On The Street Where You Live - College Road (from St Stephen’s to Kingswood Drive)

By Ian McInnes

Many people are aware that TV pioneer John Logie Baird lived on Sydenham Hill but few know that Guy Brandis Davis, an advertising broker, and the owner of 118 College Road from the 1930s onwards, bought one of the first television sets to be sold in the UK. It was the seventh Marconi television set to be manufactured and he paid £99 15s (equivalent to almost £4,000 today) in November1936. It was a type 702 - with a 12-in screen sitting in a walnut and mahogany case with the picture reflected onto a mirror that opened from the top. Unfortunately Mr Davis and his family were not able to watch much television as the transmitter burned down just three days after he bought it

 No 111, on the corner of Low Cross Wood Lane, has recently been refurbished and was originally designed by architect E Stanley Hall, son of architect E T Hall, sometime chairman of the Estate Governors before WW1, and architect of the Memorial Library at Dulwich College. Edwin Stanley had been head boy at the College and one of his earliest projects was the 1910 design of the new galleries at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Hall’s firm also designed the house next door, No 113. It was built as the St Stephen’s Vicarage and cost £2500 in 1929.

This section of College Road seems to have had a particular attraction for architects. The site for ‘Roath’, No 98, across the road, was leased in the summer of 1925 by Frederick A Llewellyn, an architect working for His Majesty’s Office of Works. He was in no hurry to proceed as, at that time, there were still steam trains running and the smoke drifted across the site as the engines exited the tunnel below. Although the line was electrified in 1926, it took four years to resolve problems over the drainage from the church and LCC queries over the building line - he finally moved into his £1500 house in 1931. It had slight ‘arts and crafts’ overtones, as did one or two of his post office designs, particularly Dagenham and West Drayton. His architectural tastes were eclectic and he was happy to build in the more conventional neo-Georgian, but was also responsible for the art deco Langham-Museum Telephone Exchange by the Post office Tower, the huge post office in Gerrard Street in Soho’s China town, plus the streamlined modern style post office in Beckenham.

On the other side of the former vicarage, there were fields until 1914. These provided open views down towards Kingswood House and past owners had leased the land as part of their grounds to prevent any building affecting their pleasant view up to the Sydenham Hill woods.. Instead the field was sublet to the St John's Institute in Camberwell as a sports ground.

In the summer of 1914 local estate agent, Martin & Carnaby, secured an offer for the sites from Mr Wilfred Gover Pascall (1878-1958), a director of Pascalls, the well-known confectionery manufacturers. He was the son of James Pascall (1838 -1910) who, after working as an agent for Cadbury's, had established a successful confectionary business with his brother Alfred in London in 1866, first in a shop in Wells Street and then in a large factory in Blackfriars Road. Pascall agreed to build two detached houses to cost not less than £1200 each. In November plans prepared by his architect, W Sydney Jones, were approved. His own house on the corner (No 120) had 5 bedrooms, a billiard room in the loft, and was faced with red brick and rough cast under a tiled roof.

WW1 put paid to any further development along the road but the very wet autumn of 1915 showed up another problem in the area, the lack of an adequate surface water sewer in College Road. In the spring of 1923 Lord Vestey, who had purchased Kingswood House in 1921, tried to buy the field for his own development but balked at paying the 7s a foot the Estate thought it was worth. Shortly afterwards, in June, the site next to the old vicarage (by then the Sydenham Court Hotel) was bought by E S Hall for his mother. He paid 9s a foot and built a substantial property for her - hardly downsizing in the accepted sense! The house, ‘Hillcote’, cost £2500.

The site next door, No 104 (Homewood) was purchased by Arthur J Owen at the end of the year and No 106 (Budleigh) was bought at the same time by Mr Ernest Allen who employed McCollough brothers, a local builder then active in Court Lane, to build his house. Arthur Owen used an architect, Swan & Norman, for his project - they were later better known as the architects of RADA in Gower Street. The next site to be purchased was No 112. it was acquired by wealthy Covent Garden butcher, James Portwine. Architect Henry J Binns designed his house and, after a failed attempt to acquire the site to the north to extend his garden, the same architect designed a similar house for his friend, a hay merchant called Frank Farnham. Portwine was both a rich man and a motoring enthusiast. He had purchased his first car in 1901, an American steam driven ‘Locomobile’. It was started with a small spirit lamp and every twenty miles the water tank had to be refilled - he lived in constant fear of an explosion. After driving licences were introduced in 1903, he held licence No. 4 but his real claim to fame was as the founder and financial backer of the AC Car Company. He employed mechanical engineer John Weller, who had a small factory at Thomas Place (later Waylett Place) in West Norwood, to design the car and the first one, a 20 HP touring car, was displayed at the Crystal Palace motor show in 1903. Portwine thought the car would be too expensive to produce and encouraged Weller to design and produce a little three-wheeler delivery van. Called the Auto-Carrier, production started in 1904, and the vehicle caught on quickly and became a financial success. In 1907, a passenger version appeared, called the A.C. Sociable, with a seat in place of the cargo box. This car was described in a review of the 1912 Motor Cycle and Cycle Car Show as ‘one of the most popular cycle cars on the road, both for pleasure and business’.

Portwine sold his share of the firm after WW1 but engineering must have been in his blood because in 1922, his daughter Elsie married Guy Fountain (1898-1977) the inventor of the Tannoy public address systems. Born in Selby, Yorkshire, he came to London during the First World War, and opened a workshop in Tulsemere Road to make battery chargers for wireless sets. He used a rectifier of tantalum and lead alloy, hence the trademark ‘Tannoy’. The Fountains lived in the house until the 1970s.

Last but not least we return to No 120 (Broadmead), the first house to be built, and a story that would not be out of place today. Mr Pascall had sold the house to a Mr Pearce who had taken a job as managing director of the Aerated Bread Company (ABC) in January 1927 at £2000 a year plus a 2% profit share. In December 1929 he had been sacked and he sued the company for wrongful dismissal. Awarded £15,000 plus costs, a substantial sum for the time, and probably three times the value of his house, the newspaper report noted that he agreed to withdraw his comment that the chairman was actuated by personal malice towards him.