Published on Wednesday, 13 April 2011 15:14
This winter will be remembered by ornithologists and many more as the Waxwing winter. Apparently the berry crop in Scandinavia failed and these exotic birds flocked across the North Sea in their hundreds to feast upon our plentiful berry and seed crops. Obligingly they are not only quite tame but seem to favour towns where gardens can supply their chosen food. It is not unusual for single birds to be reported in Dulwich during the winter but on 21st December we had the first sighting in Burbage Road of a flock of twelve or possibly fourteen feeding on the ash keys at the entrance to the sports ground. The same or a similar flock appeared in Court Lane during the Christmas period. There was then a flood of reports of perhaps the same flock in Turney Road and Rosendale Road on the weekend of the 21st January. I expect many more of us will have seen them and heard them giving their high musical trill as their contact call, ornithological gems which will hopefully have given pleasure to many.
But these are not all that we have seen in this snowy and rather bleak winter. Siskins, small finches that resemble canaries and Redpolls that resemble small Linnets have been feeding in the Birch and Alder trees of Belair Park. These are more typical winter visitors which are often seen coming to garden nut feeders in the late winter when the seed crop begins to run out. There has been a report of a cock Brambling in College Road. This is also a winter visitor from Scandinavia and may be seen with flocks of Chaffinches taking seeds on the ground or perhaps visiting a bird table. You may first spot it as different from a Chaffinch by its white rump that shows when it flies, but closer observation will demonstrate a rich rusty orange on breast and shoulder which becomes progressively brighter at the breeding season approaches and its feather tips wear.
It is a good year for Goldfinches which have discovered that gardens in towns offer more than our countryside, but the casualty of the past two or three years has been the Greenfinch. Whereas in past years we were seeing parties of a dozen or more birds competing for place on our nut feeders this year there are just one or two. The explanation for this lies in a disease organism called Trichomonas which the medical fraternity will associate with a different sort of illness, but alas in Greenfinches appears to be fatal.
Those other regular winter visitors, Redwings and Fieldfares are in shorter supply this winter, in contrast to last year when the numbers of Redwings were huge. The explanation may lie in the very cold weather of December causing them to continue their Autumn migration south and west in search of higher temperatures. However our resident Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrushes are now singing in preparation for the breeding season, and exceptionally I have a Blackbird in full song from mid January. I usually expect Blackbirds to reserve their first full song for St Valentine’s day, a good note on which to end this report.
Wildlife Recorder (tel: 020 7274 4567)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 02:28
Published on Wednesday, 13 April 2011 15:12
I love watching Swifts in summer – they bring life to our urban skies. They are birds with sickle shaped wings that seem perfectly designed for life in the air. Feeding, sleeping and mating are all performed on the wing. In fact, they only land to breed when they are four years old. They migrate 5,000 miles every year from southern Africa to their breeding grounds in Europe and Asia; only spending three months in the UK from early May. For me they bring a sense of the “wild” to long summer days in London, especially when they zip over rooftops in “screaming sorties”.
But Swifts, like many migrant birds from sub-Saharan Africa are in trouble. According to the British Trust for Ornithology they declined by nearly a third in the UK from 1995-2008. It is unclear what has caused this, but one of the main reasons is probably the loss of nest sites. Swifts nest mainly in pre-1944 buildings and as these get refurbished and re-roofed they can no longer access them. Modern buildings are also too well insulated to let Swifts in. Fortunately, Dulwich and particularly East Dulwich still has good numbers of Swifts and I regularly count 59 birds over my garden at the end of July once juvenile birds join the adults in the air. If you are lucky enough to have nesting Swifts and are planning building work then please follow the advice of the organisation, Swift Conservation (www.swift-conservation.org). They recommend doing the work when Swifts aren’t there (from September to April, as it is an offence to disturb nesting birds) and to:
Steps have been taken to help Dulwich’s birds as nest boxes, funded by Dulwich Park Friends are due to go up on College Lodge once the refurbishment work is finished. The Dulwich Society has also applied for a Big Lottery Grant to put boxes on Dulwich Library and a local primary school. If you would like advice on putting Swift boxes on your own home then please contact me via the Local Help and Assistance page on the Swift Conservation website.
Edward Mayer from Swift Conservation will be giving a talk about helping to protect Swifts on 27th April at The Francis Peek Centre, Dulwich Park following the Dulwich Park Friends AGM at 7pm
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 02:28
Published on Wednesday, 13 April 2011 14:54
Ivy (Hedera helix) is native to Europe and Asia and forms an important part of our British ecosystems. Ivy may be viewed as an invasive plant in the United States, but it does not originate in the US and out-competes American native floral species. Here in the UK, however, it forms complex communities with other species of our native flora and fauna, and even if it climbs trees or covers the floor of recent woodland it is acting entirely naturally. Importantly ivy does not damage healthy trees. If a tree is dead then a great weight of ivy could contribute to the tree falling in high winds, but this is simply part of the natural process of decay and nutrient cycling.
Ivy has two forms; juvenile and adult. Juvenile ivy has distinctive lobed “ivy shaped” leaves and is found creeping along the ground, climbing up walls and on the base of trees. Commonly it is the adult flowering form of the plant that climbs up into trees. When ivy is severed at the base of trees this flowering form is killed off thereby removing an important food source for many animals. Over seventy species of invertebrates are known to feed on ivy, including the holly blue butterfly which depends on ivy as a food plant for its summer brood. Ivy flowers are produced from summer to autumn and provide a significant late source of nectar for bumblebees and other insects. Following pollination ivy produces black berries that ripen over winter. At least 17 species of bird including blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) and redwing (Turdus iliacus) have been seen feeding on the berries, which can be a vital food source at the end of harsh winters. Ivy’s evergreen foliage provides shelter for many animals, including birds in and out of the nesting season. In particular the wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) benefits from the protection that ivy gives in winter; the large numbers of breeding wren at Nunhead Cemetery are likely to be down to the high abundance of ivy. Furthermore, a thick covering of ivy on a mature tree increases its value as a roost for bats, one of the UK’s most highly protected species.
Although the article in the December issue briefly mentions the benefits of ivy the author appears to advocate removal of ivy from shrubs, trees and buildings from his view of what he judges to be aesthetically pleasing, which is highly subjective. Unfortunately this view is not unusual. The culture of arboricultural and horticultural aesthetics over the past two centuries has influenced attitudes to ivy, by denigrating it for its wildness rather then recognizing it as part of our ecology.
The December article also featured pictures of two trees along Cox’s Walk. Cox’s Walk is managed by the London Wildlife Trust with the conservation of wildlife habitat as its utmost priority, and whilst we maintain our trees to be safe, our policy is to encourage ivy where we possibly can. We are concerned by the practice of ivy being severed at the base of trees and hope that knowledge of the importance of ivy to wildlife may dissuade people from carrying this out in future.
Ashley White, Manager of Sydenham Hill Wood and Cox’s Walk & Conservation Projects Officer, Southwark www.wildlondon.org.uk
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 02:28
Published on Wednesday, 13 April 2011 14:57
The Judas Tree - Cercis siliquastrum
This is the very pretty small tree in the angle between the Gallery and the Cloister. In late Spring it is covered in pink pea-like blossom, some escaping directly from the trunk and branches. Later the light green rounded heart-shaped leaves appear, and the long seed pods can be seen, hanging vertically. By the autumn they have become flat and brown, staying to dangle from the tree right through the winter, and even mix with next year’s flowers.
It grows to between 10 – 15m and comes from Southern Europe and Western Asia, and this may be the source of its name, the dry limestone slopes of places like JUDEA, though in fact it survives well enough on our cold clay soils here.
The name is more commonly associated with the story of Judas Iscariot who it is said hanged himself from its branches. Seeing it in April in Rome, in full floral display, the branches flowing down over the high walls of the Forum, you can see why in Italy it is called Sangue di Juda.( Blood of Judas)
The Judas tree has been known in this country long enough to appear in 16th and 17th centuries Herbals and it is said that the flowers have an acidic bite and can be used in salads, or fritters. Pollination is by bees, and your own Judas tree can be grown very easily from seed.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 02:28
Published on Wednesday, 13 April 2011 14:51
Richard Randall was an engaging companion. There can be no doubt about it; his diaries tell us so. Almost every day he is receiving hospitality from friends and relations alike. He does not appear to reciprocate this hospitality, so what does he offer this wide circle of people ready to give him breakfast, tea, supper or a bed for the night? His diaries tell us this too. He moves through different social strata as a professional musician and he must have had many stories to tell. Not that that comes out in his diary. There are no confessions, no scandal, not even many opinions. But there are very many statements of fact.
The diaries which cover the period 1762-1785 were given to Dulwich College in 1915. They have been rarely looked at and never researched. The reason they were given was that Richard Randall had been Organist and 4th Fellow at the College for most of this period. They are not, at first glance, as interesting as those of Pepys, Evelyn or Gilbert White but they do provide a window into the busy life of an energetic eighteenth century musician.
Randall was already ascending the ladder of professional success when he received news on 18th December 1762 of the death of Samuel Hawkes, the elderly organist at Dulwich College who had been in that post for 31 years. It must have been an inconvenient time of year to be without an organist but the musical bush telegraph clearly was in overdrive because Richard Randall obliged the College and played in the College Chapel that Boxing Day. He may well have let slip that he was playing at Westminster Abbey the following day.
The world of first class organists was a small but close one in mid-18th century London, just as it is today. They all knew each other and many began their musical careers as choirboys in the choir of the Chapel Royal under the mastership of the celebrated Bernard Gates. Gates was credited with restoring the fortunes of George Frederick Handel when, in 1732 he revived Handel’s opera Esther at a Crown & Anchor concert which provoked Handel to take up seriously the composition of English (as opposed to Italian) oratorio. Handel also conducted the Chapel Royal choir when Richard Randall was a member and late in his life Randall officiated at a gathering of his old musical friends who, as choirboys, all sang under Handel’s baton. Randall would become a celebrated tenor and was a favoured soloist of George II. Nor did Randall forget his former mentor in later life. On more than one occasion he visited Gates in his retirement at the manor of Aston in Oxfordshire, making a stop in September 1769 after he had performed at David Garrick’s famous, but disastrous Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, possibly to dry out after the drenching he and the audience received from the continual rain which ruined the last two days of the event.
Richard Randall must have made a good impression in Dulwich that Christmas in 1762 because he came again from his mother’s house in Stockwell, where he lived, to play for Sunday service at the Chapel on the 9th January and the following day was successfully elected as Organist and 4th Fellow whose duties also included teaching the boys to sing and assist the Warden on administrative matters when required, at a salary of £18.6.8 per quarter, a share of the annual dividend and board and lodging. He returned to Dulwich with his father a few days later, perhaps to show off his rooms and the Chapel and especially the new organ, built by George England only two years earlier which still survives today and was restored in 2009 at a cost of £_million. On Saturday 15th January 1763 there was a celebration dinner at the College and Richard took the oath of new office the following day.
There is no doubt that the College took its music very seriously. In 1740 it had come to an arrangement with Abraham Jordan, a local resident who lived in a house where Brightlands, the DCPS boarding house at the end of Gallery Road stands today. Jordan, who was a noted organ maker himself (he is credited with the invention of the swell box) regularly maintained the existing organ in the Chapel. Later, it may have been Jordan, now probably retired, who suggested the name of George England to the College when the need for a new organ became urgent.
The College statutes required the four Fellows (a preacher, schoolmaster, assistant schoolmaster and organist) to be unmarried and not to undertake any additional employment elsewhere. This last requirement was no longer strictly observed, just as well for Richard Randall who was already an extremely busy musician and singer. In the year before his appointment he was regularly playing the organ at the Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, singing at Covent Garden, Drury Lane and at a number of private and fund-raising concerts.
At the theatres he was either in the chorus, or was providing interval or after show solo performances, although in that year he stood in for the principal tenor in Handel’s Acis and Galatea and a fortnight later sang the principal part in the Royal Command performance of Handel’s oratorio Samson. In the following weeks of the opera season he sang in Judas Maccabeus, Jeptha, Semele, Alexander’s Feast and Messiah. In March a revival of Israel in Egypt had required extra rehearsal time at Covent Garden. When he was singing a principal part Richard was paid half a guinea a performance but when he was in the chorus or singing an interval song or afterpiece his payment was only five shillings.
Actors and singers engaged on a contract were given benefit nights to augment their salaries but pay was low in contrast to the stars of Italian opera who commanded £1200-£1500 a season but who in the process bankrupted theatre owners like Vanburgh and drove promoters like Handel abroad. Competition from operas in English followed the success of John Gay’s Beggars Opera and audience tastes were increasingly attracted to a form of pantomime developed by John Rich at Covent Garden which was presented as an afterpiece to a play. Richard Randall appeared in numerous pieces of pantomime at both Covent Garden and at Drury Lane. Private singing recitals brought in a half guinea a performance and he was in demand from St Margaret’s, Westminster and Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital. On top of all this he gave private music lessons, invariably to young ladies.
An invitation to breakfast by Lord Delawarr must have convinced the 26 year-old that he was on an upward trajectory and he splashed out £6.16.0 on a new suit of clothes and half a guinea on a flowered waistcoat. A new wig, price £1.11.0, completed his new wardrobe. For fun he went to see cricket played at Westminster School where the Town boys beat the King’s Scholars. Although a keen cricketer himself, the game he played most frequently was Trap Ball. Trap Ball is virtually unknown today but was a game which could be played in a small garden with a few players. In between all this he was managing to compose his own music and had 150 copies of his works printed at his own expense. Several years later, he would get his uncle, who was a music publisher with premises in the Strand, to print some further compositions for him.
When he arrived at Dulwich that January 1763, he was befriended by the Rev William Swann who was the preacher and who had been a poor scholar at the College from 1739-48. Swann was a College success story; he had gone to Christchurch, Oxford, taking Holy Orders after gaining his BA. He was elected Schoolmaster at his alma mater in 1752 and in 1766 was promoted to 1st Fellow or Preacher. Swann, who was a few years older than Randall, took the new arrival for a walk to Dulwich Wells, later introducing him to The Green Man tavern which also stood at the extremity of Dulwich Common. Swann would be a close friend of Richard Randall during his many years at Dulwich. Towards the end of January 1763 Richard moved his goods from Stockwell to Dulwich and refreshed himself at the Greyhound which was to be his regularly used ‘local’ and where he on occasion enjoyed boiled goose.
His busy musical career soon collided with his duties at Dulwich and two months after his appointment he was fined by the Master, Dr Joseph Allen, 5/- for being absent without leave. Dr Allen, who was born in Wexford around 1712, had, in 1740, accompanied Anson’s harrowing four year-long voyage around the World as ship’s surgeon and would become the last survivor of that epic journey. He was appointed Warden at Dulwich in 1745 and Master the following year following the death of James Allen. Late in life he retired to marry Elizabeth Plaw, the daughter of the village shoemaker. He was a kindly man and an eminent physician. Clearly he thought that the new young organist’s liberty needed curbing.
Actually Richard Randall was over his head with commitments. An odd pantomime called Harlequin Cherokee had been a big hit. It was inspired by the visit of several Cherokee Indian chiefs to London to petition the King over a land issue. Their appearance at Vauxhall Garden in July 1762 had attracted thousands of the curious, including Randall, to see them, some to see them get drunk. David Garrick, like his rival theatre managers, was always on the lookout for novelty and a pantomime invoking this unusual event was produced which became an instant success. There had been 27 performances at Drury Lane, including a Royal Command, almost nightly in November in which Richard Randall had a part. Its success was hardly fleeting, it was revived by Garrick several times the following February, once as an afterpiece to Romeo and Juliet and Richard, with a part in all of them, as well as singing five different Handel oratorios at other venues, was already falling down in his new Dulwich appointment.
Some kind of understanding must have been reached between the Master and his organist because Richard Randall’s profession career did not miss a beat. Two days after this admonishment Richard performed in Messiah but the following week he notes that he “heard the boys sing”. Thereafter there are plenty of references to his teaching duties and later that year he would give the boys a chance to learn to play the organ. He must have done a fair amount of duty-swopping with his colleagues at Dulwich and there are a number of references of him standing in for them in their teaching duties almost certainly as reciprocations.
(In the next issue we hear how Richard Randall becomes a popular guest at Dulwich houses and vows to “Live as Happy this year as I did the Last and if possible Go to Bath!)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 02:28