Dorchester Court was designed by renowned architects Kemp and Tasker. Built in the 1930s in the British Moderne style, it is the only example of a residential block by the designers, who are known for their Art Deco cinemas.
In its day it was a ground breaking design in luxury apartment living combined with a communal ethos, and it is still on the ‘visit lists’ of contemporary architecture students. The court also brings much character to its neighbourhood, is greatly appreciated by local residents, and is a well-known, Herne Hill landmark.
The rooftops of all eight blocks were originally designed, and have been used ever since, as communal amenity spaces for the residents. There was an appreciation by the architects that modern living would become ever more ‘space poor’ so they cleverly made use of the roof tops to provide a much needed space for recreation and community interaction.
This kind of innovative thinking in how to adapt to changing living standards is one of the strongest reasons it remains a building of historic interest.
In February 2019 Lambeth issued a certificate of ‘Lawful Use of Development (existing)’ officially recognising the roofs as outdoor amenity spaces, falling within the Use Class C3 residential. In applying for this ruling the residents submitted 108 signed affidavits, plus photographic evidence, demonstrating their continued and continuous use of Dorchester Court’s roof spaces. Thus proving the architects were correct in their far-sighted vision of modern living.
It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the building has been listed, and that it engenders such affection from those that live there and know it well.
The Community Now
Although the estate has fallen far from the luxury aspirations with which it was designed due to landlord neglect and mishandling, the community ethos remains strong.
Around 250 people live in the court, from young professionals to retirees, families and single person households, with a mix of assured shorthold tenants (ASTs) and leaseholders, some who have lived here for close to 50 years.
A uniquely coherent and supportive community, used to pulling together, and in many respects strengthened by its constant need to defend itself from the landlord’s actions.
The Resident’s Association
Forged in adversity the DCRA has spent the last 30 years trying to get the landlord to put right the damage caused by his neglect.
Through numerous legal actions and planning applications they have defended the integrity of the court and the rights of its residents. This has not been without cost. The leaseholders have contributed almost £100,000 to fund these actions and have been amazingly successful given the scale of the task and the voluntary nature of the association.
They now face their biggest challenge; to finally achieve the long awaited renovation of the estate, without having to endure five plus years of unnecessary and unbeneficial development works, as outlined in the landlord’s planning application.
The Tenant’s Union
The Dorchester Court Tenants’ Union was formed in 2019|20 by a group of ASTs and leaseholders seeking compensation for the prolonged lack of heating and hot water throughout the 2019/20 Winter.
They are also protesting against the poor living conditions, including damp, mould, cockroaches and vermin, and are supported by MP Helen Hayes who has written to Property Partners (Dorchester Court’s managing agents) twice on their behalf, urging the landlord to improve the living conditions.
The Tenants’ Union are campaigning for the landlord’s planning application to be rejected. They are fighting to protect the tenants, who will be evicted wholesale if the development works are accepted by Lambeth Council.
The Summer Party
Ten years old and still going strong. The annual summer party is a full day of activities, events, food and drink for the residents and their friends and families.
Funded by the DCRA and staffed entirely by resident volunteers, with a reputation for bringing one and all together, it’s a true community celebration and the highlight of the Dorchester Court year.
The Current Owners
Dorchester Court was bought in 1959 by Heinrich Feldman and family, and is registered with Manaquel Ltd, one of their many holding companies.
Consistently on the annual Sunday Times Rich List, they are one of the wealthiest landlords in the UK.