Ildersly Grove by Ian McInnes

In his essay, ‘Fiction, Fair and Foul’, John Ruskin described a walk he took in March 1880 from the Half Moon pub at Herne Hill to Dulwich College, via Croxted Road, and passing Acacia Grove and Ildersly Grove, the latter then still being built.

“In my young days, Croxted Lane was a green bye-road traversable for some distance by carts; but rarely so traversed, and, for the most part, little else than a narrow strip of untilled field, separated by blackberry hedges from the better cared-for meadows on each side of it: growing more weeds, therefore, than they, and perhaps in spring a primrose or two--white archangel--daisies plenty, and purple thistles in autumn....... There, my mother and I used to gather the first buds of the hawthorn; and there, in after years, I used to walk in the summer shadows, as in a place wilder and sweeter than our garden, to think over any passage I wanted to make better than usual in ‘Modern Painters’.

So, as aforesaid, on the first kindly day of this year, being thoughtful more than usual of those old times, I went to look again at the place.

 The fields on each side of it are mostly dug up for building....... half a dozen handfuls of new cottages, with Doric doors, are draped about here and there among the gashed ground: the lane itself, now entirely grassless, is a deep rutted, heavy hillocked cart road, diverging gatelessly into various brickfields or pieces of waste; and bordered on each side by heaps of – Hades only knows what! – mixed dust of every unclean thing that can crumble in drought, and mildew of every unclean thing that can rot or rust in damp: ashes and rags, beer bottles and old shoes, battered pans, smashed crockery, shreds of nameless clothes, door sweepings, floor sweepings, kitchen garbage, back-garden sewage, old iron, rotten timber jagged with out-torn nails, cigar ends, pipe bowls, cinders, bones and ordure, indescribable: and, variously kneaded into, sticking to, or fluttering foully here and there over all these, remnants, broadcast, of every manner of newspaper, advertisement of big lettered bill, festering and flaunting out their last publicity in the pits of stinking dust and mortal slime.”

Ildersly Grove is located on a former ‘copyhold’ field lying between the Acacia Grove development (built 1866 -67) Park Road (now Park Hall Road) and the back of Park Row Cottages and the Alleyn’s Head - at that time located on the site of the current Majestic Wine shop. In March 1877, Mr John Harris, a ‘Gentleman’ by profession, living at “Oakfield House, Dulwich in the County of Surrey” (now 41 College Road on the corner with Dulwich Common), purchased the field from the tenant, Mr Thomas Wright, for a premium of £1000.

‘Copyhold’ tenure dated from feudal times and, by the nineteenth century, was considered to be largely an anachronism. This particular plot had been acquired as compensation for the loss of grazing rights on Dulwich Common after enclosure in the early eighteenth century. A ‘copyhold’ was effectively a freehold as it was held in perpetuity from the landlord as long as the rent was paid. The owner of a ‘copyhold’ was entitled to enfranchise it as a freehold and Mr Harris paid the Estate £621 10s by way of compensation. He subsequently appointed builders, Messrs Edward George Paull and Henry John Paull of Gypsy Road, Lower Norwood, to build houses on the site – on both sides of the new road and along part of Croxted Road. He also built a small row of shops along the north side of Park Road.

There was no further mention of the site until March 1926 when the Estate Solicitor reported that he had received a letter from a Mr H T Young who represented the head lessee, Mrs Louisa Taylor. He offered to sell the freehold ground rents Nos 1 to 13 lldersly Grove, and other houses in Croxted Road and 1 & 2 Oakfield Cottages for a price in the neighbourhood of £8000. The Manager was instructed to offer £7500 but, in April, was able to report that he had actually acquired the properties for £7250. The deal was completed in late June and a visit to Ildersly Grove was included in the 1926 Governors’ annual review. Late in the year the Estate also bought in the leases on the adjacent sites of the Alleyn’s Head and the Park Row Cottages – thus giving them ownership of all the land on the north side of Park Hall Road, east of Croxted Road.

Now that the Estate was in control it started preparing schedules of wants of repair to bring the houses up to standard. The condition of the road and pavements in Ildersly Grove were also the subject of continuous discussion in the Estate minutes over the next few years. The road itself remained private until the late 1940s and the lessees had to contribute the sum of 17s 11d at Michaelmas each year towards the cost of any repairs. There was a suggestion in the mid 1930s that Camberwell Borough Council should be asked to take over the road.

In June 1937 the road was described as “in bad condition and it should be scarified and coated on top, either with a water bound surface, subsequently tar sprayed, or with a new tarmac surface.” Tenants also complained about the size of the plane trees on the footpaths and some thought was given to remove them and replace them with slow growing trees such as Japanese Flowering Cherry, “thus making a picturesque grove in the spring time similar to Burbage Road”.