Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Woodhall Drive is a private estate off College Road, Dulwich, built in the early 1960s, on a site where previously a large mansion named Woodhall had stood. It is every bit as exclusive as its predecessor and defies even the intrusive cameras of Google Street View. It lies a little to the south of the Toll Gate and a little to the north of Sydenham Hill Station and St Stephen’s Church. The ordnance survey map of 1875 shows that the church, the station and Woodhall were the only buildings in the close vicinity at that time.
Built in the 1870s by R P Harding, Woodhall replaced a less pretentious building, though still fairly grand, called Wood House that had been built around 1810. Situated in an elevated position in “wild, woody surroundings” Woodhall afforded splendid views over the newly built Dulwich College to the City of London, to the Norwood Hills and to the Crystal Palace. W H Blanch in Ye Parish of Camberwell (1875) enthused more about the grounds than the house as:
“... it owes perhaps still more to the taste displayed in laying out its charming grounds. Standing in but 24 acres of land, yet surrounded by graceful slopes, leafy woodlands, and the ample verdure of spreading trees, Woodhall is of the place and not of it, secluded and yet elevated, occupying one of the majestic slopes of the southern portion of the hamlet, and yet protected from intrusion, and guarded against the rough blasts of winter. Within its grounds are to be found grand specimens of our evergreen grandiflora, and deciduous trees with their ever varying foliage, conservatories with their exotic charms and well stocked vineries; whilst even in this lofty position may be seen a rosary, so artificially protected that thousands upon thousands of buds blossom into form and beauty, regardless of the wind. But perhaps the magnificent display of rhododendrons is the principal attraction of the grounds, as indeed they are of the hamlet* and many are the pilgrimages of residents and non-residents to Woodhall in the charming month of June when their many and manifold beauties are fully developed.” Unsurprisingly, the gardners who worked in the grounds won horticultural prizes.
(*A tradition that continues to the present day with the splendid display of rhododendrons in Dulwich Park.)
James Eno, inventor and manufacturer of the famous health salts, had purchased Woodhall by the last decade of the 19th century, an easy commute to his factory in Pomeroy Street four miles away, just over the border in what is today the London Borough of Lewisham. After his death in 1915, the mansion was used as a convalescent hospital for officers during the First World War. In July 1944 Woodhall suffered a hit from a V1 bomb and the house destroyed and the remains demolished in 1955.
After the Second World War, the Dulwich Estate recognised it had problems in attracting young families to the area to support the schools and they also needed to raise revenue from ground rents. In order to solve this, an estate wide development plan was prepared which led to the building of about 3,000 new homes, mainly in the southern end of Dulwich Estate land. One of the sites chosen was where Woodhall had previously stood and it was decided that high end large detached houses would be built there. A scheme was prepared comprising 42 detached houses with four or five bedrooms and garages on new roads called Woodhall Drive and Woodhall Avenue, and the whole site let to Wates on a 99 year building lease. The first houses to be built were more expensive than had originally been envisaged and slow to sell which led to the last houses being built to a smaller design to encourage sales. The high quality landscaping of Woodhall so admired by Mr Blanch was echoed in the new development and incorporated the existing terrain and trees. All houses were finally sold by 1966 and a year later the scheme won an award for good design in housing from the Ministry of Housing.
© Illustrated London News Group from the British Newspaper Archive