Dulwich Village

Dulwich Village, Southwark

A collegiate village situated five miles south of the City of London, hemmed in by more prosaic neighbours that have traded on its prestige

Hidden London: Dulwich College by Matt Buck

First recorded as Dilwihs in a charter signed by Edgar the Peaceful in 967AD, the name derives from the Old English words dile wisc, meaning ‘dill meadow’.

Despite its close histor­ical links with Camber­well, to the north-west, Dulwich has remained distinct and has long been more exclusive. This is almost entirely due to the role of Dulwich College, founded in 1619 by the actor Edward Alleyn as the College of God’s Gift, which consisted of almshouses and a school for under­priv­i­leged boys.

From the early 18th century, and espe­cially after the mid-1760s, the college allowed wealthy Londoners – often the parents of pupils – to build substan­tial houses that would maintain their value, and that of the estate.

A number of these prop­er­ties remain – and only a few have been converted to flats or for other purposes. On Gallery Road, Belair is a well-propor­tioned villa built in 1765 for a Whitechapel corn merchant, and now housing a restau­rant. Its grounds are open to the public.

The college subse­quently permitted more homes to be built, of a progres­sively more afford­able character, but never­the­less kept the numbers down and the standards up. Villas and lodges also fringed the north side of the common, which was enclosed in 1805.

Sir John Soane built the school’s picture gallery and the founder’s mausoleum in 1814. A work of art in itself, the gallery has paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Gainsborough.

Most of the college buildings were erected in the late 1860s, financed by the sale of land to the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company. By this time, the village pond had been filled in, and covered by the shops of Commerce Place.

Dulwich Park was formed in 1890 from the fields of Dulwich Court Farm and its neigh­bours. Soon after­wards, the Crown and Greyhound took the place of two 18th-century inns as the focal point of the village. Around this time, new streets of redbrick terraces linked Dulwich Village with Turney Road.

Some of the village’s cottage shops have been converted into homes, while several of the larger houses in the village centre have become commer­cial premises, partic­u­larly cafés and restau­rants, such as the grade II listed group shown in the photo below. The original Dulwich College buildings are now homes and offices, with a chapel in the centre.

Dulwich Village by Peter Trimming

Twentieth-century building mostly took the form of pastiche replace­ments of Georgian prop­er­ties. College Road has London’s last remaining tollgate.

Village ward, which includes Herne Hill, is a highly atypical part of the borough; two-thirds of homes are owner-occupied, with an average of six rooms per household. Eighty-six per cent of residents are white and 56 per cent of 16 to 74-year-olds are qualified to degree level or higher.

Literary figures educated at Dulwich College have included Raymond Chandler, PG Wodehouse, CS Forester, Dennis Wheatley (who was expelled) and Michael Ondaatje.

Postal district: SE21
Population: 12,402 (Village ward, 2011 census)
Further reading: Richard Tames, Dulwich and Camberwell Past, Historical Publications, 1997
and Mary Boast, The Story of Dulwich, London Borough of Southwark, 1990
Website: Dulwich OnView
* The picture of Dulwich College at the top of this page is minimally modified from an original photograph, copyright Matt Buck, at Flickr, and the picture of Dulwich Village (Café Rouge and Pizza Express) is modified from an original photograph, copyright Peter Trimming, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, both made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.
The above article combines information from the London Gazetteer’s separate entries for Dulwich and Dulwich Village, with an additional fact drawn to the author’s attention by Mick Leeson