Who was Who in Dulwich
Francis Pettit Smith had the most unlikely qualifications to be the inventor of one of the most significant advances in marine engineering - that of the screw propeller. He was born in Aldington, Kent and his father was the postmaster at nearby Hythe. Following education at a private school in Ashford run by the Rev. Alexander Power, Smith began his working life as a grazing farmer on the Romney Marsh, later moving to Hendon in Middlesex where he continued to farm.
As a boy he had acquired great skill in the construction of model boats and took special interest in their means of propulsion. This fascination with boats remained with him and in 1834 on a reservoir near his farm he perfected the propulsion of a model boat by means of a wooden screw driven by a spring. He became utterly convinced that this form of propulsion was greatly superior to the paddle wheel which was in use at the time. The following year he built a superior model with which he performed a number of experiments at Hendon and in 1836 took out a patent for propelling vessels by means of a screw revolving beneath the water at the stern.
Many other attempts had been made to develop this form of propulsion, the first as early as 1681 and by an odd coincidence Dulwich first enters the world of marine engineering in 1824 when John Swan of Coldingham, Berwickshire, who had moved to London and was employed by Messrs. Gordon of Deptford, fitted up a boat with a propeller and tried it on a sheet of water in the grounds of Charles Gordon Esq., of Dulwich Hill. A similar invention was made at virtually the same time as Smith's by Captain John Ericsson of Sweden who patented it two months later. Smith was, however, completely unaware of the attempts previously made in this field and was convinced of the importance of his own discovery. Fortunately he became dedicated to its development and practically abandoned farming to work on refining his invention. This single-mindedness is perhaps what separates Smith from the numerous others who have been credited with the development of the screw propeller.
His enthusiasm must have been infectious and he soon drew financial support which allowed him to build a 10 ton prototype vessel which he demonstrated on the Paddington Canal and the Thames. During one of these trials the propeller which was designed with a screw of two whole turns struck some obstacle in the water and about half the length of the screw was broken off. It was noticed that the vessel shot forward faster as a consequence of this accident and this discovery led to the fitting of a new screw of a single turn which was found to work much better.
At this time the Royal Navy was using paddle-wheel wooden steam ships. Doubtful of the success of the radical idea of a screw propeller the Admiralty in 1838 requested Smith to allow his vessel to be tried under their inspection. Impressed but not convinced of the Admiralty was anxious to see trials using a larger ship. Various capitalists now came to Smith's aid and the Ship Propeller Company was formed. In 1839 a specially built ship of 237 tons, named the Archimedes took her maiden voyage. Delivering 80 horse-power and propelled by a single screw, the Archimedes, which was expected to reach a speed of 5 knots was matched against the fastest paddle-driven steamship afloat, the Vulcan. Smith's four-bladed, propeller driven ship actually delivered double its expected speed in the competition.
It took a reluctant Admiralty five more years of deliberations before it gave the order for 20 warships to be built under Smith's supervision. Meanwhile, the little Archimedes had been demonstrated in all the major ports in Britain as well as in Amsterdam, Antwerp and Oporto. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was invited to one of these demonstrations and was so impressed with the new invention that he converted the Great Britain, the first iron-hulled ocean going ship, from paddle-driven to screw propeller. It was thus Brunel who signalled to the shipping world the superiority of the screw over the paddle. It still took time for the invention to be widely adopted, so great was investment in the paddle-driven system that the company backing Smith, the Ship Propeller Company lost considerable money because of the lack of orders.
Smith was retained by the Admiralty as an advisor until 1850 but derived little remuneration either from his work for the government or from his commercial operations. Nevertheless, some recognition of his services was made when in 1855 he was granted a pension of £200 per annum by Lord Palmerston. In 1856 his patent, upon which an extension had already been granted, expired and he was obliged to return once more to farming and settled in Guernsey. Ironically, by that year 327 ships and vessels of all classes in the Royal Navy had been fitted with screw propellers. In 1857 he was the recipient of a national testimonial with the gift of plate and a purse of £3000, which was subscribed to by the whole of the shipbuilding and engineering world. It was probably with this sum that he was later able to contemplate building his house at Dulwich.
In 1860 the government appointed him to the post of curator of the Patent Museum at South Kensington. In 1871 a knighthood was conferred upon him and he died at 15 Thurlow Place, South Kensington in February 1874. He had been married twice and had children by each marriage.
Francis Pettit Smith negotiated with the Governors of Dulwich College for the lease of a plot of land on Sydenham Hill where he built his house named Centra
House in 1864. The house still stands and at present is being restored from the seven flats into which it was divided, back to a single dwelling. In the grounds Smith had planted a considerable shrubbery and had use of woodlands down to College Road. A later resident added the terra-cotta fountain and renamed the house Dilkoosh . It was again renamed to its present title - Fountain Lodge.
When I joined the King's College London Department of Botany I was given a room on the top floor of 68 Half Moon Lane, a squat Georgian building whose previous existence had seen it successively as a Home for Inebriate Women, run by the Church of England Temperance Society, a Children's Home and a Private School. The Department had moved from the main College site in the Strand in December 1952. Subsequently the leases of three detached Victorian houses (62, 64 and 66) were acquired and 64 and 66 were converted for teaching and research. At that time King's was fortunate to have exceptionally gifted Professors of Botany and Zoology (Thomas Bennet-Clark and James Danielli) who were resolved to move their departments from cramped and totally inadequate accommodation in the Strand to a new building to be constructed in the rear gardens of the Half Moon Lane properties. Delawyck Crescent had not been built at this time and Bennet-Clark had a crop of woad (Isatis tinctoria) on that site. Before their plans could be implemented J.T. Randall (Professor of Biophysics, co-inventor of the cavity-magnetron and the force behind the demonstration in King's College that DNA had a helical molecular structure) managed to gain priority for his department to be rehoused in Drury Lane. Bennet-Clark and Danielli felt considerably put out and left King's to found Schools of Biological Sciences in the new Universities of East Anglia and Sussex respectively. Four of the more senior Botany staff followed them. J.T. Randall was one of those responsible for what was the inspired replacement of Bennet-Clark by F.R. Whatley, an Englishman who was working in California. Whatley, together with Daniel Arnon, had discovered the process of photophosphorylation in plants, the process by which plants convert light energy into chemical energy and upon which all higher organisms ultimately depend.
Whatley got agreement for the first stage of a new Biological Sciences Building and the replacement of the staff that had left. A great hole was excavated in the rear gardens and an unattractive concrete and steel monolith was erected. The windowless east end is in fact a temporary end where stage 11, comprising accommodation for Zoology was to follow. In 1968 we moved in, but as King's College priorities were in a continuous state of flux and as Danielli's successor made no secret of his personal antipathy towards a move to Dulwich, there was to be no second stage. Despite its austere exterior, the interior was most satisfactory with about 2000m2 of floor space, a large lecture theatre and library, four teaching laboratories, five substantial research laboratories, an electron-microscopy suite, sundry specialised teaching and research facilities, a workshop, most of the roof space fitted as a greenhouse and a boiler- room big enough for a liner. Improved facilities and increased space led to increases in student numbers and academic visitors and greater productivity. Our relatively small numbers enabled most of the building to be open access to staff and postgraduates and to operate 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
Bioenergetics provided the focus for much of the research and included the objective of understanding the light-reactions of plants with the very long term aim of devising artificial systems for the production of fuel from sunlight and water. Other studies on alternative energy sources were at rather lower levels of technology. Research was conducted on the development of chloroplasts, their function and the interaction of nuclear and chloroplast genomes. Novel plant constituents as possible causes of human and animal disease or with potential for use as pharmaceuticals or for other purposes were identified and studied. The feasibility of obtaining high value plant products by the continuous culture of plant cells was also investigated. Basic studies on seed biology led to low technology procedures for seed storage at farm level in the developing world. Peter Moore's work on vegetational history enabled Pat Wiltshire to combine it with her undergraduate and postgraduate experience in microbiology and parasitology so as to create a set of formidable forensic skills which have recently brought her attention from the media.
The sub-basement is close to one of the tributaries of the Effra, if not actually part of it, and has to be pumped out whenever the water table rises. This aquatic environment was found to contain a rare leech, only known from one other location in the U.K., thus possibly making the building Dulwich's top site for nature conservation. As no one had ever come up with any use for the sub-basement, other than being our own flood plain, it was 'sealed off' by manhole covers. On one cold and very wet November Friday afternoon I found Richard Rice, Chief Technician, clad only in his red underpants and waist deep down a manhole in cold and visibly rising water not far from flooding the basement which contained much of our research and equipment. He was detaching the broken-down pump, already submerged, under the instruction and anxious gaze of Peter Andrews, Chief Workshop Technician. The pump was quickly repaired and reinstalled and the day was saved. It wasn't their job to do this, but the Works Department in the Strand had pointed out that as it was Friday afternoon they wouldn't come down until Monday morning. This episode was typical of our staff, many of them locally recruited, and it also served to reinforce our prejudices about "them up there". Not all of our neighbours were such solid citizens as was testified by the bullet holes in our windows, though I only once witnessed an actual strike.
The Department had seven good years with Whatley before he moved to the Sheridan Chair of Botany at Oxford in 1971. The Professor of Zoology, who had refused to bring his Department to Dulwich, had the temerity to attempt to take us over, but this fell through when he found himself in a minority of one. Arthur Bell joined us as Head of Department in 1972, moving on to become Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1981 at the very moment that radical institutional mergers were ordained for the University of London. Mrs Thatcher was on the warpath and academics were high on the hit-list which included the GLC, militant trade unionists and the Argentinian Junta. Redundancies were in the air and the spectre of a Botany/Zoology merger reappeared. The majority of academics agreed that departmental mergers of this type are not recipes for success and though the merger negotiations with Queen Elizabeth College and Chelsea College lasted until mid 1985, the decisions of King's College academics with respect to the merger of Botany and Zoology were overridden by the predominantly lay College Council. Our level of performance was maintained until we moved from Dulwich to Kensington to join a very large department which turned out to be a failing one, failure was reinforced by adding yet more departments, funding was not forthcoming, assets were stripped, senior staff were not replaced and the Biological Sciences degree courses have been closed. Thus Botany and Zoology join Chemistry and Geology in the loss from King's College of the Departments associated with four of the eight foundation chairs in the basic sciences which were first filled between 1830 and 1836 and which all had incumbents of the highest quality.
Some time after the departure of the botanists their building was extensively refurbished and refitted to accommodate the James Black Foundation headed by Sir James Black, Professor of Analytical Pharmacology in King's College Hospital Medical School. Sir James shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology of Medicine in 1988 for the discovery of two new classes of pharmaceuticals, the beta-blockers and the histamine antagonists. These were multi-million pound earners for British companies. The Foundation was set up with industrial money as a non-profit making organisation for the pursuit of blue-skies research into new types of pharmaceuticals and continues to this day.
On the Street Where You Live - by Ian McInnes
In 1900 the northern section of Dulwich Village, or High Street Dulwich as it was then known, looked very different from what we see now. Pond House and Lyndenhurst in Village Way we would recognise but the west side of Dulwich Village down to the schools was largely fields, mostly let to J Sainsbury & Co. as a sports ground. The only property on this side of the road was Warrigul, roughly where no. 14 now stands. On the east side were three substantial houses, The Hall, Fairfield (formally known as Menival) and Lake House and, further south, the parade of shops was largely complete except for the last three units over Smiths, with the smithy on the corner of Calton Road (now Avenue) still in operation.
The first development in the new century was on the west side, on the corner of Village Way, where a Mr Hobden built 6 houses in 1901-02 (numbers 2-10 inclusive). The largest one is now the JAGS junior school. At the same time a Dr Clitheroe bought the corner site diagonally opposite in East Dulwich Grove and had a substantial house built to the design of architect Henry G Brace.
St Barnabas Hall (1909-10) was the only other building built in the area until 1912-13 when a Mr E Room, builders merchant, of 238 Upland Road, East Dulwich, was granted permission to build a pair of semi detached houses on a site between the St Barnabas Hall and Lake House. The Surveyor noted that the 'external treatment is novel, but effective, and I think the Governors might approve the plans submitted'.
The First World War put any further development on hold until 1919 when, despite a substantial increase in prices (caused by a rise in labour rates of over 200%), the demand for new houses returned. Several local builders bought sites in Burbage Road and Court Lane but Dulwich Village missed out initially, as the fields were still let to J Sainsbury. It was not until January 1922 that the first house was completed on the west side, the unusual cottage style house, now no. 24 but formally no. 20. The architect was R S Bowers of architects, Culpin & Bowers, and it was built for his own occupation.
At about the same time and, following successful developments in Court Lane during 1921, Messrs Williams, a well known pre-war local builder secured the site between Mr Bowers' house and the schools on the corner of Turney Road. He built a terrace of 6 houses and a pair of semi detached houses. All were completed and sold by July 1922. The design is the same as his houses in Court Lane and the architect for both was the firm of Culpin & Bowers (did Mr Bowers win the job because he was literally next door?). The London County Council Archive has a fascinating correspondence between the firm and the Camberwell District Surveyor regarding party walls. Pre-war the London Building Act had required party walls between houses to project 18 inches above the roof line but this was seldom done elsewhere in the country and builders objected to the additional cost. The LCC finally granted a waiver and the Act was amended shortly afterwards.
Culpin & Bowers were quite a well known firm in the 1920s, Ewart G Culpin , the senior partner being very influential in the town planning movement. He was also a long standing member of the London County Council becoming vice chairman in 1934-37 and chairman in 1938-39. The firm carried out several projects for the trade union movement including Transport House in Smith Square and were also the architects for Poplar Town Hall.
The last site on the west side, Warrigul, was sold to another local builder, Mr H Wilmott, in July 1923 and he built six houses designed by an architect called Woolnough. In his report to the Governors on another concurrent Wilmott development in Burbage Road the Surveyor said 'The Architect, Mr Woolnough, who has prepared these plans, has erected several similar houses in Southgate, London N, where, I am informed, they have been a great success.' Mr Wilmott himself initially lived at no.18 which he named Warrigul after the original house.
The old smithy on the corner of Calton Avenue was derelict by the end of the War but it remained until 1922 when local jobbing builder, Mr Core, who rented the shop next door as his office, agreed to build two shops with flats above to the designs of the then Surveyor, Mr C E Barry. The Chairman of the Governors confirmed that he had taken it upon himself to allow the builder to appoint Mr Charles Barry to save time. Normally Mr Barry was not allowed to work on projects for builders, only on works for the Estate, but an exception was agreed in this case. The new building cost £3000.
Of the three houses on the east side of the road, Lake House was the only one in a reasonable condition, the tenant, Mr H Newton Knights, employing Mr Barry to build him a billiard room in May 1919. Mr Barry reported in January 1920 on the state of Fairfield 'there are serious defects, partly to the exterior and partly to the interior of the house. As regards the former much of the stucco has fallen away on all four sides of the building. The roof and gutters are also imperfect. As to the interior of the building, the chief defect is the presence of dry rot in several places and another serious matter is the falling down of the ceiling in the cloak room which has disclosed the fact the joists of the roof above are in a decayed state'. Repairs were carried out and the house re-let but it was only to be a short term solution.
In July 1922 the Governors sold part of of Fairfield's extensive garden to form the Gilkes Crescent development with a mix of detached and semi-detached houses lining a new road connecting East Dulwich Grove and Elms Road. The site area of 3 1/2 acres generated considerable interest from a number of builders but the final winner was W L Cook & Co Ltd who agreed to pay a ground rent of £275 per annum. Mr Cook and his partners had been developing on a smaller scale in the Village for a while and had just successfully completed four houses at nos. 87-91 Burbage Road. He agreed to build 36 houses costing £1400 each. His architect was Murrell & Pigott.
Following the completion of Gilkes Crescent in 1925 the Estate took back the leases on The Hall and Fairfield and demolition followed shortly afterwards in March 1926. The demolition company, Stephen Dennis, secured the winning bid by offering the Governors £750 for the privilege of carrying out the contract as long as they were allowed to auction the demolished materials from the site.
The first new house constructed on the now cleared site fronting Dulwich Village was the current 'Fairfield'. The client was Mr B T Ames and his architect, Alistair G MacDonald from North London. The surveyor was not happy with the first design proposal noting that 'The house would be of the Georgian type with redbrick in front and roofed with slates; it would appear however that the back and side elevations are to be faced with yellow bricks which does not seem to me desirable'. The design was amended in line with his comments and completed in April 1927.
The next house to be built was Crossways, No 1 Dulwich Village, on the corner of East Dulwich Grove. The architect/builder here was Mr G F Ellyatt who was granted permission in January 1927 to build in solid 9" solid brick walls rather than 11" cavity walls as long as he used cement mortar. The value of the house was to be not less than £2000 with a ground rent of £22 10s per annum. Mr Ellyatt formally lived in another house of his own design, Whitecroft in Village Way, and had been building in Dulwich since before the war. He also had his own architect's practice, Ellyatt & Porter.
Despite many enquiries, the plots for numbers 3, 5 & 7 remained unsold until 1929 when Mr J G A Smart, a builder of 63 Melbourne Grove, East Dulwich agreed to lease them. The Surveyor drew the Governors attention to his designs saying 'the front elevation is the same for all three houses' but permission was granted. The ground rent for the three houses was £52-10s per annum and the first owner of No 3, Mr W G Rickerby, paid £2150.
Lake House remained but suffered serious bomb damage during the Second World War. It was demolished in the late 1940s to create the site for another school.
Unlike landed estates in private ownership, The Dulwich Estate is a charity and as such it is regulated and must comply with the Scheme approved by the Charity Commission. The Scheme currently governing the Charity was approved in July 1995 and this sets out:
- The Beneficiary Charities
- The composition of the Board of Trustees and the length of term of office
- The general duties, powers and restrictions on Trustees (including the investment of funds)
- The application of income
Members will have received with the last edition of the Newsletter a complimentary copy of the Dulwich Society's Map of Remarkable Trees in Dulwich, compiled by the Trees Committee and illustrated by Rosemary Lindsay SBA. The response to this publication has been one of delight and the map will be a source of much pleasure for years to come.
Rosemary Lindsay trained first in architecture but now works mainly as a freelance botanical illustrator; a fascination with the structure of plants led to this change of occupation. She is a painting member of the Society of Botanical Artists and of the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society. Her paintings have been included in a British Council Travelling Exhibition on British Illustrators and numerous other shows including that of the R.H.S. Her work has appeared in the R.H.S. Plant Registers and The Plantsman. She contributes regularly to the quarterly journal Hortus and opens her garden in Burbage Road to the public under the National Gardens Scheme.
Further copies of the Tree Map are on sale in local shops price £3.50 or in a flat edition in a tube at £4.