Before 1850 Dulwich was a small village in the centre of a valley with large houses built mostly in the previous hundred years in the best positions on the slopes. The impetus for development in the mid-Victorian period came with the expansion of London, the building of the railways and the reform of the charity, Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift, which owned most of Dulwich. Edward Alleyn (1566-1626) was an early modern actor and playhouse owner.

He was Lord of the Manor of Dulwich from 1606 and founder of Dulwich schools, almshouses and chapel. Expensive detached villas were erected in the 1860s at the southern end of Dulwich, the residents sending their children to the newly rebuilt Dulwich College.

The population more than doubled from about 1,700 in 1861 to 4,000 ten years later. By 1920, Dulwich was transformed from a rural hamlet to a London suburb, with a population of probably around 12,000. The greatest period of building was between 1890 and 1910, when more semi-detached houses for the lower middle classes were put up around the boundaries of the estate. 

Between the wars there was little building apart from Roseway and two council estates in the northern part of Dulwich. After World War Two, however, demand for more housing and pressure from the local authorities led to the building of larger estates and more private housing. However, the population at the end of the 1960s would still have been less than 20,000.

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