Belair Park * (Southwark)
* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens
Belair Park is a typical late C18th 'pocket estate' with a mansion, originally called College Place, a home farm and landscaped grounds, including a water feature created from the River Effra. Renamed Belair in c.1829, the estate remained in private ownership until 1938. In WWII house and grounds were requisitioned for wartime use, the grounds cultivated as allotments. After the war the estate was acquired by the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark as a quasi-country club facility accessible to Southwark residents, and the house was restored. When the new Borough of Southwark was created in 1965, controlled use of Belair ceased and it was opened as a public park. The mansion was let and has been run as a restaurant in recent years.
- Previous / Other name:
- Belair, College Place
- Site location:
- Gallery Road/Thurlow Park Road
- SE21 7AB
- Type of site:
- Public Park
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- 7.30am - sunset. Bar/restaurant at Belair House open daily from 9am
- Special conditions:
- Children's playground, football and cricket pitches, tennis courts, skate park, car park, cycle track. Restaurant/café in The Beauberry House.
- Public transport:
- Rail: West Dulwich. Bus: P4.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/03/2015
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.southwark.gov.uk/parks; www.belairhouse.co.uk
Full Site Description
Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list
Belair Park was a typical 'pocket estate' created under lease from Dulwich College (q.v.). The mansion, originally called College Place, was built for John Willes in c.1785, probably designed by Robert Adam, and had landscaped grounds, including a water feature created from the River Effra, and a home farm complex. After Willes' death the property was acquired by solicitor Charles Ranken who changed the name to Belair and he lived here between 1829 and 1858. After this it was the home of Charles William Cookworthy Hutton, a Berlin Wool Manufacturer and Wholesaler; Berlin wool was popular with Victorian ladies until the 1880s. The last private occupant was Sir Evan Spicer who lived here from 1893; after his death in 1938 the estate was sold by auction. Late C18th stable buildings south-east of the house remain, now converted for residential use, as does the Lodge and entrance gates to the east dating from the early C19th; the house is approached by a curved approach drive. A conservatory added to the house in Victorian times has since been demolished.
The original estate extended west and north but was truncated to the west when the railway line was built by the London, Chatham and Dover Railways, Dulwich Estate having sold 10 acres of the estate lands in the 1860s; the northernmost meadows became playing fields. The main feature of the C18th landscaping to survive is the narrow lake running north / south, which was made by damming the River Effra and is now the only place where the River Effra is overground. Between house and lake were sloping lawns with some fine trees including oak and copper beech, and the lake is fringed with metasequoia. Poplars were planted in the late 1940s to hide the railway embankment. The central landscaped area and miniature home farm survived until WWII when house and grounds were requisitioned for wartime use, the grounds cultivated as allotments.
At the end of the war both house and grounds were in a poor state, and the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark acquired the site as a quasi-country club facility. The house was restored in 1946 and the park was almost exclusively for the use of Southwark people, although access was restricted due to fears that the grounds would suffer from overuse. Although it was actually located in the former Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell, Camberwell residents were generally disallowed because it was argued they already had access to sufficient public parkland, which included Dulwich Park, Peckham Rye Common and Park, Sunray Gardens, and One Tree Hill (q.q.v.). The acquisition and recreational use of Belair were undertaken by a special sub-committee, and the estate was designated as a memorial to Southwark's war dead; the grounds were used as gardens and sports pitches, with the mansion used for changing rooms and social facilities. The Villa was rebuilt in 1964 by Southwark Metropolitan Borough Council.
When the new Borough of Southwark was created in 1965, amalgamating the Metropolitan Boroughs of Camberwell, Bermondsey and Southwark, controlled use of Belair ceased and it became part of the general public open space in the new borough. Community use of the mansion also ceased and it was let, for a while as an up-market restaurant, which ensured the survival of the building, although the relationship between the house and grounds from a design context is weaker. A nature reserve now obscures the lake from the house. Many mature trees were lost in the gales in 1987. The site of the home farm is now a car park. Belair House is now under new management and offers a bar, restaurant and social venue, with numerous events including music.
EH: Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999. Joyce Bellamy Parks of the Dulwich Area notes, 2000; John Archer, Bob Britton, Robert Burley, Tony Hare, Ian Yarham, 'Nature Conservation in Southwark' Ecology Handbook 12, London Ecology Unit, 1989; In and Around Dulwich: A Guide to South London's Green Oasis (no date); John Beasley, 'Southwark Remembered', Tempus Publishing 2001; Southwark Listed Buildings data.
Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
- Grid ref:
- Size in hectares:
- Site ownership:
- The Dulwich Estate, leased to LB Southwark
- Site management:
- Parks/Friends of Belair
- 1780s; 1940s
- Listed structures:
- LBII: Villa; Lodge and entrance gate; Stable Building
- On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:
- NHLE grade:
- Grade II
- Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
- Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
Local Authority Data
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
- On Local List:
- In Conservation Area:
- Conservation Area name:
- Dulwich Village (part)
- Tree Preservation Order:
- Not known
- Nature Conservation Area:
- Yes - Borough Importance II (Lake)
- Green Belt:
- Metropolitan Open Land:
- Special Policy Area:
- Other LA designation:
- Local Park, Tier Two
Belair House, March 2015. Photograph: S Williams
Click photo to enlarge.