On the Street where you live - Ferrings And Tollgate Drive by Ian McInnes
The developments at Ferrings and Tollgate Drive date from 1962-66 and were designed by architects Victor Knight and Manfred Bresgen of Austin Vernon & Partners and built by Wates. They are perhaps Dulwich's best known 1960s housing, partly because of their prominent site, but mainly because of their interesting design. Their gestation period, however, was a long one and the original proposals for the sites were very different from what was finally built.
The Dulwich Estates' Architect and Surveyor's report on the site dated 28th July 1962 described a mixed development of three storey houses and blocks of flats 'Sketch plans of the houses and flats have been prepared following discussions with Wates Ltd and are submitted for approval. As shown on the layout plan previously approved the houses are in groups of three and have been carefully designed and sited to avoid overlooking. The elevations are in facing bricks relieved with stucco. They are roofed in copper. And the balconies and copper canopies are reminiscent of the Regency period. The flats are sited as shown on the approved layout plan and model. Each of the four T-shaped blocks has nineteen flats, generally three per floor, served by lifts. On the first, second, third and fourth floors, each flat of 1260 sq ft is in a separate wing, and comprises Hall, Living Room with Dining recess, two Bedrooms, Study (or third Bedroom), Bathroom, Kitchen and Utility Room with separate back access to the Kitchen for Tradesmen. In two cases this also gives access to the dust chutes. On the ground floor, one flat is identical with those above, but the two either side are slightly reduced in area. The lower ground floor provides 18 garages, electrical intake rooms, store rooms for the flats, and a small caretaker's or staff flat.'
Building work had started on the first block of flats, Gainsborough Court, during 1963 but, by late 1964, there were clearly serious problems over the development's financial viability; it appeared that the housing market in Dulwich for flats had been fully satisfied by the recently completed developments in Dulwich Wood Park and there was little demand for the type of more luxurious flats proposed on this site. The Estate had already agreed to reduce the number of blocks of flats from four to three but the debate came to a head at an Estate meeting on 14th November 1964. The Manager reported first saying 'The building agreement originally provided for the erection of 29 houses and 72 flats. In order to improve the amenity value of the site, the Governors agreed to the omission of one block of flats, reducing the number to 54. Following recent discussions, I received a letter from Mr Neil Wates stating that the sales of the flats in the block at present under construction are proceeding extremely slowly, and suggesting that, although there are problems of density and loss of ground rental income to be considered, the remaining two blocks should not be proceeded with and the site should be completely re-planned around the existing block to give the greatest possible architectural effect at a satisfactory density coupled with the appropriate financial returns.'
The Architect and Surveyor's report which followed later in the same meeting was more emphatic saying 'The developers have reiterated from time to time the difficulties of developing this site owing to its nature and the very high cost of the proposed development and attempts to reach agreement on the original development have failed. Mr Neil Wates has now put forward a suggestion for a drastic revision of the layout on the grounds that the cost of tall flats and the peculiarities of the site dictate a sale price of £7000 per flat which he considers uneconomic. Since preparing the original scheme the Architects have produced no less than nine subsequent ones, the last of which is for houses alone, reducing the total number of units by half, resulting in very high road and underbuilding costs.'
The Governors initially declined to vary the agreement but by the end of the meeting they became more amenable and they instructed Russell Vernon, the Architect and Surveyor, to go back to Wates to try and negotiate a new scheme but to try and retain the original density (and their income from ground rents).
On 9th January 1965 Messrs Norman and Neil Wates were invited to address the Board meeting. The minutes noted 'Briefly, the views of Messrs Wates was that the two blocks of flats remaining to be built should be abandoned. Mr Neil Wates was emphatic that the flats were not a viable proposition; they wanted a complete
redesign for the site; they recognised that the site was the supreme prestige site of the Estates of all those available for development; they recognised also that to achieve the necessary density there would have to be seven houses to the acre'. In the discussion following the presentation the majority view initially was that Wates should just be told to go ahead with the original plan but by the end the recommendation was to build houses on the northern part of the scheme (Tollgate Drive) and then review the situation for Ferrings later.
Wates wrote to the Governors again on 30th July 1965 saying 'As you are aware, over the past months we have been discussing with Mr Vernon and Mr Knight the designs of the 18 houses on the northern section of this site. They have now been worked up from their original conception in much more detail and it is our considered opinion that the results are beneficial for a number of very cogent reasons.
Firstly, the houses have much more individuality than before, and are not just a series of three very similar houses. Secondly, the substitution of two and single-storey houses in place of three stories gives greater variety. The demand for expensive three storey houses outside the immediate centre of London is limited, and we know that single-storey buildings have a great attraction and are a much more marketable proposition. We also believe that the internal layouts have been improved and will provide much better living.
Finally, the present economic climate is moving against us, and it does not seem likely to improve very quickly. It is, I am sure, true, backed up with all our experience in the field of housing, that in difficult times it is absolutely imperative to offer value for money. These latest designs do just that. For these reason I trust therefore you will recommend this scheme to your Governors.'
In the end, both sites were redeveloped with the same type of houses and the only amendment to the revised scheme was when the outer row of houses, originally accessed directly from College Road, was turned round so that access to both rows of houses was from the central road. Work started very shortly afterwards and the houses were occupied during the latter part of 1966. The prices were from £14950 for the bungalows and £16450 for the houses.
The ground floor layout of the two storey 'pavilion' type houses was totally open plan but the most radical design was the bungalow with its clear zoning of living and sleeping areas and the monopitch roof over the lounge. The roofs on both types of house were clad in a copper covered felt material, and it is clear from conversations with the first residents on the development still living in Dulwich that the houses were not built to a good standard, and many people had problems with leaks and shoddy workmanship.
Nevertheless, forty years on, with the initial problems just memories, they remain fine exemplars of a memorable period of stylish modern houses whose qualities of planning and space are seldom seen in speculative housing today. They are Dulwich's best 1960s houses, and some have argued that their quality is sufficient to justify consideration for listing.