Sometimes the moment change becomes necessary is when some matter or incident, possibly minor in itself, takes on special importance by being a tipping-point, turning-point or other form of catalyst. The foundation of The Dulwich Society was such a case. Forty seven years ago the choice by a developer of a particularly garish shade of yellow paint applied to a well-loved building was the tipping-point rather than the all the high-flown rhetoric of the burgeoning civic movement of the day.
The building in question was the one in the Village now shared by Café Rouge and Pizza Express. Previously it had been a hairdresser’s and a boutique although years before that it had functioned as a butcher’s shop; a lingering allusion to that former role remains, the canopy in front. Actually the building which caused all the fuss was not even the original one. That had become so dilapidated that the eighteenth century structure was pulled down and the present building erected in the same style in 1936. If you are curious as to what it originally looked like there is a a glimpse of it on page 26.
The fuss was caused, not because the building’s function was being changed from hairdressing to a restaurant, but because of the objectionable choice of its new colour scheme. It was merely by chance that this change of image in Dulwich’s most iconic thoroughfare, coincided with the growth of a new civic movement.
In Dulwich the need for a civic society was very apparent. Two large, very lovely and previously private estates had already been compulsorily purchased by the municipal authorities for housing purposes and a number of smaller ones had followed. The Dulwich Estate itself, anxious to increase its income, was developing a large number of sites, some previously occupied by a single house standing in a large garden, and erecting a new and popular form of private housing with minimal garden space - the townhouse,
The loss of so much open space as well as the disappearance of the familiar had a very unsettling influence and residents felt powerless to influence what was taking place. Nor was this phenomenon confined to Dulwich. So much change was occurring in the aftermath of the Second World War that the government itself encouraged a new civic movement and the formation of civic societies. Yet it was the appearance of a new coat of paint which triggered the formation of The Dulwich Society.
An important development in the new civic movement was the foundation of the Civic Trust Award in 1959; to encourage good design for new buildings by the granting of an award and a plaque with its now familiar triangular shaped logo. A Dulwich architectural practise has recently been awarded a Civic Trust Award as you will read in this issue.
The Civic Trust went on to represent the interests of some 700 local civic societies. Over time is it said to have lost its impetus and apart from the prestigious Civic Trust Award become irrelevant. Possibly as a consequence it lost much of its funding and was forced to close a year ago, although the Award itself has been preserved.
A new body is hoping to relaunch the Civic Trust and one of the instigators has given some information which has been reproduced in this issue. The matter is now being debated by the Dulwich Society. An important consideration is the likely cost of membership. A figure between £2-£3 per head has been indicated. If the Society was to fund this out of its current annual subscription it would seriously curtail the many uses this sum is put towards each year; possibly undermining the effectiveness of the Dulwich Society itself.