On the Street where you live

Dekker Road by Ian McInnes

An article in the magazine ‘Builder’ dated 29/1/1876 noted that ‘there is a probability of a large number of dwellings for the industrial classes being shortly erected on the Dulwich College Estate. This is in addition to the mansions and other residents for the wealthy which are springing up so rapidly on other various portions of the Estate. The Company has been registered within the last week or two, and we understand that negotiations will immediately be entered into with the Governors of the College for acquiring the necessary land for the first block of cottages to be erected. We also learn that the promoters of the undertaking are desirous that the cottages to be built should harmonise, as far as possible, with the general character of the locality’.

The article was somewhat optimistic about the numbers but correct about the basic facts. The Dulwich Cottage Company was set up early that year by one of the College Governors and between 1876 and 1879; it built several properties off Calton Road (now Calton Avenue) in a slightly Dutch/German arts & crafts style, and some cottages at 21-29 Boxall Road. While clearly a positive step, these developments did not satisfy the demand for working-class housing and, over the next twenty years, rents for such housing rose because of the limited supply.

Between 1895 and 1900 several members of the local clergy had been complaining about the Governors attitude to the shortage of such housing locally, one of the latter saying ‘they know very little about the district – most living at a distance, only paying occasional visits, taking none but a strict business interest in the property…therefore indifferent to, or ignorant of, the real difficulties of the poorer occupiers.’ Then, suddenly, early in 1901 the Estate decided to do something about the problem.

The apocryphal story is that the Borough of Camberwell wrote to the Estate threatening to carry out compulsory purchase under Part III of the 1890 Housing for the Working-classes Act. This empowered the newly created boroughs to compulsorily acquire land for working-class housing. Camberwell was one of the most aggressive boroughs in pursuing this objective and this obliged the Estate to carry out its own development in Dekker Road. The Estate Management Meeting Minutes, however, tell a slightly different story.

During 1898 and 1899 one or two of the Governors had been asking pointed questions about where estate workers lived and on 24th January 1901 Mr Powell, a Governor nominated by the London County Council, moved that ‘subject to the consent of the Charity commissioners being obtained, it is desirable that the board should build working class dwellings in suitable parts of the Estate, and that it should retain the control and letting of the same.’ At the following Board Meeting, on 14th February, the Manager reported that he had received a letter from C William Tagg, Town Clerk to the newly created Borough of Camberwell dated 7th February. In it he said ‘I beg to inform you that the Borough Council at its meeting last evening considered a report from the Public Health Committee with regard to the advisability of approaching the Estate Governors on the question, with the object of obtaining, a grant of land, on which dwellings could be erected. The question of housing is now being dealt with by a Sub-committee and I am directed to enquire if the Estates Governors can see their way to assist in forwarding the movement by a grant of land for the erection of such dwellings.’

The Manager was directed to reply that the provision of such dwellings was receiving the Board’s attention. Camberwell did not respond, or indeed raise the matter again, it was almost as if they knew that it would all be sorted out and that they would have achieved their aim with the minimum of effort and no cost. Was Mr Powell’s intervention in January actually part of a charade to give the Governors some vestige of being in charge of their own destiny and not make it look as if Camberwell had forced their hand?

On 14th March the Manager reported back ‘We have recently inspected various parts of the Estate in quest of a suitable site for the class of dwellings suggested, and we take the suggestion to mean that the type of cottage should be that which an ordinary working man could afford to rent without sub-letting, and as a result we are of the opinion that the site lying to the south-east of the Dulwich Cottage Company’s property in Calton Road is the only one available.’ The Estate had been unable to let this land for high class dwellings because of the earlier Dulwich Cottage Company houses, and the other benefit was that any road connecting Court Lane and Woodwarde Road would be very short.

C E Barry, the Architect and Surveyor prepared an initial design and layout for the Governors’ to review - based on rents of 10s 6d per week. The Governors thought these rents were too high and he was instructed to redesign the scheme to ‘bring up a plan and design for tenements containing two bedrooms, living room and scullery which could be built to let at a rent not exceeding 7s 6d per week, without charge for land; and also a plan and design for a double tenement cottage on the flat system, which could be built to let at a rent not exceeding 6s per week, the charge for land being included in this case; and further instructing the Manager and the Surveyor to report on the facilities for access to the site recommended by them, and to another site which has been suggested at the north end of Rosendale road’

On 18th April a revised scheme was produced and the Manager confirmed that, in his view, the site in Rosendale Road was not suitable, because of its distance from public transport. He was instructed to firm up the costs and write to the Public Works Loan Commissioners and the London County Council to see if either of them would be prepared to grant loans to carry out the scheme.

On 13th June the Manager reported that the London County Council had said ‘that the only funds available for advances for the erection of cottage tenements for the working classes are at present fully employed’. The Public Works Loans Board had responded more positively, advising that ‘loans under the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890, if granted, would have to be repaid by half-yearly instalments, either by way of an annuity, to include principal and interest, or by equal half-yearly instalments of principal, with interest on the principal sum from time to time remaining unpaid.’ The rates quoted were 3_% per annum for loans repayable in 30 years or less and 3_% per annum for loans exceeding 30 years but not 40 years.

The Manager had also made enquiries with the Prudential Assurance Company who confirmed that they would be prepared to provide a loan for 50 years, at 3_% per annum, but would require a mortgage charge on the property.

The total cost of the project was now estimated at £18,000 made up as follows:

  1. Road and sewer, kerbing and gravelled footpaths - £1012 10s
  2. Charge for the Local Authority to take over the road - £450
  3. Cottages: 24 single cottages at £248 each - £5968
    18 double tenement cottages at £510 each - £9180
  4. Tar paving to forecourts, alleys - £187 10s
  5. Fences, - £464-10s
  6. Shrubbery - £100
  7. Architect’s fees for plans etc, for road, sewer, houses, supervision etc - £600

On 19th September everything was sorted out and the Governors agreed to hold a special meeting to consider the question of the erection of working class dwellings in Dulwich.

It finally agreed:

That it is desirable that the Board should build working-class dwellings in Dulwich, and that it should retain control and letting of same.

That, in their opinion, the site proposed by the Manger and the Surveyor between Court Lane and Woodwarde Road and lying to the south-east of the Dulwich Cottage Company’s premises in Calton Road, is the most suitable on which to erect such dwellings.

That 24 single cottages be let at 10s 6d per week each, and 18 double tenement cottages to be let at 9s per week each, providing together for the accommodation of 60 families at an estimated cost of £18000 inclusive of road making, sewers and paving charges, be erected at the above mentioned site; and

That the double tenement cottages be erected on the north-west side of the proposed new road.

Your committee think it right to add that recommendation no. 4 was carried by five votes to three, the minority being in favour of proceeding to build single cottages.

What the outcome of this vote would be will be the subject of Part 2 of this article in the next issue of the Newsletter.