On The Street Where You Live - Allison Grove

By Ian McInnes

Allison Grove or, more correctly Allison’s Grove, was named after Allison Castondieck (nee Marshall), whose father, Caleb Marshall, acquired the site fronting Dulwich Common in 1795. It was an ancient copyhold and the Dulwich Estate had no control over its development as the owner of a ‘copyhold’ was entitled to enfranchise it as an ‘alien’ freehold.

Allison died in 1859 leaving the property to her nephew Mr T W Parker. In the summer of 1866 Mr Parker paid the Estate £1,192 19s 4d by way of ‘compensation’ for enfranchisement and, early in 1867, put the site up for sale. It did not sell easily - in July 1868 the Estate Solicitor was instructed to check the price with a view to purchase by the Estate, but he was just too late - the land had already been let on a 100 year lease to a builder called Philip Barret Lee. In November he secured mortgage funding from a Robert Gair-How and work began shortly afterwards on the two houses, later known as Allison Towers, on the south east corner of the site.

While Allison Towers was under construction, Mr Lee started building other houses at the far end of the site - two large bow fronted semis at Nos 23 and 25 and a short terrace of four storey houses at Nos 29-35. He then sold the building agreement on to a Mr Abram Henry Tyler who built the three houses in Allison Gardens fronting Dulwich Common on the west side of the road, and the remaining eleven smaller terrace houses behind, Nos 1-21. Work stopped in 1875 and the area of land on the east side was left undeveloped – there is no record as to why.  It was known later as ‘the plantation’ and used for tennis courts or additional gardens for the other houses.

Nothing more was heard about the road until 1924 when the central London estate agent, Messrs Vigers & Co, wrote offering all the freeholds in the road to the Estate for the sum of £10,000. They represented the current owners of the freeholds, three brothers called Leach and, although the Governors were interested, they thought the suggested price too high: they offered £7500: Vigers responded with £8750 and, in December, they finally agreed on £8000. The paperwork was signed in January 1925.

The old houses had not been properly maintained and, shortly afterwards, in April, the tenants of Nos. 1, 3, 9, 13, 14 & 15 requested external decoration and repairs to be carried out. The Manager noted that most of the tenants were holding over under expired agreements and that at least seven of the rents were at the maximum allowed under the Rent Acts. Clearly there was little scope to improve rental income so the Estate decided to develop the ‘plantation’ on the other side of the road and invited interest from local builders. In October Messrs James Smith Bros., who were currently building in Lovelace Road, offered to take the land to build semi-detached houses. The original price asked was 8s per foot run but the Smiths managed to reduce it to 7s 3d and agreed to build both semi-detached and detached houses with garages, or spaces for them. 

The Building Agreement was signed in January 1926 and the drawings, by local surveyors, Messrs. E O & A J Knapman, were sent to the Estate in May. The new houses were to be built of 9 inch brickwork covered with rough-cast and roofed with red tiles. C E Barry, the Estate Surveyor, was generally happy, asking only for amendments to the width and going of the stairs. In July Messrs Smith sent revised plans and work started in August. The first two houses (Nos. 2 & 4) were finished in March 1927, with the remaining six (Nos. 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 & 18) being complete by the end of June. The site at the far end was left as it was let on a long lease to No. 35 as a tennis court.

On the other side of the road, the older houses, particularly Nos 1-21, were not doing so well. In November 1934 the manager reported that Mrs Logind, the tenant of No 21, had left and returned the keys by post with no address. He added “The last quarter’s rent is owing, and I understand that it was a case of dire poverty which caused this action”. In May 1936 Nos 1 & 2 Allison Towers were put up for sale at £500 each. The Governors looked at the figures and offered £200. Only the freeholder of No 1 agreed to sell - at £225, but in July the Estate also purchased No 23 for a similar amount.

By December 1938 it appears that Nos. 3 & 5 and 11-21 were empty, leaving only Nos. 7, 9, 23, 25 and 29-35 still occupied. Austin Vernon, the new Estate Surveyor, who had taken over after C E Barry’s death in 1937, recommended that the empty houses be demolished and the vacant sited be offered for rebuilding. Nothing further happened before WWII intervened. In October 1940 a report confirmed that  Nos 9, 23, and 27 - 35 had all suffered varying degrees of war damage, but the Estate still re-sprayed the road in July 1941. On 18th July 1944 a V1 exploded on the site of 37 College Road and caused further damage, particularly blast damage to the houses on the east side. In October the District Surveyor confirmed that Nos 7, 25 and 27 were scheduled for total demolition and Nos. 9, 23 & 29 were added to the list early in 1945. In reality the first three houses had already been demolished – as contemporary photographs confirm.

Looking at Allison Grove on VE day in 1945, Allison Towers and Allison Gardens were still standing (though No. 2 in the latter was derelict) plus Nos 31-35 and all the houses on the east side. In July Austin Vernon suggested that the remaining houses on the west side should be demolished and replaced with ‘medium class flats’. He was told to come up with a scheme for both flats and houses and rough plans were produced in September and approved in principle. However, there were two problems, one was obtaining a building licence from the Council and the second was funding. Austin Vernon was keen to move forward and suggested that the Estate fund the first part of the development themselves but the Governors did not have the funds and, despite talking about setting up a Public Utility Society (small building society) to do the job, nothing was done.

In the mean time, the lack of accommodation in the Dulwich area meant that Camberwell Council were looking for properties to house people affected by bomb damage elsewhere in the borough. It requisitioned No 33 on 1st January 1946 and No 35 on the 28th January. Even the derelict No 2 Allison Towers was requisitioned on 8th December 1947, much to the Governors’ delight.

1In May 1946 Austin Vernon produced a wider master-plan showing Allison Grove as part of the Frank Dixon Way development but there was no real progress until July 1951 when he confirmed that plans and working drawings for the redevelopment of the site of Nos 3, 5, 7, 9, 23, 25, 27 and 29 with three pairs of semi-detached houses had been prepared and bills of quantities had also been sent out for tender. The new houses were to be built with red/brown facing bricks, tiled roofs, hollow walls, and steel casement windows. The winning tender was from Messrs W J Mitchell & Son Ltd and work began early in 1952, once a building licence had been obtained.

During the early 1950s there had been considerable problems in finding accommodation for assistant masters at Dulwich College and there was a suggestion that the new houses might be purchased by the College for this use. The cost was in excess of what teachers could afford and, in the end, nothing came of it. The houses were sold on the private market between December 1953 and March 1954. At least two of them were bought by journalists on night duty in Fleet Street – in the 1950s there was an all night train from Blackfriars that stopped at West Dulwich nearby.

In March 1953 Mr E D H Currie, the tenant of 1 Allison Towers, left, and the Estate offered it to the College as temporary accommodation for either assistant masters or College societies. In May the Clerk to the Governors wrote “My Governors have now had the opportunity of considering a report by Mr Russell Vernon on the condition of No 1 Allison Towers, and in view of its adverse character, have decided that it would be unwise to allow the College Scouts to use the building, They have consequently abandoned the idea of renting the premises, but I am to thank them for the kind offer which was very much appreciated.”

In October 1955 the last site on the east side, No 20, was sold and a new house built to the designs of Selwyn B Porteous, an architect who had earlier carried out a lot of war damage reconstruction in the Dulwich area. Miss J G Johnson, the yearly tenant at 31 Allison Grove, died in May 1955 and the Estate approached the Camberwell Director of Housing asking for an early release of Nos 33 and 35 from requisition in order that all three properties could be demolished and the Governors’ scheme for the redevelopment of the west side of the road completed. The Council agreed to a release at Xmas 1956, on the condition that the Governors were in a position to proceed at once. The final two houses, Nos 13 & 15 were completed in 1958.

Allison Towers was demolished in 1959 and the site acquired by Mr Pettifer of W J Mitchell & Sons as a site for his own house. Russell Vernon, Austin Vernon’s nephew and partner, designed it – the house was set back to allow for future road widening on Dulwich Common and was finished in 1961. That left only Allison Gardens. No 3 was acquired from the estate of Mrs C A Linnecar for £1600 in September 1962. No 2 was bought from Mr J A Caldicott for £1700 and finally No 1 was acquired in March 1963 for £1350. The houses were demolished shortly afterwards and the final two houses, Nos 1 and 3 - a semi detached pair, also designed by Russell Vernon and built by W J Mitchell & Sons, were finished in 1965.