On the Street Where you Live - Eastlands Crescent - by Ian McInnes

As early as 1911, the Governors had been having trouble finding a tenant for ‘Eastlands’, a large house located between Court Lane and Woodwarde Road, and part of the land was sold off between 1912-15 to form the southern part of Dovercourt Road. The house itself became a residential hotel.

In September 1929 a Mr J G A Smart, builder of 63 Melbourne Grove, who had just finished three houses at the north end of Dulwich Village (nos. 3, 5 & 7), wrote to the Manager saying that he had been offered the lease of ‘Eastlands’, for the sum of £1100. He asked the Governors to grant him a building lease on the land and the allotments adjacent, but they declined.

However, it did not take long for the Governors to work out that, if one builder was interested, there might well be others, and that here was an opportunity to make some money. The income from ‘Eastlands’ was £150 per annum, with the lease expiring in Christmas 1934, and the adjacent allotments were let to the Dulwich Horticultural Society for £50 per year - their lease determinable at three months notice.

By December, the Surveyor had tabled an initial development plan and the Manager had had an initial meeting with Mr Hichisson, the lessee of ‘Eastlands’. They met again in January 1930, this time with the Chairman of the Board also in attendance, and Mr Hichisson agreed to surrender his lease, as long as the Governors released him from any liability for dilapidations. He promised to confirm his agreement in writing but failed to do so. Later in the year, in October, the Estate received a further unsolicited offer from another builder, Mr William Wilmot, who offered to take the site for a total of £204 in ground rent. From today’s perspective it would appear that he was acting on the basis of insider information as his father, Henry Wilmot JP (and member of the LCC), and also a builder, was an Estates Governor, representing the Borough of Camberwell on the Board since May 1929.

This offer encouraged the Governors to push ahead and early in 1931 they put the site out to tender seeking a ground rent income of £450.00 per annum. At the same time they had a schedule of wants of repair put together on the old house. It had not been looked after and the cost of putting it back into proper condition was estimated at £262 - too much for the lessee and he finally agreed to leave. In May, the Surveyor obtained tenders for its demolition - Messrs William Marshall (Contractors) Ltd won the project with a price of £142.10s.

Three builders submitted bids for the site. Mr William Wilmot offered to take the whole site on the general terms as set out in the particulars, and, if required, to deposit £2000 as security for carrying out the terms of the Building Agreement. W T Champion & Son of Peckham Rye were prepared to take the whole site upon the general terms while Mr G F Ellyatt, of No 1 Dulwich Village, was not so keen and couched his offer with 6 conditions “(a) Peppercorn rent for 2 years, with half the rent for third year; (b) total ground rent of £384 in lieu of the £446 10s required, with liberty to apportion rent; (c) freedom to commence on any plot of land; (d) selling price of houses with 3 bedrooms on plots 1-17 to be £1050, and on plots 18-31 to be 4 bedrooms at £1350 each, all with garages; (e) lease to commence as from date all services are completed; (f) pebble dash Atlas White cement or any other finish to brickwork but not roughcast.”

Unsurprisingly Mr William Wilmot’s offer was accepted and the Solicitor was instructed to prepare the draft Building Agreement as soon as possible. Prior to the discussion about awarding the contract the Board Meeting minutes noted that his father, Mr Henry Wilmot, left the room

The Wilmots, father and son, had been building in the Dulwich area since the early 1920s, at nos. 104-114 and 136-142 Burbage Road and nos. 14-22 in Dulwich Village. Henry Wilmot himself lived at ‘Warrigul’, no. 18 Dulwich Village. Their architect on all these projects was Tom Woolnough MSA PSI, whose office was in Old Southgate N14, and he was used again on the ‘Eastlands’ site. At the same time they were also building in Herne Hill and West Norwood and the Manager suggested that the Building Operations Committee go and review the houses currently under construction in Denmark Hill and Knight’s Hill “which are similar to those proposed to be erected at the ‘Eastlands’ Estate”.

Shortly afterwards the Surveyor received the plans “herewith submitted in the form of blue prints.” He noted that “Mr Wilmot wishes to emphasise the fact that these plans are only submitted for the criticism of the Governors and their surveyor, so that such modifications as may seem desirable may be embodied in the final plans, which will be submitted later for the Governors’ definite approval.” He had apparently met Mr Wilmot previously and agreed that there would be five different types of house, with variations in both plan and elevation, ‘in order to obtain variety’. Four of the five types had 4 bedrooms and every house had a garage. The prices ranged from £1280 to £1510. This met the Estate’s tender requirement that no house in the road should cost less than £1250.

The invitation to tender had also suggested that building should start at the Dovercourt Road end of the new road but the Surveyor now changed his mind. Instead, he proposed that building should begin at the Court Lane end, otherwise, he said, “having established a frontage building line at the Dovercourt Road end, the flankage lines of the two corner plots at the Court Lane end would have to be set so far back as to render them practically useless and unremunerative.”

The final drawings were received in July and the Surveyor confirmed that there would now be six different types of house, five semi-detached and one detached - though only five designs were actually submitted. He reported “In general characteristics the houses are similar being built of facing brickwork 14 in. thick up to first floor level, and 9 in. brickwork faced with roughcast above. The roofs would be of sand-faces tiles, and the bay windows on the first floor tile hung. Type AS is, however, treated with half timber work on the upper floor. The various types give plenty of variety in plan and elevation, and the rooms are of good size. Mr Wilmot also submits a lay-out plan, showing the positions of the various types and the run of the sewer.”

The final draft of the Building Agreement provided for 31 plots with a ground rent of £17 10s. each and this gave an overall ground rent income of more than £500, a considerable improvement on the £200 the Estate had been receiving from the old ‘Eastlands’ House and the allotments. Approval was given to proceed and work start on the road and sewer very soon after.

In early September the Estate received a letter from Mr Topham Forrest, superintendent architect to London County Council, asking the Governors to submit their preferred name for the new road the LCC’s consideration. The letter confirmed that the name ‘Eastlands Road’ was not already in use and might be considered acceptable but the Governors preferred the name ‘Eastlands’. Unfortunately the LCC did not agree and the compromise name agreed was ‘Eastlands Crescent’.

Later that month the outstanding house plans for the site on the corner with Court Lane were produced. The elevation was to be facing bricks on the ground floor and of brickwork covered with plaster on the first floor. The Surveyor thought that “some modification of the gable over the front bay might be desirable, and suggest as a possible treatment that the roof should be hipped back.” The minutes noted approval “subject to the dining room being made square, and the roof over the bay being hipped instead of a gable.”

Work began quickly and the Surveyor reported positively in May 1932 that “as regards the road and sewer, the road is constructed throughout its length and is of exceptional quality. The footpaths are finished up to the houses in the course of construction while the wood kerbing is fixed for the whole length of the road. Three houses in Court Lane are finished (nos. 91, 93 and 95), one other is roofed in, two other are more than first floor high, and three others are approaching first floor level. The whole of the work has been extremely well done”

Nos. 20 & 29 Eastlands Crescent were finished in July with nos. 14 and 16 in September, and Nos 13, 15, 17 and 19 in October. Nos. 6, 9, 18 and 23 were completed in September 1933, with nos. 3 and 6 in January 1934, no. 23 in February, nos. 1 and 12 in March, and no. 2 in July. Nos. 5 & 7 were finished in February 1935 and the final house, No. 89A Court Lane was handed over in March. Mr Wilmot had by then moved on to Lovelace Road where he completed Nos. 44-50 there the following year.

The December 1933 Board Meeting minutes reported that Henry Wilmot was very ill at his home, and he died early in January 1934.