History of Du Cane Court London
The name is believed to derive from the Du Cane family who were landowners in the eighteenth century and on whose land the building was constructed. The building has mellowed gracefully over the years, its former grandeur now almost camouflaging neatly into Balham High Road – but not quite.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the Du Cane family retained vast land holdings, boasting an impressive 5000 acres in Essex. Trustees were appointed to divide the land among the descendants, ensuring a fair distribution.
Among the family members, Charles Henry Copley Du Cane (born on 25th May, 1864) played a pivotal role in the sale of a 4.5 acre parcel of land to Central London Property Trust which was to accommodate the iconic Du Cane Court. As the Lord of the Manors of Great and Little Braxted, and a distinguished member of the Coldstream Guards, Charles held significant influence.
The Du Cane family’s influence extended to Streatham Common, which they wished to preserve as an open public space. On 26th August, 1924, Frank Newman, acting on behalf of the Du Canes, approached the London County Council with a request for compensation to offset potential losses in building values due to this preservation.
Even as late as the 3rd of July, 1950, the Du Cane estate in Balham included the areas of Dendy Street, Chestnut Grove, Kate Street, Boundaries Road, and St James’s Road. The Du Cane family’s enduring influence and property holdings continued to make an impact on the local landscape.
Construction and Early Years (1935-1945):
Du Cane Court was constructed between 1935 and 1938 by architect George Bertram Carter in the Art Deco style. The building, which is also possibly named after Sir Edmund Frederick Du Cane, an influential figure in the prison system, was initially designed as luxury apartments with central heating, constant hot water, water softener and a radio with a choice of two programmes were basic features. A large restaurant held regular dinner dances and the licensed club offered membership at 5/- per annum. A shop on the premises and helpful porters to assist with the luggage and the occasional repairs to electrical appliances meant it was not really necessary to leave the building at all.
However, with the outbreak of World War II, the building was requisitioned by the government and used for various purposes, including housing for military personnel and as a secret intelligence facility. Du Cane Court was used to house part of the civil service during the war, chosen for it’s quick and easy links into the city. Surprisingly it was never bombed despite the station and parts of Balham High Road becoming target practice. In 1940 Balham tube station was involved in bombing raids that led to 64 people who took cover in the tube station being killed when a bomb burst water and gas mains. This particular bomb was featured in Atonement, a 2001 novel by Ian McEwan which later was to become a film in 2007 starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightly. There is also a memorial artwork on Balham Station Road.
Post-War Period and Fame (1945-1970):
After the war, Du Cane Court returned to its original purpose as a residential building. Its prime location and affordable rents attracted a diverse range of residents, including artists, musicians, and professionals. The building became known as the “Aristocrat of Apartment Houses” and gained fame for its luxurious amenities, including a ballroom, restaurant, and rooftop garden. Du Cane Court also had famous residents, such as actress Margaret Rutherford and actor Anton Walbrook.
Decline and Revitalisation Efforts (1970-1990):
In the 1970s, Du Cane Court began to experience a decline in its reputation and maintenance due to financial difficulties and changing housing trends. The building fell into disrepair, and some apartments were subdivided into smaller units. However, in the late 1980s, efforts were made to revitalise Du Cane Court, and major renovations were undertaken to restore its original Art Deco features and modernise the facilities.
Present-Day Du Cane Court:
Today, Du Cane Court stands as a landmark in Balham and remains a sought-after residential building. It comprises approximately 676 apartments spread over ten floors and offers a range of amenities, including a 24-hour concierge service and communal gardens. The building’s distinctive exterior, with its symmetrical façade and prominent clock tower, continues to be a recognizable feature of Balham’s skyline.
Cultural Significance and Popularity:
Du Cane Court has played a significant role in popular culture over the years. It has been featured in films, television shows, and literature, adding to its allure and mystique. The building’s iconic status and historical significance have made it a subject of interest for architectural enthusiasts and visitors alike. Du Cane Court stands as a testament to the enduring appeal of Art Deco design and the resilience of a building that has withstood the test of time.
Overall, Du Cane Court’s history encompasses periods of wartime utility, post-war glamour, decline, and eventual restoration, securing its place as an iconic building in London’s architectural and cultural landscape.
A new book is now available on the imposing art deco building in Balham, which was reckoned to be the largest block of privately owned flats under one roof in Europe when it was built. Many famous comedians and theatrical celebrities have been part of the community living at Du Cane including Tommy Trinder, Derek Roy, Margaret Rutherford, Elizabeth Sellars and Harry Leader.
You can buy A History of Du Cane Court: Land, Architecture, People and Politics by Gregory Vincent in the reception of Du Cane Court, Balham High Road or from Balham Library or online from amazon.co.uk