Unlike most roads in Dulwich we cannot be sure why Ildersly Road is so-named; it is possibly a misspelling of the surname of Thomas Iddersleigh, onetime Chairman of the Crystal Palace company. Whatever its origin, there is no denying it’s a charming little street with its wide bay windows and uniform wooden fences. Tucked away behind the bustle of Croxted Road the two rows of semi detached villas follow the curve of the road, finishing in a small sweep of taller houses before joining Park Hall Road.
The residents of Ildersly Grove listed in the 1881 Census are all British subjects but their birth places show some interesting geographical mobility. Nearly half of them were born in London with another third elsewhere in England, 14% in India with the remainder from Wales, the Netherlands and St Helena in the South Atlantic.
All the servants living in Ildersly Grove at this time were born in England or Wales with two thirds born outside London. The rest were born in London although none are from Dulwich which is surprising, the nearest birthplaces being Covent Garden and Hammersmith. Of those from outside London 20% came from Wales and the others from all over England including Yorkshire, Lancashire, Worcestershire, Suffolk and Dorset. Only one house in the road did not have any live-in servants. Of the other households, if they had one servant she (and in this road they were always a she) was described as a general servant. If a household had more than one servant there was usually a cook and a housemaid or a governess and a general servant. Even childless households or bachelors living alone in Ildersly Grove had a live-in servant.
The professions represented in Ildersly Grove show a fascinating range of occupations. Among the bank clerks there was a builder (albeit one employing 27 men), a shorthand writer, an assistant chaplain to Dulwich College, a railway clerk, a tutor, a barrister/dramatic author and a professional cricketer. Several widows are listed as heads of households, including the wife of a judge in the Bengal Service and the wife of the President of Montsurat (could this be Montserrat?).
Perhaps the most famous resident of the street was Ebenezer Howard, the founder of the Garden City movement and the subject of a Dulwich Society article by Bernard Nurse earlier this year. However, Ildersly Grove had other residents who have left their mark on history in their own ways.
Take William Shepherd. Born around 1840 in Kennington he was a professional cricketer who played for Surrey. He umpired, captained and travelled with the Australian Aboriginal cricket team on their tour of England in 1868. This team made history as the first group of Australian cricketers to tour overseas and their first match at the Oval was attended by 20,000 spectators. The tour attracted a lot of publicity and spectators and must have made a considerable amount of money. There was talk of it continuing on to Europe and America and William Shepherd and his wife were booked to travel with them. However, a lack of a cricketing infrastructure in those countries and illness in the Aboriginal team put paid to this idea. Two team members had to return to Australia due to sickness and one player, King Cole, died of tuberculosis while on the tour and is buried in Tower Hamlets. In his memoirs William Shepherd said “The Aborigines, at heart, did not like the white man, and were of rather a sulky disposition, but by exercising tact I got on extremely well with them, finding them all right with a little bit of 'sugar’, i.e. humouring”.
William and his wife Lucy lived in Ildersly Grove with their four children and were the only family in the 1881 Census not to have live-in servants. He died in Tooting in 1919.
Or take Arthur Ernest Pearce, born in 1859 in Angell Road, Brixton. The son of an architect, he studied design in London and Paris before teaching drawing and exhibiting at the Royal Academy. In his early 20s he joined the pottery firm Doulton where he remained for the rest of his career, becoming head designer of ceramics and terracotta at their Lambeth studios. He designed many large scale works including the firm’s pavilion for the 1893 Chicago World Fair and the colossal Doulton Fountain in Glasgow Green: at 46 feet high it was the largest terracotta fountain in the world. At the time it was described as “an alliance of the beautiful and the useful” and “a sculptural extravaganza”. Designed in the French Renaissance style it commemorates Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee with all the pomp of the imperial heyday. The statue of Victoria at the apex was struck by lightning in 1891 and rather than let the city fathers replace it with something inferior, Doulton paid for a replacement, an expensive undertaking since Pearce’s original moulds had been broken up.
Pearce was also a superb watercolourist and one of his responsibilities was to illustrate the manuscripts which were presented to long serving Doulton employees. He also painted a vase which was presented to Queen Victoria.
One of seven children, the rest of whom remained single, in 1886 Pearce married Katherine Mary Hughes whom he had met at the Doulton studios and together they had three children. They lived in Ildersly Grove with a general servant called Louisa and Mabel the nursemaid. At some stage they moved to a house in Marius Road, Tooting (called “Ildersly”) where sadly Katherine committed suicide, being found by her daughter. Pearce then married again in 1921, to Lily Troake. He died in 1934.
In 1881 a widow, Mrs Grace Jacobina Strickland, can be found living in Ildersly Grove with her grandson Percy who was at Dulwich College, Annie, their cook and a general servant called Elizabeth. They had two visitors on Census night, Mrs Longmore and her son Henry. Both the Stricklands and the Longmores were born in India. There seems to me to be rather a large number of residents of Ildersly Grove who were British subjects born in India (9 out of a total of 63 residents). I don’t know whether that is unusual or not for the time but I like to think of people in India during the Raj discussing returning home to England: “Oh yes you must move to West Dulwich, it’s the in-place”. I do know that the vicar of All Saints in Rosendale Road, the Rev James Beeby, commented in 1900 upon the changes which had taken place in his parish: "There has been a complete change in the character (of the parish) in the last 14 years; then everyone had something to do with India, Indian civil servants and aunts of Indians bringing up their children and drawn by the nearness of Dulwich College and Dulwich High School (a girls' school now occupied by Rosemead School in Thurlow Park Rd). They are almost all gone now."
Grace was the mother of Lt William Strickland who won a medal while serving in the Burmese Expedition of 1852-3. His son, Percy, studied medicine at St Bartholomew’s after leaving Dulwich College and was a member of the BMA for 51 years. He became a surgeon in the Indian Medical Service, rising to Colonel and he also won a medal in the Burmese Expedition of 1889-90.
However, India isn’t the most unusual birthplace for Ildersly Grove residents. Mary Ann Jefford Peterson was born in St Helena in the South Atlantic in 1845. At that time it was a Crown colony so Mary was a British citizen. The population was declining due to emigration and although it is not known when she left the island she lived in India at some stage after her marriage and she is found in Dulwich in 1881. She lived in Ildersly Grove with her two young sons who were both born in Simla, India, her daughter Eveline who was born in Jalpaiguri, India and her daughter Hilda, born in Dulwich. They had a cook, a housemaid and a nurse who all lived in. In the 1881 Census she describes herself as the head of the household but also as the wife of a Judge in the Bengal Service; her husband was Frederick William Voysey Peterson who must have been still in India. I presume the two sons, described as scholars, were at Dulwich College but the Petersons also had an older son, Frederick Hopewell, who was at Rugby and who later joined the Bengal Staff Corps. He was mentioned in dispatches and won medals in various Indian expeditions.
Another resident, Sydney Grundy, described himself as a “dramatic author and barrister not in practice”. The son of an alderman, he was born in Manchester in 1848 and although his plays began to appear on the London stage from 1872 he showed commendable caution and continued to practise as a barrister until 1876.
Grundy became known as an adapter of French and German plays, re-shaping them to suit the British theatre audience but his most celebrated works were his original comedies and his librettos of comic operas. In 1892 he wrote Haddon Hall with Sir Arthur Sullivan after Sullivan had begun to chafe at the absurdities of Gilbert’s plots. The opera was performed at the Savoy and went on tour but did not lead to further collaboration with Sullivan.
Grundy’s partnership with Edward Solomon was very popular and Solomon and Grundy operas (not to be confused with the man who was born on Monday) toured Britain and the English-speaking world and were particularly popular in Australia. About a dozen of Grundy’s plays were performed on Broadway, where they were described as “brilliant” and “daring” and several were made into films. In Jersey the play chosen to re-open the Opera House in 1900 after a major fire was Grundy’s “The Degenerates” and Lillie Langtry curtailed her holiday in order to appear in it, having created the role of Mrs Trevelyan at the Haymarket in London the previous year.
Although his obituary in the New York Times described him as unmarried in fact Grundy lived in Ildersly Grove with his wife Maria, their daughter, Emily and their servant Annie before moving to Addison Road in Kensington, gaining a cook, a parlour maid and a housemaid on the way. He died in July 1914.