This is the first of a series of articles by Ian McInnes on the development of housing on the Dulwich Estate between 1890 and 1914.
This perambulation starts in Herne Hill, on the former Springfield Estate (now Stradella and Winterbrook Roads) and takes in Turney Road and Burbage Road, ending at the southern end of Dulwich Village.
Prior to the Dulwich Estate's reorganisation in 1888 following the introduction of the Charity Commission, development on the Estate had been relatively limited, consisting mainly of large single houses in their own grounds. From about 1890 it is clear that the Estate's Board of Governors accepted that they needed to actively improve the Estate's income for their beneficiaries and were going to have to consider developing smaller houses and do business with speculative builders. However, their idea of smaller houses was five bedroom houses suitable for the relatively wealthy middle class families who might send their sons to Dulwich College. They apparently failed to notice the type of dweling that other builders were putting up just outside the Estate, for example in North Dulwich, which were much smaller houses particularly aimed at city clerks and minor professionals and costing less than £500.
The first area to be developed was the Springfield Estate, at the junction of Half Moon Lane and Burbage Road. Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, had designed Springfield House in 1830. It had extensive grounds and, when the lease ran out in 1889, no buyer could be found, and the house was demolished. Charles Barry Junior, architect of the new Dulwich College and Sir Charles' son, was the Estate Architect and Surveyor. He subdivided the site into individual plots off the new roads, Stradella and Winterbrook - the latter running at that time between Stradella Road and Burbage Road, and the Estate persuaded a builder, Mr G A Young, to commence development. Mr Young had recently rebuilt the 'Half Moon' and several of the shops in Herne Hill.
Work started on some of the sites early in 1894 and correspondence in the London County Council archive shows architect, William A Burr MSA, of New Stone Buildings, 65-66 Chancery Lane, making an application for the approval of wooden balconies on 20 'ramdom' semi-detached houses in Stradella Road. Mr Young had built 4 of them in deal (softwood) rather than the oak (hardwood) that the London Building Act required. The LCC let the deal ones remain as long as the rest were in oak.
It was clear fairly early on, however, that the larger houses in Stradella Road were difficult to sell and many remained empty for several years after completion. A possible explanation is either that potential purchasers did not see the area as one appropriate to larger houses or that the houses were sold leasehold when there were other similar properties nearby that could be bought freehold. The response of the builder was to re-plan the original 1894 road layout (Winterbrook Road was repositioned to run between Stradella Road and Half Moon Lane) to provide more sites for smaller houses costing around £500. These houses apparently sold well.
Towards 1900 the housing market picked up again and Mr Young bought a large site on the corner of Half Moon Lane and Burbage Road, to build 17 further houses, valued at £1450, 5 in Half Moon Lane and 12 in Burbage Road. These were designed by architect J W Brooker who had designed the new 'Half Moon'. Even here, however, Mr Young tried to cut corners and there is further LCC correspondence on an application for approval of deal rather than oak barge boards and porches.
By 1902, the Estate had learned something from the difficulties in Stradella Road and the next tranche of development was for smaller properties. Early in 1903 they let a large site on Turney Road to Mr Bendall, a builder from Streatham, to build 52 houses on both sides of the road going south east from the railway bridge. The same year there was a discussion about a new road to link Turney road and Burbage Road with another builder who had been working in Ruskin Walk, Messrs A J & A H Williams, but nothing came of it.
1904 was a much busier year, the economy was picking up and the Estate agreed terms on two sites in Burbage Road with Mr Watson, another Streatham builder, and Messrs Bass & Blackmore. Between 1904 and 1906 Mr Watson erected 5 pairs of semi-detached houses, on 25 foot frontages, at £675 each, on the northern eastern side (numbers 84-100) and then took plots for 10 more (numbers 64- 82). On the south west side of the road, Messrs Bass and Blackmore took a 300 feet frontage to build 12 semi-detached houses (numbers 61-83) at a value of £675 each on a similar frontage. At the same time the Estate let further land in Turney Road to a Mr David McNeil to build 4 pairs of semi's designed by Wimbledon Surveyor, Ernest L Smith (numbers 101-115 and 150-164).
Work on these houses did not start until 1907 and the last house was completed in 1910, a delay caused by a slump in the local housing market. This was well illustrated by history of the Estate's next major scheme, the site of the former Greyhound Hotel between Burbage Road, Turney Road, and Dulwich Village, then being used as a sports ground. In November 1904 they signed an agreement with Mr Thomas Kingsman who proposed to build 16 semi's in Burbage Road at £700, 2 detached houses and 4 semi's in the High Street at £900 and a further 51 houses in Pickwick Road at £400- £450. The architects for the houses were the firm of North and Robin and building was underway fairly quickly. The small houses in Pickwick Road, described as 'small houses similar to Mr Bendall's houses in Turney Road' sold well. Not so the larger houses.
In April 1906 Messrs. A J & A H Williams offered to take a site on the south side Burbage Road, between the viaduct and the entrance to the new road. In December, however they asked to delay the implementation of their building agreement 'in view of the large number of empty houses in Burbage Road, and of the difficulty builders experience in either selling or letting houses of this class'. The Architect and Surveyor felt that this was due to the high local rates and went on to say 'Messrs Williams feels that to build more houses of this class would only add to the difficulty referred to. They are anxious to avoid anything in the nature of a slump in house property and note that of 32 newly erected houses in Burbage Road by Watson, Bass & Blackmore and Kingsman, only 11 are occupied but of these only three are actually sold. There are also still 22 empty houses in Stradella and Winterbrook Roads nearer the Station. Messrs Williams withdraw amicably and agrees to pay the Governors costs incurred so far'.
In April 1907 the Surveyor recommended that Mr Kingsman be allowed to reduce costs by varying the design of the elevation of two pairs of houses in Burbage Road and in November 1907 he applied to the Governors to reduce the specification of all his remaining houses on this road. 'The stipulated cost per house is £700. The actual cost of each house hitherto erected in accordance with the design originally approved has been £830 and Mr Kingsman informs me that he cannot get any offer for purchase at that price The economy is affected by omitting the stone dressings of the front door and the first floor window'.
Another problem for this particular site may have been the Council Depot opposite. In October 1907 the Surveyor reported 'Mr Kingsman, who is erecting a large number of houses in Burbage Road, Dulwich Village, and Pickwick Road, writes that he is experiencing great difficulty in disposing of, or even obtaining offers for, his houses in Burbage Road, in consequence of the close proximity of the Borough Council's depot, at which are stored a large number of empty mud carts and water vans. A considerable number of car men with their horses, road sweepers etc. are continuously going in and out of the depot, and its general appearance, together with the adjacent cow sheds in the occupation of Mr Parsons, is extremely unsightly'
The Governors took the complaint seriously and over the next 18 months arranged for the depot to move down to the railway arches at the far end of Burbage Road and Mr Kingsman finally completed his development.