The Dulwich Society Journal for Winter 2015.
The Second World War had not treated College Gardens kindly and by 1945 most of the eight houses were in a rundown condition. The collateral damage from the 1944 V1 explosion in nearby Gallery Road, which largely demolished the Picture Gallery, hadn’t helped. Four of the houses had been requisitioned by Camberwell Council and converted into flats, and the Estate had done the same on two of the others. The 1957 Dulwich Development Plan identified the houses for development and when, in the following year, Camberwell Council offered to purchase the site for a council housing scheme, the Estate declined - not surprisingly perhaps, given the site’s prominent location next to the Picture Gallery.
It took until 1960, however, for redevelopment to move forward. In a report on the site to the July Board Meeting Russell Vernon, the Estate Architect, stated that the properties were unworthy of retention and he was instructed to prepare a scheme for luxury flats. There were further progress reports in December and an outline scheme was agreed in March 1961. There was then another five year gap. Six of the eight houses were demolished in 1965 and the last two, Nos. 3 & 4, followed in April 1966.
Earlier that year a new scheme had been prepared - which showed houses rather than flats. The Architect began his description of the layout by reminding the Governors about the site’s splendid location near to the Village and went on to elaborate the benefits of a housing scheme over flats - specifically that houses could be built in phases. He also alluded to the current problems with sales at Gainsborough Court, the block of flats by the Tollgate on College Road, noting that “expensive flats are not selling well in Dulwich at the present time”.
The layout was much as today. Car access was from a perimeter road and there were four rows of terraced houses located around a central landscaped area - with a number of footpaths across it. The houses were to have a double garage, kitchen and dining areas on the ground floor, a large first floor living room, “with a good sized balcony giving views over the Grove Meadow, the tennis club and the Gallery Gardens”, together with a study and a master suite “with dressing room and bathroom”. On the second floor there were to be three more bedrooms, a bathroom, and access to a large roof garden and terrace (above the first floor living room). He added that the houses would appear to be “linked by roof gardens and thus avoid the presentation of terraces in the accepted sense of the word”. The Manager’s report which followed confirmed that preliminary meetings had been held with Wates and a draft building agreement had been agreed on the basis of a building period of 5 years from March 1966 with an initial ground rent of £65 per house. Wates were also prepared to offer a premium in the order of 4% of the purchase price when the lease was assigned. The Manager thought he could obtain more, perhaps as much as 10%, and confirmed he would continue his negotiations.
The Governors, however, were not so easily persuaded. Despite Russell Vernon’s comment about sales problems with flats, they deferred their decision pending further consideration of the flat scheme agreed five years earlier - it seemed that some of the Governors thought of Dulwich as the Knightsbridge of South London and that luxury flats must be the answer to attracting wealthier people to the area! In April the Architect resubmitted the flat scheme but continued to argue the case for houses. He was always very persuasive and, at the end of the meeting, the Governors decided to go with the houses and asked him to submit elevations “with particular regard to the environment.”
In May the Manager reported on his negotiations on premiums and was able to confirm that, subject to minor modifications of the plans, the level had been raised to 10% of the selling price up to £15,000 plus an additional 25% between £15000 and £16,499 - the average selling price at that time was expected to be £16,500.
Drawings of the proposed elevations were reviewed in July, along with a model. Russell Vernon noted that the plan form was as before and that the elevations generally would have a ‘vertical treatment’, with brick walls and mansard roofs covered preferably with copper “as they will weather green”. Each house would be linked with the adjoining one at second floor level by a roof garden. The Governors approved the design subject to further consideration to the form of roofing, the use of dutch bricks, and the improvement of the appearance of the flank elevations of the end terrace houses. They also agreed to the building agreement terms.
The national economic conditions and high mortgage rates in the next two years meant that Wates were unable to proceed. The selling price of the units as designed was now in excess of £22,000 per unit, and Wates felt that there was no market at that level. To try and move the scheme on a series of alternative feasibility studies were carried out by Manfred Bresgen, Russell Vernon’s chief assistant. The floor area of each house was reduced by 25%, but the Governors were unconvinced and prevaricated over what to do. Surprisingly, in April, flats were back on the agenda again and Russell Vernon was instructed to prepare another flat scheme including some with four bedrooms. He had had enough by then, and his June report reiterated that Wates had stated that flats of any size were a non-starter in Dulwich. Houses were the only way to go.
The Governors finally accepted the inevitable and at the June Board meeting the Architect was “congratulated on the revised scheme for College Gardens.” Working drawings for the scheme were submitted in January 1969 and work commenced shortly afterward with the first completions in July 1970. The scheme as built had 21 split level terraced town houses planned around a central common landscaped area. Each of the houses had a small private garden which opened on to it - and vehicle and pedestrian access was via a private service road on the site perimeter. The houses had four floors and a split level section, with the double garages partly underground. The houses had large living rooms and master bedrooms in the link blocks, and the top floor bedroom partly in the roof. The elevations were conventional, with facing bricks, large white painted timber framed windows, and pitched tiled roofs.
Apocryphal stories suggest that most local residents were amazed at the prices and, as was often the case at the more expensive price range, the houses took some time to sell. In October 1970 Neil Wates, then the chairman of Wates, purchased No. 4, and asked for approval to extend the ground floor bay through two floors to form forming a continuous bay from top to bottom - Russell Vernon said “the appearance will be little different from what it is at present.” He then asked permission for modifications to provide a staff flat on the top floor and to excavate the cellar space beneath the living room to provide a workroom - (perhaps the first example in the area of basement excavation under an existing house). His house was later sold to the Church of England as the residence for the Bishop of Woolwich, the Rt Rev Michael Marshall. A report in the South London Press dated 9 March 1976 noted that the sale was a ‘bargain’ at a selling price of £39,000.
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11 Ferrings, Dulwich, London SE21 7LU.
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Gardens Talk - Let’s Be Front Garden Proud
7.30pm Wednesday 9th March 2016
at the Lecture Theatre, Alleyn’s School, Townley Road, London SE22 8SU
The evening’s topic will be about what we can do to enhance our front gardens. Jeremy Prescott will lead an expert panel of speakers made up of:
Pamela Johnson - Pamela describes her style as challenging yet light hearted. She loves talking about anything to do with gardening.
Nigel Watts - Living in SE22, Nigel won many compliments when he opened his garden under the NGS last year. Extremely knowledgeable about England’s gardens both large and small, Nigel has a great eye for the right plant in the right place.
Anthony Noel - Anthony, who has a passion for gardens, art and architecture, says his style is classical - ancient or modern - with a dash of theatre. He believes that any garden can be a Great Little Garden.
After the talk there will be the opportunity to meet the speakers over a glass of wine
Tickets are £7 each. If you wish to buy tickets please use the form below and send your cheque made payable to The Dulwich Society with a stamped addressed envelope to Jeremy Prescott, 142 Court Lane, London SE21 7EB. - email -
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