The Story of Eastlands, Court Lane by Brian Green with additional research by Hillary Rosser

In 1825 the Rev Phelps Butt then living at Portman Square was granted an 84 year building lease at an annual rent of £48 on a 3_ field on the east side of Court Lane to erect a a brick dwelling house within 12 months. As the photographs show, the result was a large and attractive family house with gardens of an intricate design and the frontage onto Court Lane equipped with imposing gateposts.

Phelps Butt was born in Finchley in1797 and graduated with a B.A. from Lincoln College Oxford in 1820 and an M.A. in 1824. He was priested at Winchester in 1822 and subsequently became chaplain to the House of Correction at Guildford. He was married to Mary Eddy, the daughter of the Rev John Eddy, vicar of Toddington, Gloucs. Phelps and Mary Butt went on to have a family of 9 children, of whom Mary was the eldest and 6 sons and twin daughters Almeria and Elizabeth.

It is probable that all the children were born at Eastlands and some will have benefited from the academy which the Rev Butt opened (as Dr Butt’s Academy) at the house. According to the nineteenth century Camberwell historian W H Blanch, the school attracted a number of pupils from distinguished families. At the time there were numerous small private schools in Dulwich and Camberwell offering a boarding school education. Some may have been the kind of schools which would provide Charles Dickens with much of his material.

For some reason Butt decided around 1840 to return to his native North London and took up residence at North End Stables, Hampstead and to let Eastlands for the remainder of its lease. At Hampstead, Butt appears to have recreated his Academy and in 1841 his boarding school had 16 pupils aged 11-15, presumably as well as his own four older boys who were then aged 10-14. In 1851 Butt had engaged a German couple as caretakers of Eastlands and was himself by then the chaplain to the fifth Earl of Bessborough, a Liberal politician serving under Lord John Russell and William Gladstone as Lord Steward of the Household. On the death of the Earl in 1860 Butt served as a replacement chaplain in Freibourg, Germany, a position which was later confirmed and in which post he remained until 1874, by which time he was aged 77. He finally assigned the lease of Eastlands in 1878/9 which meanwhile had served amongst other sub-tenancies as the summer residence of the Turkish ambassador.

The new lessee was Augustus Twyford, a prosperous solicitor living with his young family of two sons and two daughters at Wimbledon and employing a retinue of six servants. However, Eastlands tenants changed a number of times in the ensuing years. In 1889 Mr Randall Higgins a partner in South London’s largest department store located in Peckham took over the lease. Eastlands was a convenient distance from the store, although Mr Higgins retained his country home in Oxford.

Higgins was followed as occupant of Eastlands by Sir Frederick Hall in 1905. Hall was very much a ‘local hero’ who raised 17 batteries of artillery as part of the Camberwell Gun Brigade which he commanded in World War 1 and where he was awarded the DSO. He was friends with the Conservative politician Andrew Bonar Law and may have been instrumental in the latter’s adoption as candidate in the safe Dulwich seat following the retirement of its sitting MP in 1906 election. Hall succeeded Bonar Law as Dulwich’s MP when Bonar Law unsuccessfully stood for Birmingham in December 1910. Hall also served on the LCC and was a Dulwich Estates Governor. He was known “for his zeal in questioning ministers and for his ingenuity in devising ‘supplementaries’. He was a strong party man, and was accustomed to express his opinions with a vigour which sometimes aroused the anger of his opponents, though his genial personality made him genuinely popular.” _ He was made a baronet in 1923 and served as Dulwich’s Member of Parliament from 1910-1932.

By coincidence, in 1910 Sir Frederick Hall succeeded Randall Higgins in the occupancy of a house in Leigham Court Road after having followed him into Eastlands. In common with a number of other large houses, such as the Platanes on Champion Hill, Eastlands became difficult to let. Fashionable suburbia was moving increasingly westwards and well into the Surrey hinterland as rows of terraced semi’s encircled Dulwich. There are numerous long gaps in the tenancies of Eastlands after Hall left and as Ian McInnes demonstrates in the article following, this made the estate ripe for redevelopment.

Obituary The Times 29 April 1932

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