On the street where you live

Dekker Road (conclusion) by Ian McInnes

Following the Governors agreement to build working class housing in Dekker Road at their meeting on 31st October 1901, the Manager wrote to the Charity Commissioners confirming their intention.  The Commissioners agreed in principle but asked how ‘the construction of working-class dwellings on the Estate would be a remunerative investment of the Charity funds, and that capital expended for the purpose could be replaced. In the event the Commissioners agreed that the Governors could raise a loan of £18000 on the security of an order of the Board subject to the repayment of such a loan by annual instalments in a period of thirty years.

The Surveyor was then instructed to prepare the working drawings for the dwellings to be erected and he was ‘instructed to prepare the necessary specification, and that the names of not less than seven and not more than ten builders to be selected.

The contractors returned sealed bids on 19th March 1903 and the winner was Mr George Parker of 124 Sumner Road, Peckham in the sum of £15,525. The Estate informed the Charity Commissioners who shortly afterwards insisted that the scheme be further reviewed by an architect of their choice at the Estate’s expense - they suggested W D Caroe, a well known church architect of the time. His fee was £31 10s.

The final letter of approval from the Charity Commissioners contained four conditions:

  • There should be a doorway from the living room in the C blocks into the inner cubicle so that the latter can be used separately if desired. The cubicle division must be at least 7 feet high.
  • 6lbs lead, or asphalt, which is considerably cheaper and more permanent, must be used instead of zinc on the flat roofs of C block.
  • The fanlight specified over the doors should be shown upon the drawings on which they are now omitted.
  • Lead roof gutters must be 7lbs lead.

Tenders for the road and sewer were received and Messrs R Ballard of Child Hill NW started work on 23rd July 1902. The building contract with Mr George Parker was finally signed on 22nd October, in the slightly increased sum of £16,050, which reflected a rise in material prices.

Initial progress was good. On 26th November the Surveyor reported that the average number of men on site was 17, that roughly 43000 bricks had been delivered, and ‘all the blocks of buildings, the proposed new road, and the increased width of Court Lane have been set and staked out upon the ground. The trenches for the foundations of a block on each side of the new road at the Court Lane end have been dug out, and the trenches of the first block of the south side of the said road have been partly concreted.

By the end of January 1903 the first block of single tenements had ‘their walls built to an average height of 4ft above first floor level, the stud partitions in position and all door and window frames of ground floor built in.’ By 24th March the ‘Roof boarding was finished, and roofs partly tiled; a large proportion of lead work on roofs laid. Chimney stacks cleaned down and pointed. All internal framed partitions fixed.’

At the Board meeting in May Mr Barry put forward a sketch for commemorative tablets to be fixed to the two end walls facing Court Lane and Woodwarde Road. ‘After due consideration I would suggest that the material of the tablets should be Hopton Wood stone, or a fine grained stone of similar character and that the lettering should be incised and gilded. Grey granite or marble are of course alternative materials; but both of these would be much more expensive and possibly too conspicuous.’ It was left to the Chairman and the deputy chairman to decide although, on 27th October, Mr Powell, one of the Governors, tried to have the tablets removed ‘as the College Arms, affixed to each block of the working class dwellings, sufficiently indicate their origin.’ There was no seconder to his motion, so it was dropped.

The new road was half completed by 26th May and the remainder of the blocks were constructed through the rest of 1903 and well into 1904, the final account not being agreed till December 1904.  In the autumn the Manager advertised locally for potential tenants and he reported on 5th January 1905 that although there were originally 130 applicants for the initial 24 houses, only 13 had returned properly completed application. He then added ‘I was only able to select four whose occupations were those of bona fide working men, and in three of these cases permission to take an approved lodger had to be given. The other nine applicants were described as Clerks, Travellers, School Mistress, a Stationer’s Assistant, and a lady of small independent means. A large number of the application forms were returned in blank with a notification that the rents fixed were beyond the means of the applicants’. It would seem that, despite the Governors best intentions, the new properties were just too expensive for the ‘working classes’ at which they were aimed.

There were 15 conditions in the lease agreement. Number 10 provides an interesting reflection on conditions at the time ‘The tenants shall immediately report to the Governors any birth, cases of infectious disease or death… tenants shall cause any case of infectious disease to be removed to the proper hospital without delay.’