The Dulwich Society Journal for Autumn 2022.
The historic No. 12 bus route is under threat of being removed in the latest round of TfL cuts and one of the many reasons that objectors are using against the plan is its claim to be one of the earliest bus routes in London. Although bus routes were not numbered until 1906, the basic route of this bus, from Oxford Street to Peckham (the extension to the Plough in Lordship Lane came later) dates from 1851. In 1847 Thomas Tilling had rented a small livery stable in Walworth and set himself up as a jobmaster, someone who rents out horses and carts or carriages - for one trip or for weeks and months, like a car hire business today. Tilling purchased a horse bus from William Stevens, one of several Peckham based operators who ran irregular services into the centre of London. It came with a licence giving the right to run four services a day to and from the ‘Green Man & Still’ pub in Oxford Street - located near today’s Argyle Street. Unlike Stevens and the other local operators who did not have fixed schedules and were often criticised for finishing their routes where and when they felt like it, Tilling ran his buses to scheduled times, like the newly constructed railways - obvious today but a radical idea in mid-Victorian times.
The route extension from Peckham to the Plough at the corner of Barry Road and Lordship Lane came in the 1880s as more and more houses were built in the area. Bus routes had always been a problem in East Dulwich because of the topography. There was no way a horse bus could safely negotiate up or down Dog Kennel Hill and they could also not travel along Lordship Lane beyond the junction with Townley Road as the incline going south (not for nothing was the area called Dulwich Heights) was even steeper than Dog Kennel Hill. In 1881 a service had been introduced going from the Magdala Pub (now the Lordship) to Peckham and the extension of the notional 12 route to the ‘Plough’ from Peckham took place shortly afterwards. Tilling also built a large set of stables almost opposite the Plough in Milo Road in the 1890s.
The No 12 route was one of the first to be motorised, in 1906, although Tilling had first introduced the Milnes-Daimler motorbus in 1904 (the chassis and engine came from Germany with British built coachwork). In 1909 he joined a pooling agreement with the London General Omnibus Company and in 1911 he introduced the Tilling-Stevens TTA1 on the 12 route, a petrol-electric vehicle which dispensed with the need to change gear and was much easier to drive than a conventional motorbus.
Although the length and final destinations on the No. 12 route changed over the years, at one time it ran as far north as Acton and Shepherds Bush and as far south as Sidcup, the core route from Oxford Circus to the ‘Plough at Dulwich’ via Peckham remained - and is the route today. Many members will recall the outcry over the short-lived change in the name of the ‘Plough’ to the ‘Goose and Granite’, and hopefully, like the name of the pub, the No. 12 will remain.
In the last issue of this Journal, an article described the theft of eight pictures from the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1967. All were recovered unharmed. In 1981, one of the same pictures was stolen again - the portrait of Jacob de Gheyn III by Rembrandt. This is the story of its recovery, reprinted from an article in the Dulwich Villager Magazine April 1982
‘The Villager’, to the best of the writer’s knowledge, has never carried a crime report and this may be the only time such an article appears within its pages, yet so singular (as Holmes would say) is the story which follows, and so well-known locally are some of the innocent parties involved, that this magazine feels it has a duty to tell it to the best of its ability. Whilst the story has all the ingredients of a thriller of the best tradition, to those closely connected with it, the events held no thrill or glamour but frightening moments in a murky, unfamiliar world.
On 14th August 1981, two men separately entered the Dulwich Picture Gallery at nearly noon. The gallery had been quiet that morning, with only fourteen visitors. After a brief tour of only some minutes, one of the men engaged the attendant at the desk in conversation about the Gallery’s children’s’ quiz sheet. As this was taking place, the second man slid around the back of the desk and the noise startled the assistant. The man, who was wearing a long overcoat, despite the warm weather, quickly asked the price of the catalogue, and when informed it cost £35 asked if he might pay for it in dollars. The attendant said that would be in order and the man wearing the overcoat said he would go out to his car to get them. A moment or so later the other man left the gallery. When the would-be purchasers failed to reappear, the attendant’s suspicions were aroused and a check was made of the gallery. The painting of Jacob de Gheyn III by Rembrandt, which measures 12in. x 10in. was missing. The alarm button which rings directly in East Dulwich Police Station was pressed and police were soon on the scene.
The system of hanging in operation at the gallery at the time of the robbery was merely picture wire and hooks. This was in order that, should a fire break out, the pictures could be swiftly removed. This system has now been changed and many of the pictures have their frames screwed to the wall and some are individually alarmed. The collection is not insured; the premiums would ruin the gallery. At the time of the theft, the gallery’s Director, Giles Waterfield, was sitting on a train en route for an engagement in Edinburgh. The address at which he was staying could not be reached by telephone and it was a devastated Gallery Director who read of the robbery in the morning paper next day.
Giles Waterfield returned at once to Dulwich, where by this time a photofit picture of both men had been issued by the police. For the next ten days nothing happened but on 25th August, Giles Waterfield received a telephone call from Amsterdam from a mysterious German businessman who called himself ‘Mr Mueller’. This later proved to be a fictitious name used by a Mr Smit, who had previously had business dealings in commodities such as cigarettes, whisky, diamonds and weapons.
Giles Waterfield was assured by the caller that he was an honest man who only wanted to help the gallery, but that he had been approached by an American collector who wanted to buy the Rembrandt. Mr Waterfield said that the picture was not for sale and in fact had been stolen. Mueller told Mr Waterfield that he could recover the picture and asked him to fly out to Amsterdam to discuss the matter with him. He was to meet Mueller at the Hilton Hotel at Schipol near the airport.
Although asked by Mueller not to notify the police, Mr Waterfield wisely did and assigned to the case were three detectives from East Dulwich C.I.D.: Det Chief Inspector Evans, Det Sgt Sibley and Det Constable Bosworth-Davies. Next day Evans and Sibley flew out in advance to identify Giles Waterfield to the Dutch police and later that morning Mr Waterfield and Det Constable Bosworth-Davies boarded the Amsterdam plane.
On arrival, Giles Waterfield went straight to the Hilton and paged the mysterious Mr Mueller. Contact was made and under the surveillance of Dutch police, an hour-long discussion took place in which Mueller asked for the sum of £100,000, which he claimed was ten per cent of the painting’s value, to be paid to him for its recovery. Mr Waterfield agreed to go along with this demand but insisted that he be provided with photographs of the painting in its new setting and also details of what was written on the reverse of the picture.
Rendezvous at the Playboy Club
With the grudging agreement from Mr Mueller that the photographs and information would be provided, Mr Waterfield returned to London. Late that night he received a telephone call from Mr Mueller with some of the details of the writing on the reverse of the Rembrandt, Mueller said he had made arrangements to provide the photographs. He instructed Giles Waterfield to go (accompanied by a friend in case of danger) to the Playboy Club in Park Lane. He was there to contact the doorman named Danny and ask for “the envelope for Leo”. Giles Waterfield wisely decided to take as his ‘friend’ the burly Constable Bosworth-Davies!
Arriving at the Playboy Club, Mr Waterfield found to his consternation that the doorman Danny was on holiday. However, Peter, the new doorman, had the “envelope for Leo”. Returning hastily to his flat in Dulwich, now packed with nine large policemen, Giles Waterfield opened the envelope. Inside were ten photographs of the missing Rembrandt, snapped leaning against a wash basin at the top of a flight of stairs. Waterfield was now convinced Mueller was genuine. There was soon another call from Mueller. Giles Waterfield was to persuade the chairman of the College governors to put up the one hundred thousand pounds and the conversation failed to agree whether this should be by cash or bank draft. Again, Waterfield agreed to go along with plans, although there was never the intention of any money being paid over. Mueller wanted Mr Waterfield to go to Amsterdam again so they could discuss the payment but Giles Waterfield refused, having been advised by the police to try to lure Mueller to England. Four days elapsed during which time there had been a number of telephone calls between Giles Waterfield and Mueller. Finally, on August Bank Holiday Monday, Mueller rang again to say he would come to London on the following day and asked Giles Waterfield to provide “a cosy meeting place” where discussions on the transfer of money and painting might take place.
A villain is followed
Police surveillance of Mueller had revealed him making contact with a man named Echterhof, who was subsequently followed back to London by two British policemen. On arrival in London, Echterhof was then met by a man named Stallard and taken to a flat in Cornwall Gardens. A police observation was set up around the flat and Echterhof was seen taking the envelope containing the photographs to the Playboy Club.
Mueller lured to England
Followed by a contingent of unmarked police cars, Giles Waterfield and Dulwich College’s Bursar, David Banwell, drove to Heathrow to meet Mueller next morning. Mueller failed to arrive on the expected flight and a call to Amsterdam found an aggrieved Mr Mueller complaining that Giles Waterfield had not bought him an air ticket and had only made a one-way reservation. This hiccup was soon smoothed over by the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Director.
The ‘cosy meeting place’ selected by Messrs Banwell and Waterfield was the Dulwich Village branch of Barclays Bank! This branch does not boast palatial offices for its manager, and so into the cramped confines of Tony Deller’s office, past the bank’s late afternoon customers, the little contingent was ushered. Outside the plainclothes policemen took up station amongst the bushes of the Chapel garden where they were ‘discovered’ by the College bailiff, Ken Haffenden who was passing by.
Not part of Barclay’s service!
The purpose of the meeting at the bank was to convince Mueller that the Gallery did have £100,000 available for the deal and discussion took place on how this money might be transferred to Mueller. Mueller also wanted Barclays to provide a forged document purporting to come from an American collector offering one million dollars for the painting. Mueller would then pass this on to his contacts to convince them of the prospect of a deal with this fictious source. This was the first intimation Mueller had given that he was about to double-cross his ‘associates’.
Mr Deller, the manager, said that his bank was not able to provide a forged document, as its integrity might be questioned. Mueller said he would devise another plan and he would return to Amsterdam. David Banwell ran him back to London airport, where Mueller boarded the Amsterdam plane. Later that night, Giles Waterfield received a call from Mueller. He had a plan. He would fly back to London next day. He wanted Giles Waterfield to pass himself off as the agent of the fictitious American, to meet Echterhof, and go with him to a London bank vault, where, without the presence of a bank official he could see the painting. He, Mr Waterfield, must then persuade the bank official to retain the painting in the vaults for five days. Explaining to Echterhof that there was a delay in forwarding the money from the States. Mueller would then disappear with the £100,000 and Messrs Waterfield and Banwell would immediately contact the police as soon as Mueller had gone.
The trap is sprung
Next day, Waterfield and David Banwell again met Mueller at London airport, under police scrutiny. Mueller explained that when he telephoned Echterhof to arrange the meet with Giles Waterfield, masquerading as the fictitious American agent, it must sound as if Mueller was telephoning from Amsterdam. After some difficulties in finding a suitable telephone they finally had to go to the Post House Hotel, and the call was made.
At the same time a large but discreet police observation team was still watching the Cornwall Gardens flat. Two men emerged and took a taxi to two leather goods shops. At the second shop they bought a large briefcase, large enough to hide a picture the size of the missing Rembrandt. The two men resumed their taxi journey and were in Berkeley Square when Det. Chief Inspector Evans closed the trap. A number of unmarked police cars boxed in the taxi and inside the brief case was the portrait of Jacob de Gheyn painted by Rembrandt. A police telephone call to the Post House Hotel swung the other part of the trap shut and the much-travelled Mr Mueller was arrested.
Justice is done
Later, at the Old Bailey, the thief, a man named Williams, was sentenced to prison for three years, Stallard, who had provided the flat where the picture was kept received one year and the dangerous Mr Echterhof was sentenced to four years. And Mueller? After serving from September to April in Brixton prison awaiting trial, the enigmatic Mr Mueller alias Mr Smit was acquitted.
The other players in the drama have resumed their more measured lives, Giles Waterfield to looking after a delightful picture gallery in a charming suburb of London, his brief essay into the larger stage of international crime and double-dealing now thankfully over. David Banwell has returned to his office at Dulwich College to carry on managing the affairs of the Alleyn Foundation Schools. Tony Deller has returned to his bank and Jacob de Gheyn III to his familiar wall, none the worse for his adventures,
It may come as a surprise to many readers that Dulwich was home to the founding secretary and two presidents of the Indian National Congress and had links to a number of other Indian nationalists. In fact, Dulwich nearly had the first Indian parliamentary candidate for the House of Commons.
Allan Octavian Hume, the first secretary of the Indian National Congress in 1885 lived at The Chalet, 4 Kingswood Drive. He held the post for ten years and is widely regarded as the founder of the Congress, which was the main India nationalist organisation until independence in 1948. It became the basis of the Congress Party which has ruled India for much of the post-independence period. Hume, who was born in St Mary Cray in Kent in 1829 was the son of the radical MP, Joseph Hume. He served as a civil servant in India between 1849 and his retirement in 1882. He was a theosophist and a vegetarian. Hume became a supporter of the legal reforms proposed by the viceroy, Lord Mayo, but was dismissed from his post by the more conservative viceroy Lord Lytton in 1879, though he only resigned from the service three years later. Hume then wrote an appeal to the Indian graduates of Calcutta university to support the reforms.
“If only fifty men, good and true, can be found to join as founders, the thing can be established and the further development will be comparatively easy....
And if even the leaders of thought are all either such poor creatures, or so selfishly wedded to personal concerns that they dare not strike a blow for their country's sake, then justly and rightly are they kept down and trampled on, for they deserve nothing better. Every nation secures precisely as good a Government as it merits. If you the picked men, the most highly educated of the nation, cannot, scorning personal ease and selfish objects, make a resolute struggle to secure greater freedom for yourselves and your country, a more impartial administration, a larger share in the management of your own affairs, then we, your friends, are wrong and our adversaries right, then are Lord Ripon's noble aspirations for your good fruitless and visionary, then, at present at any rate all hopes of progress are at an end and India truly neither desires nor deserves any better Government than she enjoys “
This initiative led to the foundation of the Indian National Congress, with the Indian nationalist, Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee, becoming the first president and Hume as secretary. In 1894, Hume returned to England for good, to live in Dulwich, but maintaining his INC role, taking a leading role in seeking to persuade the House of Commons to support Indian self-government or Home Rule.
From 1890, Hume spent time in London as well as at his home in Shimla in India. In 1891, he was elected a vice-president of the Dulwich and Penge Liberal and Radical Association (at the time Penge was part of the Dulwich parliamentary constituency). In the 1892 general election, he acted as agent for the unsuccessful Liberal parliamentary candidate, Sir Arthur Clayden. On his move to Kingswood Drive in 1894, Hume became president of the Dulwich Liberal Association, a position which he held until his death in 1912. Hume was also a leading ornithologist and founded the South London Botanical Institute in Norwood Road.
The Indian nationalist, Gopal Khrishna Gokhale paid tribute to Hume at a London meeting:
“ Mr Hume was one of those who appeared from time to time in the world, under the dispensation of a wise Providence, to help forward the onward march of humanity, whose voice sounded like a trumpet call, waking up whole peoples from the slumber of ages, and whose title to an honoured place in the history of nations no man could possibly challenge. Mr Hume loved India passionately, as everyone who knew him could testify.; and he loved justice and freedom also passionately. Thus it was that, after the close of a distinguished official career, he came forward to devote his great gifts to guiding India along the path of justice and self-respect. He came forward to teach Indians to walk nobly along the path of nationhood.”
The fourth president of the Indian National Congress, George Yule, president of the Allahabad congress of 1888, also at one-time lived in Dulwich - at ‘Springfield’, 9 Kingswood Drive, which was the Yule family London home, directly opposite the Hume residence. Yule appears to have acquired the property as early as 1876, despite being resident in India at the time, with the property being occupied for most of the time by tenants or staff. The Yules were a family firm of merchants, originating from Kincardineshire. George’s father, Robert, was a linen and wool draper. George and his younger brother Andrew were based in Manchester, with Andrew moving to Calcutta in 1863 to set up an Indian branch of the family firm. In 1875, George and his nephew David Yule moved to Calcutta to manage the Bengal Cotton Mills. George became involved in municipal politics. He became sheriff of Calcutta and president of the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce. A supporter of Indian participation in the governance of the country, he was invited to be president of the Indian National Congress in 1888, the first non-Indian to take the post, his predecessors being the Hindu Bonnerjee, the Parsee Zoroastrian, Dadabhai Naoroji, and the Muslim Badruddin Tyabji. Yule held a banquet at the National Liberal Club in London to celebrate his presidency. In India, he had used his fees as sheriff to support Indian schools. In his speech as Congress president, Yule committed himself to the principles and objects of the Congress, which he referred to as ‘just, good and true’. He identified himself as an Indian and was critical of the House of Commons. He argued that ‘no rational mind can believe that the present system of government in India was the last will and dying testament of Providence regarding us’. Yule focused on demanding the establishment of representative institutions in India. He objected to the fact that the Government of India was a subordinate agent of the British government and denied any initiative. He also objected to there being no Indian representatives in either the British parliament or on the Viceroy’s Legislative Council in India.
In 1891, George Yule retired, returning to England to live in the Dulwich house, where he died on 26th March 1892. In his last year, he was active in the British Committee of Congress, with colleagues such as William Wedderburn (who succeeded him as INC President) and its secretary, William Digby. His widow, Frances Caroline stayed in Dulwich and was still at Springfield in 1916. George’s brother Andrew also returned to England on retirement and died at ‘Braeside’, Fountain Road in Norwood in July 1902. David Yule took over the firm, becoming the leading employer in Calcutta, receiving a knighthood and meeting George V on his royal tour of India in 1911, before returning to England to live near St Albans and become a director of the Midland bank and several other companies and buying up newspapers in both England and India.
As demonstrated through the political careers of Hume and Yule, there were close links between British liberals and radicals and Indian nationalists. In 1885, the newly-founded Congress sent one of its leading members Lalmohan Ghosh (or Ghose) to London to lobby on its behalf. Ghosh, who had been born in West Bengal in 1849, had moved to London to qualify as a barrister before returning to join the Calcutta bar in 1873. He became a member of the British India Association (a predecessor organisation to the Congress) and had previously visited England to represent the grievances and demands of Indians to the British public. In July 1880, he had been a member of a committee lobbying the British government for changes to legislation and restrictions on the entrance of Indians into the Indian civil service. In June 1885, The Peckham and Dulwich Radical Club decided to propose that Ghosh be adopted as a parliamentary candidate in the forthcoming general election. Ghosh was presented to a meeting in Newington as the Dulwich radical candidate. However within a few weeks, Ghosh was also selected by the Deptford radicals and liberals as their official parliamentary candidate, and Ghosh must have decided that as a more working class constituency than Dulwich, an area which had traditionally returned Conservatives to the House of Commons, he had a better chance of being elected. In fact, Ghosh was only narrowly defeated by a Conservative, while in Dulwich the official Liberal candidate, the newspaper owner James Henderson, lost more heavily to the Conservative. Ghosh, who nearly became the first Indian in the House of Commons, then returned to India, becoming president of the Indian National Congress in 1903.
Indian nationalists in London also had close links with Irish nationalists, both groups arguing for Home Rule for their respective countries. There were somewhat inconclusive discussions as to whether the Irish Parliamentary Party would nominate Indian nationalists for Irish seats in the House of Commons, for which Home Rule nominees were often returned unopposed. The Indian nationalists turned to the Liberal party, with the nationalist Dadabhai Naoroji, president of the Indian National Congress in 1888, standing unsuccessfully for the Holborn seat in 1886 (in the same election as Ghosh stood in Deptford), before being returned for the London seat of Finsbury in the 1892 general election. Naoroji spoke in favour of Irish home rule in parliament as well as on self-government in India. He was a regular speaker at Liberal and radical clubs in London and in February 1892, he was invited to speak at the Dulwich branch of the Irish National League by its secretary John Dillon O’Flynn, who was clearly named after the Irish nationalist leader, John Dillon. O’Flynn, a lawyer and journalist, received coverage in the national and provincial press two years later for being tried for and convicted of defrauding a woman by taking payment for journalism lessons and implying that he could find employment for his students. The collaboration between Irish and Indian nationalists continued with the Irish nationalist MP, Alfred Webb, becoming president of the Indian National Congress in 1894.
Links between Dulwich liberals and Indian nationalists were reaffirmed in 1910, when the Dulwich Liberals selected Evan Cotton to contest the parliamentary seat, Cotton being the son of Hume’s colleague, Sir Henry Cotton, a former Indian civil servant, who had been president of the Indian National Congress in 1904 and was now Liberal MP for Nottingham East. Evan Cotton was defeated in Dulwich by the Conservative candidate but was later returned for the Finsbury East seat Like Hume and Yule, Besant is also included in the volume, Foreign Fiends of English Freedom, by P Kodanda Rao, published in Bangalore in 1973. (previously held by Naoroji) in a by-election in 1918.
The final, and perhaps best known, connection between Indian nationalism and Dulwich is of course Annie Besant. Besant, atheist, secularist, birth control campaigner, member of the London School Board, socialist, and in later in life theosophist and Indian nationalist, lived at 39 Colby Road, West Dulwich from 1874. Having developed an interest in eastern religions and specifically in theosophy in 1889, Besant moved to India in 1893; she was active with Henry Olcott and Charles Leadbetter in the theosophy movement and in educational projects, before getting involved in the Indian nationalist movement. In 1916, she established the All India Home Rule League, partly modelled on the Irish Home Rule movement. After being interned during the First World War (the young lawyer Jawarhalal Nehru campaigned for her release), Besant was in 1917 elected president of the Indian National Congress. Besant campaigned for India to be granted dominion status on a par with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In comparison with Gandhi and Tilak, she was a moderate nationalist and was soon marginalised by the new militants. For fifteen years, she edited the New India daily newspaper. She continued to travel to Britain, the US and Australia to promote Indian self-government and wrote several books on the subject as well as a semi-official history of the Congress, which recorded the speeches of the early Congress presidents used in this article. In 1925, she sponsored a Commonwealth of India Bill, introduced into parliament by her former socialist colleague, George Lansbury, at that time leader of the Labour Party. Besant died in Madras in 1933 at the age of 85.
Do you ever look up at a shop and see, high above today’s plastic fascia, the faint remnants of a handpainted sign or advert? These ‘ghost’ signs can be found all around the world and have even been found in Pompeii. Though fading fast, many of these signs are still visible and can tell us a little about what was being bought and sold in Dulwich in the past, as well as about the people doing the selling.
Look up at the side wall of Dulwich Vintners in the Village and you might just be able to make out an old painted ‘Hovis’ sign. High wheatgerm flour was developed in 1886 with the brand name Hovis coined four years later when a London student won a national competition to name the bread by taking the Latin phrase hominis vis (the strength of man) and making the portmanteau word Hovis. Hovis has always been renowned for its advertising, not least for Ridley Scott’s 1970s ‘boy on the bike’ advert which was voted the nation’s all-time favourite advert in 2006. From Victorian times these adverts were provided for the walls of bakeries: the baker provided the space while Hovis paid for the sign and its upkeep. For 36 years from 1901, William Edward Dean ran a bakery, confectionery and post office from this building, living with his family above the shop. Dean was born in 1867 in Forest Hill, the son of Richard, also a baker, and Mary. When he was 24 he married 23 year-old Mary Ann Matilda Roberts, also from Forest Hill, and they had two children; only their daughter Ivy survived to adulthood. William and Mary ran their business with the help of his brother Edward, who was a cook and confectioner, and Mary’s sister Florence, who helped in the shop. There was also a general servant, Edith Calaby from Norfolk. Their daughter Ivy married in 1936 and moved to Norwood and that seems to have been the signal for the Deans, now in their early 70s, to retire, as just before WW2 they moved to Fetcham in Surrey. Edward died in 1944, aged 76 and Mary died at Ivy’s home in Norwood in 1949. The shop is now a wine merchants, although many older residents will remember it as a wool shop.
The sign for ‘J W Webb Dental Surgery’ at the junction of Lordship Lane and Heber Rd is huge, and nowadays framed with satellite dishes. James William Webb was born in 1877 near St Paul’s cathedral, an area that had been the centre of the book trade for centuries, so it’s no surprise that his father was a bookbinder, his mother a bookfolder and other family members were in the trade. The Webb’s neighbours in the court were all ‘in the print’ too but James must have had a strong vocation as he struck out on his own and became a dentist. His childhood may have been precarious as the family moved around a lot, though always in the same small area, and his mother later became a charwoman. His father died in the City of London infirmary, which was also a workhouse.
James became a dentist’s assistant and in 1902 he married Ada Morgan, the daughter of a hatter, and they moved to Dulwich; they had one son, Donald. At first they lived in Barry Rd but by 1911 they had moved to 261 Lordship Lane on the corner of Heber Rd, one of a pair of handsome three-storey houses built in 1884 called St Thomas’s Villas. Here James set up his dental surgery complete with large painted advert on the side of the house. He did not hold any dental qualifications but the 1921 Dental Act allowed unqualified practitioners to register if they could prove they had been practising dentistry for five years.
In 1911 James recorded that he was a ‘dental mechanic’ and a ‘worker’, i.e. employed by someone rather than working for himself. In 1920 he is described as an ‘artificial teeth manufacturer’ but by 1934 he was describing himself as ‘dentist’. The house was in multiple occupation as many houses in the area were, until well after the Second World War. The Webbs had three rooms, possibly they lived in one room, slept in the second, and used the third as the dental surgery. A widow and her builder son lived in the other four rooms.
Ada died in March 1929 and by December James had married Margaret Pryce, with whom he went on to have three children. They lived ‘above the shop’ at No. 261 Lordship Lane, apart from two years when they lived at 34 Colyton Road. During WW2 Margaret and the children went to her family in South Wales while James stayed in Lordship Lane. When a V1 bomb landed nearby in 1944 it caused widespread destruction that resulted in much rebuilding and a prefab from that time can still be seen at 238 Lordship Lane. James’s granddaughter inherited a vase that shows damage sustained in the bomb. After the war James’s son Donald and his wife also moved into No. 261, and in 1953 his daughter Rita and her husband John Williams also joined them. By 1954 however, all the Webbs had moved out and James died in Lewisham in 1958. The house is now in private occupation.
The roads around East Dulwich have some tantalising ghost signs and 182 Lordship Lane shows how frustrating it can be to research these relics of a lost, commercial, local history. You will have passed the corner of Lordship Lane and Colwell Rd and perhaps seen this palimpsest of painted signs and boards tucked round the corner from the street art of the queen riding a hoverboard with her corgis (painted by the artist Catman to celebrate her 90th birthday). I can read the following (do let us know if you can read any more):
Colwards for Car Hire
Along the apex of the roof, it says ‘Haydon's Limousines’, there’s a board for ‘Dunlop Stockists’ and behind that another ghost sign of which I can only read a few letters and numbers.
It’s clear from the front and side elevations of this building that it was a garage at some stage in its past but the Haydons, who seemingly ran a limousine business from here, have left no trace of their residency apart from their sign. There was a James Haydon living in Lordship Lane around the right time but he was a butcher and lived up near the Grove Tavern. He later moved to Pond Cottages on College Road where he had his abattoir (and was the ancestor of the late Patrick Spencer, Secretary of the Dulwich Society) and he was not at all involved with cars.
James Speller was variously a fishmonger, greengrocer and fruiterer from this shop but he does not appear to have had anything to do with cars. However, his eldest son William started work as a groom, then a coachman before becoming a chauffeur. Second son George was also a groom then a carman (horse-drawn vehicle driver). Younger son Basil and his family had a garage in Melbourne Grove which retained the name Speller until 2019. So perhaps the Spellers ran a garage from here. If they did, it was not listed in any directories or records I can find. So we have the evidence of the ghost signs and the sons’ occupations to show that someone ran a big enough garage to justify a number of adverts on the building, which just shows how tricky it can be to uncover the stories of ordinary people.
There are many of these evocative ghost signs hiding in plain sight around Dulwich, especially in East Dulwich where there were more shops and commercial buildings. I highly recommend looking up and seeking out these hints of Dulwich past: faded signs which have long outlived the businesses they advertised.
If familiarity breeds contempt, then my ignoring for so many years of the well-signposted Green Chain Walk bears out the truth of the saying. However, the pandemic cured all that and having exhausted all local routes in search of exercise, the attraction of areas as far afield as Erith, Thamesmead and Eltham became more appealing than they once had been.
So on one of those bright pandemic days, I set off from one of the extremities of the mass of routes that makes up this chain which links together numerous lovely open spaces among South London’s generally unlovely urban sprawl. Dulwich Pictures Gallery is the destination found on many of the attractive, green-painted iron signposts, each surmounted with a circular motif informing the walker where he or she actually is. So that is where I started.
The 20 plus miles to the Thames Barrier seemed a bit of a stretch but I thought, let’s see how far I can get. Ignoring the tempting legs to other local finishing points, like Horniman Museum or One Tree Hill, I walked determinedly across Dulwich Park to ascend Cox’s Walk, all the while following the posts with yellow markers or metal signs high on lamp posts.
The route then took me through Sydenham Wells Park and soon into Crystal Palace Park where the comfortable descent, after such a steep climb, allowed me to admire both the relics of the old Palace and brought back memories of summer evenings spent at the Bowl, listening to the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Younger walkers will now be able to share these reflections, but will perhaps recall instead, this year’s stars at the Bowl - the Bombay Cycling Club’s performance.
Do not be put off by the thoughts of pacing through Penge; the Walk picks out unknown (to me) charming small parks and recreation grounds in a necklace that leads to the jewel in the crown of the walk, Beckenham Place Park.
At one kilometre square, it is the largest park in South London, and possesses lakes, a mansion and lovely woodlands. It also has a very nice tea room for a welcome pit-stop. To my surprise, I exited near Downham and crossed the busy A21 at the foot of Bromley Hill, into a ‘green corridor ‘ leading to Mottingham This shady path revealed to me the sight of the first nuthatch I had ever seen, clinging to the trunk of a tree.
Another busy road, the A20 was crossed with the aid of traffic signals dedicated to users of the Green Chain Walk and the path now became the romantically named King John’s Walk, for reasons of which I have no idea. Fields with grazing ponies, and playing fields full of energetic schoolchildren, gave way to a gentle uphill slope with revealing glimpses of the London skyline in the distance.
The manicured surroundings of Eltham Palace led to the old stone bridge of the Castle itself. A visit might be in order to gaze, not only at the Tudor banqueting hall favoured by Henry VIII, but also the art deco conversions of the other rooms by later occupants. And another tea room allowed a sit down and time for contemplation. Should I go on, after having walked around eleven miles, or call it a day?
I decided I would save the next stretch for another time, and so a short walk through pretty Well Hall gardens brought me to Eltham station, with its convenient connection to Dulwich via Peckham.
On another day I will also ‘explore’ the alternative legs which branch out from my route to exotic destinations like Chislehurst or Bromley. With 50 miles of paths to choose from I will be well satisfied.
I discovered that although the Green Chain Walk has been in existence for many years, its penetration to the wilds of Dulwich has only been since 2010. In 2006, Dulwich Society member Philip Colvin reported in this very magazine the hopes and plans for the Dulwich extension to the original route. I apologise that it has taken me so long to try it out.