Ewart G Culpin (1887–1946) & R Steuart Bowers (1889-1943)

Up until the end of the First World War the West side of Dulwich Village, north of the Hamlet School and south of Warigul (a large C18 house standing roughly where the entrance to Sainsbury’s sports ground is today) was playing fields. No 24 Dulwich Village, the small cottage style house opposite the St Barnabas Village Hall, was the first to be constructed.  Completed in January 1922, the owner and designer was a young architect, R Steuart Bowers.

At much the same time, local builder A H Williams was building the terrace of houses and pair of semi-detached houses on the site to the south of it, the design and appearance of these houses being exactly the same as those at the north-eastern end of Court Lane where the builder, with Steuart Bowers as his architect, had carried out a much larger development during 1920 and 1921. The same team was also responsible for Nos. 29-43 and 47-59 Burbage Road and, most likely, the line of bungalows in Village Way.

The architectural firm of Culpin & Bowers were best known in the 1920s and 30s for their public housing projects. Ewart G Culpin, the senior partner, was a successful journalist who had become secretary of the Garden City Association in 1906. His outstanding promotional skills revolutionised the Garden City movement (he later founded the International Garden Cities and Town Planning Association) and extended its involvement far beyond Letchworth in Hertfordshire, the first garden city, into all aspects of contemporary town planning.

He was clearly, in today’s terms, an excellent networker, writing many books and pamphlets, and lecturing throughout Europe. He was an active member of the Labour Party and had a long career in local government politics. He sat on Ilford Council from 1917 and was an Alderman of the London County Council from 1925-37, becoming Vice-Chairman from 1934-37 and Chairman from 1938-39. Culpin was clearly the ‘job-getter’ and Bowers the designer.

They had set up the practice together at the end of 1918, just as WW1 ended, primarily with the aim of putting the garden city proposals into action, but also no doubt to benefit from the huge amount of new housing which was going to be built under Lloyd George’s ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ legislation..

The firm carried out a huge number of projects. As early as 1920 they were involved in the early stages of the Bellingham Estate development in Lewisham and housing at Margram, Port Talbot for Messrs Baldwins. The latter had built an integrated iron and steel works near the Welsh coal mines (with its two blast furnaces it was regarded at the time as the most advanced steel works in the country) and needed accommodation for their workers. It was the largest housing development in the country at the time, over 500 houses being under construction by December 1920.

Other schemes in the early 1920s included the Belfry Garden Village at Harefield, Middlesex for the Bells United Asbestos Company and Uxbridge Distrct Council, a scheme at Reading for Reading Council, the Sentinel Garden Suburb at Shrewsbury, housing at Merton as part of a News of the World scheme to build houses for returning war heroes, and the ‘Quadrant’ in Hendon town centre.

Their most widely published early project was the ‘Durlocks’ housing scheme at Folkestone – built for Sir Philip Sassoon, MP. The 33 houses had to contend with a steeply sloping site and Sir Philip’s desire that they should have a similar appearance to his recently completed country house at Port Lympne (now the safari park) by Herbert Baker.

South of the river, their best known scheme was the garden-city like cottages at Wilson Grove and Ember Street for Bermondsey Borough Council. Built in 1927-28 at the instigation of the local GP, councillor and MP, Alfred Salter (1873-1945), they set new standards for working class housing in the area. Dr Salter and his wife Ada had become involved in local politics when they set up their practice in Bermondsey in 1900. Later on, in an attempt to improve conditions for the poor, they also set up a free local health service. Alfred was elected to the council in 1903 with Ada becoming the first woman councillor in 1910, and Mayor of Bermondsey in 1922. That year Alfred also became the local MP.

Other social housing schemes included Crossfield House in Notting Hill for the Kensington Housing Trust and several office projects for the Transport and General Workers’ Union including Transport House in Smith Square and Bevan House in Hull. They were also closely involved with the work of the Industrial Welfare Association in Wales, improving social amenities for miners, and their final project together was the construction of the Camberwell Town Hall (now Southwark Town Hall).

Culpin and Bowers ended their partnership in 1935. Culpin set up separately with his son Clifford, while Bowers continued as architect to the Transport and General Workers Union until his death a few years later.

Ian McInnes