With its quaint white post-and-chain-link fences, grassy verges and white painted finger posts, Dulwich in south-east London has something of the look of a New England village.
For this it can thank the Dulwich Estate, the charity that, since the early 17th century, has kept an iron grip on this almost pastoral enclave.
In the heart of the village stands the statue of Edward Alleyn, the actor-manager and entrepreneur who started it all. In 1619, he bought the Manor of Dulwich and endowed a charity for 12 poor scholars - six poor brothers and six poor sisters.
'For those looking for an area where the grass verges are always mown, Dulwich is nothing short of suburban heaven'
Today, the Dulwich Estate, which for more than 300 years was known quaintly as Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift at Dulwich, controls 1,500 acres in five south-east London postcodes and three boroughs. With assets of some £185 million, it distributes more than £5.5 million to its beneficiaries, including the three private schools that make this area such a draw for families from all over south London.
The Dulwich Estate maintains control over its estate with a scheme of management under the Leasehold Reform Act. Nearly 4,000 Dulwich leaseholders have now bought their freeholds, but they still need the estate’s permission before they can cut down a tree or build an extension, and they can expect a ticking off if their house and garden are not kept spick and span.
Even the powerful local amenity group, the Dulwich Society, finds the workings of the estate restrictive and has recently extracted an undertaking that decision-making will be more transparent.
For house-hunters looking for a neighbourhood that hasn’t been disfigured with replacement plastic windows, where front gardens haven’t been turned into parking spaces and where the grass verges are always kept mown, Dulwich is nothing short of suburban heaven.
Gareth Martin of long-established village estate agents Harvey & Wheeler, says the estate is more forward-thinking than many people give it credit for. He points to its record in encouraging modern architecture. The agent is selling for £4.95 million one of a pair of modern houses overlooking Dulwich Park in College Road, designed by top architect Stephen Marshall, and there is a mews of nine German-engineered Huf houses behind the Crown and Greyhound pub in the village centre.
Properties: family houses abound. There are fine Georgian houses in the village. Large four- and five-bedroom Victorian and Edwardian homes bordering Herne Hill and in West Dulwich; large five- and six-bedroom 1920s detached houses are scattered around the village and Dulwich College; three- and four-bedroom 1960s townhouses and flats are to be found around Croxted and Rosendale roads; and two- and three-bedroom Victorian houses in East Dulwich.
The area attracts: families who want a good choice of schools both state and private. There are state primary schools, prep schools, improving state secondary schools and three of the capital’s top private schools, supported financially by the Dulwich Estate.
Staying power: once there, families tend to stay. It is not unusual for houses to be sold once in a generation, and many couples downsize within the area from large family houses to smaller 1960s houses when the children have left home. According to Gareth Martin, children who have grown up in Dulwich often return when they start a family.
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Best postcodes: Dulwich Village (SE21) is the most expensive and exclusive; younger and buzzier East Dulwich is SE22; while SE27 covers the more diverse West Dulwich area that merges into less desirable West Norwood.
Best streets: Dulwich Village for Georgian houses and Alleyn Park, Court Lane and Frank Dixon Way for large detached 1920s houses.
Up-and-coming areas: west Dulwich deserves to be better known, especially the area east of Rosendale Road, where there are roads of pretty flat-fronted, early Victorian houses. This area has a Tesco, a Café Rouge (left) and the Dulwich Trader, which is part of a local chain of clothes and interiors boutiques.
They are situated in the small shopping area at the junction of South Croxted Road and Park Hall Road. West Dulwich also has a plentiful supply of well designed 1960s flats and townhouses in Lings Coppice and Pymers Mead which are under-appreciated.
What’s new? apart from a number of one-off modern houses, Dulwich has few new homes on offer. The largest recent development is the award-winning Vale Street in West Dulwich, bordering on West Norwood. This eco development of affordable homes by housing association L&Q (0844 406 9800; www.lqgroup.org.uk) is sold out, although there is a reserve list.
Schools: the concentration of good schools is one of the main drivers of the property market in Dulwich. Dulwich Village infant school and Dulwich Hamlet junior school are both judged “outstanding” by Ofsted. Dulwich College, which is housed in imposing late-Victorian Gothic buildings at the junction of College Road and Dulwich College, educates more than 2,000 boys aged 11 to 18. James Allen’s Girls’ School - known locally as JAGS – is an intellectual power house for girls, while the more arty Alleyns takes girls and boys. Recent graduates of the latter include Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.
Shops and restaurants: The best shops and restaurants are in East Dulwich along Lordship Lane and Northcross Street. Worth seeking out are: Roulier White for an interesting mix of kitchenware and perfumes; Grace and Favour for unusual gifts; Ed - part of a local chain, with another shop, Tomlinson’s, in the village and The Dulwich Trader in West Dulwich - with its signature mix of clothes, gifts and interior accessories. The Palmerston, The Bishop and Franklins are gastropubs offering above-average food.
Transport: There is no Tube line to Dulwich but there are three train stations. East Dulwich is 15 minutes to London Bridge; North Dulwich and West Dulwich are 18 and 15 minutes respectively to Victoria. East Dulwich and North Dulwich are in Zone 2 and West Dulwich is in Zone 3.
Council: Most of Dulwich is in Southwark, though there are bits in Lambeth and Lewisham. Southwark’s Band D council tax is £1,221.96.
Average sale prices: SE22
One-bedroom flat: £215,490
Two-bedroom flat: £272,242
Three-bedroom house: £475,480
Four-bedroom house: £632,086
One-bedroom flat: £184,861
Two-bedroom flat: £259,273
Three-bedroom house: £494,663
Four-bedroom house: £755,064
One-bedroom flat: £167,530
Two-bedroom flat: £230,104
Three-bedroom house: £311,177
Four-bedroom house: £397,209
One-bedroom flat: £869pm
Two-bedroom flat: £1,136pm
Three-bedroom house: £1,644pm
Four-bedroom house: £2,077pm
One-bedroom flat: £782pm
Two bedroom flat: £1,053pm
Three- bedroom-house: £1,521pm
Four-bedroom house: £2,330pm
One-bedroom flat: £727pm
Two-bedroom flat: £879pm
Three-bedroom house: £1,229pm
Four bedroom house: £1,514pm
Photographs by Barry Phillips
All details correct at time of publication (10 March 2010).