On the Street Where You Live - Dovercourt Road by Ian McInnes

Dovercourt Road is unusual in that it is the only new road in Dulwich (created after 1900) whose name has no link with the Estate or Alleyn's College of God's Gift. The reason is quite simple, the Estate forgot to include any requirement for the Governors to review the naming of the new road in the building agreement, and the builder did not bother to consult them. He put forward the name Dovercourt to the London County Council and, when the Estate found out, and tried to have it changed, it was too late. The builder, not wishing to fall out with the Estate, responded cannily saying that they were quite willing to consider the Estate's wishes on the matter, but that as the word Dovercourt had been adopted by the Council and 'that the Post Office, the Borough Council and the firms, and others with whom Messrs Williams have business have been informed of the name of the road' they would be glad to have the consent of the Governors to the retention of the name. The Estate reluctantly agreed but the Manager was told to make sure this did not happen again.

Negotiations on the original building agreement for development on the northern section of Dovercourt Road, the land 'between Woodwarde Road and Townley Road' (Fields 604 and 605 on the Estate Map), began late in 1906 when Messrs Williams (of 49 Bonham Road, Brixton Hill) offered to 'erect on the land within six years 62 semi detached houses in accordance with plans to be submitted to and approved by the Governors and to cost not less than £450 each house; not more than 12 houses of 20ft frontage to each plot to be erected in each of the second, third, fourth and fifth years and 14 houses in the sixth year; the building line to be set back at least 20 feet from the frontage line'.

However, before the agreement could be signed the problem over the LCC Metropolitan Sewer, which ran across the site, had to be overcome. It appears that no one knew exactly where it was and in April 1907 the Manager and Surveyor went to the offices of the LCC Engineer to inspect the plans. Unfortunately the drawings were also unclear so, shortly afterwards, they met the Camberwell District Surveyor (Building Control officer in modern day life) on site to carry out some exploratory work to determine exactly where it was xby digging several trial holes. They reported that 'no part of the sewer will be under any of the houses proposed to be built by Messrs Williams. Mr Williams jnr. was present at the inspection and now agrees that the proviso relating to the sewer being eliminated from their terms of their offer.'

Messrs Williams - Henry John (father) and Albert Henry (Son) were one of the most prolific builders on the Estate. They generally restricted their business to the smaller type of house that was much easier to sell in the difficult economic years between 1905 and 1910 x housing slumps are usually seen as a modern phenomenon but there was a serious nationwide problem in those years which seriously affected development in the Dulwich area x particularly at the more expensive end of the market.

Messrs Williams were also clearly very customer focused and had carried out some market research on what their future tenants might want, particularly with regard to kitchens. Recommending approval of their proposed house designs in January 1908, the Estate's Surveyor reported 'After exhaustive enquiries of the tenants of other houses of similar size, erected by them on the Estate, Messrs Williams find that the ordinary kitchen is to a great extent a wasted room. All the cooking is done on the gas stove and that a separate wash house is most desirable. In reply to their enquiries of twenty of their tenants, they have received answers from fifteen, and of these only one was not in favour of their new departure, and the dissentient was a man'. Many of the replies to the survey apparently also pointed out that, as no servant was now kept, the new arrangement would be a great help to the 'mistress of the house', who, in these cases, did all the cooking. The other point that the Surveyor noted was that the houses were not strictly semi-detached as they were joined at the first floor. This gave 'more spacious rooms on the first floor which is a distinct advantage' and provided a clear way through from the front to the back gardens at ground level.

The first house (No. 51) was ready in November 1908, with Nos. 57 and 59 following in December and Nos. 53 and 55 in March 1909. In November 1908 the builder applied for permission to add a single storey side extension to No. 51 to use as an estate office x it is still there, and was used for several years after 1919 by a Miss Stringer who obtained the Estate's permission to use it as a school room for 25 children aged 5 to 12.

In January 1909 Messrs Williams decided to change the internal layout for the rest of the houses - to enlarge the dining room at the expense of the through passage and the removal of a separate tradesman's entrance. The Architect and Surveyor was happy enough with the first proposal but not the second. He reported 'I think it is important that, even in such small houses as these, the main entrance to the street should not be used by tradesmen, street hawkers etc for the entrance of stores and fuel, or for carrying out dust and refuse. As the front doors of each pairs of houses are adjacent, the use of one of them for carrying in and out of coal dust might be distinctly objectionable to the occupant of the neighbouring house'. Interestingly this was a class problem as it is obvious that, in normal terrace houses, with only one door, this is exactly what would happen x but presumably that was acceptable for lower class occupiers!

By March 1914 Mr Albert Henry Williams (the son) was in business on his own and agreed to construct further houses at the junction of Dovercourt Road and Townley Road, seven on the east side and four on the west. He had some problems with the LCC Planners because their original layout did not apparently provide sufficient space between the flanks of the houses on the corners of Dovercourt Road and its side boundaries. In the revised plan, two of the houses were placed with their frontages to Dovercourt Road x this had the effect of giving more importance to the corner plots, and the Architect and Surveyor reported 'I think the revised plan is an improvement on that originally submitted'.

Not long afterwards, the Estate entered into a separate building agreement with another prolific local builder, Arthur Bendall, to build on the southern section of Dovercourt Road, between Woodward Road and Court Lane; he was working on Court Lane Gardens at the time. The stipulated cost per house here was £500 in the agreement but the Estate Architect and Surveyor reckoned that the houses actually proposed would be worth £554. Nos. 90 and 92 were complete in July 1912 and Nos. 86 and 88 in September. Work continued in the road up until 1916 when all building agreements were suspended because of the War. At that point the west side of the road was finished together with numbers 85-91 on the east side.

During 1918, McColloch Brothers, another local builder, had taken over Arthur Bendall's building agreement and, in October 1922 following considerable pressure by the Estate, applied to complete the remaining four houses (Nos. 65-71) in the southern part of Dovercourt Road, Mr Williams having dealt with Nos. 73-83 a year or so earlier. They said that the delay had been caused by the rapid rise in building costs after the War and problems over supplies of materials. The designs of these houses received a positive review from the Architect and Surveyor 'So far as the exterior goes I think the architect, Mr E W Bonfield ARIBA has treated the block effectively. Each house contains about 17,640 cu. ft. and is estimated to cost £1000 at least. The house at the south end of the block would be at the corner of Dovercourt Road and a new road proposed for future construction' (now Eastlands Crescent). Nos. 65-71 were complete by February 1923.

The lease on the Eastlands Dairy (located behind nos. 73-91 Dovercourt Road) ran out at the end of the 1920s and the Estate leased the land to Mr William Willmot of No. 35 Poplar Walk, Denmark Hill, another builder. It was stipulated that no house should cost less than £1250 and that building should start at the Dovercourt Road end of the new access road as the Estate thought 'the two houses astride of the new road at this point should be the first ones erected. Otherwise, having established a frontage building line at the Dovercourt Road end, the flankage lines of the two corner plots at the Court Lane end would have to be set back as to render them practically useless and unremunerative.'

During World War II two sections of Dovercourt Road were 'damaged by enemy action' as the Camberwell District Surveyor reported to the Estate. Nos. 11-15 suffered from a V1 explosion during 1944, but the worst incident took place in January 1945 when a V2 rocket exploded on the north side of Court Lane, between Dovercourt Road and Eastlands Crescent, killing seven people and injuring thirty six. The houses here were completely rebuilt in the late 1940s.