I visited Belair Park in Dulwich, South East London, after a rather disappointing visit to a nearby garden.
This description summarises the history of the house: ‘..John Willes, a cornfactor of Whitechapel, first leased 20 hectares of ground known as Home Farm from Dulwich College in 1771. A new house, College Place, was completed by 1785; it is thought that this replaced an earlier house. The house was renamed Belair by Charles Rankin, a solicitor, after he purchased it in 1829. By the time Charles W Hutton, Deputy Lieutenant for London (1868-1869) took over the estate in 1848 the lake had been altered to its present design. Hutton enlarged the house and added extensive greenhouses and conservatories (now, 1998, gone). Some 10 hectares of ground to the west had been lost when the South Eastern and Chatham Railway was built in 1860 but proposals to develop the site for housing about 1890 failed and the lease was sold on to the last private owner, Sir Evan Spicer, the paper manufacturer. Sir Evan continued to farm the estate up until his death in 1938. During the Second World War the house was requisitioned to serve as army transport headquarters and parts of the grounds were used for allotments. In 1945 Dulwich College granted a ninety-nine-year lease to Southwark Council who opened the grounds to the residents of Southwark in 1947. Since 1965 the grounds have used as a public open space…’ and Belair House is a restaurant and wedding venue.
The grounds were the venue for the South London Harriers’ first open meeting, in 1872, while Charles Hutton was the owner. Today there is open parkland around the house and the lake, formed from a tributary of the Effra River, remains.