Calton Avenue is named for Sir Francis Calton who sold the manor of Dulwich to Edward Alleyn in 1605. Unlike some streets in Dulwich, for example Ildersly Grove, with its large number of people connected to India, or Sydenham Rise, with its substantial German community, Calton Avenue’s residents were quintessentially British, though not usually from Dulwich. They hadn’t come far though, most of them were born in London and the Home Counties with very few from further afield and only one family from outside the UK. By the time Calton Avenue was being built, there was great social change in the Dulwich area. The demand for housing was being driven by demographics: over the 50 years from 1851 Dulwich’s population grew from 1,632 to 10,247. The peak period for Victorian house building on the Estate was 1878-90, a little later than for London as a whole; the expansion prompted by the Dulwich Estate’s need to build the Lower School (now Alleyn’s) following the rebuilding of Dulwich College. The Estate began to build considerable numbers of semi-detached houses for the lower middle classes. Most of Calton Avenue was built later still, from 1898 onwards.
Wealthier people began moving out to the commuter belt of Surrey, partly due to the amount of speculative building around Dulwich. People of the ‘middling classes’ began moving in. The days of middle class families having a large retinue of staff were past when Calton Avenue was ready for occupation. Despite the large size of many of the families most houses had just one live-in servant and some had none, though there would also have been ‘dailies’ and gardeners. The residents held a wide variety of jobs, reflecting their wider social backgrounds, and there were very few ‘living on private means’, i.e. an unearned income. Among the typical Dulwich occupations of merchants, stockbrokers, civil servants, teachers and, of course, clerks, we also have a retired farmer, stationer, a draughtsman, motor engineer, draper, carpet-buyer, four milliner sisters, commercial travellers and a tie and umbrella manufacturer. The ‘lower grade salaried classes’ as Charles Booth, the great Victorian social commentator, called them.
Calton Avenue however, seems to have been a road for the Victorian upwardly mobile. Plenty of its residents started out in quite humble occupations before working their way up the career ladder. Take John Stark, who was born in Camberwell where his father was an upholsterer. He started out as a shipbroker’s clerk but progressed to senior partner in Henry Langridge, West India merchants. When he died in 1926 he left nearly £50,000 in his will, equivalent to about £2.5 million today.
Edward Kingston was a butcher living with his large family including his son, Charles, who was born in the road and who was the grandfather of the actress Alex Kingston. Edward Kingston did well for himself and had a large number of butchers’ shops in South London including one where Pizza Express is now, one in what is now Jane Newbery and a couple in Lordship Lane. Albert Lampard was another resident who worked his way up, this time from a junior grocery manager to company director. One of his descendants is Frank Lampard, the footballer.
Calton Avenue resident Frederick Jackson started the Hollingsworth Telephone Manufacturing Company in West Dulwich in 1915 and it grew into a successful multinational company. By 1920 they were advertising cutting edge products, e.g. the ‘Laryngaphone’, a throat microphone ‘the size of a wristwatch’, designed for use in aircraft to enable the crew to communicate clearly despite background noise. Even during the Second World War its British subsidiaries traded at a profit as did their European subsidiaries, though they did not have exact figures since they were in countries overrun by the enemy. They were forced to sell the Australian business in 1940 however. In 1960 Hollingsworth was taken over by Pye Electronics and is now part of Phillips.
Henry Newton Knights was another self-made man. He started his engineering firm in 1908 and by 1914 had munitions contracts from the government and a factory in Peckham. He became Mayor of Camberwell before becoming a Coalition Unionist MP and how proud he must have been when his young daughter, Mary, presented a bouquet to Queen Mary when the King and Queen passed through Dulwich on their way to visit the Crystal Palace. The Times noted that “Dulwich, at the entrance of its charmingly rural village, prominently displayed its confident and cheerful motto, All’s well.” However, in the economic depression following the Great War, Henry’s business affairs did not prosper and in 1921 he had a nervous breakdown while on a business trip to Folkestone and went missing. His disappearance was covered extensively by the press and he was found a week later near Dymchurch in a state of collapse and unable to give any account of his movements. His doctors diagnosed overwork and over the next year he gave up many of his responsibilities including his parliamentary seat. Sadly, he went bankrupt in 1922 and died in 1959.
Peter Porteous was a manager at a paper factory. He lived with his family, including his sons, Douglas and James, pupils at Alleyn’s School. Douglas was killed in action in France in 1916. James went on to have a son, Peter, who died when he was shot down over Leipzig in one of the first serious raids to use Lancaster bombers.
When the houses in the road were built the first people to live in them named them. For those residents who had moved into London, the name they chose usually reflected the place they had come from. The Canes lived at Bungaree, which is Aborigine for hut and is in not far from Melbourne. Mrs Cane was born in Nottinghamshire but married and moved to Australia where she had her children. At some stage they all came back to England as her youngest was born in Camberwell but they named their house to remind them of Australia. Mr Gregg had grown up in the City in the apple orchard parish of St Martin Pomeroy where his father was a portrait painter and his mother kept a boarding house. When he married and moved to Calton Avenue he named his house St Martin Pomeroy. The Lampards named their house Hollingborne after the village they came from in Kent. Mr and Mrs Hipkins named their house Tyneside probably because Mrs Hipkins had been born and bred in Newcastle and Mr and Mrs Davies named their house Velindre after the place they came from in Cardiganshire (now Ceredigion).
Two brothers and their families lived in adjoining houses in Calton Avenue. Sidney and John White were the grandsons of Robert White who in 1845 had started making lemonade and ginger beer at home and selling it from a barrow in Camberwell with Mary, his wife. R. White’s the business proved phenomenally successful and provided a living for many family members, including Sidney and John who described themselves as ‘mineral water manufacturers’. There used to be a playground song: 'R. White's ginger beer goes off pop; a penny on the bottle when you take it to the shop’. The ‘pop’ was not a reference to the fizziness of the drink but to the potential explosion caused by secondary fermentation and the challenge of adequately stoppering the bottles. To counteract this by 1885 R White’s was using glass bottles for most of their drinks which sadly carried no deposit. Codd’s patent bottles, referred to in their adverts, were an ingenious solution to the problems of fastening and storing fizzy drinks. It was said that in the Great War R White’s gave half their horses and vans to the war effort without impacting their output. The company later became almost as famous for its marketing as its product, with the ‘I’m a secret lemonade drinker’ campaign. Ross MacManus wrote and sang the jingle; his son Declan, aka Elvis Costello, provided backing vocals.
Arthur Linton was a very successful cyclist at a time when cycling was a hugely popular sport. Born in 1868 in Wales, he started work as a miner aged 12 but soon made a name for himself in the cycling world. He won the Bordeaux-Paris road race in 1896, then regarded as the world championships, and broke several records, including the world one-hour cycling record. He was also one of the first cyclists to be suspected of doping. Linton trained at the Herne Hill Velodrome in the early days where he also attempted to break his own record for the World One Hundred Miles but there were some peculiar goings-on. The pacemakers did not turn up, the bike kept breaking down and the pistol repeatedly misfired, all of which prevented a successful assault on the record. Rumours abounded that the event had been sabotaged. The Times reported it seemed ‘entirely incredible’ that ‘interested parties’ had deliberately interfered with the race, as ‘Londoners were always sportsmanlike’ and added that the manager of the Velodrome, Mr Lacey-Hillier, was ‘a gentleman of unblemished reputation’ who would never have been involved in such dark deeds. The Times asked that messages of support be sent to Mr Linton at Calton Avenue.
The 1896 Bordeaux-Paris race was 350 miles long and highly eventful with Linton being beset by more bad luck. His bike lost a nut causing a fall and a serious head injury. With his bike now unrideable, he walked the next ten kilometers, before continuing on an unfamiliar bike. After a while he was able to replace that bike with a more suitable one but he then took a wrong direction as the race route had been changed without informing all the riders. He crashed into another cyclist, suffering another head injury but still went on to win the race. It was remarked at the finishing line that Linton looked in terrible health. After the race Linton was too ill to continue racing and returned to Wales where he died two months later. The following year rumours began to surface that Linton had died due to doping. He shared a trainer with Jimmy Michael who had been banned from racing due to doping. Their manager, Choppy Warburton, used to give his cyclists a swig from a ‘little black bottle’, widely speculated to contain either strychnine or trimethyl. Doping was not illegal at the time and indeed was fairly common. In fact Linton died of typhoid, probably exacerbated by the gruelling feats he had undertaken to win the 1896 title.
During the Second World War, the Royal Air Force housed their barrage balloons at the corner of Calton Avenue and Townley Road. The balloons or ‘blimps’ were tethered to the ground by metal cables and were designed to protect against aircraft attack either by obstructing the aircraft or by damaging the aircraft on collision with the cables. The balloons only interfered with low flying aircraft as the cables made them impractical for higher altitudes. The balloons were huge; they overshadowed Alleyn’s main building and sometimes landed on the roof itself. Former pupils of Alleyn’s remember avoiding a barrage balloon when it came down in flames during a football match. The balloon site is now the school memorial garden.
Gerald Wilson Kingsland, soldier turned mechanic turned journalist turned editor of a sex magazine, lived in Calton Avenue for many years. He was living there when he was made bankrupt in 1963 but despite this in the 1970s his bank lent him £89,000 which he later persuaded them to write off. The whole matter tipped his bank manager into changing career and becoming an estate agent, a successful one as it turned out. Kingsland lived in Dulwich with his second wife and three sons. He founded a magazine called Curious, ‘the sex education for men and women’ which got him fined for publishing ‘obscene content’. One edition of the magazine had a young David Bowie as its cover star, wearing the same ‘man dress’ he later wore on the cover of his record The man who sold the world.
In 1980, aged 50, Kingsland secured a book advance to undertake a real life Robinson Crusoe adventure. He advertised in Time Out for a ‘wife’ to spend a year with him on a desert island. From 56 replies he chose Lucy Irvine, then half his age, and left Calton Avenue to be cast away with her on Tuin Island, 70 miles off Papua New Guinea. Irvine later wrote a best-selling book, Castaway, about the experience which was turned into a film with Oliver Reed as Kingsland and Amanda Donohoe as Lucy Irvine.
Kingsland also wrote a book which was much less popular and went on to undertake other adventures. He made an unsuccessful attempt to sail with his sons from Colombia to England in a dug out tree. In 1994 he tried to sail to the Indian Ocean starting from the river Severn with a 21 year old Girl Friday on a raft he made himself. The vessel sprang a leak 200 yards into the trip and he and the girl parted company. Kingsland continued to recruit young female assistants and island hopped around the South Pacific, ending up in Western Samoa. When he was diagnosed with cancer he left his fifth wife and returned to Calton Avenue and his second wife, Rosemary. He died in 2000 aged 70. Described by Brian Green as a ‘happy-go-lucky man with curly ginger hair and beard’ and by himself as ‘the sex pest of the South Pacific’, Kingsland left 5 wives, 7 children and a string of escapades. One of his sisters-in-law said that for him life was a ‘relentless and disturbing house party’.