The area known as Tulse Hill is part of the former Manor or Manors of Bodley, Upgroves and Scarlettes whose precise boundaries are now uncertain. The name of the area comes from the Tulse family, who came into ownership of farmland in the area during the period of the Commonwealth in the 1650s. A member of the Tulse family married Richard Onslow, 1st Baron Onslow, and the land remained in Onslow ownership until 1789 when most of it was purchased by William Cole. The estate was further divided on Cole's death in 1807.
The western part was left to "Mercy Cressingham, spinster" (now commemorated by the Cressingham Gardens estate in the area) and the eastern part -now mostly occupied by Brockwell Park - was left to Richard Ogbourne who promptly sold it on to John Blades.
In 1810 Tulse Hill Farm was the only building in western part of the area. The enclosure of land in the parish of Lambeth in 1811 led to the construction of Effra Road in the area immediately to the north. Together with improvements to Brixton Road by the local turnpike trust this greatly improved road communications with central London, and the value of the local landholdings.
The heiress Miss Cressingham did not remain a spinster for long. Her husband Dr Thomas Edwards, took the initiative in buying extra land to make an access from Brixton Hill in 1814 and laying out two new roads Lower Tulse Hill Road (now known simply as Tulse Hill) and Upper Tulse Hill Road (now Upper Tulse Hill) before 1821. A plan of 1821 in the RIBA Library shows a proposed speculative development of both the Edwards estate and the adjacent Blades estate with large detached villas, although only the former actually came to fruition. The new roads were adopted by the parish in 1822.
An 1832 map shows that Tulse Hill still had only a few buildings on the new roads in contrast to nearby recently developed areas in Brixton and Norwood and the longer established hamlet of Dulwich. However, by 1843, there was a continuous line of houses, predominantly detached and usually with separate coach houses along the full length of Lower Tulse Hill Road from Brixton to the top of the hill.
Development of the area to the east of this road commenced in 1845 when Trinity Rise was built to connect Upper Tulse Hill with Norwood Road. Holy Trinity Church on Trinity Rise was built in 1855-6 and is now grade II listed.
Major development of the area further east did not come until the opening of Tulse Hill railway station in 1868.
Most of the original villas with large gardens on the original Edwards-Cressingham landholding have been redeveloped at much higher densities for council housing since the 1930s.
The most prominent survival of 19th century Tulse Hill is Berry House, later called Silwood Hall, and now forming the front part of St Martin-In-The-Fields High School for Girls, a Church of England secondary school which has outlasted the nearby 1950s schools.
The redevelopment of Tulse Hill after World War II by the London County Council had included the construction of two large secondary schools - Tulse Hill School (originally for boys, where Ken Livingstone went to school) and Dick Sheppard School (originally for girls only). Both schools have now closed, and their sites have been redeveloped for housing of very contrasting types.
The site of Tulse Hill school, off Upper Tulse Hill, is predominantly affordable housing. This area came dramatically into the news on 22 July2005 following a surveillance operation on one of the blocks of flats in Scotia Road in the new development. Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes was a resident of the block and was commuting to work from there on the day he was shot by police at Stockwell tube station, one day after the 21 July 2005 London bombings. Allegedly, a suspected terrorist Osman Hussain was linked to a flat in the same block.
By contrast, the site of Dick Sheppard School, has been redeveloped in a retardaire Regency style with purportedly "luxury" houses and apartments overlooking Brockwell Park.
Samson Young, protagonist in Martin Amis's "London Fields" goes to Tulse Hill to buy drugs.
Jason Strugnell, a fictitious poet in Wendy Cope's "Making Cocoa For Kingsley Amis", lives in Tulse Hill and mentions it a couple of times in "his" poems.