East Dulwich’s ‘Derbyshire Colony’, the series of roads either side of East Dulwich Grove named after places in Derbyshire, were built between 1871-1884 by developer/builder Ezekiel James Bailey who had moved to East Dulwich in 1866 to become the licensee of the Lord Palmerston. In his authoritative 1977 book ‘Victorian Suburb, a study of the growth of Camberwell’ H J Dyos says that Bailey was undoubtedly the dominant influence in determining the general character of East Dulwich. An article in the South London Press in June 1877 reported that he had raised ‘as if by magic, one of the most charming little estates in the south of London. Tenants have been attracted to East Dulwich in great numbers, which is not to be wondered at, for the neat villas belonging to Mr Bailey are pleasantly situate in shady groves and surrounded by all sides by charming scenery. Champion Hill station, which formerly looked forlorn and desolate enough, is now a busy centre, and East Dulwich is fast becoming one of the most populous and important suburbs of the metropolis.’

Born in Ilkeston in Derbyshire in 1830, Bailey was originally a partner in his father Joseph’s lace making business in the town. In 1856, largely funded by a wealthy local landowner and farmer called Taylor, the firm had built a large lace making plant, ‘Bailey’s Factory’. The local White’s Directory of 1857 described the factory as ‘a noble building, 100 feet long, 34 feet wide, and four stories in height, with a steam engine of 12 horse power, and upwards of 40 machines, suitable offices, and every other convenience, arranged and fitted up in accordance with the most recent improvements. The number of hands employed is 350 to 400”.’ Unfortunately, not long afterwards, overproduction and heavy competition caused a serious slump in the lace business, and in August 1860 Messrs. Bailey, Son, & Co. went bankrupt. The local paper, the Pioneer, reported on the serious consequences for many families in the town.

Although the factory was later taken over by another firm, the Baileys were obliged to move away. Ezekiel James was employed for a short period by another lace manufacturer, Thomas Shaw and Co. - in 1861, he and his family were living in Goldsmith Street, Nottingham, but they moved down to London shortly afterwards. He must have still had]some funds behind him as the next we hear of him is in 1863 when he becomes the licensee of the George Canning Pub in Grove Lane, Camberwell. Like many publicans of the time, he took advantage of the large cash flows that pub operations provided to set himself up as a house builder. He started in Tulse Hill on the Tulse Hill Estate in 1865, commissioning Frederick Chadwick, an architect with offices in both Croydon and Victoria Street, to design the houses. They were built by a local firm, Walker and Co. at an estimated cost of £10,500.
In 1866, having sold the George Canning to a Miss Pamela Hudson, he moved to East Dulwich and purchased the Lord Palmerston Hotel, recently completed on Lordship Lane but, as yet, unlicensed. After several applications to the Newington Magistrates, a license was finally granted in March 1867. At the same time, he acquired two properties on the opposite side of Lordship Lane, Rosedale Villa and Blackwater Cottage. He lived in Rosedale Villa - it is still there, and Blackwater Cottage was redeveloped later as Blackwater Street.

He also purchased a large field opposite the Lord Palmerston and, by 1871, work was well under way. Ashbourne Grove, Chesterfield Grove and part of Melbourne Grove were largely complete by the end of 1876. It appears that Bailey sold his houses at the Lord Palmerston - see advertisement below from the South London Chronicle in September 1874:

TO LET, rent £32, semi-detached villas; ten minutes from London Bridge Station; eight rooms, good garden back and front, plots 140 feet deep, on main road, near Champion Hill Station. Apply at the Lord Palmerston, East Dulwich.

An article in the London Daily News in August 1877 gives us a clue perhaps as to why his houses might have sold better than others. In a report about Henry Harrison, a clerk, being charged with ‘wilfully breaking a number of young trees in Chesterfield Grove and Melbourne Grove’ it noted that Mr Bailey had planted a large number of trees along the roads on his estate which he had called, rather optimistically perhaps, the ‘Dulwich Wood Estate’.
While successful, Bailey’s initial operation was still relatively small scale compared with some other house builders in Peckham and Nunhead. The impetus for him to expand came from two fortuitous events. The first was the death in 1876 of Thomas Farmer Baily (no relation) whose grandfather, Thomas Baily, had been a very wealthy City ironmonger and ‘local character’ who had owned large areas of land in the area. At his own expense he had built the original East Dulwich Chapel, the forunner of St Johns Goose Green, on part of his garden at East Dulwich House, (the property stood roughly where Gowlett Road is today). He had died in 1838 but when his grandson died in 1877, the trustees of his estate saw the potential demand from house builders and decided to liquidated his assets by selling all his local land holdings. At the same time the Dulwich Estate was under pressure from other builders in the area to complete the construction of East Dulwich Grove, intended to link Dulwich Village with Champion Hill (from 1888 East Dulwich) Station. A joint venture to build the road between the Dulwich Estate and the Baily’s Estate had been set up in 1866, a route had been agreed, and tenders obtained, but the Dulwich Estate had prevaricated, and no work had been carried out much beyond the junction with Melbourne Grove - it was finally connected through to Dulwich Village in 1879.

At the auction of Thomas Farmer Baily’s holdings, E J Bailey acquired several sites between East Dulwich Grove and Grove Vale. He called his new development the ‘Grove Vale Estate’ but, because it was on a much larger scale than his previous developments, he needed more finance - and assistance from a building society to grant mortgages. He sold the Lord Palmerston to John Parsons & Sons and, at the same time, secured mortgage funding from the Fourth City Mutual Benefit Building Society of 2 Coleman Street, City of London. By 1880 around 400 houses were complete and, after purchasing additional land from the Trustees of the Sir J C Selwyn Estate, he also built part of Ondine Road on the north side of Grove Vale. He advertised regularly in the South London Press and sold the houses from his sales office in Melbourne Grove opposite the station. This advertisement on 15 November 1879 was typical:

THE DULWICH GROVE ESTATE exceptional advantages to intending residents. It is well drained, and pleasantly situate, and it’s neat and attractive villas are substantially built, and well found in every particular. Is it within one minute’s walk of Champion Hill railway station, And not far from Peckham Rye station, Rents £32-£40. Also, on other parts of the estate smaller houses from £26 per annum. Occupiers on this estate have educational privileges in connection with Dulwich College. The further particulars apply to Mr Bailey Estate Office, adjoining Champion. Hill Station SE.

Bailey also funded the construction of the East Dulwich Congregational Church in 1886 and continued to live at Rosedale Villa until he retired to Brighton, where he died in March 1899. His short death notice in the Brighton Gazette said nothing about his impact on East Dulwich, only the terse ‘Ezekiel James Bayley. Gentleman, formerly of Rosedale Villa Lordship Lane and No 7 Stanford Avenue, Brighton Sussex.’
The ‘Old Ilkeston’ website (www.oldilkeston.co.uk/up-heanor-road) notes that, sometime in 1892, an old acquaintance of E J Bailey from his time in the town, visited East Dulwich and wrote in the local paper how he ‘was quite taken aback by getting lost in streets with Derbyshire names and amongst villas, each pair bearing the name of a village in Derbyshire.’