The Dulwich Society Journal for Spring 2022.
Continuing the story of the Friern Manor Farm Estate:
Part 2: The Dairymen - William Blackmore Noble and John Mee
By Gavin Bowyer
A large part of the Friern Manor Estate, some 118 acres, bounded by modern day Barry Road, Forest Hill Road, Wood Vale and Lordship Lane, were listed on the 1838 tithe map as being tenanted by William Blackmore Noble and John Mee. As the joint tenants of the Friern Manor Farm, they leased 90 acres of grass and 28 acres of arable land.
William Blackmore Noble was born in Rotherhithe in 1789 and joined the Royal Navy in 1803. John Mee was born in Ireland in 1790 and joined the navy the following year. Both joined as midshipmen at the age of fourteen, soon after the start of the Napoleonic Wars. They soon saw action.
In early November 1805, John was serving with Sir Richard Strachan’s squadron when they pursued and captured four French ships of the line fleeing the Battle of Trafalgar. William became a lieutenant in 1809 and John achieved the same rank a year later. They probably met for the first time when their careers overlapped when William joined the HMS San Josef in November 1810, the ship on which John had been serving since June. The San Josef had been captured by Nelson in 1797 from the Spanish at the Battle of Cape St Vincent. During the period that William Noble and John Mee served on HMS San Josef, it was stationed in the western Mediterranean and was part of the Channel Fleet blockading the French ports.
After HMS San Josef, they served on different ships patrolling home waters. Then in January 1814, during the largely forgotten War of 1812, fought against the USA, they both saw active service again. John Mee transferred to HMS Tonnant, the flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane off the eastern coast of the USA. In June 1814, William Noble joined the newly built 56 gun HMS Prince Regent on Lake Ontario supporting the British forces in Canada.
On 24th August 1814, Cochrane’s fleet supported the army in the capture of Washington and burning of the White House and Capitol Building. The British next began to prepare to assault Baltimore, Lieutenant Mee was present at the bombardment of Fort McHenry guarding the approach to the city, which inspired the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner. In the event the attack on Baltimore was not pursued and instead the task force sailed south to attack New Orleans. The campaign ended at the Battle of New Orleans when Andrew Jackson led the American forces to a resounding victory against the British troops.
In March 1815 John Mee transferred from HMS Tonnant to HMS Narcissus but, with an end to the war with United States that same year, the Royal Navy much reduced its strength and in May 1816 he was placed on the Navy List at half-pay and retired from the Royal Navy. One year senior in rank, William Noble had retired a year earlier, serving his last 11 months on HMS Charwell in Canada.
On 1st September 1818, William Noble married Esther Allen at St Leonard’s in the City of London. They had three daughters, Mary Ann born on 27th May 1819, and Maria on 27th July 1820. Both were baptized at St Leonard’s and the family was living in Newgate Street, with William’s occupation given as mariner, presumably still on half-pay. The third, Eliza Esther was baptized on 30th May 1823 in St Giles Camberwell. This time, William is recorded as a gentleman but without an address. As former ship-mates, Noble and Mee had clearly stayed in touch and perhaps had already formed a business partnership. On 5th April 1832, at St Bride’s Church, City of London, John Mee married Elizabeth Allen, Esther Noble’s sister with William listed a witness.
In 1838, William Noble is recorded as appearing as a witness at the Old Bailey in the prosecution of one of his servants, James Smith. William gives his address as parish of St Andrew, Holborn, and states that he kept a dairy farm with John Mee of Peckham Rye.
It seems, John was running the farm day to day. In the 1841 census, both John and William with their wives and William’s daughters are at Friern Manor Farm. In the neighbouring lodge lived Charles Austin, dairyman, and his family.
Newspaper reports from 1842 show that they were still running Friern Manor Farm. On 12th July 1842, James White, a 53-year-old employee, was brutally assaulted by William Webb, a fellow employee, using a billhook in the stables on the farm. John Mee gave evidence along with Mr Barnes, his foreman, and two employees, Taylor and East, at the hastily convened trial.
Later that month, there was a great storm across much of London. Two of Mee’s men were mowing rye grass when they were struck by lightning. The lightning scorched the grass and burnt off the scythe handles from the blades. The men survived and speedily left the field.
Evidence of the expansion of Noble and Mee’s business enterprise beyond Dulwich, comes in a newspaper report of a fire in Fetter Lane, Holborn, on 21st August 1843, when a terrific explosion destroyed the entire back of a house precipitating a chest of drawers and a bedstead onto the roof of the Friern Manor Farm Dairy, some 50 yards away. In 1846, Mee and Noble are listed in Kelly’s London Postal Directory as Dairymen, 1 Bartlett’s Passage, Holborn, however, the 1851 Census suggests that they had by now retired from the business. John Mee had moved to Lambeth and William Noble to Swanmore, Hampshire. Both retained their reserve naval status, eventually being made Royal Navy Commanders on the retired list. John Mee died in Ventnor on his 82nd birthday in 1872. William Blackmore Noble died in Redhill, on 16th March 1889 at the age of 99 years.
Benjamin and George Wright
In 1851, Benjamin and George Wright are listed as the occupiers of Friern Manor Farm and Trade Registers show that they have taken over and further expanded the dairy business. The brothers were from Clerkenwell and respectively 29 and 25 years old in 1851. They were two of the sons of Joseph Wright, a manufacturer and major leaser of Royal Mail coaches to operators, with up to 250 coaches leased out at one time. In 1836, Joseph obtained the contract for the London to Birmingham Royal Mail service. He realised that the days of horse drawn mail coaches were numbered and moved into the manufacture of railway coaches and wagons, setting up a large works, in 1847, at Saltley, near Birmingham, selling and leasing wagons to operating companies. So, although in their twenties, Benjamin and George had a substantial family business behind them.
In 1851, also listed as living at the farm are two maidservants, a cowshed hand, five milk carriers and a groom. Additionally, Will Steele, the cowshed foreman and his family were living at the Friern Farm Cottage. Charles Dickens mentions a Mr Wright in his glowing description of the farm, in his article, “The Cow with the Iron Tail”, in the 9th of November 1850 issue of Household Words of which he was editor. The article described the problems of the adulteration of milk sold in London. Dickens holds up Friern Manor Farm as an example of the production and supply of hygienic and pure milk. He described the farm in detail. The dairy herd contained up to 300 cows of varying breeds and types. They grazed lush grass, supplemented with mangold wurzels, turnips and even kohlrabi. This rich diet meant they each produced 18 quarts (about 19.5 litres) of milk a day.
The workers all lived at the farm. The milking took place at night in two sessions, one at eleven o’clock and the other at one thirty in the morning. The milk was passed through several strainers, and placed in churns, barred across the top, and sealed. The milk was despatched in a van about three o’clock each morning and arrived at the Dairy, Farringdon Street, between three and four. The seals checked and taken off. Next the milk carriers, or " milkmen," all wearing the badge of Friern Farm Dairy, collected their pails, filled, fastened at top, and sealed. and away they went on their early rounds, delivering to the early breakfast-people. Late breakfasters were supplied by a second set of men.
On 11 June 1853, the Illustrated London News printed a similar article extolling Friern Manor Farm husbandry practices, especially regarding hygiene and the quarantining of newly bought cows before their release into the herd and the careful disposal of manure.
In November 1851, the two brothers went their separate ways, dissolving their partnership in the farm by mutual agreement. The notice of the dissolution lists two dairies, 20 Farringdon Street in the City and 8 Charles Street off Grosvenor Square. Benjamin’s interests in the farm and Charles Street were bought by Henry Benwell. Benjamin retained some interest in the Farringdon Street dairy and George retained his interest in the Farm, managing it and supplying the two dairies. In 1857, there was a legal dispute between Benjamin Wright and Henry Benwell. Benjamin claimed that in their agreement Benwell was restricted from serving his customers within a three-mile limit of the Charles Street dairy. The judge decreed this over restrictive and proposed the restriction on deliveries only to Benjamin’s former customers.
In September 1855, George married Anne Mary Cadwell, in Clerkenwell. In 1861, George and Anne are living at Friern Manor Farm with two servants. As in 1851, there are six milk carriers and John Legg, dairyman, and his wife lived at the Friern Farm Cottage Farming on the Friern Manor estate ended when freehold of the farm was purchased by the British Land Company in 1865 and the leasehold agreement had terminated at end of September 1867. George Wright moved to Watford and expanded the milk business still further, opening a dairy in Hornsey. This still exists and is today a pub restaurant and retains a remarkable set of sculptured wall panels depicting the activities of the farm. Even the name of the Friern Manor Farm continues to exist as a shell property company, interestingly with some property in Peckham.
On 4th December 1880, George died at Pareora, Merrow Road, Guildford. In the statutory notice for creditors, his businesses were listed as 20 Farringdon Street, City of London, 191 High Street and 20 Fairlight Terrace, both in Peckham and 64 Hanley Road, Hornsey.
In October 1853, Benjamin married Anne Turton and moved to Edgbaston, to join his other brothers at the railway works, now called Joseph Wright and Sons. In 1862, the company went public, as the Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd. Benjamin retired to St Leonards in Sussex and died in 1871.
The young David Cox (1783-1859) - who became a great and famous watercolour artist - on his marriage in 1808 moved to Dulwich Common, and lived there until 1813. His cottage was next to Edward Alleyn’s surviving windmill (dismantled in 1815) something he loved to draw, at times with grazing cows and the mill pond that was still there in the foreground when Pissarro made his celebrated painting of the College. The cottage and mill were on the north-east traffic-light, cross-roads corner of the present Dulwich College grounds, almost exactly where now on those ample lawns you might still catch in summer an Arcadian sight of boys sporting boaters at an idle game of croquet, shadowed by Charles Barry Junior’s main elevation of the College, and iron-fenced from the South Circular traffic that rumbles and fumes on its arterial course. We are to imagine that when Cox lived at Dulwich the ancient North Wood and the green and pleasant pastures of the God’s Gift Estate were intact. Many artists of the day visited and sketched here. William Blake alludes to the Dulwich hills, and surely knew the country village estate well when he lived in Lambeth, or indeed at eight or ten years old, walking from Soho to Peckham Rye, where he saw that tree full of angels and was thrashed for lying by his father when he got home. Blake’s disciple, Samuel Palmer, wrote of the ‘sweet fields’ and ‘mystic glimmer’ of Dulwich in his most beautiful 1824 Sketchbook, calling it the ‘Gate into the world of vision.’
Cox originally came to Southwark from his native Birmingham to paint scenery at the Royal Circus (or Surrey) Theatre in Blackfriars Road; he was also employed as drawing-master to many pupils, that included members of the cultivated London ‘nobility and gentry’, such as Lady Sophia Cecil, Lady Exeter, and Henry Windsor (future Earl of Plymouth). From 1805 he indicated his ambitions as an artist by exhibiting at the Royal Academy. He left Dulwich but would later return to live in South London, in Kennington, from 1827 to 1841.
Cox wrote and illustrated four really influential painting manuals, and the first, the New Drawing Book of Light and Shadow, in Imitation of Indian Ink, was published (anonymously) in 1812 by Rudolph Ackermann at his flourishing ‘Repository of the Arts’ shop in the Strand. Among the twenty-four aquatinted plates, reproducing Cox’s examples for copying, were (among some other South London views) two with the title ‘Dulwich,’ both dated November 1809, and ‘Near Dulwich’ of January 1810. All were engraved by Ackermann’s man ‘Sutherland’ (Thomas) about whom hardly anything seems to be known. The Pond Cottage in ‘Dulwich’ (fig. 2), featuring a fishing child (with a little porringer) in the foreground, was pictured by Cox before Charles Druce, the Manor Estate Steward and Solicitor, redeveloped the site soon after the prints were published and can be located on the map (fig. 1) of 1806. All three aquatints show typical textbook trees, clouds and chiaroscuro of the period, with still or running water; one (‘Dulwich’, fig. 3) has a delightful figure at a well. ‘Near Dulwich’ (fig. 4) shows a house with a remarkable ancient structure. ‘Cottage Views’ and humble poverty played an essential part in the Romantic Movement’s fashionable appetite for the ‘picturesque’ at that time. There is little sign here of the way Cox’s art would develop, with his original perspectives and his wild and windy weather effects that expand the spirits. In 1857, when reviewing exhibitions, Ruskin noted his later work saying, ‘there is not any other landscape which comes near these works of David Cox in simplicity or seriousness.’ Among his fellow water-colour artists who flocked to Wales, Cox (according to Hall’s biography of 1881) became ‘a sort of little king at Betws,… waited on, respected, and beloved by all who came into contact with him. Lord Willoughby might be owner of the soil, but David Cox was lord of the people’s affections.’ These aquatints, are restrained, of course, being fairly early work, but also because they were carefully composed as teaching models of first principles in the art.
One person whom we know copied from them was Charlotte Brontë, when she was thirteen. She reproduced the sepia aquatint, ‘Dulwich’ (fig. 3), and dated it January 5, 1829; what appears to be Indian ink was in fact water-colour wash, as was recommended by the letter-press in Cox’s manual. It is thought that she most likely made this work under her drawing-master, John Bradley, hired to visit Haworth parsonage by her father. This ‘polite recreation’ or ‘accomplishment’ of water-colours, practised by countless oppressed genteel women of her day, actually determined Charlotte Brontë to dedicate herself to becoming an artist; she exhibited works locally, but it was not a success, and she took up writing (with an ostensibly gender-unspecific pseudonym, ‘Currer Bell,’ the forename in homage to her contemporary, the brilliant Yorkshire book collector, Frances Mary Richardson Currer).
When asked by the publishers Smith, Elder in 1848 to contribute her own illustrations to the second edition of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë declined, writing in response,
I have, in my day, wasted a certain quantity of Bristol board and drawing-paper, crayons and cakes of colour, but when I examine the contents of my portfolio now, it seems as if during the years it has been lying closed some fairy has changed what I once thought sterling coin into dry leaves, and I feel much inclined to consign the whole collection of drawings to the fire.
Readers of that most wonderful novel Villette (1853) might take it for a personal recollection of the author’s early painting in water-colours, making copies from such manuals as Cox’s Dulwich (though strictly an aquatint rather than a mezzotint) in Chapter 35, when Lucy Snowe says:
‘I bent over my desk, drawing - that is copying an elaborate line engraving, tediously working up my copy to the finish of the original, for that was my practical notion of art; and strange to say, I took extreme pleasure in the labour, and could even produce curiously finical Chinese facsimiles of steel or mezzotint plates, things about as valuable as so many achievements in worsted-work, but I thought pretty well of them in those days.’
Dulwich Mid-Century Oasis
by Paul Davis, Ian McInnes and Catherine Samy.
Reviewed by Brian Green
Sunday afternoons in Dulwich in the 1960’s and early 1970’s were enlivened by the frequent invitations to ‘go over’ the showhouses on the newly built Wates estates throughout Dulwich. Visitors were greeted by light, bright and inviting homes, decorated and furnished in the latest styles and complete with under-floor heating, attractive fitted wardrobes and cupboards. At first the novel arrangement of the town house layout introduced by the Dulwich Estate’s appointed Surveyor, Russell Vernon, principal of Austin Vernon and Partners, of the living space being on the first floor with a garage and utility room on the ground floor surprised those potential purchasers unused to the concept of the piano nobile, but the often ‘wow factor’ of the bright living room with either a great view over London or a window opening onto the more immediate woodland setting quickly drew approval. As now, the design proved popular with young professionals just starting their families.
Dulwich Mid-Century Oasis covers the rebuilding of Dulwich by the Estate after WW2 in great detail in this a stylish production. It is filled with beautiful photographs of all of the 31 developments carried out by the Austin Vernon Partnership and largely built by the firm of Wates, whose owner, Neil Wates, during the years of construction, was a local resident.
The modern colour photographs demonstrate how well the various estates have worn over the past sixty years and highlight the skill of the landscape architects, Derek Lovejoy & Associates in protecting mature trees and installing imaginative planting schemes. Alongside these are the original black and white pictures of the interiors and exteriors of the newly built homes, advertisements and plans.
Full credit is given to Austin Vernon’s team of skilled architects led by Russell Vernon and responsible for the designs: Victor Knight, Malcolm Pringle, Harvey Borkum and Manfred Bresgen. Dulwich College’s ‘brutalist’ inspired Christison Hall designed by Manfred Bresgen and perhaps one of Dulwich’s most iconic buildings of the period. Is also highlighted Specific features which identify the architectural partnership’s skill are included in the book like the introduction of attractive and unusual copper-covered pyramidical roofs in some of the estates in College Road and Croxted Road and the general variety of harmonious designs on each of the projects.
The book also clearly demonstrates the success of The Dulwich Plan to save as much open space as possible yet still to meet the government’s post-war housing density requirement by providing a mix of high-rise flats and townhouses set in small estates. In gaining approval for the plan, the Dulwich Estate was able to fend off considerable pressure from Camberwell Borough Council to build over much of Dulwich with local authority housing. Apart from the Bessemer and Kingswood estates, the majority of council housing was distributed on the periphery of the Estate where its impact is less obvious.
Privately published 202 pages limp covers £25.
Sunset over Herne Hill: John Ruskin and South London
by Jon Newman and Laurence Marsh.
Reviewed by Bernard Nurse.
John Ruskin (1819-1900) was one of the most influential of Victorian writers. The son of a prosperous sherry merchant, his early life was spent in Herne Hill. For almost twenty years from 1823, when he was four years of age, he lived at 28 Herne Hill on the Lambeth side of the road; the house has been demolished since but a plaque marks the approximate site. In 1842 the family moved across the road to 168 Denmark Hill, a far grander house with extensive grounds; it survived until absorbed into Camberwell Council’s Denmark Hill Estate in 1947. He eventually left the area to live in Brantwood, a house near Coniston in the Lake District.
Two local authors, Lambeth archivist Jon Newman and Laurence Marsh, Vice-Chairman of the Herne Hill Society have taken on the challenge of describing how Ruskin’s early years in the area influenced his ideas, writings and love of nature. As Jon Newman points out in the introduction to Sunset over Herne Hill, his work helped to inspire the revival of Gothic architecture in Britain, the preservation of historic buildings and by arguing for a return to craft traditions informed the later Arts and Crafts Movement.
The cover picture titled Sunset at Herne Hill through the Smoke of London was painted in 1876 from the attic of Ruskin’s childhood home also shows his abilities as an artist although he saw himself more as a critic. He described it as “one of the last pure sunsets above the smoke of industrial London”, perceptively noticing the effects of climate change.
Ruskin approved of some changes, for example, he was pleased to see that the “meagre” first St. Paul’s Church on Herne Hill, mostly destroyed by fire, was replaced by the present church which he described as “one of the loveliest in the country”. In general, he disliked change, and the authors outline clearly the impact some of the later developments which particularly annoyed him. One example was the railways, which came uncomfortably close to his home bringing destruction in the wake of their construction; another was the huge growth in suburban housing on former countryside, however inevitable given the rapid increase in London’s population. He also hated the Crystal Palace, which was immensely successful at advertising Britain’s manufacturing prowess to the world. However, in Ruskin eyes, it was factory produced, ruined his view by dominating the skyline and attracted roughs who roared at the cows they passed on the way to visit it.
The book makes an important contribution to the extensive literature on Ruskin in a detailed, well-researched and attractively illustrated book; it can be recommended to anyone interested in the history of the local area as well as the life of one of its most notable residents.
Published by The Herne Hill Society in association with Backwater Books. Paperback, £14.50, paperback 160 pages
The Wood that Built London: A human history of the Great North Wood,
by C.J Schueler
Reviewed by David Natzier
“Sculpted by human activity over more than a thousand years, the woods are the oldest fixed artefact we have in this part of South London”.
This wide-ranging book by local resident Christopher Schueler about the Great North Wood which once covered the higher ground between New Cross and Croydon will appeal to any Dulwich resident with an interest in the wider local area, and particularly to all who enjoy walking in Sydenham Hill Wood and Dulwich Woods, or up Low Cross Lane for a pint at the Wood House. There is now a ‘Great North Wood ‘ pub by West Norwood station. The Great North Wood, first named by an 18th century German cartographer, was “north” from the perspective of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s estate office in Croydon, the largest single proprietor. Not much remains; Schueler provides a brief catalogue of these remaining bits of woodland with two outline maps which taken together demonstrate what we have lost.
Reading the book will surely tempt those able to do so -it tempted me – to go further afield than Dulwich, to explore Upper Norwood’s remaining woodlands and wooded parks. Biggin Wood on the western slope below Beulah was new to me, as were Grangewood Park and Beaulieu Heights. The nature reserves alongside the railway cutting from New Cross Gate, while not normally open, were a further revelation.
The book is full of fascinating details on the old woodland and its natural and economic life. The dominant trees were sessile oak and hornbeam, suited to the clay soil. From early times this was not wild woodland but what Schueler calls “tree farms”: coppices carefully managed to produce a crop every ten or so years of wood used for charcoal production – the colliers who made Croydon famous – and everything else imaginable, serving blacksmiths and brickworks and bakeries, and providing bark for Bermondsey’s tanneries. There were supposed to be twelve large “standard” trees per acre to be harvested for timber to build London and to build ships. Until enclosure, locals could keep pigs in the woods and gather brushwood. It seems to have been the switch to coal brought by sea from Newcastle which eventually reduced the profits to be made from coppicing and led to much of the woodland being grubbed up for pastoral agriculture and then for residential use.
What survives are not just the patches of woodland, nurtured by so many dedicated local friends groups, and the associated flora and fauna – Schueler provides wonderful historic and recent lists of fungi and plants and insects – but also a wealth of place names: such as Forest Hill, Ling’s Coppice, Kingswood, Woodsyre, Lapsewood and of course what local historian John Coulter teasingly called “the Norwoods”. I learned that White Horse Wood now gone was named not for a horse but for a 14th century notable Walter Whitehorse, the first Black Rod! The book is full of such intriguing insights and discoveries.
Schueler has also painstakingly assembled some fascinating accounts of how the local parishes and forest officers sought to define their boundaries by beating the bounds between these woodlands, relying not just on significant trees such as the Vicar’s Oak but also regularly renewed marks on significant trees. It was not easy: the border between Croydon and Penge caused much dissent and confusion because of the thick woodland it was necessary to tramp through, searching for a particular marker tree or ditch.
But perhaps the most immediately instructive chapters for all members of the Society are those dealing with the recent past. Schueler sets out how from the 1960s the Dulwich Estate gradually built over some of the remaining woodlands under their control. The Dulwich Society gets a mention as having been founded in 1964 partly in response to the Peckarmans Wood development Attempts to build on what is now the Sydenham Hill Wood were thwarted in the 1980s despite what the Dulwich Society Newsletter called the Estate’s “bone-headed intransigence”, and the Wood was passed to the London Wildlife Trust as its first nature reserve. The salvation of Dulwich Upper Wood on Farquhar Road also followed protest against planned destructive development. Schuler includes a full account of the recent and unresolved controversy over the Cox’s Walk footbridge oaks. The story is not finished here or elsewhere: in recent years the inaccessible Convent Wood in Upper Norwood has been nibbled away at.
The recent rediscovery and marketing of the Great North Wood brand, helped by a 2017 Lottery grant, will hopefully make it easier to protect local woodland from further assaults.
Published by The Sandstone Press hardback £19.95
A History of James Allen’s Girls’ School
by Corrine Barton
Reviewed by Phillipa Tudor
Some school histories are so dry as to be almost unreadable. Others veer towards extended publicity brochures. Corrine Barton’s History of James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS) avoids both and is a carefully researched historical study enlightened by pupil and staff reflections, and enlivened by well-chosen illustrations. She had two great advantages: the first is her 30 years’ experience teaching at JAGS; the second is that JAGS has so many strengths that the success stories ring true.
Starting with a chapter recounting the school’s beginnings, and ending with one entitled “The Future”, this book is structured thematically, with chapters on buildings, headmistresses, classrooms, labs, fields – a particularly appreciated feature in a city school – music, “stage screen & canvas”, “beyond the classroom” and “the JAGS community”. The result is refreshingly readable, although a timeline of key dates would be helpful, and a series of infographics illustrating pupil and teacher numbers and subjects taught between 1741 and 2021 could be an interesting project.
1741 was the foundation date for James Allen’s Reading School, which was pioneering in including girls as well as boys. Arithmetic was added to the boys’ curriculum in 1817, but girls were still taught only “to read and sew”, and the Free School did not become girls only until 1842. The Dulwich College Act 1857 was a further significant milestone, providing for the replacement of the former College and Grammar School by the Upper and Lower Schools of Dulwich College. Section 115 of this 115-section Act provided that the school founded by James Allen in 1741 should be known as Dulwich Girls’ School, and for its endowment. Fees (2d a week) were introduced in 1864 and a purpose-built school (now the site of Dulwich Hamlet Junior School) opened in 1867, with an expanded curriculum. The nationwide changes of the Endowed Schools Act 1869 and the Education Acts of 1870 and 1880 (it was the latter which made school attendance compulsory between the ages of five and 10) had a significant impact on Dulwich schools. The name James Allen’s Girls’ School was used for the first time in 1878, it started to benefit from part of the College’s endowment income in 1882, and moved to its new and lasting home in East Dulwich Grove in 1886, with 141 pupils.
JAGS thereafter mostly flourished, led by only 11 headmistresses since 1886. Challenges have always abounded, most recently COVID-19 and Everyone’s Invited, but JAGS remained open through both World Wars, although pupil numbers fell from 400 in 1939 to 130 in 1940, quickly bouncing back. Science and maths became enduring strengths, with JAGS acquiring the first purpose-built school science lab in the country in 1902. The wider curriculum is truly wide, and community engagement rich and varied, contributing to an essential focus on diversity and inclusion. Of the many outstanding alumnae cited, actress Lucy Boynton and Olympic runner Katie Snowden were in the same year group. This wealth of opportunity and talent gives JAGS pupils the greatest gift of all, to be themselves.
Corrine Barton, A History of James Allen’s Girls’ School (Published by James Allen’s Girls’ School 2021, 132 pages, £20.)
Two Hundred Years of Dulwich Radicalism
by Duncan Bowie
Reviewed by Brian Green
It is a coincidence that Duncan Bowie’s new book – Two Hundred Years of Dulwich Radicalism is published in the 250th anniversary year of the Dulwich Club. The Dulwich Club, formed in 1772 out of the great and the good of the locality campaigned vigorously in Dulwich to rally support for the British monarchy in the face of the French Revolution, going as far later to suggest an Army of Defence be raised in Dulwich. Nothing in Duncan Bowie’s latest book would suggest that such a similar response is necessary.
Duncan Bowie’s well-researched book provides a detailed introduction to many aspects of local politics, an enthusiasm not shared today by the electorate which has a historic dismal voting record in local elections. It also has detailed vignettes of sixty Dulwich radicals, stretching from campaigners for birth control like Annie Besant to the cause of anti-slavery led locally by John and Alice Harris, from housing reformers like John Ruskin to advocacy of women’s suffrage promoted by local headmistress Mary Alger. Dulwich Radicals is a good read, and it is surprising that so many political clubs and societies blossomed in the streets and halls of Dulwich and East Dulwich.
The addresses where the sixty radicals lived is recorded; so today’s Dulwich residents can search out their own particular road’s political history. Some of the people named achieved greatness and fame, others disgrace and ruin. Among the latter are John Beckett, the Labour MP for Peckham who became a Fascist and William Joyce’s right hand man in the creation of British Nazism; until he reminded himself that his wife was Jewish, or Wilfred Vernon, Dulwich’s immediate post WW2 MP who later was revealed as a Soviet spy.
One of the inclusions is Edward Upward, who taught me English at Alleyn’s. A mild man, distinguished author and poet and friend and co-writer of Christopher Isherwood, correctly portrayed by Bowie as one not to foist his political values on impressionable schoolboys.
Bowie reserves a chapter for the pantheon of local heroes – among them, Sam King born in Jamaica and an Empire Windrush emigrant who rose to become Mayor of Southwark, William Wood who came to spend ‘a few years’ preaching in Britain and became the Church of England’s first black bishop. And, of course Tessa Jowell, who, despite her shortcomings pointed out by Duncan Bowie, of continuing to support the invasion of Iraq even after the report of the Chilcot Inquiry and her controversial introduction of super casinos as Culture Minister more than redeemed herself by her championship for the London 2012 Olympics and as someone who gave dedicated service to her Dulwich constituency. Sam Silkin would, in the view of many Dulwich residents, also be placed in the Local Heroes chapter. It was he, who, as Dulwich’s MP steered the Leasehold Reform Bill through Parliament thus enabling most Dulwich Society members to buy the freehold of their homes; instead, Sam joins his father Lewis and brother John in the rather less exciting Post War Labour assemblage.
But where is the arch-radical of them all in this fascinating book ? There is no sign of Margaret Thatcher, Dulwich resident and radical reformer of trade-unions, the monetary system and the instigator of right-to-buy, within its illuminating pages.
Published by Community Language 232 pages softback £10
Mrs Gustav Holst: An Equal Partner?
by Philippa Tudor
‘Why …is there no account – anywhere of the influence of Isobel, Gustav’s wife?’ asks Holst scholar Raymond Head. ‘Without her support, Holst might never have composed at all.’
Philippa Tudor’s book fills that gap. Using an extensive range of sources. Including letters and recorded conversations with those who knew Isobel and her family, it uncovers the role Isobel played as the wife of one of Britain’s most popular composers and the mother of their composer daughter Imogen Holst. It reveals Isobel’s and Gustav’s activities in the Hammersmith Socialist Society in the period surrounding the death of its founder, William Morris as well as Isobel’s role in running their homes on a shoe-string budget, in both Barnes and Thaxted. She volunteered in both World Wars, driving ambulances in the first, and enjoyed many friendships including with Gustav’s best friend Ralph Vaughan Williams. Gustav Holst only briefly used an agent, which meant that Isobel acted on his behalf at times. Even her husband had to say “I don’t see why you shouldn’t have some of the honour and glory.” Dr Philippa Tudor’s well-researched book means that Isobel Holst is no longer one of history’s forgotten wives.
Mrs Gustav Holst – An Equal Partner by Philippa Tudor is published by Circcaldy Gregory Press paperback 144 pages illustrated £14.99
The Dulwich Choral Society is performing an English music concert on Saturday 26th March at St. Barnabas Church at 7.30pm. to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Tickets available on the door or see the Dulwich Choral Society website.
Arranged by its new Director, Will Vann, The Dulwich Choral Society’s concert will consist mostly of Vaughan Williams repertoire, but with additional pieces by Gustav Holst, Imogen Holst and Ethel Smyth. Ralph Vaughan Williams taught music at JAGS in 1904 and recommended his good friend Gustav Holst as his successor.
By John Taylor
Readers may remember an article in the Spring 2018 Journal about the local men and women who stood out against the War of 1914-18, either by refusing to serve or by campaigning against it. In the old borough of Camberwell, and beyond East Dulwich, was the centre of opposition, based in the HQ of the Independent Labour Party, hidden away between Hansler and Shawbury Roads.
"The No-Conscription Fellowship met there on Wednesdays: gave advice to intending conscientious objectors, heard their letters from jail read out, gave friendship and support to the families, carried out prison visits, fed information back to head office and organised regular anti-war rallies on Peckham PRye.
John Taylor's further research on war-resisters in the present borough of Southwark gives a full account of this activism. Both volumes are now available online, thanks to Sands Films in Rotherhithe. They can be accessed using the link https://www.sandsfilms.co.uk/war-resisters.html