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Pond Cottages

'Pond Cottages', the picturesque cluster of houses lying to the immediate south of the Mill Pond adjoining College Road, Dulwich, were not originally intended for residential use, as might be deduced from their somewhat eccentric lay-out and lack of any coherent style of architecture. Comparison of old leases reveals that from 1663 (and possibly much earlier - there were at least four 'tylemakers' in Dulwich between 1400 and 1420) until the 1780's the site was used for manufacturing tiles and, later on, bricks. In his 1808 Report, the College Surveyor William James wrote: "It would be advisable to give every encouragement to Builders, and for that purposes I recommend the College to allow the Tenants to make Bricks on their Land, free from Royalty, to be employed only on the College Estate". This had already been done in the case of 'Belair', whose builder and lessee, John Willes, had used earth excavated from his premises (possibly, dare one suggest it, where the lake now is) to make bricks for the work because of the high price of bricks generally and the inadequate supply locally; he had been prompted to do so at the suggestion of William Oxlade, of whom more later. However, the College never acceded to Mr James' proposal, and even today requires tenants to agree "not to make, burn, sell or deposit any bricks on the premises".

Be that as it may, in 1855 or thereabouts the bricks for the Penge Tunnel (and there must have been an enormous number of them) were made in the grounds of Kingswood House. The very first mention of a Dulwich tile kiln is an entry in Edward Alleyn's Diary on November 30th 1618, when he records: "a pore woman dyed att ye tyle Kill & this daye was buried". The College Rent Book for 1627-29 show two tenants called Fox and Ramsum paying £3 annual rent for 'the tile kill', and the Warden's Accounts for November 1627 to April 1628 include: "Rec'd from Ransom for rent of the Tile Kilne due at Christmas last, in Tiles viz 3000 plaine tiles and 56 ridge tiles which cometh to £1 7s 6d, and received in money £1 2s 6d". About Ramsum (or Ransom) we know nothing, but Fox was almost certainly Favor Fox, who was tenant of a number of College properties at this time, mostly odd bits of land which for one reason or another weren't included in other people's leases. This may or may not have been the Tile Kiln on Dulwich Common. Another tile kiln was mentioned in 1667, for on November 6th that year Nicholas Thurman, a Lon- don merchant, who was lessee of Hall Place at the time, was granted a seven year licence to open up "a quarter of an acre in a field called Lings to make Tiles, and to build a Kilne to burn them, and two workhouses." However, Lings is known to have been a field adjoining what is now Croxted Road. It would have been near what in 1875 was described by W.H.Blanch as a brickyard about a quarter of a mile south-east of Brockwell Hall, but this must be mere coincidence, since we know that Thur- man's tile kiln was pulled down and his clay-pit filled in before 1685 by his assignee Robert Thompson. That leaves us with the tile kiln on the Common. In the course of the Bowyer Tithe Dispute, in 1627, the Warden of the College, Matthias Alleyn, stated that the College was entitled to make tiles upon the Common (and had made 10,000, according to the plaintiff Bowyer). On September 16th 1663 the College granted a lease to John Starkey, Dulwich yeoman, of a Tile Kiln with the ground and workhouses thereunto belonging, in his occupation, on Dulwich Common, with liberty to dig for clay to make tiles. Included in the lease were two fields called Ambrook hills (about 32 acres), abutting on Westwood (i.e. the Forest Hill end of Sydenham Hill), but this should in no way lead us to suppose that the tile kiln was in or adjoining Ambrook hills; if it had been, the lease would have said so. The tile kiln and other premises were leased, on May 30th 1683, to another Dulwich yeoman, John Bowden, and again, to him or his son of the same name, on September 23rd 1717, and again, to a Dulwich farmer, Thomas Dodd, on March 4th, 1736. Apart from the two Regency cottages fronting College Road, and allowing for necessary rebuilding and renewing of brickwork, etc., the structures which now comprise Pond Cottages may perhaps be identified with the various out-buildings used in the tile business. The next lease of the premises leased successively to Starkey, Bowden and Dodd, namely the one to William Levens (Dulwich carpenter and part-time speculative builder) on August 23rd 1758, is particularly interesting, in that the property is described as "a Tile Kiln, Mill House, Pillowing House, Lathing House and Tile House, etc., late in the occupation of Thomas Pinckard", together with a tenement, late in the tenure of Walter Cozens, adjoining the kiln - a total, note, of five houses apart from the kiln itself - with liberty to dig for clay to make tiles and for 'loom' to make bricks. This is the first mention of bricks, and supports the evidence provided by Rocque's maps (e.g. those of 1741 and 1762), which mark what is described as "Bree Kill (later corrected to, and presumably a phonetic version of, 'brick kiln') Mill" on or at least near the site of Pond Cottages. However, Levens' lease makes it clear that his loam pit was not adjacent to the kiln complex of buildings; it was partly (to a width of 10 to 12 yards) within the eastern side of the field known as Ambrook Hill (nearly 32 acres), included in Levens' lease as it had been inclu- ded in those of his predecessors, adjoining the upper part of the road (dividing Ambrook hill) leading to Sydenham Common. In 1786 John Dugleby recorded in his Surveyor's Notebook: "Now is the time to plant willow sets ....near the brick kiln." After William Levens the Tile Kiln seems to have declined, so that his successor, William Oxlade, chose to diversify into manufacturing glue. His raw materials were vellum and parchment cuttings, harmless enough, but when he was imprisoned for debt and the business taken over by his son (in partnership with one Jacques Tiffin), trouble ensued. They used calves feet, bones, cuttings from the butchers and so on, which, according to the chief sufferer, Robert Clemmons of the house later known as Toksowa, and later still as Hambledon House, were putrid when they were bought and intolerable when steeped in lime and boiled. Oxlade was obliged to remove his glue factory to a more remote part of Dulwich, opposite Sydenham Common. When his lease was renewed in 1790, he was instructed to demolish the Tile Kiln itself, and to fence off the remaining five houses and paint them and the surrounding fence white. The five houses, converted into eleven (later ten) dwellings (and a butcher's shop, long demolished), were the nucleus of Pond Cottages. They are no longer painted white, although the fence still is. The College Rent Book of 1820 states, in respect of Pond Cottages, that one of the cottages was built by William Oxlade (presumably the most easterly one), four were built (more probably rebuilt, or improved to such an extent that for legal reasons they were to be regarded as built) by Charles Druce in 1809, and two more by Druce in 1810. Oak Cottage and Elm Cottage, which face College Road, are also attributed to Druce and dated 1811-17. Of the many features which add to Pond Cottages' considerable charm, perhaps the most appro- priate are the attractive and distinctive pantiles which adorn the roof of each cottage. The auction particulars for a sale conducted by George Jones & Co. on October 9th, 1833, mention Kemp's Cottages as being on the east side of the road leading from Dulwich to Penge (i.e. what is now College Road), described as two brick-built messuages or tenements, with stabling, granary, cow-house, piggery, cart sheds, etc. The amount of land attached is not specified, although the particulars refer to "a large and open farm yard ... and good gardens", and the absence of information on this point suggests that 'small farm' may have been a somewhat exaggerated description of the premises. The sale was on behalf of Thomas Kemp's executors, and the interest sold was a sub-lease (Charles Druce, the College Solicitor, being the head lessee) with 24½ years unexpired, at £20 5/- per annum rent. From the description, it seems more than likely that the two tenements were what are now Oak Cottage and Elm Cottage, fronting College Road. About Thomas Kemp we know a little from documents of which copies have come into the possession of Brian Green from Kemp's descendants in Wales, including a Church Rate, Poor Rate and Highway Rate Collection Book covering the period 1811 to 1824, listing all the property owners in Dulwich from whom Kemp, as the officially appointed 'Collector', was author- ized to collect payment. However, one of the most interesting of these copy documents is a letter, written to Kemp's only daughter Mary ('Miss M. E. Kemp, Dulwich Common, Surrey') in 1827, when she was 26. The letter is from John Jephson, a lawyer who from 1802 had been the lessee and occupant of Grove House (and 34 acres), on the south side of Dulwich Common near the Grove Tavern, but who must have moved from there by September 1823 when a new lease was granted to E. W. Smith, so whether he was still a Dulwich resident in 1827 we do not know. What is apparent from the letter, however, is that Jephson had made Miss Kemp's acquaintance during his time in Dulwich and had been more than a little impressed by her. He writes: "I can no longer struggle with a secret that has given me so much torture to keep... What I have to urge, is to ask you if you are disengaged, if not, permit me to offer myself as a candidate, and should I succeed, it would be the happiest moment I ever experienced in my life, as in you I consider all my happiness is centred..." Jephson's proposal was not, however, successful; in that same year Mary Kemp eloped with one Thomas Mace, by whom she subsequently had four children. It may not be entirely coincidental that, standing out inconguously from the back page of Kemp's official receipt book, is a recipe for 'Bride Cakes'! The Census of 1841 records that one of the other cottages, no.7 (now called 'The Linleys'), was used by James Haydon as a butcher's shop, the living accomodation at No.1 housing him, his wife Mary, his eldest son, also called James, his 20-year-old twin sons Robert and Henry, his son Frederick (aged 15) and his daughter Hannah (aged 14). James Haydon senior was in fact the enumerator for the 1841 Census, and coincidentally the great-great-grandfather of Patrick Spencer, the present Chair- man of our History Group, who is the present occupier of No.7. James junior subsequently inherited the family business, in which Robert and Henry assisted, and Fred was a carpenter. In the 1860's No.7 was still a butcher's shop and premises, leased to Mr Stevenson, who used to ride around the Village on horse- back offering freshly cut meat for sale. Stanford's Library Map of 1862 marks the garden between Pond Cottages and the Mill Pond as 'Haydon's Garden', and the corner of the cottages as 'Haydon's Corner'. Prior to 1938, when the premises were renovated by the then occupier, there was a lean-to structure, containing cattle-stalls and a securing ring, abutting the main building. The Haydon family continued to conduct their meat business in Dulwich into the early years of the present century. For memories of Dulwich, and Pond Cottages in particular, at the beginning of the 20th century,we are indebted to Peter Parker, who some years ago, when in his eighties, corresponded with Patrick Spencer from his home in Australia, to which he and his family had emigrated in 1911. As a lad, he had lived first at No. 2 Pond Cottages, until 1904, then in West Dulwich. At that time Pond Cottages was an unmade road, with a flint and gravel surface, the state of which, particularly when wet, would have appalled present-day road-users. The existence of Joseph and Samuel Bowyer's builders yard, with joinery shop and store, immediately to the south-east of the junction of College Road and Pond Cottages, with their heavy builders wagons, would only have served to churn the road up still further. Later on, how- ever, railway sleepers were laid to improve the surface, and there was a limited amount of street lighting, attended to each evening by the lamplighter on his rounds. The Bowyers' premises remained until about World War I, when the buildings were cleared and the present ornamental garden on the site was formed. It now features a tree planted in memory of George Clout, Bailiff to the Estates Governors from 1914 to 1957. In the days when Peter Parker was young, the north ornamental garden was a paddock where the children played, and behind No.10 was a pond where, whenever it froze, they would skate. Sheep were grazed in the fields beyond and, in Mr Parker's words, "On our way to school in the morning it was no uncommon thing to see a flock of sheep being driven down College Road after being grazed on the College grounds, and in the afternoon see them hanging upside down in Mr Burgess' butchers shop [in the Village] when on our way home." No.2 was later occupied by Ralph Inchcombe, one of the policemen stationed at West Dulwich, and in the 1990s it remained occupied by the Misses Gladys and Kathleen Inchcombe. Another resident whom many remember was Mrs Emily Donkesley, who was born in Pond Cottages and lived most of her long life (she survived, enjoying good health and memory, to the age of 104) at No.1. In the late 1920's, the artist James Fitton and his wife rented what were two cottages (No's 10 and 11) and converted them into a single dwelling. At that time the property was lit by oil lamps. Present Dulwich residents might be surprised how rudimentary several of the cottages in Pond Cottages were, two of them, into the 1980s, having no bathrooms. The Fitton family continued to live at Pond Cottages for more than fifty years. James Fitton, born in Oldham, was elected a Royal Academician in 1954, having been an associate member since 1944, and amongst his other distinguished appointments were chief assessor to the Ministry of Education for its National Diploma on Design (1940-65), a trustee of the British Museum (1968-75), and a member, and ultimately Chairman, of the Stamp Advisory Committee (1945 until his death in 1982 at the age of 83). He was also a Governor of Dulwich College, and Honorary Surveyor to the Dulwich Picture Gallery. As one of his obituary notices in the national press put it: "He looked like an artist, behaved as people imagined an artist should, and was a lively painter." At the eastern end of Pond Cottages is Dulwich College's P.E. Centre, opened on Founder's Day 1967. This building replaced the old Covered Courts, used originally by a private tennis club but taken over and continued in use as a gymnasium by the College until it was long past its prime. In 1917 the building, temporarily an ambulance station, received a direct hit in one of the rare World War I bombing raids, killing the caretaker. During the Second World War it was used by one of the Government Ministries as a supply depot for the distribution to the armed forces of catering and other equipment. In 1948, in its heyday, it was one of the additional venues for the London Olympic Games. Many Old Alleynians will recall, in bad moments, those hot summer days when they and their schoolfellows streamed along Pond Cottages into the old Covered Courts for their G.C.E examinations, as their successors still do to the new P.E. Centre, although the younger generation does not have to contend so much with the heat generated by the vast expanse of glazed roof in the former building. This article was compiled by members of the Dulwich Society Local History Group, and edited by Patrick Darby. It was first published in October 1984.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 July 2013 11:01

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