Online sources are proving especially useful for those interested in local history at a time when access to relevant archives is restricted, as with Dulwich College Archives or non-existent as with Southwark Archives.

With a contribution from the legacy to the Dulwich Society by Mary Boast, the former Southwark Local History Librarian, the Society collaborated with Dulwich College Archives in making Dulwich Estate maps held there available on line They were photographed at a sufficiently high resolution to show individual buildings when enlarged. Eight of them are now on the website dated: 1806, 1852, 1860, 1876, 1886, 1894 (detail), 1906 and 1932.

In this period, the Dulwich College Estates formed possibly the largest compact leasehold estate in inner London. Apart from one property in Shoreditch, all the land was in one area, mostly comprising the former manor and hamlet of Dulwich in the parish of Camberwell, with some adjacent land in Lambeth. It extended about three miles from Denmark Hill/ Champion Hill in the north to Crystal Palace Parade in the South and almost two miles from part of Herne Hill and Knight’s Hill in the west to Lordship Lane/ Forest Hill in the east, so it does not include East Dulwich. The succession of maps give a fascinating picture of the area’s development over more than a century. They complement the Ordnance Survey maps which are freely available on the Southwark Council website from 1879 to date, as well as the range of maps available on the Layers of London website

Dulwich has always been the most thinly inhabited part of what was Camberwell until 1965 and Southwark since then, but the population still grew sevenfold in the nineteenth century and the change in distribution can be clearly seen. The 1806 manuscript plan which spreads over ten sheets is the earliest surviving survey of the estate on a large scale. It depicts a largely rural area occupied by woodland, farms and market gardens with properties centred on the village and features such as a windmill on the site of Dulwich College. By the time of the 1852 map the Picture Gallery had been built (opened 1817) and the avenue of trees along Gallery Road had gone, but otherwise there was very little change.

More development took place in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was brought about by the coming of the railways in the 1860s. The 1860 map shows conjectural routes of the Victoria to Bromley line on the west with stations at Herne Hill, West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill opening 1862-3; shown on the south is a branch of the London, Chatham and Dover line to the Crystal Palace High Level station through Dulwich Woods and the former Lordship Lane station (opened 1863-5) as is a spur linking the two which was never constructed. On the 1876 map can be seen the same company’s line from London Bridge towards Croydon with stations at North and East Dulwich (opened 1868). Compensation paid by the railway companies enabled the Dulwich College to build their present grand new premises in College Road, opened in 1870 as well as the new James Allen’s Girls’ School (opened 1886) and Alleyn’s School for boys (opened 1887). Both schools charged lower fees than the College and were popular with the growing numbers of middle class families in the area.

Housing development was carefully planned; the Governors wanted good quality housing to attract pupils from better-off parents and those in professional occupations. The new railway services increased the attractions of the estate by enabling those who could afford the fares to reach the City with ease. Some development is noticeable by 1876; by then an exclusive suburb of large detached houses was being created on the slopes of Sydenham Hill. In the same way they tried to create a buffer zone against lower density housing spreading from East Dulwich. They were willing to grant land to the Metropolitan Board of Works to create Dulwich Park as shown on the 1886 map, and the later schools with their playing fields were placed on the north eastern side. At the same time the Governors were under pressure from the Charity Commissioners to increase their income further to support the beneficiaries, which included the schools, almshouses, Picture Gallery and chapel. Smaller houses were permitted around West Dulwich station for example, but a recession in the building trade in London slowed progress.

The situation changed from the mid-1890s until just before the First World War, when there was an increased demand for lower density housing helped by the introduction of cheap workmen’s fares. Larger houses with extensive grounds proved difficult to sell as the more wealthy residents moved further out from the centre. The 1906 map shows the effect with a considerable amount of semi-detached and terraced houses allowed on the outer areas of the estate especially on the western side. By 1932 this had been supplemented by the post-war ‘Homes for Heroes’ estate at Sunray Avenue and developments along Burbage and Townley Roads and Court Lane. However, much of Dulwich still had large areas of open spaces by the outbreak of the Second World War.

Further reading: Mireille Galinou, The Dulwich Notebook, 2015; Bernard Nurse, ‘Planning a London Suburban Estate: Dulwich 1882-1920’, in The London Journal, vol. 19, no. 4, 1994.