that a separate wash house is most desirable. Many of the replies (to the survey) pointed out that, as no servant was now kept, the new arrangement would be of great advantage to the mistress of the house, who, in these cases, did all the cooking'.
By January 1909 Messrs Williams had further changes in mind, the removal of a separate tradesman's entrance. This was too much for the Estate's Surveyor who advised 'I think it is important that, even in such small houses as these, the main entrance to the street should not be used by tradesmen, street hawkers etc.for the entrance of stores and fuel, or for carrying out dust and refuse. As the front doors of each pairs of houses are adjacent, the use of one of them for carrying in and out of coal dust might be distinctly objectionable to the occupant of the neighbouring house'.
The Governors saw Court Lane as the prime road in this area and restricted the sale of sites to individuals who would build detached houses. The first site sold was 128 Court Lane, on the corner of the northern entrance to the park. Mr Barry, the Estate Architect, argued over the design and, in the end, sketched something himself. However, there was very little interest in the sites from other wealthy individuals and, by 1906, the Estate were negotiating with their favourite builder, Mr Bendall, to develop Court Lane Gardens.
The houses were initially approved in February 1907. The bigger houses were valued at £591 and the smaller £534. However, just before construction started, the Estate's Surveyor suggested that the houses be pushed back behind the three rows of trees on the front of the site and a new road formed to give access. Mr Bendall was not happy and he wrote to the Estate saying that 'he himself is a lover of tree, but he finds that the majority of persons who offer to take houses of the class he is building have a strong objection to trees in front of them and frequently ask for their removal. Many owners complain of the constant expense of clearing leaves from gutters and also damage to the properties from the overflowing of gutters' The Estate maintained their position but agreed to fund and maintain the new road themselves. They also allowed larger houses to be built with a sale value of £850. The final plans were agreed in April 1908 and work was complete by 1911.