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.
Philip Mainwaring Johnston by Ian McInnes
Strictly speaking, Philip Mainwaring Johnston (1865-1936) should not appear in a series of articles on architects who lived or worked in Dulwich, as he lived just off the southern edge of the Estate in Camberwell - on de Crespigny Park (from 1907) and at Sussex Lodge on Champion Hill (now No. 42 ) from 1914. The latter was one of two pairs of semi-detached houses that he designed and built in the arts and crafts style. All four houses remain and are perhaps the best example of the arts and crafts style in the local area. His other connection with the area was that he was articled to John Belcher, whose life was covered in the issue for Summer 2006, who lived just down the road at Redholme, at the rear of the Fox on the Hill pub.
Johnston studied at Kings College under Professor Delamotte and undertook many sketching trips in England and on the Continent &endash; an important part of every architect's education at that time. On completion of his articles with Belcher in 1886, he commenced practice on his own and became particularly well known for restoration work on old churches and small country houses in Surrey and Sussex. He also designed several new buildings, mainly in the Home Counties, including churches, houses, vicarages and model cottages and 24 WW1 war memorials. He was diocesan architect to Chichester Cathedral and architect to the Stratford-on-Avon Preservation Trust.
His publications included three volumes on 'The Churches of Sussex', 'A Schedule of Surrey Antiquities', 'Church Chests and Doors' and a vast number of articles in the Royal Archaeological Institute's Journal, the Sussex Archaeological Collections, the Surrey Archaeological Collections and the Transactions of the St Paul's Ecclesiological Society. He was also a major contributor to the Victoria Histories of Sussex and Surrey.
He was vice-president of the British Archaeological Association and the Surrey Archaeological Society and was particularly well known as an expert in the preservation of ancient wall paintings. One of his most important projects was the restoration, on behalf of the V & A, of a mid sixteenth century room in a house on Carfax near Oxford, and he did similar work at Jesus College in Oxford.
His daughter was the well-known interwar actress, Thea Holme (1904-80). She made her first stage appearance in 1924 but her reputation was made in the 1930s in Oxford where she was in repertory at the Oxford Playhouse, her husband, Stanford Holme, being the producer &endash; the well known cookery writer, Elizabeth David was also an assistant stage manager at the theatre and, allegedly, Stanford Holmes mistress for two years. Her Times obituary noted 'hard indeed of heart was the undergraduate who did not fall madly in love with this most elegant beauty with the wondering eyes'. It appears that the Holmes were prepared to experiment with new plays, by known or unknown authors, but would also put on pantomime as well as the classics. During the war she toured with CEMA (The Council for the encouragement of Music and the Arts) and afterwards lived in Thomas Carlyle's house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, where her husband was curator. She wrote several books, the best known of which was' The Carlyles at Home
A member has asked our Wildlife Committee for advice on how he can rid his garden of wood pigeons - five are roosting in trees at the bottom of his garden - because they are stripping leaves from a treasured lilac. "As a consequence, the tree is now in a very bad way and I have doubts whether or not it will recover over the winter", he says. "Is there anything that can be done about this pest?"
Since moving into his home near Sydenham 15 years ago, wood pigeon numbers in his garden have markedly increased, he notes. Which would not be surprising, because this is pretty much a nation-wide phenomenon. When the British Trust for Ornithology's intrepid volunteer national bird-recorders rose at dawn to do their annual survey in 2005, they counted a record number of wood pigeons, putting them (for the very first time) head of the Top Twenty Most Commonly-Seen UK list. The BTO's Big Garden Birdwatch rankings of core bird species this Spring has placed the Wood pigeon a little lower, at Number Three: nevertheless, it was seen in 84 per cent of gardens surveyed.
Some 2.5 million breeding pairs of wood pigeons are now reckoned to be living here year-round. Others are migrants, over-wintering in the UK each year during their journey from Scandinavia to France and Spain, where they breed. For this reason, wood pigeon numbers are always at their peak here in winter.
How can you spot the difference between this variety of pigeon and the feral kind - the type that used to hang around Trafalgar Square in vast numbers before Mayor Ken banished them? Wood pigeons are actually unmistakably different-looking birds - larger and less compact than ferals and with a noticeably smaller head, in relation to their body size. In fact, wood pigeons are the biggest variety of pigeon in Europe. But although these grey, white and mauvish-pink birds appear to have very big, heavy bodies (most noticeable when they're seen trying to perch on flimsy twigs) they aren't as fat as they look. That portly shape is mostly feathers and not the result of over-eating grain (their favoured foodstuff). They also eat flowers, grasses, herbs, berries, the odd invertebrate and occasional nut and (pace the aforementioned gentleman's struggling lilac tree) buds, shoots and leaves.
Wood pigeons have always been unpopular with farmers because of their crop-raiding habits (flocks of hundreds, or even thousands, can descend on a field of young corn). The other major difference between feral and wood pigeons is their roosting habits: ferals, being descended from cliff-roosting rock doves, favour buildings with "rocky outcrop" ledges in our towns and cities, while wood pigeons roost in trees and shrubs. But why are they coming into suburban gardens in such numbers these days - and risking having some gardeners "gunning for them", too?
The answer, birdlife charities and research organisations believe, lies in the massive switchover to oilseed rape that's been taking place throughout our agricultural countryside since the 1970s. It seems to have led to a rapid wood pigeon population explosion. And, since their natural home is wooded countryside and fields - and what is a leafy garden if not a "woodland edge" habitat, a park an artificially-created fields with copses and wooded perimeters - it's no wonder they are moving in. These places supply everything that the wood pigeons, average wood pigeon-about-town could possibly need: in abundance.
Wood pigeons seek large, mature trees and shrubs in which to build (their rather scrappy) nests and lay a couple of eggs. They need to be able to feed their young nestlings(which can be born at any time of year) are fed "crop milk", in a safe place away from predators. This food is produced in their parents' throats and jetted directly down their gullets (so youngsters initially make no direct demands on local horticulture). But once the little "squabs" and "squeakers" have left the nest, they'll be out and about, looking among the well-stocked gardens within coo-ing distance of their roost, for a meal.
What's to do, then, to protect your "crop" of garden plants? The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, and its amendments stipulates that all wild birds, their nests and their eggs are protected by law. However, Defra (Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs makes an exception for pigeons, both feral and wood, because they are classed as "nuisance pests".
So, in theory, you could pay someone to trap and remove the birds (but note that many interventions would require a Defra licence first). But it would probably prove a pointless exercise and a waste of money. Other pigeons would soon be flocking in (and nothing guards a prime roosting site than an already-present, hostile sitting tenant or two). A greener alternative might be to purchase a bird-deterrent. There are many Bird Scarer Products on the market, which can be bought via the internet, ranging from glaring, fake raptors to gadgets that make scary noises. A Google search the other day produced 81,700 entries for such products and the law of averages suggests that one or two might work). Or you could arm yourself with a cheap, plastic bazooka-style toy (the kind you fill from the cold tap if you want to start a water fight or discourage a cat from spraying). Eventually, of course, your targeted tree or shrub will develop leaves too mature for pigeons to consume.
Or - and this might sound like sleeping with the enemy - you could feed your resident wood pigeons something they would like to eat, in preference to lilac or other tender shoots - e.g. a grain-mix feed. This solution was the best-bet suggestion from a leading national wildlife organisation because, they said, they had found it to be the most effective (without encouraging further population growth).
It turns out to be the protocol I myself have (unintentionally) been following in recent years. I have one regular wood pigeon garden visitor who waits each morning on an outhouse roof, his yellow eyes (alternately) fixing upon a large tubular bird-feeder while waiting for scraps of high-energy wild birdfood mix (mail ordered)to shower down from the house sparrows' scrummage. My visitor does a good job of cleaning up the grass beneath the feeder and, aware of the resident cats, never lingers longer than absolutely necessary.
It's true that the lilac tree overhanging my fence looks as sick as a parrot these days - but I think its condition must owe more to age and the wisteria that tries to smother it each summer than to the wood pigeons because I have never seen a single one foraging upon it.
For further advice on birds/ bird problems in your garden, contact the RSPB 01767 693 690 or 01273 75333 (office hours); www.rspb.org.uk
Message from the editor - contributors are welcome
Actually this message appears in every issue of the Newsletter, although the demand for space on the masthead page means that the message is printed in such small print it is easily missed. Articles or Letters on issues or matters connected with Dulwich are always welcome for consideration. They can be sent by any means (although wrapped around a brick through the window is not encouraged. The preferred method is email to:
Sydenham Hill Station
In reply to the article concerning Sydenham Hill Station in the last issue, Michael Palmer writes;
I agree with the Editor of the Villagers' Notebook that the station's name is confusing, and despite the historic and artistic connections, ought to be changed. However, the points of the compass are also an anomaly, with North Dulwich north of West Dulwich and East Dulwich north of North Dulwich and the proposed 'South Dulwich' fractionally east of East Dulwich.
My suggestions would be 'Dulwich Woods' with other possibilities being 'Dulwich Tollgate' or perhaps 'Alleyn Park'.
The Missing Dulwich Station
From Michael Goodman & The Revd. Bernhard Schunemann, Vicar of South Dulwich
As everyone knows, Dulwich Village stands in the middle of an area containing four railways station. Three have names indicating where they are, namely North Dulwich, East Dulwich and West Dulwich. But when it comes to the area of Dulwich south of the Tollgate, we have instead a station named Sydenham Hill. It is not at the top of a hill but near the bottom, in the edge of what has been known for centuries as Dulwich Woods. Would it not be a good idea and consistent if this outpost to the south was more clearly identified with Dulwich and called South Dulwich? Indeed one wonders why it was not called that in the first place but that was probably due to some strand of local history.
In addition it is interesting to note that the name of the church standing beside the station x St Stephen's, South Dulwich x has gone by this title since it was built in 1868, some five years after the railway line was extended from Herne Hill to pass through the tunnel under the new Crystal Palace and emerge in Penge on its way to Chatham and Dover. Now the station could become part of the Dulwich ring to which it belongs.
It also appears that with the departure of Eurostar from our line, that there will be four stopping trains per hour at Sydenham Hill (as it still is) and at West Dulwich, which would make a change of name even more timely x better late than never!
Estate Agents Boards
Roy Thomas of Forest Hill writes:
At its best an urban landscape can be as uplifting as a favourable stretch of countryside or coastline. That's why anti-social behaviour responsible for graffiti, dumped rubbish and scratched windows on public transport can be so dispiriting. However, sometime even the municipal and commercial sectors can be just as culpable of such eyesores.
My example concerns the 'For Sale' and 'To Let' boards that Estate Agents erect outside properties as one part of their advertising armoury to attract customers for their clients.
On the South Circular Road, in Lordship Lane outside a brand new development of Flats a permanent dozen or so Estate Agents boards jockey for position on the front perimeter railings. No doubt all these boards can be justified legally and commercially but they do absolutely nothing for these buildings and the immediate environment for for the poor people who have to look at them every day. As far as London is concerned this is not an isolated example by any means and I would guess there are similar instances all over the country.
Is it not about time that the Association of Estate Agents took a long hard look at some of the practices of its members and the negative effect they are having on some of our neighbourhoods. Surely a more imaginative balance ought to be struck between acceptable methods of advertising and a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape.
One Way Streets
John Howes of Peckarmans Wood writes:
The popularity of the restaurants and pub in Dulwich Village, together with the lack of parking spaces, impose problems on local residents who have to put up with other people's cars outside their homes. This is particularly severe in roads such as Pickwick Road and Aysgarth Road where few houses have garages or their own parking spaces, and their own and visitors' vehicles are parked on both sides for most of the day. Neither road is wide enough for two vehicles to pass, so that inevitably one driver is forced to reverse.
As an occasional transgressor of the peace of the Village, may I suggest that at least these two roads, and possibly others that face the same problem, are made one-way, saving the patience of residents and visitors alike.