On the Street Where You Live - Frank Dixon Way by Ian McInnes
Austin Vernon, the Estate's Architect and Surveyor, prepared the original layout for the site, them known as the College Road and Dulwich Common development, during the early part of 1946 and the initial proposals were approved by the Governors on 25th May that year. The Architect reported 'I have prepared a sketch layout plan showing the development of the 'Ryecotes' meadow and the formation of a road from Dulwich Common through to College Road linking up with Alison Grove. It will be necessary to acquire the following properties to put the scheme into affect, viz., 'Papplewick', No 33 College Road, and the sites of the two demolished houses adjoining, also the kitchen garden of 'Oakfield', No. 41 College Road and a portion of the garden of 'Glenlea', Dulwich Common'. The two demolished houses were Elm Lodge and Manor Lodge, Nos. 35 and 37 College Road, that had been bombed during the war, and the site also included a large part of the rear garden of Bell House abutting Dulwich Park. The lease of Bell House had been handed back to the Governors by Dulwich College in 1941 (it had formerly been the headmaster's house) and it had then been most recently used as a store for some of the pictures from the Picture Gallery.
The original intention was to develop the site by setting up a building society or 'public utility company' as it was then called, in a similar fashion to the Governors' earlier development in Roseway and Turney Road after the First World War, but this idea was not pursued. During 1947 a major problem arose when the site was included in the Borough of Camberwell's proposed compulsory purchase programme on the Dulwich Estate along with Bessamer Grange, Kingswood House and various areas around Herne Hill and Sydenham Hill. The Governors were very concerned but successfully lobbied against the site's inclusion in a meeting with Council Officers in October 1947, obtaining an agreement that the College Road and Dulwich Common site would be left for the Governors own development.
The London County Council granted planning consent for the scheme on 19th February 1950 just prior to the publication of the draft County of London Plan. The consent contained two provisos; the first required the development to take account of a possible future widening of Dulwich Common, while the second required the incorporation of part of the site into Dulwich Park. The Governors objected strongly to losing any land to the Park reminding the LCC that they had previously 'dedicated the whole of Dulwich Park, an area of 75 acres, for the use of the public without consideration'. The LCC backed down.
Drawings and specifications for the new road were prepared in March 1951 and tenders were returned early in May. There was some concern over the disparity in the two lowest tenders but, in the end, the Governors chose the cheapest, the appropriately named 'Road and Drive Surfacing Company'. Work went on for nearly four years, presumably because of problems obtaining materials, and the road was not finally completed until May 1955, after work on the first houses had begun. The names Frank Dixon Way and Frank Dixon Close were approved by the LCC in June 1954, Frank Dixon having been the Chairman of the Estate's Trustees in 1946-48.
During 1953, the original scheme which included three blocks of flats behind Bell House was re-appraised after the Governors had difficulty in securing finance, and it was decided to go for an alternative layout of ten houses around a close (Frank Dixon Close) as that was clearly where the demand was. After some initial reluctance from the LCC, planning consent for the revised plans was obtained in February 1954. At the same time the Estate tidied up the boundary with the Park, the Architect reporting 'In connection with the development of the new roadway and footpath, it was considered desirable to straighten out the irregular boundary of Dulwich Park. The LCC parks department were approached on the matter and the revision of the boundary has been agreed'.
The sites had been advertised from early 1953 on the basis of an annual ground rent of £33. By 1956 these had risen to £35 with £37.10s the going rate in Frank Dixon Close. Sales were slow but consistent with most purchasers already living locally. In October the Manager reported that he was negotiating with at least five doctors amongst the applicants for sites and there was some concern over a potential proliferation of brass plates in the road.
As ever on the Estate, things did not quite go to plan. The removal of building licence controls in November 1954 with their restriction on house size was good news, but some building materials were still in short supply, and the problems in completing the road, and the very bad weather over the winter of 1954-55 meant that many of the houses were delayed. Parts of the site were also affected by water and there is a plaintive note from one potential owner who, writing to the Estate to request an extension of time to his building lease, noting that 'the site is particularly difficult as it is low lying ground with water on the surface, which will call for a greater expense in the foundations. My architect has found it very difficult to obtain a satisfactory estimate for building the house, but efforts are being made to secure a builder and I hope to commence work without delay'. Costs seemed to be a general problem and it was clear that either purchasers had not fully appreciated the amount of money required to build a new house or the amount of work going on in the area had meant that prices had risen.
There were other problems with securing agreements. Some potential purchasers began negotiations and then moved away while others were delayed by domestic problems such as illness. In one case the Estate withdrew their acceptance of an offer because of the delay but, in the end, it was advised that they should not do so on lest they be taken to court.
Plots 1 and 2 (35 & 37 College Road) were leased to a Mr Styles, a builder, and the designs prepared by Austin Vernon in his preferred 'white cement render and pitched roof' style. On the 8th March 1954 the Architect reported that 'Mr Styles has been ill and has also been unable to commence building operations because the new road has not been completed. He asks if the Governors will agree to the building agreement commencing from the 25th March 1954, the period for building and the period for the peppercorn rent to be 12 months from that date.' The Governors agreed.
During 1957, Austin Vernon designed an entrance gate noting 'I submit a sketch of a proposed entrance to Frank Dixon Way from College Road utilising the wrought iron gates removed from No. 1 Crescent Wood Road'. By 1958 the scheme was complete although in May the Estate tried to fit one more house in Frank Dixon Way. It was stopped by the new residents. The Architect noted 'This land, which was formerly attached to the lease of Papplewick, No 33 College Road was surrendered to the Governors as from the 29th September 1956. It was intended that the land should be let on a building agreement for a detached house, but representations were received from the lessees of the houses in Frank Dixon Way, who maintained they designed and erected their houses on the assumption that this land would not be developed.' Professor Kendal, the owner of No. 1 Frank Dixon Close agreed to incorporate the land as part of his garden at an additional ground rent of £20 per annum.
Most of the houses were designed by Austin Vernon & Partners, the houses by Austin Vernon himself can be identified by their white render finish, 'white cement' as he called it, and also the Dutch gables. Apparently he was very interested in Dutch architecture and spent many of his holidays in the Netherlands. Whether potential purchasers were advised to go to him is not recorded but those who used their own architects often had a hard time from him. He had a clear idea of what the development would look like and was not prepared to consider alternative design approaches; as Estate Architect he had to approve all the designs. David Goddard, the architect of the 1930s modernist 13 College Road (now demolished), had more difficulty than most but the unluckiest was an architect called Harrington who designed No.18 for a Mr F P Fisher. In this particular case Austin Vernon was extremely tardy about responding to correspondence and the owner wrote to the Governors requesting that they instruct their Architect to be more helpful.