Four hundred years ago, to the day, the celebrated Elizabethan actor and theatre owner opened his charitable foundation in Dulwich. The almspeople and poor boys who were to benefit from his charity began arriving, in ones and twos, over the following days. His staff of a preacher, schoolmaster, organist and usher had been recruited and, keeping it in the family, two cousins, Thomas and Matthias assisted him in setting up this remarkable and enduring enterprise.
But what was Edward Alleyn really like? His portrait, by an unknown artist of course exists and is printed here. We thought it might be interesting to imagine what he might look like if he was alive today; so we asked graphic artist, Alison Winfield, to digitalise his portrait, remove his hat, beard and gown and dress him in a jacket and tie and holding a mobile phone instead of a glove. It strikes us that he comes across as a remarkably energetic, even intense person; one who certainly has a ‘can-do’ character. Which, is what we suppose, he really was like.
On Thursday 1st September at 6pm, on Edward Alleyn’s birthday, and the 400th anniversary of the consecration of Christ’s Chapel, there will be an Evening Sung Eucharist, celebrated by the Bishop of Southwark. There will be a special floral display inside the Chapel. In March of this year, it will be recalled, the Foundation schools gave a celebratory concert at the Royal Festival Hall to mark the Chapel’s quater-centenary. During the autumn, there will be an exhibition recounting the history of both the Chapel and the Dulwich Almshouse in the library at Dulwich College. Organised by Robert Weaver, assistant archivist at the College, it will include a number of books and objects connected with these institutions. The chapel is a beautiful building and has a fascinating history. Both are captured in the illustrated guide book on sale at the Chapel and at the Dulwich Estate office price £5.
Dulwich Almshouse Charity
To celebrate four hundred years of providing a comfortable and secure home to hundreds of poorer men and women the trustees of the Dulwich almshouse asked local historian Brian Green to write an account of its history. This will be published as a book and given to libraries, schools and various charities with which it has a connection. Thanks to a Southwark Council grant, the full text and illustrations is also being made available to be read or downloaded free online from the 1st October and may be accessed through the Dulwich Almshouse Charity website.
Admission to the almshouse depends on a number of factors including living in one of the parishes with which Edward Alleyn had a connection. These were, (and remain) St Botolph’s, Bishopsgate, the parish where he was baptised and grew up; St Giles Cripplegate, later devolved to the new and adjacent parish of St Luke’s Finsbury, where he built his theatre named The Fortune; St Saviour’s Southwark where he lived and acted and where he was churchwarden, and Camberwell, the parish in which he had established his College.
In the past each parish was allowed to nominate three aged poor men and women to fill the vacancies. All the parishes experienced a rapid growth in population over the centuries thus ensuring a constant flow of needy residents to the Dulwich almshouse. During the nineteenth century, the Foundation was reformed, the almshouse extended and the accommodation increased to sixteen flats with facilities for up to four married couples. In more recent times, the Second World War caused massive damage to some areas, particularly St Giles Cripplegate, a parish now largely covered by the Barbican complex which was then re-amalgamated with St Luke’s Finsbury.
Today, with Islington Borough Council and the City of London providing housing within the parishes of Bishopsgate and Finsbury, the majority of residents of Edward Alleyn House are drawn from Southwark. An on-going programme of modernisation has taken place and ensuite facilities, stair lifts and a secure entry system have all been installed. Nevertheless, the eighteenth century building which accommodates the almshouse, whilst maintained to a very high standard, has its limitations. The rooms are small and lofty and inconvenient for those with mobility problems. There is also an opinion that to support the services of a full-time warden, at least twenty flats are required. The view of the trustees is that the only way these problems might be solved is to build up- to- date accommodation elsewhere.
Two of the present residents have celebrated their 100th birthdays this year and will be present at a tea party in September when the book will be launched and the anniversary celebrated.
The Old Burial Ground
In the late morning of 1 September 1616, after he had dedicated the chapel, George Abbot (1562-1633), the Archbishop of Canterbury, joined Edward Alleyn in a procession along the high street to consecrate a piece of ground "adjoining the royal road leading from the village of Camberwell” as a burial ground.
To mark the anniversary the Dulwich Society will open the Burial Ground as part of the London Open House Weekend on 17/18 September. Opening times are from 1-5pm on both Saturday and Sunday and there will be talks on the monuments, and some of the people buried there, on the hour every hour.
As part of its plans for the event the Society has secured Cleaner Greener Safer funding from the Council to produce a free explanatory leaflet for visitors, local schools and interested residents. A copy of this is enclosed with this Journal. In addition a small information board giving a brief history of the site will be installed on the railings, and there will also be a new website. Not only will that give the names and information on the people buried there but there will also be an interactive electronic map of the Burial Ground which will enable users to find out more about each individual grave by clicking on the number of a grave.