Edward Charles Christmas was born in Lewisham in 1867. By 1871 his family were living above the stables of Prospect House, which is now 79 London Road (on the corner of Taymount Rise). Ted’s father was the gardener at Prospect House. The garden extended from the rear of the house up Taymount Rise to the church (now flats).
Estate agents are fond of describing certain local houses as “Christmas houses”. Of course, these houses have nothing to do with the festive season. They are the work of a local builder, Ted Christmas whose buildings have a reputation for quality and interesting detail both inside and out.
At the age of 14, Ted was serving an apprenticeship with a local carpenter. By 21 was able to begin working on his own account so, in 1888, he moved into a small cottage, with a builder’s yard attached, at 55 Dartmouth Road.
In the early years, Ted installed “sanitary plumbing”, electric-bells, burglar and fire alarms, lincrusta wallpaper and “Roman mosaic tiles”. However, as a trained carpenter, his speciality was “artistic joinery” and there were, apparently, many fine shop fronts installed by him. It is unlikely that any of this early work survives.
By the turn of the century, Ted was building on a large scale. He began developing “most of the shops" on the east side of Dartmouth Road. His initials (ECC) are above the first floor windows of 49 Dartmouth Road and the date “1901” on 53 Dartmouth Road. He redeveloped the group of cottages, including his own, between 55 and 57a Dartmouth Road. There is a foundation stone at the side of 55 Dartmouth Road (the entrance to his yard), laid by his wife in 1900.
Ted also built houses. His best-known early development is between Perry Vale and South Road, Forest Hill. In 1901, he completed 108-116 Perry Vale, five substantial detached houses called Linstead (conveniently bearing the date 1901), Ashdale, Ulverston, Rosaville and Aberleigh in honour of his wife, Laura. A couple of years later 131-153 Perry Vale were completed. Their names spell “TED CHRISTMAS”. Round the corner, 72-64 Sunderland Road spell “GRACE”, his daughter. He also built houses in Gaynesford Road and there are several other groups in this area. They are distinctive, and easily recognised.
Ted and his family were living at Arundale, 151 Perry Vale in 1911. Clearly, his business was successful for in 1913 he moved to Newfield Villa, Dartmouth Road, a large semi-detached Victorian house on the corner of Derby Hill, on the site of the present Kingswear House and opposite his business.
The other major development of Christmas houses began about 1930 on a field behind Holy Trinity School when 58-92 Thorpewood Avenue were built. This development also included houses in Round Hill and Radlet Avenue. The Radlet Avenue houses were the last to be built by E C Christmas and were still being completed at the outbreak of war.
Ted Christmas also converted Victorian villas into flats. Perhaps the best-known example is Courtside, off Round Hill, converted from two Victorian villas in 1922. This has the small leaded-light windows that are characteristic of much of his work. Other distinctive features include the elaborately carved bargeboards over many of the porches and the patterns often cut in the lead flashing beneath the windowsills. Such features make Christmas houses distinctive, and quite easy to recognise, although there is a marked difference in style between his Edwardian and 1930s work.
Many Christmas houses and flats were built to let. Letting, and then later selling the properties, led the firm inevitably towards estate agency, particularly when Ted’s son (also called Edward) took over the firm in the late 1930s.
In 1933 Ted Christmas moved from Newfield Villa to Bolney Court, 3 Lawrie Park Road, where he died in 1936. E C Christmas continued to operate as estate agents until the early 1970s. The shop at 55 Dartmouth Road retained its original front until replaced a couple of years ago. There are other “Christmas houses” and conversions scattered around the area. Because of their distinctive style, it is not too difficult to recognise them. For some homeowners in Forest Hill and Sydenham, the spirit of Christmas lasts all year round.
First published in the Sydenham Society newsletter, Autumn 2005.