On the Street Where You Live - Gilkes Crescent by Ian McInnes

Initial thoughts on the development of the future Gilkes Crescent began as early as February 1912 when Mr Gale Branson, one of the local house builders, then working in Druce Road, proposed to develop a small site at the rear of St Barnabas Hall. Following objections from the vicar, the Rev Howard Nixon, who wanted the land to be used for a hall extension, the Governors took the opportunity to review the development potential of all the adjacent land, specifically the large gardens behind the three big houses next to St Barnabas Hall fronting Dulwich High Street - Lake House, Fairfield and The Hall. C E Barry, the Estate Surveyor, presented two development options. Scheme A showed a new road generally on the lines of Gilkes Crescent as it is today while Scheme B showed a shorter road exiting on to Dulwich High Street through what is now the C of E school. The plan was put to one side as the three houses and their grounds were all fully let and the Governors sold the land immediately next to and behind the church hall to a Mr Room in 1913.

Of the three larger houses, Fairfield, the centre house, had both the biggest site and was in the worst condition – exacerbated no doubt by the fact that its lessee, Mr Harvey, had died a few years before. Mr Barry initially reported on its poor condition in May 1917, following a request from the lessee’s widow for financial assistance in putting things right. The Governors refused to help and required her to observe the full repairing covenants of the original 1902 lease.

In July 1917 the Governors received an offer from a Mr Almeric Padget, the MP for Cambridge, to take over Fairfield as a children’s ‘Convalescent Home for the poor’ with ‘twenty to forty beds for in-patients and an out-patients department for children for treatment by massage and electricity, and the home would be registered under the Board of Education. The cases are to be orthopaedic. No tubercular cases to be admitted unless the disease has been completely arrested.’ The Governors declined.

Late in 1919 Mrs Harvey confirmed that she would not be renewing Fairfield’s lease and asked for a schedule of dilapidations to be prepared. Mr Barry reported in January 1920 ‘there are serious structural defects, partly to the exterior and partly to the interior of the house. As regards the former much of the stucco has fallen away on all four sides of the building…. The roof and gutters are also imperfect….. As to the interior of the building, the chief defect is the presence of dry rot in several places and another serious matter is the falling down of the ceiling in the cloak room which has disclosed the fact the joists of the roof above are in a decayed state…speaking generally, this house is in a bad state, and my approximate estimate of the cost of making good the dilapidations is £650.’ There was no way Mrs Harvey could afford that kind of figure and she sublet the property to a Captain and Mrs Heath-Walker, to take over the last two years of the lease with a view to carrying out a refurbishment and agreeing a lease extension.

Luckily for the Governors the lease problems on Fairfield occurred just at the time when there was considerable development pressure in Dulwich - and they took the opportunity to implement the 1912 scheme, separating Fairfield from its large grounds and also securing a large part of the garden of the Hall fronting East Dulwich Grove. The 3_ acres of land resulting was inspected at the Governors’ Annual Review in July 1922 and the Estate received their first offer on the land very shortly afterwards from Messrs Martin & Co at 5s per foot ‘for the whole of the frontages amounting to about 920 feet (the corner plots not being calculated) at £230 per annum, the first year at a peppercorn, and the second year at half rent, for the erection of houses to the value of £950 to £1150; the road and sewer to be made by the Governors.’ Mr Barry estimated that the road and sewer would cost about £2250 and the Manger reported that ‘The Prudential Assurance Company would make a loan of £2500 at 5_%, repayable over a period of 30 years by instalments of £171 per annum.’ The Governors turned down the offer and instructed the Manager to obtain offers from builders who would undertake the installation of the road and sewer as well.