The Concrete House

Or 549 Lordship Lane, is another local landmark that S E Londoners may recognise. Not just the rat infested wreck I dismissed it as, it’s a Grade II listed building believed to be the only surviving example of a 19th Century concrete house (1873) by builder Charles Drake. Drake set up the Patent Concrete Building Company so that he could explore concrete construction in the architectural style of his time. Something of a trend forecaster he declared shortly afterwards: “Much has been written and said lately about the demand for a new style of architecture.  May I suggest that this may be found in studying the right architectural treatment of concrete buildings.”

It’s as if he knew those concrete-loving Modernists of the 20th Century were coming…

There is some conflicting opinion about the place, but it’s thought (by the Dulwich Society among others) that Drake built the house for his family, calling it The Ferns. It was listed on the English Heritage Buildings At Risk register after the last owner jeapordised the structure by building on the site without planning permission. However, Southwark Council lately obtained the site under compulsory purchase and the Heritage of London Trust is due to reconstruct what’s left of it as Housing Association flats, reinstating the original name The Ferns.

I’ll leave you with a flavour of the affection that exists for the place – from a bizarre video on You Tube to this nice memory of the house in the 70’s:

“I grew up in East Dulwich and the house on the corner of Lordship Lane and Underhill Road was a childrens home in the 70’s – definitely. It was run by a woman known as Auntie Lena and I had a few friends at the time who lived in there, so I used to be round there quite a bit! I cant remember any of the kids there being much older than me and I think there were only about 8 kids there at any one time. Every time I go past there I have fond memories!”

12 Responses to “The Concrete House”

  1. Dan T (@ModernishDan)
    December 6, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    I hope that the renovation spec is of a higher quality than the one for the neighbouring property, where the eye for detail was somewhat lost. I was greatly excited when work began on that one and was then slightly disappointed when it was unveiled.

  2. helene
    December 6, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    How interesting all this is. It has been an intriguing mystery for years and I should love to know the bit of the story about the owner who built the replica behind without planning permission. I wonder if the new building will be demolished when the original concrete house is restored.

  3. That's Not My Age
    December 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I live just up the hill from the concrete house!

  4. myfriendshouse
    December 7, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Not so close that the current rodent inhabitants can visit I hope TNMA? Dan, that seems to happen a lot. Somebody managed to build a whole new house on a plot at the end of my street – so excited was I by ideas of what you could do with it, that the Victorian pastiche build they went for makes me mad every time I see it. Helene, let me know if you find out more about that owner.

  5. Glamorous Glutton
    December 7, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

    What an intriguing looking house. I had no idea that concrete was being used for buildings all that time ago. GG

  6. johanna southwell ne mcglasham
    November 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    i grew up there i left when i got married in 1977 my name is johanna southwell ne mcglasham would be glad 2 here from anyone

    • David Scott Cowan
      December 19, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

      Hi Johanna,

      I’m interested to learn that you grew up in this house. I’m the great-grandson of the builder, Charles Drake, and I’d like to learn more about your memories of the house. (I wrote the article in the Dulwich Society journal referred to above). It’s nice to see that the place is now being restored.

      David Scott Cowan

      • Patricia Mirrlees
        January 16, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

        Dear David Scott Cowan,
        I read your article in the Dulwich Society and both Alan Bullwinkle, the historian for the village of Stapleford, and have been wanting to contact you because we found out only a few days ago that the house I live in in Stapleford is a Charles Drake house. It was built as a private home for the local vicar and begun in 1875. If you receive this, please can you let me know how to contact you. Patricia Mirrlees

      • David Scott Cowan
        January 17, 2013 at 11:28 am #

        Dear Patricia,
        How nice to hear from you and of course I would be most interested to learn more about your house. You can contact me direct at I look forward to hearing from you.

        Best wishes,


      • P. Wilson
        January 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

        Thank you for this. Much appreciated. Patricia Mirrlees

      • Philip southwell
        March 24, 2017 at 2:37 am #

        Hi David

        Johanna Southwell is my mother, I would be very interested in talking to you.

        Please email me on so I can get in touch. I spent time at this house when I was a child and I remember Auntie Lena .

        Regards Phil

    • Martin
      October 23, 2017 at 2:15 pm #

      I might know you
      I used to stay there when Lena ran the house
      Interested to know what happened to lena

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