Above: A view of the house and garden from one end of the double drive leading from Crescent Wood Road.
The story you are about to read is not only a history of the house but it will also give you an insight into how grand it was to live on Sydenham Hill before the Second World War.
You may well know Sydenham Hill, which is a long road that follows the curves along the top of a ridge, extending from Crystal Palace Parade to a road called Kirkdale. About half-way along is a pub called the Dulwich Wood House. It stands at the junction of Crescent Wood Road with Sydenham Hill. Almost opposite the pub, in Crescent Wood Road, is the rather grand house called Lyncombe. It stands just inside the old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell boundary. This house is built on a rather strange alignment to the road – being at right-angles to it – and separated from the pavement by a large coach-house situated where you would normally expect to see the ‘front garden’.
The site for the house was acquired from the Dulwich Estate Governors in 1865 by Henry Gover (1835 – 1895), a well-known City solicitor and educationist. How long Gover stayed at the property is not known but he died in 1895.
The four-storey house was designed by Charles Barry (Junior) – who had succeeded his father in the role of architect and surveyor to Dulwich College – and fellow architect Robert Banks. It therefore has an impressive pedigree. It dates from 1868 – the year is worked into the stonework on a pediment over one of the windows. The exterior layout – with the house set back from the road and the coach-house between the house and the road – was probably to exclude any possibility of noise from any rowdy visitors to the pub which is almost opposite the property. The elegant house, in red brick, overlooks a large lawn. One intriguing feature are two large stone lions near the approach to the house and garden which now ‘stand guard’ over the whole property.
Above: The coach-house, seen from Crescent Wood Road, with a small part of the house visible behind it.
Some time around the 1920s the house was acquired by Madame Lily Payling, an Australian contralto, who was well-known and popular both in Australia and in England. In Australia Lily was better known as Madame Haffenden Smith. She gave concerts at the Royal Albert Hall on several occasions. Born Lily Haffenden on board her father’s trading ship off the Phillipine Islands, she was brought up in Sydney NSW, Australia. Lily was married to William Smith but he died when in his early 30s. A few years later Lily married Leonard Payling and they later decided to move to London. They lived at Lyncombe until her husband died in the 1940s.
Lily had the distinction of being chosen to open the first ever concert broadcast by radio. It took place in The Hague (‘Den Haag’ as the Dutch call it) when she sang ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. The first radio broadcast from The Hague was made in 6 November 1919 so Lily’s broadcast must have been soon after that date. Newspaper reports of the time said the she was widely heard in France and Belgium but only in coastal towns in England.
The first British broadcasts were in 1920 and the famous ‘2LO’ started in May 1922. The Dutch broadcast was therefore before any broadcast in London.
The Payling Concerts were a feature of the Albert Hall’s programme in the 1920s and 1930s and she was a well-known singing teacher to over 100 performers.
Above: Detail of the coach-house, showing the extension to the building to provide sufficient length for the Payling’s motor-car.
While living at Lyncombe, the Paylings had an extension added in 1928 to the 14 feet long coach house in order to provide enough length for motor-car which Madame Payling had recently purchased. The extension is still visible today.
In 1937 Lily’s mother, who still lived in Sydney, Australia, decided to travel by ship to England to see her daughter for the first time in 17 years. Her mother stayed with her daughter at Lyncombe. While there she was guest of honour at a birthday party arranged for her by Lily. It was to celebrate her 80th birthday. There were more than 300 guests, and the birthday cake was made entirely by Lily. It weighed 300 pounds, contained 150 eggs, and took a fortnight to make.
The house suffered some minor bomb damage in the Second World War and, from 1945 it was let to Messrs Edwin Cooke Furniture Depositories to store furniture taken from bomb damaged houses. In 1950 the Dulwich Estate decided to convert the house into four flats, one to each floor, and the work was completed at the end of 1953.
Above: A view of the large house from near the end of its garden. What appears to be the ‘side door’ (on the far right) is actually the main door into the house and this door faces onto Crescent Wood Road.
The intriguing house, garden and large coach-house are private but it is possible to stand on the pavement and peep through to the house and lawn. The coach-house, of course, stands beside the road and is easy to see. It appears that it is also used as accommodation.
Some of the old Victorian houses in and around Sydenham have an interesting story to tell and some of the details of Lyncombe have only recently been discovered.