We have been blessed or cursed with a colder winter this year which has undoubtedly had its effect on our wildlife. The mortality, particularly of our smaller birds will have been greater this year, although it is the winter losses which probably return populations to the same level as bred the previous year. However as many of our garden birds are adapted woodland species, it is the regular garden feeding that maintains them. Natural food, whatever the weather, tends to run out in late winter, especially if there is a cold March when it becomes more important to maintain feeding at least until Spring is well established. Indeed it is noteworthy that the canary-like Siskin is most often seen on nut feeders during March when its normal woodland habitat is running out of food.
It is probably another feature of the cold weather that Redwing and Fieldfare which are medium to long distance migratory Thrushes are conspicuous by their absence this year. Whereas this may in part due to a paucity of berries, their preference for feeding on worms and other invertebrates in the short grass of our sports fields is not available in hard frosts. The probability is that they continue their migration to join expats in the Iberian peninsula. We may see them again in March when they are on their way back to their Scandinavian breeding grounds.
Readers may remember that in my last article I described Audrey Lambert’s amazing record of Nutcrackers, a European member of the Jay/Crow family, rarely seen in the UK. It is difficult to get these records accepted by the ornithological powers that be as Nutcrackers are elusive and do not stay still enough for telescope laden twitchers to see (indeed many twitched rarities are so off course that they may be on the point of death anyway). However on 30th October I happened to meet Dr Budgie Savage who told me she had just seen three extraordinary birds making an unusual Jay like noise in Sydenham Wells Park and on taking out a bird book she was able immediately to recognise them as Nutcrackers. They are fast travelling birds that spend time at tops of trees and of course there was no sign of them when searched for again. So maybe not a verified national record, but certainly a local turn up for the books.
There are no records to compete with this. Having said that I had not seen a Bullfinch in Dulwich for some years and I was pleased to see one in my garden with a small party of Chaffinches and Greenfinches; so along with the recent record of a male at Rosendale allotments it is apparent that they are not entirely absent. Dave Clark has once more seen a Firecrest in Sydenham Hill woods and on his latest bird count there saw a Tree Creeper which is only seen intermittently. Jeff Tetlow has found a Woodcock, alas dead, in his garden so there may be more to find in walks through Dulwich Woods. It would be nice to know if anyone has seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker recently which is our one red listed endangered species. Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are quite common but the Lesser Spotted is much smaller (about the size of a Starling) with a red cap to its head and a series of thin white bands on its wings as opposed to the white oval wing patches on its Greater Spotted cousin. The Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are regular visitors to nut feeders but it is unlikely that one would see a Lesser Spotted there.
Please keep your records flowing and if there are any wildlife queries I will be glad to do my best to answer them.
Wildlife Recorder ( 020 7274 4567)
The Victorians loved their caged birds and ring-necked, or rose-ringed parakeets were a special favourite, their emerald green plumage and pink bills adding a touch of exotic tropical glamour to drawing-room or aviary. How astonished the eternally slumbering caged-bird fanciers of Nunhead Cemetery would be today if they could awake to hear the screeches of the many parakeets who’ve now colonised this once peaceful spot and whose numbers have placed them among the 20 most sighted birds in London.*
People first began spotting psittacula krameri in south-east England 40 years ago - surprising sightings for a species whose natural ranges were in central Africa and southern Asia. Some folk speculated that perhaps an imported air freight assignment had somehow gone astray from Heathrow. Others fantasised that staff at Shepperton Studios had inadvertently lost some avian “extras” while The African Queen was being shot there.
Instead, it seems that the old criteria of adaptability (that could take advantage of an ecological niche when it showed up), good parenting, high intelligence, physical toughness, plus a reliable food source lie behind this “foreign invasion.” Population estimates for ring-necked parakeets predict that their numbers will be up to 5,000 breeding pairs by next year. “The population is growing at around 30 per cent each year,” says Kate Risely of The British Trust for Ornithology, an independent scientific research trust that investigates the numbers, movements and ecology of all wild birds in the British Isles. “ Since our Breeding Birds Survey began in 1994, there’s been a 450 per cent rise - and the graph is getting steeper and steeper…”
The birds’ core population (probably a mix of caged escapees and deliberate releases) occupied just four ten kilometre squares in Surrey and the Isle of Thanet, east Kent. Then Greater London began to see more and more parakeets. They’ve now been recorded in all counties in England and have reached Wales and the Scottish borders. Cold winters don’t deter them unduly (these birds live in colonies and shelter from the elements inside tree trunk hollows). Their “natural” habitat traditionally includes the foothills of the Himalayas. And, although their diet includes fruits (which can make them a pest to commercial growers), berries, nuts and seeds, the UK parakeets are omnivorous and will take any kinds of scraps from bird tables and feeders, including meat.
Suburban gardens stocked with bird-feeders - especially those nearest their nesting sites - are ideal larders for them, as many Dulwich householders living near the boundaries of Dulwich Park will attest.
The RSPB reckon the rise and rise of parakeet numbers is a natural result of natural population growth. Parakeets are highly successful at protecting and rearing their young to maturity. One major reason for this is that they get a very early start, beginning nesting activity in January, long before most of our usual hole-nesters (starlings, woodpeckers, tree-creepers) are thinking about sorting out a nursery. “If a starling shows up at a suitable tree cavity in Spring and finds something small and meek already sitting inside, they would probably try to evict it,” says Kate Risely. “But parakeets are bigger than the other birds and probably more aggressive.” They don’t just get in first, they continue to nest-prepare and egg-lay through to June.
It’s believed that parakeets’ preparation of a nest deep within the cavity of a hollow tree trunk, ready to receive the female’s two to four eggs - is aimed at deterring snake egg-snatching and attacks on the young in their native habitats, the distance from the entrance hole being sufficiently far to deter the intruder and prevent a surprise sneak entry.
But the fear that such nesting timing and efficiency may mean parakeets are out-competing “native” UK species (although which starlings are resident and which are migrants further clouds the issue somewhat) worries many wildlife watchers and bird-lovers. There have been reports on the Continent, where suburban and urban parakeet populations are also high (3,200 in Amsterdam alone) that they are having an adverse effect on other birds. It should be noted, however, that in Dulwich Park, starlings and parakeets have been sharing the same tree in recent years - using opposite sides of the trunk, the entrance holes at slightly different heights.
The forthcoming UK Bird Atlas project, due to be completed in 2011, may give us a clearer picture of what is going on. Meanwhile, although it is still against the law to release (an “alien” species) parakeet or allow one to escape from its cage, those that are here already are officially “the UK’s only naturalised parrot” and, as such, have the full protection in the wild of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
* (RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch).
A total of 20 kinds of parrot have been recorded living wild in the UK. If you spot something unusual on your lawn or bird-feeding station, the BTO’s Garden Birdwatch team would like to hear from you. You never know when an Eagle Owl, Himalayan pheasant or African weaver bird might show up - e-mail
Angela Wilkes, Chair, Wildlife Committee
(Wildlife Rescue, by Angela Wilkes, is published by Broadcast Books, £15.95)
Dulwich Trees Profile No. 2
Our Magnificent Zelkova by John Hughes and John Welton
The Zelkova which looms so magnificently over the South Circular at the busy College Road intersection is probably Dulwich’s most splendid and awesome tree, as well as being one of its rarest. Zelkovas belong to the elm family but thankfully do not share their vulnerability to Dutch elm disease. There are six species of Zelkova worldwide, of which only three attain a large tree size, the others being large shrubs.
The Dulwich tree is the largest of all the species, a Zelkova carpinifolia. Zelkova is derived from the vernacular name used in Georgia in the Caucasus, where the tree is native (see below). Carpinifolia means “having hornbeam-like leaves”, carpinus being the Latin name for hornbeam. The tree is sometimes aptly referred to, in English, as a Caucasian Elm. There are two examples of the Japanese Zelkova, Zelkova serrata, in Dulwich Park, both rather hidden behind the shrubs in the left-hand bed shortly beyond the College Road entrance.
Our Zelkova is a tree that we all see in Dulwich but rarely have time to appreciate. The best way to do that is to go close beneath it and look up. The sheer size, beauty and form of this spectacular tree can then be seen. It has the characteristic short, thick, fluted trunk and up-swept "witch’s broom" branches of the species. In preparing for this article we gained access into the centre of the rising branches about 10 feet above the ground with the aid of a ladder. A natural "hidey- hole" has been formed , almost big enough to pitch a tent in, and when you look up you get the most glorious view of the towering branches and sky beyond. It is a magical spot, although the Estate would be unlikely to welcome the sight of sprightly readers shinning up to see for themselves.
Zelkovas were first introduced into this country in 1760 and the Dulwich tree is probably one of the earlier plantings. It is one of the best specimens in the country at over 94 feet tall, with a trunk girth measuring 16 feet at its narrowest, rising to an enormous 26 feet just before the trunk divides into its multi stemmed effect. This is bigger than the largest Zelkova at Kew and its still growing!
Other distinguishing features of the Zelkova, apart from the hornbeam-like leaves, are the smooth grey bark with orange patches and the slender green/brown shoots. The fruit is a small nutlet 5-6mm in diameter, but it is rarely produced in this country. The wood is extremely hard. Indeed, the Georgian name for the tree, from which the word Zelkova is derived, is dzel meaning “bar” and kva meaning “rock”. The tree is used there for making rock-hard and durable bars for building. Interestingly, in its native Caucasus, the tree has a much more normal pattern of growth without the “witch’s broom” effect which distinguishes it in this country. Zelkova is affected by our climate being less severe in winter than its native climate in the Caucasus. This encourages it to come into leaf earlier and it is then more vulnerable to late frosts. The frosts can kill the leading bud growth, resulting in side shoots taking over, producing a multi-stemmed effect.
The noticeable lean of the relatively short main trunk probably happened a long time ago, maybe in a storm similar to the one we had in October 1987. Judging by the size of the reactive growth, this may well have been over a century ago. Since then the tree has clearly been actively strengthening key areas, such as the buttress rooting on the side opposite to the lean, which has developed into an enormous anchor. Amazingly for the size and age of the tree, there is no dead or diseased wood visible in the crown.
The Estate continue to be proactive in terms of monitoring the condition of the tree and gaining expert advice on its safety. There was a threat to the tree some years ago but thank goodness it has been allowed to continue to amaze us all. As a precaution, however, a young Z.carpinifolia was planted a few years ago on the little green across the path from the present tree.
So, next time you are stuck in traffic on the South Circular or, as a pedestrian, are waiting an age for the Pelican lights to change, look up and enjoy this remarkable tree, one of the most picturesque and distinct of any that can be grown in this country and undoubtedly one of the true glories of Dulwich.
This is the second in a series of articles by members of the Society’s Trees Committee. The committee’s tree map - Remarkable Trees in Dulwich - is available from The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village ( price £3.50).
William Darby was for a short time Chairman of the Dulwich Society until his sudden and premature death in June 1968 - a year and a day after the successful Dulwich Millennium celebrations he helped to organise. In addition to his two published works on Dulwich history - ‘Dulwich Discovered’ and ‘Dulwich- A Place in History’* - he left behind two much longer unpublished typescripts written between 1962 and 1965 which have been transcribed by his son Patrick. An extract is reproduced below.
Taxation and Inflation in 17th century Dulwich
The Register Book of Accounts recorded in 1652:
10 Aug. “for an ordinance of parliament wich fred [sic] the Colledge from taxes … 00.00.6”
That was sixpence well spent, one might suppose, for up to that time it had usually been the College, not the village that had been called on to foot the bill in times of national emergency.
Less than fifteen months after the Founder’s death the Warden paid out 4/- towards an expedition to the island of Rhé under the Duke of Buckingham, and 5/- for two months’ billeting of soldiers. Ship Money - 30/- in 1635 and 20/- two years later - was paid to Richard Crane, who also received 5/- for singing in the Chapel; in 1640 the collector was John Bodger.
In 1637 the College was required to pay 1/6d towards “repaier of Chersey bridg”; whether Chelsea or Chertsey was intended, the bridge in question had little discernible connection with the people of Dulwich.
The year 1646 saw the beginnings of the impact on Dulwich of the Civil War, when assessments (variously rendered “ses”, “assesement”, “a sees” and “a sese”!) were paid to Sir Thomas Fairfax (twice), the Scots, and “basinge howse”. A year later 1/8d was paid “to a ses for the bretesh forces”.
The expenditure for 1647 included 7/3d for 3 bushels of oats “for the soulderes horses vnder the comande of Captaine Nelthorpe”, 5/6d for “a legge, breast and neck of mutton for the souldieres”, and 6d for Goodwife Wells “for lodginge of soulderes for the Colledge”, which suggests that the College wisely found billets in the village for some at least of the Commonwealth army. On numerous occasions the College had to supply men and horses, and on October 26th 1648 “paid for lodginge our 2 dvch (Dutch) soldiers and for _ a peck of beanes they had … 1/-” suggests that a little clandestine feeding of Royalist allies was going on behind the scenes.
In the following year there was an “assesement” of 3/7d “for the Countey troopes”, and a payment of 34/7d to Mr. Francis Lenthall “for one yeares quit rent to the vse of the Common wealth”.
No further payments are recorded before the parliamentary ordinance quoted above, but four years after it the College paid 1/8d “for the 3 months tax for our land”, and in February 1660 - a sure sign that the War was over - it was required to subscribe 1/6d “for an Act of Parliament for the 6 months tax”. Here was the shape of things to come! Before the end of the year there were two “asseassments” totalling 4/8d “to pay armey and navey”, and the goldsmith charged 2/- in 1662 “to change parliament money”.
But any sighs of relief that accompanied that gesture were soon seen to be premature. The restored Monarchy chose to assess taxworthiness by the physical warmth of its subjects, and as the College boasted no fewer than 33 hearths - even though 24 of them were for the benefit of the Pensioners - its contribution towards the new Hearth Tax was 33/-, as compared with 125/- from the rest of Dulwich.
William of Orange replaced the Hearth Tax with a Window Tax - a splendid example of Dutch practicability, since windows are not only more numerous than hearths, but have the advantage of being countable from outside the house! On the other hand, windows could be walled up - or perhaps the rate was lower - for the College share was only 5/-, which was £1 less than the “rate or assessment for ye King” a few months after his accession in 1689. (That event too cost the College a shilling “given to ye Soldiers towards a Bonefire for ye King”. The College appears to have celebrated privately a fortnight later with “2 bottles of Sherry, 3/4d”! And seven months later they sported a shilling for “Beer and ale at the Bonfire for the King’s return”. In those troublous times they evidently had a keen nose for changes in the political wind, for in June 1688 they gave 2/- towards “ale and beere at ye bone fire when the young Prince was born” (the Old Pretender as he was dubbed later), and a week later 6 “Bookes of Prayers for the young Prince” were purchased at a penny each. This was at the time that James II was making his last desperate attempt to regain the confidence of his people, and convince Parliament that he really had a legitimate son and heir. He failed, but many a clergyman refused to recant the oath of allegiance made to him on his accession, and James Allen’s stepfather was among those who were beheaded for this refusal.
With cucumbers at 9d for half a hundred and mousetraps going up from 5d to 6d in a generation, not to mention brandy at 2d a quartern, fat pigs at 2/6d and 10d for a pair of pig’s petty toes, a certain degree of inflation was inevit-able, and in 1699 the Warden was allowed 13/9d “for loss by the fall of guinies, 27 guinies and a _ at 6d [per shilling, i.e. 50%] upon each guiny”.
High Wood is the name given to a significant battle during the Somme campaign of 1916 in the First World War. The First Surrey Rifles, 21st Battalion of The County of London Regiment, which recruited largely from Dulwich, Camberwell and Peckham suffered heavy losses in the battle. The High Wood Cadet Force headquarters in Lordship Lane is named in its memory.
The British Fourth Army of Lt-Gen Rawlinson had first attempted to capture the strategic position of High Wood on 14th July 1916. It had been abandoned by the Germans but because of confusion and delays the British did not attempt to occupy it until the evening of that day when two cavalry regiments, 7th Dragoons and 2nd Deccan Horse, made the only cavalry charge of the battle. Though the cavalry gained a foothold and held out until the morning of the 15th July, they were unsupported and forced to withdraw.
On 15th September a further attempt was made to take High Wood, which had now become the anchor point of the German Switch Line trench system (see map opposite page). Three Allied Infantry divisions, comprising the British 47th in the centre with the 50th on the left flank and the New Zealanders on the right would begin their advance at 06.20am and fall on the enemy trenches in and around High Wood. To reach it, the rifle battalions of the 47th [2 London] Division would have to cross a wasteland of battle debris, blasted tree stumps and shell craters swept by enemy artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire. Controversially, those battalions, forming the 140th and the 141st Infantry Brigades had been ordered by the Commanding Officer 111 Corps, Lt-Gen Sir William Pulteney, into the assault without covering artillery fire but instead to use tanks, four in number, in close support of infantry. In the event, the tanks, which were tasked to reach the German trenches one minute before zero hour, had trouble finding the start line and arrived late. All of the tanks were soon out of action.
It would be the first battle where the tank was to be used and their tactical use that day was the subject of a bitter controversy. Although the 4 tanks supporting the 47th Division had failed, those used on their left and right flanks had proved their worth. At 08.40hrs a Royal Flying Corps aircraft had sent the celebrated message, ‘there is a tank walking down the main street of Flers with half the British Army cheering behind’. This would have been the 41st Division, which was placed on the right flank of the New Zealanders.
The allied artillery covering the High Wood sector found itself unable to shoot over Bazentin Ridge without the risk of friendly fire casualties and the Londoner’s Divisional Commander, Maj-Gen Charles Barter, wanted to temporarily to withdraw his troops from the front line to allow a bombardment of the German positions before the attack. It was a request 111 Corps HQ refused.
Without the capture of High Wood the 50th Division and the New Zealanders would be exposed to enfilade fire on reaching their first objectives of Hook Trench and Crest Trench.
The First Surreys, 142nd [6 London] were not part of the initial attack plans and placed in reserve. According to the War Diary,
‘06.20am Battn moved & bivouacked SE corner of Bois de Mametz - 140th & 141st attacked at 06.20am’.
At zero hour, 06.20am, those troops went ‘over the top’. Every man would have been in ‘fighting order’ and carrying a day’s rations, 300 rounds of small arms ammunition and five sandbags. Battalion bombers would have been issued with 10 Mills bombs each.
Both the 50th and the New Zealand Division advanced in line abreast with bayonets fixed behind a screen of artillery fire, over the hummocks and battlefield debris and quickly gained their first objectives. However, no sooner had the 4th and 7th Northumberland Fusiliers gained Hook Trench, than devastating machine-gun and rifle fire came from High Wood on their right.
On the left, the 2nd Otago was taking serious casualties from German machine-guns firing in enfilade from the northeast corner of High Wood. Despite this, the New Zealand’s Division’s assaulting battalions swept on to the Switch Line trench and by 06.50hrs this was in their hands.
What had happened to the 47th Division?
Although the greater part of High Wood was still held by the Germans, the 47th Division initial objective was to capture the remainder of the wood and its section of the Switch Line trench. After heavy losses had been suffered, by mid-morning those battalions desperately fighting for possession of High Wood had called for and finally received sanction for an artillery bombardment on the west and northwest part of the wood. Additionally, a hurricane bombardment of Stokes trench mortars, in which 750 shells were fired in 15 minutes, was made on the eastern part.
The Civil Service Rifles attacked once more after this and the Germans started to surrender and by 1pm the British finally held High Wood. However, although heavy fighting had died down by mid-day it was found that remnants of the 140th and 141st were only holding isolated portions of the German support line. These Brigades were not in touch with one another, and between them lay 300 to 400 yards of trench, strongly held by the enemy. The First Surrey Rifles were ordered to form a link with these two Brigades.
The First Surreys War Diary states,
12 noon - Battn was put at disposal of B.G.C. 140th Bde - a gap having occurred between 140th and 141st Infantry Bdes and the former having failed to reach its final objective. The Battn is ordered to advance from behind High Wood and to attack from the Eastern corner of same in a North Easterly direction - 4.45pm Battn advanced in artillery formation with a fighting strength of 19 officers and 550 other ranks….’
Arrangements could not be made for artillery support or adequate covering fire and as the leading platoons came under observation they were subjected to an intense enemy artillery bombardment and later to heavy rifle and machine gun fire. Within an hour and having advanced less than a mile The First Surreys would lose 134 killed and 373 wounded.
High Wood is now known as Bois des Fourcaux.
by Jeffery James
The Dulwich Players present - The Rivals by Richard Sheridan
For their first production of this year’s season, the Dulwich Players are staging a new revival, in period costume, of the classic English comedy ‘The Rivals’ by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It will be performed on 2, 3, and 4 April 2009 at 8.00pm at the Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College.
Set in the fashionable society spa town of Bath in the 1770s, the play chronicles the intriguing story of how various suitors scheme to win the hand and fortune of the lovely but impossibly romantic Lydia Languish. Capt Jack Absolute, the amorous hero, has to adopt the guise of a penniless soldier to woo her, whilst his hard-to-please father Sir Anthony has other plans for his future. Meanwhile, Lydia’s Aunt, Mrs Malaprop, renowned for her unique use of the English language, has fallen for a fiery Irish baronet, Sir Lucius O’Trigger, and pursues her own intrigues. Also involved are Bob Acres, a country squire with social pretensions (whose “good English legs” put his dancing ability firmly in the John Sergeant league), Sir Anthony’s niece Julia and her self-doubting lover Faulkland, together with Lucy, the lady’s scheming maid.
Tickets Priced at £8 are available from the box office.020 8699 6398, or by calling at The Art Stationers, 31 Dulwich Village, from the 2nd of March onwards.
Sickert in Venice
Dulwich Picture Gallery - 4 March - 31 May
Sickert first visited Venice in the autumn of 1895 returning repeatedly. Venice inspired some of Sickert’s most ravishing Impressionist work. It was here that he really found his identity as an artist, painting Venice under different lighting conditions, inspired by Monet. Later he moved indoors and experimenting with images of figures in interiors, discovered the subject matter that would form the trademark of his subsequent career. This is the first time that Sickert’s magical Venetian output has been seen together.
Dulwich Choral Society celebrates the bicentenary year of Mendelssohn with a performance of Elijah, without doubt the crowning glory of his spectacularly successful career. Inspired by Handel’s Messiah and written with the sound of the great English choral unions in mind, Elijah immediately won enormous and lasting popularity. Boasting a wealth of memorable music ranging from the highly dramatic to the breathtakingly beautiful, Elijah remains one of the most thrilling and enjoyable works in the whole choral repertoire.
Elijah : Conductor Aidan Oliver, will be performed on Saturday 28 March at 7.30pm at St Barnabas Church, Calton Avenue, Dulwich. Tickets from The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village or on the Door.
Enjoy an evening with Tchaikovsky!
On Saturday 25th April, 7.30 p.m. in the Holst Hall, James Allen’s Girls’ School, East Dulwich Grove, SE22 the James Allen Community Orchestra will be giving a fundraising concert in aid of the charity Dulwich Helpline. There is now a well-established partnership between the two organisations, and this will be the orchestra's fourth concert in respect of this. The evening's programme will include Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor, and tickets priced at £7 (£5 concessions) will be available on the door.
The James Allen Community Orchestra is a vibrant community orchestra made up of local professional and non-professional musicians and includes current senior girls, old girls, current staff, current and past parents. The orchestra currently performs twice-yearly, and always plays major works from the orchestral repertoire.
On the Street Where You Live - Ruskin Walk (originally Simpsons Alley) by Ian McInnes
Ruskin Walk was previously known as Simpsons Alley and was a wide footpath connecting Herne Hill to Half Moon Lane. The name was changed in 1905, when a large tree at the top of the road was taken down to allow a new road to be constructed - named after John Ruskin who had lived only a short distance away in houses at both Herne Hill and Denmark Hill.
Mr R E Mayo, builder, started work on the construction of houses on the east side of Ruskin Walk in the summer of 1904. This side of the road does not lie on the Dulwich Estate and, at that time, the houses were numbered consecutively up the one side. Early in 1905, however, he fell foul of the London County Council; a letter dated June 1905 accused Mr Mayo “that on numbers 7-12 Ruskin Walk he unlawfully extended from certain buildings certain projections beyond the general line of buildings in a street called or known as Ruskin Walk aforesaid without the permission of the London County Council and contrary to the provision of Section 73 (8) of the London Building Act 1895.”
At that time the London Building Act required any timber used in structures projecting forward of the front wall (eg. balconies or porches) to be made of hardwood (ideally oak) and to be designed to the LCC’s approval. Mr Mayo had to change the construction of the porches on his first houses (where he had used softwood) but he was allowed to keep them on his second tranche (Nos 13-19), which were under construction through 1906/07, as long as he promised to build them correctly out of oak. The problems with the porches were also reflected in the overall quality of the houses - there is a report, dated June 1906, from the Dulwich Estate Governors, who owned the land on the west side of the road, noting that, although the houses had originally sold for £425, on resale they were only getting round £400.
Further up the east side of Ruskin Walk the builder of Nos 19 -25 and 27-31 Ruskin Walk was a Mr F Handford to designs were by surveyor, Mr W Wilkinson. The remaining section of this side of the road (known then as the Bellevue Estate) was not completed until 1924 when developer Mr F Grant, of 46 Grafton Square, Clapham, built 32 houses in Ruskin Walk and Hollingbourne Road plus 6 houses in Herne Hill to the designs of architects Andrews and Peascod - who were later to design Market Row, one of the Brixton Arcades.
The Dulwich Estate received two offers for their land , on the west side of the road in July 1906; one from a Mr Cropp (through Mr W F Russell - another builder on the Estate) and the other from Messrs H J and A H Williams who were already building in Turney Road and Playfield Crescent. In August the Manager reported that Messrs H J and A H Williams, whose office was in Bonham Road, Brixton Hill, had agreed to take 400 feet frontage towards the bottom of the road and to “to erect within two years twenty-one semi-detached houses in accordance with plans to be submitted to and approved by the Governors, to cost not less than £425 each house.” They initially offered agreed a 4s 3d per foot but agreed to raise this to 4s 6d, and build the new road, if they could raise the selling price of the houses to £450.
Things were delayed, however, when the Board of Education became involved. Because of the Estate’s charitable status any development proposals had to be passed by the Board of Education and in a letter in October 1906, Mt Mitcheson, its secretary, expressed considerable doubt whether the Board would approve the agreement with Messrs Williams because they did not like such small houses being built on the site. The Manager explained in detail why the Estate had gone for this price - basically because the houses on the other side of the road (Mr Mayo’s) were selling for less than this price, but the letter responding confirmed that the Board of Education “feel considerable hesitation in sanctioning the erection on this part of the estate of houses of so small value as £450. As intimated to you and Mr King at your interview at this office on 29th November, it is feared that the erection of such houses might have a prejudicial effect on the proper development of the adjoining Estate, especially that portion of it (as yet unbuilt upon) which fronts Half Moon Lane. It should not be forgotten in this connection that the houses belonging to the Estates Governors on the other side of Half Moon Lane are of the value of £1000 upwards.”
The Manager saw Mr Mitcheson again just prior to Christmas and explained the position “very fully” but received no assurances. He was then asked to prepare a more detailed report which seemed to do the job, and the Board of Education finally accepted that Ruskin Walk was more appropriate for cheaper houses.
In retrospect it seems odd that there was such a resistance to smaller houses as only two years earlier there had a been a serious proposal to cover the whole of the Half Moon Lane frontage, from Ruskin Walk westwards, with blocks of flats. In February 1904 the Manager had started negotiations with Mr H G Brace, an architect who had previously designed two larger houses in the area, “to take the whole of the vacant land between Half Moon Lane, Herne Hill & Simpsons Alley, at a rent of £475 per annum, the Governors to construct a road and sewer across the land for which Mr Brace offers to pay additional rent at the rate of 4% of outlay. . . . . . . . .. Mr Brace proposes to erect flats of four floors of attractive design on the Half Moon Lane frontage to be set back at least 50 feet form the footpath and to erect smaller flats or single houses on the remainder of the land.” The Estate Governors were not over keen and on 23rd June the Manager submitted further plans and “also a suggested design for the elevation” and confirmed that the projected total outlay would approximate to £100,000.
The Governors were still not happy and asked the Manager to check whether Mr Brace would erect private dwelling houses instead of flats. Mr Brace said no but did offer to make alterations “to avoid the effect of a long unbroken building” and to “erect buildings of three storeys instead of four as originally intended, and the height of these three-story buildings would approximate that of those on the opposite side of the road.” The Manager then talked about the financial offer noting that “We think that this offer ought to receive the serious attention of the Governors, as it will largely increase the reversionary value of the Estate”
At the next meeting the Manager read a letter from Mr Brace saying that his client wanted a reduced rent if he was going to go ahead with a smaller development - down from £475 to £425. The minutes then note that “The question as to the advisability of allowing the erection of flats on any part of the Estate was discussed at considerable length”. Two Governors, Mr Edwards and Mr Coleman, protested against the erection of flats but were outvoted and the meeting agreed to accept a revised offer of £450 plus the 4% charge on the new road and sewer “to erect on the land, within 5 years, 36 double blocks and one single block of residential flats, and three lodges for superintendents “ and added “that the remainder of the land be laid out as private gardens and private tennis courts for the use of the tenants in accordance with the said plan” In September Mr Brace accepted the terms and advised that his client was “Mr William Moss of Clarence Lodge, Stanley Road, Wimbledon and College Court Mansions, Hammersmith with whom he has had large building transactions which have been successfully carried through.”
In March 1905 the Manager reported that he had received a letter from Mr Brace that the agreement “was under the consideration of Mr Moss’ solicitors but that great many alterations had already been made”. The Manager saw the deal disappearing so asked the Governors that “in view of this statement, and also of the importance of this offer, I have to ask that the Governors will give their officers a free hand in making any concessions with regard to the terms, provided such concessions are not prejudicial to the interest of the Estate.” They agreed and, at the next meeting, noted that “Mr Brace also asks for the option of building houses in Simpsons Alley at £400 if the demand for flats is satisfied on the first phase.” The Governors agreed to this and his other proposal to build houses on the Half Moon lane frontage to a value of £700 “to the east of the new road”.
Things were not going well for the Manager. In July he reported further delays “in consequence of questions raised by the Board of Education as to the gardens and pleasure grounds”, and also further modifications required by Mr Moss. He was instructed to try and settle the draft agreement as quickly as possible.
In October 1905 the Agreement to Lease was finally ready but Mr Moss had changed his mind yet again, probably in response to market conditions (there was a housing slump that year), and asked for further amendments. The Governors had had enough and said no. There was no further correspondence for 9 months but in June 1906 the Manger reported that “as instructed, I duly informed Mr Moss’ solicitors that no further concessions could be made and that I have received a letter from his solicitors stating that their client feels compelled to abandon the matter on the ground that it would be impossible for him to assume the obligations of the building agreement in its present form.”
In the mean time the Manager had not sat still. As outlined earlier, he had already started marketing the land to others and, in July, received an offer from Messrs A H and AJ Williams, albeit for the Ruskin Walk frontage only, and in January 1907, let the rest of the land to Messrs Bass & Blackmore including what are now Nos 28-40 Ruskin Walk.