I recently researched the history of my early Victorian house. Local maps from that era are fascinating. So was a report that, on the night of the 1841 Census, the number of residents in Dulwich was augmented (possibly doubled) by 100 hay-wains, assisting with the harvest. This fact was borne out by a writer in 1867, stating that: ". Dwellers in Thames-side houses, near St. Paul's, sometimes assert that from their house-tops they have perceptibly inhaled the agreeable odour of Dulwich hay-crops…".
I tried to picture Dulwich Village in the mid-1860s. How would it differ from today? Travel back in time with me, just for a moment. You can be Scrooge to my Ghost of Dulwich Past. (Charles Dickens' character, Mr. Pickwick, retires to Dulwich - "one of the most pleasant spots near London" - so I don't think he would object to this liberty. I think he'd allow me some "poetic licence".)
From North Dulwich railway station…
Let's walk, together, on an imaginary route through the Village a century and a half ago, in 1866. On a bright, summer morning, with sunlight glinting over the trees on our left, let's start at North Dulwich railway station (built by Charles Barry, Jr. in 1866) and walk to Dulwich Picture Gallery. We will be accompanied by birdsong and the rustle of leaves underfoot, for our walk to the Village in the mid-19th century is, essentially, along a tree-lined lane.
As we walk towards the Village, we will, of course, see houses - but, in 1866, they are few. The splendid Georgian houses on the corner, "Lyndenhurst" and, lower down, "Pond House" will be standing (where the traffic lights are now, at the junction of Red Post Hill and East Dulwich Grove). A large house named "The White House" stood on the corner of what is now Village Way. Further ahead, as we walk along, we will see a house called "Warrigul"' on the right hand side of the Village and "Fairfield", on the left (though an earlier incarnation of the present house). There is also a large house, with extensive grounds, called "Lake House" (next to a lake). Later, that house will be demolished; the lake filled in. The "Lake Building" of Dulwich infant school now stands in its place.
However, everything else is missing. No houses to our right, along Village Way. Nor to our left, along East Dulwich Grove. None straight ahead, as we walk along what is now called Dulwich Village, other than those already mentioned.
No other houses, in fact, until we approach the corner. Let's pause and look around. To our immediate left, we will find the (then) recently-created Elms Road (which now forms part of Gilkes Crescent), curving round. It will contain a few recently-built Victorian houses - amongst them, "Rydal Cottage" and "Grasmere Cottage", built in 1863 (see Spring 2015 edition). Soon (very soon - over the next year or so, in fact) the distinctive Victorian buildings where you now find the parade of shops (such as Green's Art and Toy Shop ) will start to appear, but, in 1866, they are not yet formed. To our immediate right? The "Francis Building" for Dulwich Infant School, built in 1864, and the neighbouring Dulwich Hamlet School, which records indicate was built for James Allen’s Girls’ School in 1866. Stretching behind them, into the distance, as we look to our left and right, are just fields and countryside.
The rest of the Village is similarly sparse in the 1860s. At the crossroads, right on the corner of what is now Calton Avenue, a forge (or "smithy") will be there (where "Harold George" and "Au Ciel" now sit) and, further round, the charming "Ash Cottage" will be on our left. We will also find the small graveyard, consecrated in 1616, straight ahead. But, again, very little else. The village "stocks" and "cage" and a cattle "pound" would once have stood there, too, on the edge of the Village, opposite the burial-ground. However, I understand that they would already have been re-located elsewhere by the mid-1860s.
What about the roads which now "fan out" from the crossroads? Turney Road? Empty. Looking up what is now Calton Avenue? No other houses or shops. Woodwarde Road? Nothing there, either. Court Lane? Merely a lane, with a farm called "Court Lane Farm".
From the Calton Avenue crossroads, continuing into the Village and towards Dulwich Picture Gallery, we encounter a few, beautiful Georgian houses on the corner, plus some (rather more imposing) Georgian houses further along, plus a few shops, a terrace of smaller houses in Boxall Road (then called Boxall or Boxhill Row, depending on the map). There are also the (then separate) hostelries of "The Crown" and "The Greyhound", which, reputedly our mutual friend, Charles Dickens, used to frequent. However, the houses which now line the rest of Dulwich Village are yet to be built and there's no sign yet of any of Aysgarth, Pickwick or Burbage Roads.
To Dulwich Picture Gallery
As we approach the end of our stroll towards the Picture Gallery (built by Sir John Soane in 1811-14), we find some characterful structures: the tiny and distinctive white Grammar School building is there, having been built in 1841 (this time, by Charles Barry, Sr) and the striking Almshouses, adjoining Christ's Chapel, next to the Gallery, also exist.
As we stand at the Gallery, ahead, and slightly to our right, we might just be able to see "Belair" in the distance, another very grand dwelling, dating from the 1780s. Now a restaurant and wedding venue, during the era of our Dickensian walk, it houses a family with 10 children - and even more servants. Further away, the new building for Dulwich College (designed by Charles Barry, Jr) will be under construction, but will not yet be complete in 1866.
Moreover, in 1866 there is no Dulwich Park. It is still an area known as "the Five Fields", surrounded by trees. To our left, across the land which will form Dulwich Park - in what is now known as East Dulwich - the story is largely same. On an 1868 map, East Dulwich is, similarly, bereft of housing. It comprises fields, a few large houses and a market garden.
After 1866, more buildings will gradually start to appear in Dulwich Village. Development will be very slow, however - despite the arrival of the railway. In fact, little changes over the next decade or so. By 1881, for example, there will only be a few extra houses on the outskirts, both in and opposite Elms Road - that is, some elegant Victorian houses in Elms Road (of which, two pairs still remain standing today) and the pretty cottages at the bottom of Calton Avenue, which will appear in the late 1870s. Even some 15 years hence, Dulwich Village will be largely unchanged from our imaginary Dickensian walk.
Try to picture it next time you visit Dulwich Village, Picture Gallery or Park!