HomeNewsletters ArchiveWinter 2007A Villager's Notebook

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The Great Storm

Twenty years ago, in the early hours of 16 October 1987 to be precise, the south of England experienced unprecedented high winds which caused widespread structural damage and the loss of some millions of trees. In hindsight, Nature's clearance of wide swaths of woodland gave a chance for other plant species to flourish and the glades the storm opened up have often become filled with bluebells and grasses.

In Dulwich it was felt that the storm was catastrophic. Dulwich Park lost around twenty mature trees and a similar number lost their tops. In Dulwich Woods 72 oaks were blown down and 89 tops were lost. The Dulwich Picture Gallery lost its famous Judas Tree, the magnificent Cedar of Lebanon in the grounds of The Old College was uprooted and countless other trees in roads, gardens and playing fields were destroyed.

Council action to open blocked roads was swift but the demand for the services of tree surgeons meant that it was months before all the fallen trees were removed. There was also the embarrassment to be endured in having large branches of a tree from your garden landing up a neighbour's garden two houses away. How to respond to the received terse telephone call ; "Your tree has landed in my garden, would you mind coming and removing it", required a certain amount of tact and several months of procrastination.

At the Sydenham Hill Nature Reserve the London Wildlife Trust brought in heavy horses to drag out the fallen trees. These Ardennes horses, each weighing one ton, were supplied by the National Working Horses Trust and were found to be the most sensible method of removal as the woodland is steep and not appropriate for motor vehicles. Not unexpectedly, the event received widespread picture coverage in the national press.

The subsequent efforts of Southwark Council, the Dulwich Estates Governors (later Trustees) and the Dulwich Society in carrying out a continual programme of tree planting have returned Dulwich to its former glory. Indeed, judging it by this autumn's colour, it is possible that Dulwich looks better now than it has ever done because of the wide variety of species planted.

Recently a copy of Trees of Dulwich by a local resident, M. J. Teesdale and published in 1902 was given to the Dulwich Society. Interestingly, it suggests that many of Dulwich's then non-native trees, and especially the North American varieties were the result seeds obtained locally from a Peter Collinson, a Quaker and Woollen-Draper and a resident of Peckham in the eighteenth century. Collinson, a friend of Linnaeus, was importing large quantities of seeds - including many of the kind we still have here, from John Bartram, a gardener botanist of Pennsylvania, and was selling them to noblemen and other owners of large gardens.

Teesdale also suggests that Dr John Coakley Lettsom, the celebrated physician and garden-lover who lived at Grove Hill, Camberwell might have been another source of local exotic trees. Lettsom was a leader in horticultural improvement and botanical research.

Of the Dulwich officials responsible for planting trees, the first was James Allen, Master 1721-46. Allen was interested in trees and is credited with the planting of Horse Chestnuts along the Village. Another was John Dugleby, who was appointed the College's Surveyor in 1785 who carried out large-scale clearances of many existing pollarded trees which he considered commercially wasteful and ordered their replacement by specimen trees. According to Teesdale, the planting of (then) younger trees along College Road, was carried out by Charles Druce, the College's Steward at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The North American species growing in Dulwich at the beginning of the 20th century included, the Flowering Ash, the Yellow-flowered Horse Chestnut , both in the same garden at the corner of College Road and Dulwich Common as the well-known Zelcova. A North American Nettle Tree (Celtis Occidentalis) and an Indian Bean, a native of Georgia and the Carolinas, were growing in the grounds of the Old College. Growing in the front garden of Woodlawn, in Dulwich Village was a fine specimen of an American Black Walnut, some 80-90 feet in height. Another specimen in the grounds of Woodlawn was a Bald Cypress. Other examples of this tree were growing in the gardens of The Orchard and Cypress House, Toksowa House all on Dulwich Common, and Belair and Bell House.

Dulwich Trees Map to be reprinted

Stella Benwell reports that Jenny Park has done such a wonderful job supplying local outlets with the Dulwich Trees Map illustrated by Rosemary Lindsay, that the print run is virtually sold out. All members of the Society received one free but there remains a steady demand for copies. The Trees Committee would like to reprint the map but will need someone to replace Jenny as distributor. Please telephone Stella on 020 8693 1447 if you think you can help. 

Anne Shelton OBE nominated for Blue Plaque award

Court Lane in Dulwich could be getting its second Blue Plaque, with the nomination of the singer Anne Shelton for an award in Southwark Council's 2007 "Blue Plaque" scheme. If she wins, a plaque will be placed on the house in Court Lane where she lived for over 50 years. A plaque was awarded last year to mark the birthplace in Court Lane Gardens of Phyllis Pearsall, creator of the A-Z map of London.

An award would be a fitting tribute to a hugely popular singer, who shot to fame in 1940 with the Ambrose Orchestra and became the war-time "Force's Favourite" for her wonderful songs and personality. Anne was later awarded an OBE for organising shows for the "Not Forgotten Association" of disabled ex-servicemen and women, which she continued, with her singing, until her death in 1994.

Another nomination in this year's awards with a Dulwich connection is the film actress and director Ida Lupino (1918-1995), who was born in Ardbeg Road.

Awards depend entirely on votes received. To vote, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to Blue Plaques, Southwark Council, Southwark Local History Library, 211 Borough High Street, London SE1 1JA. 

Great Exhibition Medal Found

Dulwich Society member Dr Pentney reports the unearthing in the garden of her former home at Stonehills Court, of a medal bearing the inscription EXHIBITOR Exhibition of the works of industry of all Nations 1851. It is possible that the medal was dropped during the building of a mansion named Stonehills which was erected in the early 1860's and after which the present complex of housing is named.

The Dulwich Society's Local History Group sent the details engraved on the medal to the Victoria & Albert Museum and was informed by Lucy Cullen, the Curator of Sculpture that the medal was awarded to Cowell & Thomas 103 High Street, Marylebone - Designers and Manufacturers 'for the exhibiting of a specimen of solid inlaying, by hand, intended for floors of drawing rooms, boudoirs, ballrooms. Executed in deal and mahogany, in board of ordinary width.'

Nearly 14,000 Exhibitors Medals were awarded to anyone who had materials shown.

Beltwood Menagerie

The eccentric American owner of Beltwood, Sydenham Hill fled back to New York in the summer and the house has been repossessed by the bank. After failing to gain permission to continue the premises as a nightclub, Beltwood became a kind of menagerie. The RSPCA inspectors removed 64 dogs, 7 horses and two peacocks from the extensive grounds. All were in good condition. The house was restored by English Heritage some ten years ago following changing occupancy after its use as a nurses' home for Kings College Hospital ended. This attractive and surprisingly modern looking house was built in 1851 by Edward Saxton, a city solicitor, who continued to live in the house until his death in 1911 at the age of 97. Be prepared for planning applications for the intensive development of this large site.

International Dining Group Closes

After sampling the cuisine of more than 150 different countries over a period of 30 years a Dulwich dining group has finally thrown in the tea towel. Each of the four couples was responsible for researching and preparing one course or select wine for the meal and during the dinner a ballot was held for the next country to be dined out. Memorable meals apparently include those of Burkina Faso and the Comoros Islands! Before the arrival of the Internet, help was sought from embassies and a wealth of international cookery books.

James Allen's Old Home Repaired

Closed for 17 years as a danger to the public, the ruins of Tudor Cowdray House in Midhurst, West Sussex, once the home of James Allen, are open again following £4 million of repairs, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The house was built in two phases, first the Great Hall, chapel and probably the kitchen in the 1520's by Sir David Owen and continued from 1535 by Sir William Fitzwilliam. Work was then continued by the latter's half-brother Sir Anthony Brown and his son the first Viscount Montague. Cowdray was, for over two centuries, a centre for Catholicism. The house was destroyed by a savage fire in 1793 and has remained a ruin ever since.

James Allen's, a Master of Alleyn's College and Founder of what would become James Allen's Girls' School, moved to Cowdray with his parents and brothers and sisters in1688 when he was 5 years old. His father, also named James, was appointed Park Steward to the Montague family. Two years later James senior drowned in the lake at Cowdray and his mother brought her young family back to London. There was clearly some connection between the Allen's and the Montagues involving the Jacobite cause as his mother then married the Rev Francis Salisbury, a former priest with Papist leanings, of South Harting, a parish endowed by the Montagues.

Salisbury was convicted of forging documents in order to undermine the government and was executed at Tyburn. Despite this the family still remained connected to the Jacobite network and James's sister Elizabeth later married Lord Pitsligo who was exiled for his role in the 1715 Jacobite rebellion.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 02:28

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