watercolour of a street in Dulwich with trees, houses and sky

At the cross roads at the north end of Dulwich Village there is a small green area called Clarke’s Green. It is illustrated in this 1900 postcard, with Lyndenhurst and the old horse drinking trough that used to stand in the middle of the road, in the background. The story of why it was called Clarke’s Green is the story of the White House, a late eighteenth-century house that was pulled down in 1901 to build St Austins, now used as the JAGS pre-prep school. 

For the early nineteenth century traveller unsure about travelling through south London, the indispensable guide book was James Edwards’ ‘A companion from London to Brighthelmston, in Sussex’. Published in 1801 but researched over the previous ten years, so not necessarily totally up to date, it came with a series of maps and gives us a picture of Dulwich Village at the time - what is now Village Way was then Half Moon Lane, and there was no East Dulwich Grove and no crossroads. There was, however, a pub - roughly opposite Lyndenhurst, called the White Hart - the interior was known for its wood panelled club room and it had a large south facing bay window in the public bar. It closed in about 1815 and was converted into two small cottages, which were not demolished until 1902 to build the current arts and crafts house on the site.

The ‘White House’ sat on the other side of Half Moon Lane, though it was not white in 1801.  Edwards describes it as ‘a neat red brick house in possession of Isaac Vaughan Esq, brother to George Vaughan Esq, in Gravel Lane, Southwark’. Isaac Vaughan had indeed built the house in 1790 but he did not stay long, moving back to Southwark in 1798. He assigned his lease to Richard Henry Clarke (1763-1845), a partner in Curtis and Clarke, biscuit bakers, corn factors, and merchants – with an office and factory in Wapping High Street backing onto the River Thames. Clarke’s father, also called Richard and noted as ‘a gentleman of Dulwich’, had owned a biscuit factory in St John Horsleydown, Bermondsey.  When he retired he lent his eldest son £5000 to go into partnership with Tim & William Curtis, the sons of Sir William Curtis Bt (1715-71), the popular MP for the City of London from 1790 to 1826 – and Lord Mayor in 1795. Known affectionately at the time as ‘Billy Biscuit’, his firm was the major supplier of sea biscuits to the Royal Navy. Clarke renewed his lease in 1804, with additional ground at the rear to enlarge his garden, and an 1839 Charity Commission Report noted that his tenancy was just over 8 acres and contained ‘A capital messuage, offices, gardens & paddock, area’. It confirmed that his lease was 84 years from 1790 and that the annual rent was £47.  One of his younger brothers Charles, a wine merchant, took the lease for Lyndenhurst opposite in 1810, and we can assume that Clarke’s Green was named after one or both of them. He retired from the biscuit business in 1826, leaving his son Richard Henry Jnr in charge, and continued to live in the house until his death in in 1845 aged 83. 

His wife had died in 1805 and, when his son died in 1847, the property passed to his daughter Julia (1801-75). On 16 June 1849 the London Evening Standard reported on her marriage to William Green, ‘son of William Green of Bryanston Square’. The marriage was at the very smart St James Piccadilly and the 1851 census records the couple as residents at the ‘White House’ - William was 51 and his profession was noted as ‘Esquire’. He had large land holdings in Yorkshire, at Wilitoft, but there is no doubt that Julia was also able to make a major contribution to the family finances. They were away in the 1861 census, staying with his sister at Heydon Hall in Norfolk – she was married to the owner, William Earle Lytton Bulwer. The couple were still living at the ‘White House’ in 1865 - when William was fined £5 for failing to attend a summons to a local grand jury.  Following their departure later that year the lease was assigned to silversmith George Widdowson, downsizing from the much larger Bell House in College Road after the death of his wife. Almost immediately he complained to the Dulwich Estate about the bad state of the fencing between his property and the neighbouring Dulwich Lodge. It was then owned by George Bevington, a prominent Bermondsey leather manufacturer, and it seems that the latter’s cows were constantly in his garden. 

A partner in Widdowson & Veale, a substantial silversmith and jeweller, with a large shop at No 73 Strand, Widdowson was a very wealthy man.  He was over 60 when he moved to the house and, following his death in December 1872, he was buried in Norwood Cemetery - his tomb is now Grade II listed. His executors auctioned off his effects in February 1873. As well as the household furniture, Wilkinson & Horne, the auctioneers, listed ‘1100 ounces of antique plate, plated articles, jewellery, a very elegant fine gold vase richly jewelled, antique watches and gold coins, Dresden, Sevres, Berlin, small other china ornaments, pictures, 100 volumes of books, 40 dozen of choice wines, 6¾ octave cottage pianoforte in ebonised case, elegant cabinets, ormolu and bronze candelabra, time pieces, carriage and dog-cart, valuable plants, cow, two stacks of capital hay, and out-door effects.’

The next owner was Edward Beanes, previously living at the ‘Old Blew House’ on Dulwich Common. He called himself a ‘gentleman and landed proprietor’ in the 1871 Census return but he had in fact spent a large part of his life in Cuba as a salesman and engineer working on sugar refining. The firm of Ross & Beanes, of 1 New Broad Street Court in the City of London, was well known as an agent for various British manufacturers of refining equipment, like Mirrlees Watson of Glasgow. His many patents included to ‘improvements to sugar refining by neutralising acids of cane juice’ and ‘improvements in brewing and treating fermented liquors’. 

He had moved on by 1881 to ‘Moatlands’ a much larger house in Brenchley, near Tunbridge Wells, and the lease was then acquired by the Rev James Worthington Dunn who, after some negotiation, obtained the Dulwich Estate’s agreement to use the house as a school for a maximum of 30 pupils ‘for preparation for the Universities and Public Examinations’, and changed the house’s name to St Austin’s.  Rev Dunn was also associated with St Johns Goose Green and he may have been involved with the development of ‘Volapuk’, a Victorian ‘universal language’, the precursor of Esperanto -  in January 1888, there was a letter to the editor of The Globe Newspaper about ’Volapuk’ from K Dornbusch, Member of the Volapuk Academy, St Austin’s, Dulwich SE.  In the autumn of 1888, he sold the school as a going concern to Herbert Baring Harington, and the following year was appointed vicar of the living of Pirbright, Woking. 

Herbert Baring Harington (1830-1906), had retired to Dulwich after a career in the Indian Civil Service. He had graduated from Wadham College Oxford in 1855 and had been sent to India in late 1856 to be part of a team supervising the installation of an advanced telegraph system which the British Government had acquired from America. He arrived just in time to serve in the Indian Mutiny, for which he received a medal with clasp, and he subsequently became Deputy Commissioner to the Oudh Commission and District Judge in Lucknow. He retired in 1887. Dulwich had several retired Indian Civil Servants at the time but he obviously decided that his pension was insufficient to fund the life style that he needed and, between 1889 and 1894 that indispensable newspaper to expats in India and the Far East, the ‘Homeward Mail’, regularly featured advertisements for his school – this one is dated 29 May 1893:

Private tuition for
MR H B Harrington MA, Oxon, assisted by an experienced Staff, prepares 
a limited number of pupils. Great individual attention. House in grounds of eight acres. 
Football, cricket, tennis etc.
In 1892 out of ten pupils under tuition, four passed into Sandhurst, one into 
Woolwich, and three for the army, and one for the professional preliminary.

Either St Austin’s was not a success, or he wanted to retire properly but, by late 1894, he had moved on – there were several newspaper advertisements for an auction of the house and its effects in March 1895. The house, however, apparently proved unsalable, a note in the Dulwich College archive lease packet says that the house was left empty from 1895, probably with just a caretaker - the 1901 census records the resident as J Dudman, private investigator, presumably a member of the large and well-known, but poor, Dulwich family. Shortly afterwards the house was demolished and the site purchased for redevelopment by Alfred C William Hobman, a successful Bermondsey based tar paving contractor.

The leaves only the connection with P G Wodehouse. He was at Dulwich College from 1894-1900 so would have known the house and its educational connections. In July 1901 his short story ‘The Prize’ - about St Austins School, was published in ‘The Public-School Mag’ and his first published book ‘The Pothunters’ (1902) also features a school called St Austins – and his book ‘Tales of St Austins (School Stories)’ was published in 1903.