On The Street Where You Live - Sydenham Rise
by Ian McInnes

World War II was not particularly kind to the large Victorian houses along Sydenham Rise which Sharon has written about., Sydenham Rise lies at the southern extremity of the Dulwich Estate. Two, Nos. 7 and 9, had major bomb damage while, from 1943, No 11 was used by Messrs Evan Cook as a furniture depository - storing the contents of other bombed out houses. Austin Vernon, the Estate Architect & Surveyor, sketched an initial redevelopment scheme in March 1949 and followed this, in May 1951, with a preliminary scheme to convert No 11 into 5 flats - Evan Cook moved out in December that year agreeing to pay £2500 in dilapidations - by instalments.

Nothing more happened until 5th June 1952 when the London County Council issued a compulsory purchase order for all the land between Sydenham Rise and Eliot Bank (the County of London (Eliot Bank, Lewisham) Compulsory Purchase order 1952). This included all the Estate properties on Sydenham Rise (Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17 and 17A), 50 & 50A Sydenham Hill, and 61 and 63 London Road. The Estate objected and a public enquiry was held at Lewisham Town Hall on 9th October. Mr J Scott Henderson QC and Mr Walter Gunbel of Counsel represented the Governors, and the Chairman, Manager and Architect were all called as witnesses – the latter bringing along his 1949 development proposal to show that the Governors were serious in their intention to redevelop the area themselves.

Much to the Governors’ surprise the order, published on 1st July 1953, confirmed the enquiry inspector’s acceptance of their argument and the Estate properties were excluded from the order. The Manager started marketing the site immediately and in January 1954 Mr C B Curtis, a Beckenham based Surveyor, working for Mr Leslie Marsden, a builder, of ‘High trees’ Sunnydale, Farnborough Park, submitted an initial proposal - eight blocks of 2 storey flats and one block of 4 flats with 4 maisonettes above.

In February Austin Vernon submitted his own scheme – to be carried out in phases so that “persons are not without housing while it is in progress”. The plans showed part refurbishment and part new build, and produced 53 flats and 4 maisonettes. Nos. 13 and 17 Sydenham Hill were retained as houses as they were still on long leases.

The Estate Building Committee discussed the options. The Manager was worried that an Estate -led development scheme would not be commercially viable as he did not think the level of rent the Estate could charge would cover the cost of the loan to fund the building cost. He was concerned that it might have to be subsidised from Estate income and the Governors agreed that it would be better to do it on a building agreement with a builder.

Austin Vernon was not best pleased. He was determined not to lose his scheme and prepared a scathing report which said “I have examined the scheme for the development of this large site prepared by Mr C B Curtis, Surveyor . . . . . The proposal as presented is in my opinion ill conceived and lacking in imagination…..The flats are all exactly alike . . . . the maisonettes are unbalanced and of poor design and much improvement could be made – in my opinion the elevations as presented are not attractive and there is no variation – the roofs are particularly overpowering being the height of about two floors. Generally as I examine the plans of these dwellings I see the lack of imagination; no provision for the storage of coals, bicycles or prams: no facilities for washing and drying of clothes; no provision for garages nor the disposal of refuse. – it should be redesigned”

The Governors ignored him and instructed the Manager to negotiate a building agreement with Mr Marsden, but they added a caveat that the Architect could ask for the layout to be amended, and he was also instructed to help negotiate the scheme through the planning application process.

In June 1954 the Architect reported on his visit to the LCC town planning department. He noted that the latter considered that the application should have been made by the Governors themselves rather than a builder - who would only have a short term interest in the site. He added that the LCC officials had suggested that the site was suitable for taller buildings and that three floors would be better than two. He could not resist saying “I might mention that the plan which I prepared and which was used at the Public Enquiry provided for three storey flats.” On 9th October he reported that he now had planning consent for three storey blocks but nothing further happened until October 1955 when Mr Marsden pulled out of the deal, apparently owing to the amount of building he was undertaking elsewhere.

The Manager discussed Austin Vernon’s original layout with other developers but was having trouble in dealing with the properties that were still held on long leases, or were occupied by statutory tenants - obtaining vacant possession was a serious obstacle. In the end Wates were the only developer prepared to take the whole site on terms that included provisions to deal with the problem of obtaining vacant possession - to help in negotiations to remove the tenants, Wates indicated that they would agree to take over the properties as landlords. The proposed development would be a mix of houses and 3 storey flats and maisonettes – 93 units in all.

In January 1956 a revised layout reflected the contours of the land and showed the blocks of buildings nearer to the street frontage. The houses had been omitted and the back land was to be used for residents’ gardens and garages. There were now 32 ground floor flats, 64 maisonettes and 48 garages.

Six months later, in July, the Architect reported that Wates had asked him to vary the scheme again because of the difficulty experienced in obtaining Building Society loans for flats - they intended now to start the project by building 3 blocks of 5 three story terrace houses. Austin Vernon added that the houses would be built so that the entrance hall, staircase and garage were on the ground floor; the first floor at the front would be level with the ground at the back and would include the living room, dining room and kitchen, with three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The elevations were to be designed in a ‘contemporary modern’ manner.

There were further detail revisions to the flats and maisonettes on the rest of the site in September and the building agreement was finally signed on 24th November - for 15 houses on the site of 7-11 Sydenham Rise (Section 1) and flats and maisonettes on the rest. Wates were allowed a total building period of 5 years to complete the scheme - from 25th December 1956. The total ground rent was to be £1500.

In December Wates surveyed the Section 1 site and set out the houses slightly differently - in one block of 11 houses and another of 4. In June 1957 a further building agreement for the 15 houses and 81 flats and maisonettes was signed and in September 1958 the first houses, Nos. 21, 23, 25 & 27 Sydenham Rise were finished. The others followed on through March 1959.

In May 1959 there were further changes to Section 2 on the lower part of the site on London Road - the Architect said that “After mature consideration and discussion it has now been suggested that houses with gardens would be more attractive on this section of the site.” He had obtained verbal approval from the LCC planners for a scheme for 22 houses including a terrace of 9 on London Road - the elevations both front and back to be tile hung with slate covered roofs. Further up the hill, located on a service road off Sydenham Rise, Section 3 was to have one block of 7 and another block of 6 houses - Austin Vernon noted “In my opinion this development is preferable to the original proposal for flats and maisonettes and is more attractive” – but he also had an alternative layout showing 32 flats if required. The Governors agreed to the houses.

In October 1959 the final design submitted for Section 3 provided 11 four bedroom houses, with their garages in a block off the new estate road, and thirteen 3 bedroom town houses at the rear. The four bedroom houses were similar to those already erected a year earlier in Dulwich Wood Park. At the top of the site, on the corner with Sydenham Hill, there was to be a tall block of 33 flats, on the lines of the new blocks recently built along Farquhar Road.

The quarterly progress report, issued in November, confirmed that the houses fronting London Road in Section 2, and the new estate road and sewer for section 3, were complete. The houses at the front of Section 2 were now expected to be ready in the spring of 1960, with those at the back to start on site in the New Year. There was some discussion over the name of the new road for Section 2. The Manager suggested Wellington Close, after the Duke, a former governor of Alleyn’s College, with an alternative of Benson Gardens, after the bricklayer whom Edward Alleyn had contracted to build the College. The LCC did not like either and suggested Tarleton Gardens, its name today.

In April 1960 the numbers of flats in the tall block were revised down to 18, following an LCC requirement for lower density, but in September the scheme was revised yet again because Wates wanted slightly larger flats and maisonettes - the revised layout removed the tall block and showed 11 maisonettes and 5 flats in 3 storey blocks.

Tarleton Gardens was complete and occupied by December. At the same meeting names were discussed for Section 3 and the three suggested were Little Brownings, Pynners Mead, and Bowyers Close after Sir Joseph Bowyer. The LCC agreed Little Brownings in February 1961.

The last amendment was In October when Wates decided that the cost of the three storey blocks of flats and maisonettes was too high relative to the original tall block scheme and they went back to the tower - Frobisher Court was finally finished in July 1962.