b&w aerial view of a large old house with very big grounds

The Cleve Hall Estate, a post-war council estate,  is named after the former Cleve Hall Hotel which occupied two large houses on Champion Hill with extensive grounds and fine views towards the south west. Hill Lodge was built about 1804 on the corner of Champion Hill and Green Lane; Cleve Hall was built next to it in 1807 fronting onto to Champion Hill. Both had gardens stretching almost 200 yards down the hill, Cleve Hall featuring a lake at the end. They were built for wealthy merchants taking advantage of the new extension to Champion Hill laid out by the Dulwich College estate, the easy access to central London and the available land.

The first resident of Hill Lodge was Peter Martineau, whose family owned a sugar refining business for several generations. In the early 19th century, Cleve Hall seems to have been called Dulwich Hill House, Champion Hill and later, Rydal Mount. An 84 year lease was granted to George Sharp in 1807; one of the tenants from about 1825 to about 1840 was the financier and leading member of the Jewish community, Isaac Lyon Goldsmid (1778-1859). He was described by the Charity Commissioners in 1839 as Sharp’s tenant of the mansion house, pleasure ground and gardens with four acres of land. Goldsmid was made a baronet in 1841, the first Jew to receive an English hereditary title. Evidence of his political connections is provided in a report in the Court Journal for 17 July 1833 for a dinner he gave at his Champion Hill house which was attended by several members of the cabinet and the Duke of Sussex. The journal noted that: “Mr Goldsmid’s residence on Champion Hill is one of the most tasteful near the metropolis and the gardens are laid out in equally good style”. Three years later, the Gardener’s Magazine reported that Goldsmid’s gardener had developed a way of growing vines on trellises in his greenhouse to bring them on quicker.

By the 1890s it was no longer possible to find tenants for such large properties, and the premises were acquired by the Pelican House School. This was a girls’ residential boarding school, founded in Peckham in the 1820s, which had moved to Grove Park by 1881 and then the short distance to Champion Hill about ten years later, by which time the numbers of pupils had trebled to 36, aged 10-17. The Dulwich Estate granted the headmistress, Sarah Ann Bennett, a 21 year lease in 1895 and it was still advertising for pupils in the Solicitors’ Journal for 1900, claiming ‘six resident governesses’. However, when the census was taken in 1901, the premises were occupied by a private boys’ school with a headmaster, Frederick Jones, five other teachers and eight boys aged 8-14 living there.

With the expansion of state education and the development of larger public schools, small private schools in London found it difficult to survive. The building entered its final phase as a residential hotel, just a few years earlier than the neighbouring properties of Bessemer House and Ruskin Manor on Denmark Hill. In 1904, William Rogers became the tenant and later acquired the lease which passed on to his widow after his death in 1922 and their son, Captain William P J Rogers. To begin with the business prospered: 79 boarders were living there in 1911, including retired army officers, some clerks and teachers and several with no occupation, presumably with private means. There were 14 servants. The property next door, Hill Lodge, was acquired shortly afterwards, and a handsome booklet was produced about 1913, advertising the quality services offered:
“Situated almost in sight of St. Paul’s and within sound of its chimes [the Cleve Hall Residential Hotels] occupy an unrivalled position on the crest of Champion Hill, and command entrancing views…and yet they are really within the City cab radius. The establishment which is now world-wide in its reputation, and by far the largest kind in the metropolis consists of Cleve Hall, comprising the Entrance Hall, and lounge, new Dining Room (capable of dining 200 guests), the noble Smoke-Room and Drawing-Room, with the Grand Winter Garden Lounge (and beautiful Italian Crystal Fountain), Billiard Room and Ballroom. For the young there is an endless variety of sports, tennis courts, croquet, badminton, clock golf and  bowls.”

By the time the next brochure was issued about 1932, a five valve wireless installation was available, principal rooms had hot and cold running water with box spring mattresses and there was central heating and electric lighting. The rates for full board and lodging were very similar to those twenty years previously (3 guineas in 1932 is equivalent to about £200 today, and prices fell most years between 1920 and 1932). Despite the brochure, over the next two years business appeared to drop off substantially. In April 1934 Captain Rogers approached the Governors with a plan to improve the hotel but, not unreasonably, he asked for a lease extension. The Governors declined. In September 1935 he suggested that he might demolish the existing houses and build a large block of flats- the Governors declined yet again.

It is difficult to understand the Governors’ actions as they must have known that the hotel was not trading well and yet when the business went into receivership in February 1936, they had no redevelopment plan in place. Rogers was funded by the National Bank and they appointed a Mr Gilbert Allen as receiver.

By 23rd July the bank had secured an offer from a property development syndicate to keep the main house as a hotel and run it as a country hotel on the lines of Selsdon Park in Croydon. The other buildings would be demolished to allow the construction of a block of flats The Governors were unhappy about the flats. The bank sent more details early in September but the Governors were unmoved. On 24 September the Manager reported on a circular letter he had seen from the local branch of the International friendship League. It advertised a large event at the old hotel “in honour of his imperial majesty the Emperor of Ethiopia”. The Governors reminded them that it was supposed to be a boarding house and, when the bank pressed them, agreed to the event but said there were to be no speeches, publicity or press. Not surprisingly the event was cancelled. Nothing more was heard until till October 1937 when the receiver asked for permission to hold an auction sale of furniture and effects and reported  that contracts were about to be exchanged with a Mr and Mrs Rees Jones who ran a smaller boarding house at ‘Old Durlstone Manor’ on Champion Hill. The bank installed a caretaker as a temporary measure to look after the premises but, unfortunately, Mr and Mrs Rees Jones proved unable to sell their existing business and the offer lapsed.

In February 1939 the Governors received a letter from a builder, Mr Styles, of Herne Place, Herne Hill, and Bloomsbury Square. With masterly understatement he wrote “I observe that these properties have been unoccupied for some time now and possibly you are experiencing some difficulty in finding suitable tenants for such large houses in the district, and the cost of putting such house in order, I venture to suggest, would be considerable. With these facts in view I have caused a lay out plan to be prepared for the development of the property in suitable plots for convenient size houses, which I think would readily sell and would be a great asset to your Estate, the selling price I propose is £1250. The plan is for a roadway to be constructed through the middle of the land with houses on both sides and no house to front upon Greendale in case there should be any difficulty in making up the road. There would be 38 plots with an average frontage of 35 feet and an average depth of 200 feet, which would permit a good class of houses to be built. I would vary the design of the houses and endeavour to lay them out in a pleasing way, and to this end would engage the services of an architect.” Styles proposal was accepted and he planned to built 34 houses in a new road named by the LCC as Cleve Hall Crescent.

In July 1940 the Manager reported that the first part of the road was complete but added “at the present time, it seems unlikely that Mr Styles will carry out this work.” –Building Licence legislation produced in 1940 stopped all new work that was not specifically in support of the war effort. There was also concern that  RAF personnel from the nearby barrage balloon site were parking vehicles on the new road illegally and gates were put up at each end to allow the work to proceed – it was finally finished  in March 1941. The last we hear of Mr Styles is shortly afterwards when he asked whether the Governors would be entitled to compensation in the event of any war damage to the road.

The site and buildings remained vacant for the rest of the war and on into 1947. They came out of the war undamaged but the Governors did nothing to try and find a user. Although the site was not considered in the first tranche of compulsory purchase orders that Camberwell and the LCC served on the Estate it is likely that the Governors were sitting waiting for an offer – which duly arrived on 26th April 1947. The Estate lodged an appeal against the order in July and the public enquiry was held on 6 January 1948. The Estate made a half-hearted effort to influence the outcome by saying that a builder had been going to develop the site before the war but, they could not show that anything was happening, or likely to happen soon, and the CPO was approved. The LCC did not consider the site a priority and it took four years for the financial settlement to be agreed. In February 1952 the Estate accepted £9,500, not much perhaps by today’s’ standards, but equal to roughly 20 years times the ground rent originally agreed with Mr Styles pre-war.
The site was built out with 171 flats and houses between 1952 and 1956 and included a pub, the Greendale. This closed in the 1990s and, following an interim period as the unsuccessful and much complained about ‘Owiru Spot’, it was demolished in 2012. Its replacement, an attractive block of 20 flats, was designed by Southwark practice Alan Camp Architects and completed in 2013
With acknowledgements to Christine Camplin, Peckham Society, for information about the Pelican House School.