Report by Hilary Rosser
What would Dulwich be like if Edward Alleyn had not purchased the Manor 400 years ago this October? There is no reason to think that it would have been a centre for educational excellence, with three Foundation schools at its core, and therefore a magnet for house-hunting parents from a wide area. Those of us who were not drawn to Dulwich by the schools were probably attracted by its environmental advantages; the open spaces, the trees and the playing fields which would long since have been built over but for Alleyn's College of God's Gift and the Dulwich Estate.
Alleyn has a lasting memorial in the Chapel, Edward Alleyn House and the schools, but a physical reminder in the form of a statue was long overdue. At the instigation of the Dulwich Society and thanks to the hard work and perseverance of some of its members this omission has at last been rectified. An Open Competition was held in 2004 and the design of a local sculptor, Louise Simson was chosen. A life-size sculpture to that design was unveiled on the green fronting the Old College on Saturday 9 October by our local M.P., the Rt. Hon. Tessa Jowell.
The occasion was blessed with fine, dry weather and was attended by around 400 people including many Dulwich Society members and other local residents. After Ms. Jowell had spoken briefly, we were treated to a colourful resume' of Alleyn's life as an actor, husband, entrepreneur, businessman and philanthropist, delivered by Julian Glover, himself a former pupil of Alleyn's, where he received inspiration and encouragement for his subsequent distinguished acting career.
The three Foundation schools were in attendance: Alleyn's School pupils stewarded the event while music contemporary with Alleyn's time was provided by the Dulwich College Ensemble and the James Allen's Girls' School Ensemble and singers, enhancing the delightful nature of the occasion.
And what of the statue itself? It is a composition full of vitality, depicting a youthful Alleyn in doublet and hose bending towards a young boy who stretches out his hands in response, while Alleyn raises his other arm in the direction of the Foundation buildings. The sculpture claims the passer-by's attention by its sense of movement and by the engagement of the characters with each other.
Would Alleyn himself have approved? One suspects not! The self-image he was keen to promote once he had bought the Manor of Dulwich in 1605 and established his College of God's Gift some ten years later, was of a respected, philanthropic man of property. We are all familiar with this image through the portrait Alleyn presumably commissioned, which shows him as a soberly but richly dressed bearded man full of years and gravitas. Were Alleyn to have commissioned a statue of himself to stand in his College's grounds, it would presumably have been designed to convey the same message as his painted portrait. Such a statue, like many London statues of nineteenth century worthies, would have lacked vitality and hardly have prompted a second glance from passers-by.