From country to suburb: The why and the how of suburban development. A universal phenomenon with examples from south-east London.


Freeholders and builders in the 19th century

The final design of the new houses was influenced by what the builder thought most a suitable for the market and by any restrictions placed by the freeholder or development company. This last factor could be crucial. Some freeholders took a detailed interest specifying the size of plots, buildings, materials and design. A good example of this type of involvement was the Dulwich Estate, which tightly supervised all aspects of development. The estate even employed its own surveyor, Charles Barry and his son, also Charles Barry, to design many of the houses and other properties. The Cator Estate, which managed land and property n Blackheath and Beckenham operated in much the same way.

The Rolls Estate in Bermondsey employed Michael Searles as its surveyor. (Searles was responsible for four of south London’s grandest terraces: The Paragon, Blackheath - still pre-eminent; Surrey Square off the Old Kent Road – impressive but with neighbouring buildings that do it no service at all; Gloucester Circus, Greenwich – highly desirable, and the Paragon, Walworth – demolished to make room for a London School Board school.) Freeholders who exercised control in this way sought to determine and preserve the character of the estate.

Other freeholders had no such scruples and were unable or unwilling to impose conditions on builders. Sometimes plots had been let and sub-let so many times that freeholders lost any kind of effective control. One such was the Bowyer-Smith estate in Camberwell, which allowed the building of homes that rapidly turned into slums.