Dulwich, Manor of

Above: A small version of a map of the Manor of Dulwich. Its boundary is shown in YELLOW. Modern street names are highlighted in GREEN. Place names are shown in PURPLE.

First mentioned in a deed of AD 967, granting land to one of Edgar the Peaceful’s thanes, the Manor of Dulwich has a long and remarkable history. It is among the earliest manors in today’s Inner London with a history going back well over 1,000 years. The manor was not mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) and it is not known under which manor it was included. In 1127 the Manor of Dulwich was granted to Bermondsey Abbey.

Its history is unremarkable for the next four centuries, until 1545 when the manor was granted to Thomas Calton. If you are a local, you may well know Calton Road which was named after him. In 1606 the manor was purchased from Francis Calton by Edward Alleyn for the sum of £5,000. The value of that sum in today’s money is about £1.5 million which, considering that many of the houses in today’s Dulwich Village are each worth above that figure, it probably represents a bargain. It should be pointed out that most of Dulwich was just fields and farmland in Alleyn’s time. It was not considered of any particular value at all. Alleyn completed the transaction in 1613.

He became a great benefactor to Dulwich which, in those days was only a hamlet. The nearest parish church for the community living there was St Giles at Camberwell – about a two-mile walk to church! Being very rich, Alleyn founded a school and almshouses, along with a chapel. The people of the village started to use the chapel as their place of worship – to save them walking to Camberwell. A burial ground was set aside in the village which is still there but it has ceased to be used. Due to people worshipping in the chapel, no parish church was built until 1892, called St Barnabas. It opened in 1892. If you live in or near Dulwich you probably know that the district was often referred to as ‘Dulwich Hamlet’ because it was not technically a village (with a parish church) until the 1890s.

Getting back to the story of Alley, he died in 1626 having only lived in Dulwich for the last 13 years of his life. When he died, his will contained an unusual statement – that the Manor of Dulwich was to remain administered by the trustees ‘for ever’. The village is waiting until that might be! As a result of Alleyn’s charitable work in founding a village school, the money for that school has led to the founding of several schools in Dulwich. Among them are Dulwich College, Alleyn’s School and James Allen’s Girl’s School (abbreviated to JAGS). It is almost as if the ‘industry’ of Dulwich was establishing schools.

Alleyn’s body lies buried in the chapel which he founded and the estate which he left under the control of trustees is still being administered today. Some of the strict controls of an estate have been swept away by Acts of Parliament over the years but essentially the estate is still under its administration, even today.

As a simple example, the Estate Governors would not allow public transport in or near Dulwich Village. The nearest railway stations had to be built well outside the village – at North Dulwich, West Dulwich and East Dulwich. There is no station in the village. Similarly, with the bus routes, no buses were allowed to run through Dulwich Village and certainly not double-deckers! In the end, due to Dulwich Village being so difficult to get into (or get out of) a concession was made – but not until September 1972 – when the single-deck bus route P4 was allowed to run through Dulwich Village and also drop passengers off at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Reminders of the old Manor of Dulwich are all around the area. A couple of obvious ones – so obvious that, if you are a local, you may have overlooked them – will be given here: Lordship Lane – takes its name from running along part of the western side of the old manor boundary. Since all of Inner London was once ancient manors, it is surprising there are not more street names with ‘Lordship’ in them. Court Lane – named because the old Manor House once stood nearby. The large house where the lord of the manor lived was often referred to as ‘The Court’.

Due mainly to Alleyn and his will of ‘God’s Gift’ Dulwich has remained in a time warp when the rest of Inner London has moved on. In some ways that is a problem but in other ways it leaves the village to develop at its slow pace which certainly adds considerable charm to this little piece of ‘old London’.

The map at the top shows the extent of the manor. It comes to a point at the northern end which is close to Camberwell Green. The western boundary is formed partly by Croxted Road and extends as far south as the southern end of today’s Crystal Palace Parade. The SE boundary is along the road called Sydenham Hill. The manor comes to another point quite close to where Horniman Gardens now stands. Finally, the rest of the eastern boundary is along today’s Lordship Lane. It represents quite a sizeable piece of land.


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