More talking houses

Anna Sayburn and Ian McInnes round up some more favourite Dulwich domestic architecture.

When I was a child, I lusted after a particular doll’s house in the toy shop window. It was pleasingly symmetrical, as doll’s houses should be, with the door in the middle and windows either side. It was tall, with an elegant frontage, and looked happily self-possessed, in comparison to our own semi-detached home.

57 Dulwich Village

57 Dulwich Village



Which is why I stopped in my tracks the first time I saw this elegant house at 57, Dulwich Village. It’s everything I thought a doll’s house should be – with the added advantage of being full-size. With its lovely arched windows and pretty fanlight, and front door painted my favourite shade of eau-de-nil, it looked ready for me to move in.

Ian says: This house was built in 1825-26 when Dulwich had started to become a popular location for wealthy city merchants to reside.

The wealthy city merchants are still flocking to Dulwich, and new houses are still being built to accommodate them. The development of houses in The Woodyard, backing onto Dulwich Park, is one of the more recent. When the first show-home was opened, I spent a happy hour wandering round, fantasising about how I’d use all that lovely light-filled space. 

Ian says: The Dulwich Estate had been trying to redevelop this site for over twenty years. Local residents had been vociferous in their objections to every scheme – the houses were too small, too big, too high. After the submission of yet another banal neo Georgian scheme Southwark Council,

Woodyard Lane

Woodyard Lane

 who had fought three appeals, suggested the Huf Houses as a compromise solution and finally all parties agreed. The houses were prefabricated in Germany and brought to the site by truck. The architect was Peter Huf.


Perhaps surprisingly, the Huf Houses aren’t the only modern houses in Dulwich Village. College Gardens, smart and resolutely modern town houses, caused a scandal when they were built in the 1960s. My mother tells me she thought they were awful at the time – although she admits now she’d love to live in one.

Ian says:The original houses in College Gardens, a row of eight large semi-detached houses, were built in the 1870’s. They were knocked down in the early 1960s when the original leases fell in and the site was redeveloped in 1967-69. The large split level town houses are planned around a central landscaped square. The architect was Austin Vernon & Partners.

College Gardens

College Gardens



But not all is as it seems in Dulwich village. Even the most ancient-looking houses turn out to be a bit younger than they look. I’d assumed the pretty alms houses around the back of the picture gallery had been there for many centuries. I was wrong.

Ian says: While the Almshouses are on the site of the original Dulwich College, set up by Edward Alleyn in the early seventeenth century, they are not the original buildings – the east wing (illustrated) now used as almshouses dates only from 1866.

Alms houses

Alms houses

 Originally designed as scholars’ accommodation and school rooms, it was rebuilt in the 1660s, 1740s and the 1820s. The properties were updated after WWII and again in the 1990s. There is a small amount of original fabric remaining in the Christ’s Chapel next door.


One of the loveliest things about Dulwich and environs is the way the housing has been planned to fit into the wooded landscape. It’s hard to believe you live 15 minutes from Victoria station, when all you can see out of the window is trees. One of the best examples of this planning is the verdant Peckarman’s Wood development, close to Sydenham Hill.


Peckermans Wood

Peckarmans Wood

Ian says: The initial planning for Peckarmans Wood began in 1956 but construction did not start until late in 1962. The site, on a steep slope with clay sub soil and many trees, was a particularly difficult one to develop as the foundations required extensive piling. The houses were very carefully sited so as to retain the woodland character of the site and to maintain the views to the north and west. There were effectively three rows, a straight one at the top, a straight one at the bottom and a series of split level ranch style house (illustrated) and town houses planned along the contours of the site. The ranch houses had their living rooms on the first floor to benefit from the view, with huge picture windows and timber clad ceilings. The architect, again, was Austin Vernon & Partners.

Have we included your favourite local house? Let us know with a comment below. 

Photos: Anna Sayburn. Ian McInnes is chairman of the Dulwich Society.

About this article

Anna S

About Anna S

Founding Editor and Writer. Anna is a journalist working for the BMJ publishing group. She has worked as a news reporter and arts editor for local newspapers and as science editor for medical magazines. She likes eating, writing nonsense and playing the ukelele.
Other articles by | Visit Anna S's website


  1. Hi Anna and Ian,

    Really interesting lecture last night.

    How about a similar one focused on local architects? Not just Austin Vernon, but who designed the turn of the century Victorian/Edwardian houses that are so prolific?

    Is it true that the way to show off your wealth then was to have as many large VSS windows as possible rather than park your Porshe (or its equivalent) in the front drive?

    What other drivers were there of this style of housing?

  2. Hello Mike, thanks for your kind comments. We hope to do some more of these articles, maybe on the Victorian and Edwardian periods this time.

  3. Ian McInnes 20 Nov 2008


    Thanks for your comments on last Tuesday’s talk. I have done talks and walks on older houses and there will be two talks on them next February at the Gallery following up on my articles “On the Street where you live” that I write for the Dulwich Society Magazine.


Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *