By George Beccaloni
Wallace built "The Dell" in Grays, Essex (now 25 College Avenue), paying for it using the small fortune he had earnt from the sale of the natural history specimens he collected during is epic 8 year expedition to the Malay Archipelago (1854-1862). He lived in the house from March 1872 until July 1876 and during this four year period he wrote his books On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism (published March 1875) and his two volume magnum opus The Geographical Distribution of Animals (published May 1876).
The Dell is notable for being one of the earliest surviving shuttered concrete houses in Britain (i.e. concrete moulded in situ, rather than pre-fabricated). It would seem that the house is probably the second oldest surviving example of a UK house entirely made using this method (i.e. all walls, exterior and interior). The oldest are a pair of semi-detacted houses in Bexley built in 1865-56. The earliest shuttered concrete houses known, are a pair of semi-detacted houses on the Isle of Wight built in 1852, but only the exterior walls were made using this technique. The Dell is also significant in being the only one of the three houses which Wallace built for himself and his family to have survived until the present time (the two which have been destroyed are Nutwood Cottage in Godalming, Surrey, and Old Orchard in Broadstone, Dorset). It is currently for sale at £700,000 (down from £1,500,000) - see HERE and HERE.
On a recent visit to The Dell (July 2015) Sister Catherine who is currently living there, kindly allowed me to photograph a framed picture she has of the house (second picture below). It is an interesting image as it shows the house in a state between how it was when it was built (first picture below) and how it is now (third image below). It is thought that the nuns who currently live there replaced the original roof in the mid 1990s, and the 'new' image of the house shows this must have been done in two stages - with the roof of the central portion of the house being replaced after the rest was done. Also note that in the 'new' image the original conservatory is still present.
The Dell, probably not long after it was built in 1872. Note the small Scots pine tree in the bottom left
corner - which is a mature tree in the photos below. The photo is from Wallace's autobiography My Life.
The Dell in the mid 1990s? From a photo in the possession of the nuns who lived there.
The Dell in April 2013. Copyright George Beccaloni