Local History: On the Street where you live - West Dulwich by Ian McInnes

The north side of Park Hall Road, from the corner of Croxted Road as far as the Alleyn Park railway bridge, was badly damaged by two V1 flying bombs, one on 5th July 1944 and another two days later on the 7th. The damage extended along Croxted Road into Ildersly Grove and included Alleyn Crescent on the corner of Alleyn Road. All the shops along Park Hall Road were flattened, as were the thirteen small cottages in Park Hall Road and the Alleyn's Head, at that time situated on the site of the former garage and petrol station (soon to be converted into a Majestic Wine Warehouse).

The Estate's Building, Ways and Means, Committee visited the site on the 7th July 1945 'to inspect the result of the bomb damage' and, on 8th September, Austin Vernon, the Estate Architect and Surveyor, wrote proactively to the Chairman of the Estate Governors saying 'With regard to the land from Ildersley Grove to the Alleyn Park Bridge, I am of the opinion that owing to the size and shape of this land, it should best to use it for housing as it was previously.

In view of the present great shortage of houses of the smaller class in Dulwich, it occurs to me that the Governors might consider a proposal to develop this site themselves, and make arrangements for the preliminary work of plan preparation to be commenced, War Damage compensation to be assessed and other matters of negotiation to be dealt with With this in mind I have prepared a draft scheme for redevelopment of the site which I would like to lay before you for consideration at an early date. I have assumed that the site of the Alleyn's Head public house would be available and that arrangements made with Mr Carnaby to acquire the narrow strip of land in Acacia Grove, so that the tiny shops that existed previously were not replaced. The scheme shows two terraces of cottages each with a living room, a fair sized kitchen with a dining recess, three bedrooms and a bathroom. Each cottage will have a small garden, an out-building for fuel, bicycle or a pram, and a separate back or side entrance.'

The letter finished on a persuasive if not patriotic note ' I put this scheme forward in order that it may be discussed as it occurs to me that the Governors would be well advised to take up the matter of housing seriously and endeavour to assist the country's building programme.'

Interestingly the Manager had already reported to the Board meeting on the 21st July that he had started discussions with Messrs Worthington & Co about the reconstruction of a new Alleyn's Head on a site on the south side of Park Hall Road on the corner of Alleyn Park. Clearly the Manager and the Surveyor had already put their heads together and were working on a two pronged plan to persuade the Governors to do something. Austin Vernon may have been a gentleman architect of the old school but he was also very keen to create work for himself when he saw an opportunity.

The cottages proposal moved forward very quickly. Design drawings for eight houses and eight flats were approved on the 10th November and initial London County Council planning approval was received on 26th January 1946. Nine tenders were received on 27th April, the lowest being from W J Mitchell & Sons of Dulwich Village in the sum of £23,833. At this point, however, everything stopped while acceptable terms were negotiated with the War Damage Commission - during and after the War the Government compensated owners of bombed houses for their losses in two ways; for houses only partly damaged there was the 'cost of works' scheme where they would pay for repairs but to a fairly basic level 'the proper cost of restoring it to its original condition before the damage occurred or to its reasonable equivalent'; where a property had been totally demolished, there was a total loss payment based on the pre-war value of the land.

In August 1946, Camberwell refused to issue a building licence for the cottages because their projected cost, at £1300 each, was in excess of the likely war damage payments. Austin Vernon persevered and, by October 1947, he was able to report that nine of the thirteen bombed cottages would be covered by 'cost of works' payments while the other four would by total losses.

There had also been a slight hiccup when, midway through 1946, Camberwell Borough Council issued a list of sites that they considered suitable for compulsory purchase for housing and this included the site adjacent to the cottages where the Governors intended to build a new shopping centre. Indeed by the end of the year, Gollins Melvin & Ward, the architects acting for Camberwell, produced a layout for council housing on the whole site. This forced the Governors hand and Austin Vernon expanded the cottages scheme to include a new shopping area (not actually completed until 1958) which he presented on the 8th February 1947. In a subsequent meeting with Camberwell, the Governors persuaded them not to compulsorily purchase the site on the basis that the Governors had their own plans for redevelopment.

In August 1947 the War Damage Commission pointed out that 'the scheme provided for some dwellings which differed in character from those before the damage'. Austin Vernon responded by redesigning the scheme to provide ten cottages with no flats and, following further LCC approval, a building licence authorising expenditure up to £23,267 (slightly less than the original tender figure) was finally issued on 24th September 1948. The agreed War Damage Commission contribution was £14,700.

Austin Vernon was very confident that the final cost would not exceed the original contract figure, despite the change in the number of houses and their appearance (revised elevations for the cottages were still under discussion as late as October 1948), and he convinced the Governors to carry out the job in two stages, with a new Bill of Quantities being prepared for the amended above ground works while the foundations were being constructed. The Building Committee inspected the site to see construction in progress on 9th October 1949 and the cottages were complete by April 1950. A further site inspection on 17th June saw the Governors 'inspect the completed cottages and the layout of the gardens in the front.'

During July 1949 Eng. Rear Admiral Goodwin, one of the Governors, had suggested that the names of the proposed tenants should be submitted to the Board for approval. The cottages were to be let at 33s per week and first refusal was given to those who had previously lived in the original cottages, as long as they could pay the new rent. The selection of tenants caused a certain amount of local dissatisfaction. On 5th March 1951, a meeting of the Dulwich Leaseholders Association, an anti-Estate pressure group then recently set up , wrote a letter to the Governors which imputed 'improper behaviour by the Manager as their servant or agent with regard to the letting of the new cottages in Park Hall Road'. The Estate Solicitor confirmed that the letter was libellous but Counsel advised that it might be unwise to go to law, it would be best to ignore the organisation, which is what the Governors did.

However, it was not so easy to ignore another complainant, Dulwich College, who were particularly concerned over the lack of residential accommodation for assistant masters in Dulwich. In a letter dated 9th May 1952, The Clerk to the School Governors wrote 'My Governors are anxious that fresh consideration should be given to the difficult but vital question of the provision of accommodation for assistant masters on the EstateÉ...It is the Master's opinion that the row of new cottages built near the Alleyn's Head would have been ideal for some of his younger masters and it is felt that in at least two cases here the prior claims of masters were not considered.' He went on 'Many masters, moreover, have claimed recently of their inability to secure an interview with you personally when they called at the Estate's office to submit details of their requirements, and have, in some instances, been interviewed by one of your subordinates'

The Manager responded immediately pointing out that of 44 Estate properties let since 1944, 24 had been let to assistant masters, and it seems that, while there had been some correspondence in 1946 between the Chairman and the Schools Governors agreeing that all possible priority would be given to the requirements of the College, this information had either not been passed on to the Manager or he had been aware of it but not actually implemented it. At a subsequent meeting with the Clerk on the 28th June it was pointed out that it was the primary duty of the Estates Governors to secure full economic rents for all their properties and they could not agree to subsidise rents for College Masters. The compromise agreed was that some of the new houses shortly to be built in Allison Grove and Frank Dixon Way would be reserved for the College.