The Dulwich Society and Planning Applications
In the course of a year, two architect delegates from the Society’s Planning & Architecture Group, usually David Roberts and Oliver Probyn, together with the Group’s secretary Jean Howell, appraise all applications for external alterations received by the Dulwich Estate as Managers of the Scheme of Management, stating either no objection or an objection with a reason.
The applications are assessed in the first instance against the Dulwich Estate’s published guidelines covering fourteen categories which include conservatories, hard standings, loft conversions, replacement roofs and external repairs and redecorations.
This is a very onerous but important role. Each month the number might include as many as 15 applications. With the current economic climate making selling and moving more difficult, many householders are electing to extend their existing houses and the number is rising. There are at the moment a total of 64 applications outstanding. The most popular applications are from residents seeking to create extra space with either a rear extension or a loft conversion with a dormer window at the rear and rooflights to the side.
The need to allow buildings to adapt to changing lifestyle is acknowledged by the Group and where there is negative impact on the adjoining owners and the size is proportionate, there is less likelihood of an objection. Appropriate growth and change is seen by the Group as positive in giving new and better use of homes in Dulwich. However, there is an increasing tendency to submit applications which are totally out of scale with the building, in some cases doubling the size of the original ground plan. In such cases the Group will object to the application and it is referred to the Dulwich estate’s committee for a decision.
Sport in Dulwich
Sport does not feature highly in the Newsletter and this is perhaps surprising in view of the vast amount that is played in Dulwich. In an effort to rectify this omission, the first of two articles featuring Dulwich’s diverse sporting enthusiasms is featured in this issue.
Viewed from a railway carriage on one of Dulwich’s many viaducts, the amount of recreational space is obvious; it is a lot less obvious at street-level, where the many playing fields are tucked away behind streets of houses. The saving of the fields from the hands of the developers did not come as an accident or oversight. In 1905 the Dulwich Estate Governors voted to preserve some 127 acres of Dulwich’s 1500 acres as open space: “To be kept open for all time as playing fields, woods and ornamental works so that the district will be provided with oases for the health and recreation of the people, even if the other land is built upon.” Since then, considerable other tracts of the Dulwich Estate have been made available for the public’s enjoyment, admittedly not necessarily willingly by the Estate. Belair Park, Sydenham Hill Wood, Dulwich Upper Wood, Sunray Gardens and no doubt some other plots as well.
What the articles reveal is the good use this gift of land is being put to and the encouraging amount of interest in various sports shown by young people and equally, the commendable number of adults prepared to give their time to encourage them. In this issue we look at tennis, cricket, cycling, golf and rugby. In our next issue we consider soccer, rugby fives, running, squash and croquet.
New Chairman for the Society
Ian McInnes, a former chairman of the Planning and Architecture Group has succeeded Adrian Hill as chairman of the Dulwich Society following Adrian’s retirement.
In a tribute to Adrian’s chairmanship over the past eight years, Michael Rich, president of the Society, praised Adrian’s judgement and courage in his handling of recent difficult issues such as the Herne Hill Velodrome and development plans for Crystal Palace Park.
The Society presented Adrian with some handsome gardening tools to assist him in his passion for vegetable garden on his allotment in Grange Lane. The Society will continue to enjoy Adrian’s services as he will remain on the Executive Committee.
Council overruled on Telephone Mast
The Planning Inspectorate has overruled the decision by Southwark Council’s planning committee to refuse an application by Vodafone to erect an 18m high replica cypress tree telecommunications mast in the grounds of the South Bank University in Turney Road.
In his decision the Inspector stated that the mast would be a long way from any significant building or public viewpoint and would not be intrusive when seen from any dwelling. The sylvan appearance and historic fabric of the locality would, he said, be unaffected and the impact on Metropolitan Open Land minimal. Radio frequency emissions, which were cited by some objectors as a case for refusing the application, were, the Inspector said, a small fraction of the radio frequency exposure guidelines.
The original application by Vodafone and supported by the Dulwich Estate was to locate the mast in the adjoining field in Gallery Road. The Dulwich Society objected to this on the grounds that it was obtrusive and within 200 metres of the nearest houses and thus within the beam of maximum intensity.
The policy of the Dulwich Society over the question of mobile telephone masts is to oppose applications to all masts near housing and schools but that it does recognise that blanket opposition to all masts is unsustainable and that there is a poor quality of signal reception in parts of Dulwich.
When the application was first made, John Ward investigated alternative sites for a mast and proposed to the Dulwich Estate and Vodafone that the installation of the disguised mast in a clump of trees in the corner of a large sports field in Turney Road was the most distant location from any housing. He also persuaded South Bank University to hold talks with the parties involved. His initiative was supported by the Society. However, when the application went to the planning committee of Southwark Council, the application was refused.
Adrian Hill announced at the annual general meeting that in his professional opinion an appeal in the High Court against the Inspector’s decision to allow the application was unlikely to succeed.
Traffic & Transport
We reported last autumn that a scheme had been developed to reconfigure the complex road junction at Herne Hill. Six roads meet there, at the border between Southwark and Lambeth. The present layout is agreed to be quite unsatisfactory, with buses having to make convoluted turns through side streets and pedestrians unable to get safely to Brockwell Park.
The new arrangement will close off and pedestrianise the southern end of Railton Road and enable buses to keep to main the roads and pedestrians to get safely to the park. In addition to these improvements related to traffic, the scheme will contribute to the regeneration of the local economy by making it a pleasanter and safer destination for shoppers and others.
To make all this possible, the boundary of the park has to be moved back a little to create a new slip road and a large pedestrian island. Lambeth Council needed to obtain planning consent (from itself!) for moving the park boundary and railings. Following widespread consultation and local support this consent has now been granted, but not without some opposition from the Friends of Brockwell Park and others.
Lambeth Council, in collaboration with Southwark Council, Transport for London and the local community, is now moving to implement the scheme. We hope to see it finished by the end of this financial year.
Traffic through Dulwich Village
We all love and admire Dulwich Village and its immediate surroundings. The village has its magnificent chestnut trees set in the grassy ‘manor wastes’, its restaurants and friendly local shops. College Road has the Picture Gallery and the charming cottage to which Charles Dickens envisaged Mr Pickwick retiring.
Approaching from the north, Sunray Avenue and Red Post Hill pass the well-equipped little park, Sunray Gardens, and the historic listed North Dulwich Station.
BUT, all this is being spoilt by over-dominance of through traffic. This is congested and polluting at peak commuting times; fast and dangerous at other times. The spine of Sunray Avenue/Dulwich Village/College Road has long been a favourite commuter route from Denmark Hill to the South Circular. Now, Satnavs, directing lorries along that route add to the pressure.
So, the Dulwich Society’s Executive Committee and its Traffic & Transport Committee have decided to press for measures to reduce traffic and encourage more local cycling. More people on bikes, for example school pupils, will reduce peak hour traffic. So the net effect of the type of measures we advocate should not increase traffic on neighbouring roads.
The measures envisaged by the Society are:
For Red Post Hill
(a) A weight limit and narrowing of the road over the new bridge (notwithstanding the current expensive reconstruction to comply with EU safety regulations)
(b) Changes to the junction of Sunray Avenue and Denmark Hill
(c) More effective humps
For Dulwich Village
A streetscape which:
(a) is worthy of this historic road, in a conservation area
(b) retains Dulwich Village’s iconic historic forest trees and grass verges
(c) is less dominated by through traffic, clogged at peak periods and dangerously fast at other times
(d) retains adequate car parking for shoppers
(e) is safe for cyclists, including pupils going to and from schools
(f) is quieter, safer and most pleasant for pedestrians, residents and visitors.
For College Road north of the South Circular
(a) Reduce speeds on this wide road
(b) Arrange the car parking for the Picture Gallery to reduce danger from fast moving traffic
(c) Improve cycling routes.
We believe that such measurer would enjoy widespread support from Society members. If you have views, please telephone or email the chair of the Society’s Traffic & Transport Committee, Alastair Hanton 020 8693 2618
Bill Higman and Alastair Hanton, Chair, Traffic and Transport Committee
Dulwich Society gives further cash to Park
The Dulwich Society, which has already given large sums to Dulwich Park towards the play area, the car park and tree planting has given a further £1500 towards the £6000 cost of new reed beds and shrubs around the lake and further £1000 for more planting.
Landscaping of Post-War Estates
At the last Consultative Committee meeting of the Scheme of Management, of which the Dulwich Society is a member, the Dulwich Estate as Managers were asked to consider having a general policy to maintain original landscape design features on some of its post- war estates as some leaseholders were thought to be changing the original open-plan design integrity by introducing fencing around their properties. The Managers replied as follows:
There is nothing in the Scheme of Management which permits the Managers to insist that the original landscaping is retained: the Scheme focuses on external changes to buildings or structures and works to trees. The Managers have policy Guidelines to cover boundary treatment (Guideline 2) and Guideline 13 covers garden structures. Structural changes to a garden (hard landscaping) which can be seen from outside the boundaries of a property do require consent from the Managers.
There are certain developments within some estates (built in the 1960’s) where the plan was for an open aspect (such as the Woodhall Estate). There was an absence of fencing between the properties and the Managers are not in favour of fencing off the gardens. However, owners have, inevitably planted boundaries (which does not require consent). Unfortunately there is a general movement to fence off boundaries. Thus, it is not a question of the Managers having a weak policy but more of owners exercising their rights to fashion their gardens how they wish.
Arbitration is underway in regard to the refusal by the Dulwich Estate, as Managers of the Scheme of Management, to permit a hard standing in a road in Dulwich. The Estate has issued this notice in respect of hard standings.
Freeholders are reminded that under the Scheme of Management, any proposal for a hard standing for off-street parking requires the prior consent of the Managers. Generally, these will not be permitted where more than half of the original front garden would be lost; the remainder of the garden must be retained as a planted area. Residents considering forming hard standings for car parking must consider the impact on the streetscape.
The setting and architectural character of a group of are major factors which will influence the decision of the Managers; hard standings will not be approved where it is considered they would have an adverse impact. For example, a recent application in regard to a property in Druce Road (where there are currently no authorised hard standings) was rejected with overwhelming support of neighbours: 14 individual objections and a petition signed by 32 neighbours.
If a proposal is acceptable, the materials forming the hard standing and drive, and the associated landscaping must be in sympathy with the design of the property and adjoining streetscape. Careful consideration should be given to the means by which surface water will drain from the hard standing.
As a condition of the licence for a hard standing, the planting scheme approved as part of the application must be fully kept in order to provide adequate screening of a parked vehicle – when plants and shrubs die off, the freeholder is expected to plant replacements.
Further information can be obtained from: www.thedulwichestate.org.uk or the Scheme of Management Office, The Old Grammar School, Burbage Road, SE 21 7AF Tel: 020 8299 5666
The programme of Sunday afternoon visits to members’ gardens is now well underway. If you are not on the mailing list of the Garden group and would like to participate in these visits, please contact John Ward (020 7274 5172) to receive a copy of the programme.
Dulwich Society Events in June and July
Garden Group Coach Outing to Nymans Garden and Squerryes Court. Thursday 26th June, leaving Dulwich Picture Gallery 9.30am. Tickets £28 from Mrs Ina Pulleine tel:020 8670 5477 after 11.00am
Local History Group – Historical Walk. Sunday 29th June – Find out about Byron, the Somme, lost railways and garden follies – all in 1_ hours! Led by Brian Green, Bernard Nurse and Bernard Victor. Meet at the bottom of Cox’s Walk (opposite the Harvester) Dulwich Common 2.30pm
Wildlife – Bat Walk Thursday 31 July at 8.30pm (bring torch) in Belair Park. Meet in the car park at Belair Park. Led by Colin Higgins of the London Wildlife Trust. Bat echolocation detectors will be used to identify different types of bats from the radiowave frequency. Daubenton’ (which hunt over water) and two kinds of pipistrelle bats are known to use the park to hunt flying insects at dusk
West Dulwich Station turns over a New Leaf
The scheme for young offenders to make community reparations by clearing the 80 metre stretch of overgrown and debris laden land beside the ‘down’ platform at West Dulwich Station and creating a garden has been up and running for two years under the eye of its mentor, Vinnie O’Connell. A great deal has been done. Hundreds of bricks, tiles and pieces of concrete have been cleared in what has been a mammoth task. The rubble has been laid out in a large mosaic and a start has been made to plant out the remainder of the site with shrubs and plants. There are still some areas of bramble yet to be tamed but Vinnie is confident that the scores of young people involved in the project are up to the challenge and have benefited from it.
Vinnie is the Lead Mentor with Southwark Youth Offending Team, and trustee of Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses. He envisages the area, enclosing the path, garden and building (known locally as ‘The Nook’) as an ‘outdoor museum. The garden has received a ringing endorsement from Lord Norman Warner, a local resident who designed the current youth justice system, as ‘very much the kind of community scheme that those of us involved in setting up the system wanted to see’.
Called New Leaf, the scheme also runs a Community Shop in the former Nook premises as an ‘ethical garden centre’ and community information point. Open daily from 12-8 (although times may vary in the short term), it sells a large variety of locally sourced garden plants, herbs and seasonal flowers, organic compost and fertilisers. Local gardeners and the wider community are actively encouraged to contribute to the garden through the donation of plants, and to support the project in any way they can.
The garden now has an official name and address – New Leaf, Path to Platform 2, West Dulwich Station.
Tel: 07984 669842 email:
New history of Dulwich College
Jan Piggott, who has written an account of Charles Barry’s building of Dulwich College and also a history of Crystal Palace has completed a new history of the College. Two chapters describe the extraordinary career and enterprises of its founder, the Elizabethan actor and theatre owner, Edward Alleyn. The 400 pages cover the daily life, fortunes and personalities of the College, which began life as a charitable ‘hospital’, caring for the needs of the aged and the young. It describes the remarkable characters who transformed the school halfway through the nineteenth century into the famous and prosperous institution it has become.
Although the book will appeal to former pupils, it will also interest those with affection for Dulwich and the educational and social history of this part of London.
Jan Piggot joined the staff of Dulwich College as an Assistant Master in 1972. He subsequently became Head of English, and until 2006, Keeper of the Archives.
Dulwich College: a history will be published on 12 June price £24
Cricket with the Stars
On Sunday 12 June a talented team of cricketers, formed for the occasion into the UK Sparrow Xl, will take on the Lashings World Xl, a team made up of international cricketers, at a match at Dulwich College. The Lashings Xl includes Phil Defrietas (England), Richie Richardson (West Indies) and Chris Cairns (New Zealand). It promises to be a day of excitement, fun and excellent sport that will raise money for Sparrow Schools for over 500 disadvantaged children in Johannesburg.
The link between Dulwich and Sparrow Schools started with a visit to South Africa by boys from DCPS in 1997 and since then several other Dulwich schools have been involved in fundraising for Sparrow and many young people from Dulwich have been out to South Africa to work as volunteers in the schools. In addition the choir from Sparrow has been over twice and has performed at various venues in Dulwich and the children have stayed with Dulwich families. The choir is expected to visit again this autumn.
Tickets for the match are £5 adults, £2 for 7-18 year olds, under 6 free, family tickets in advance £10. Tickets available at the gate or from The Art Stationers or Bartley’s Florists, Dulwich Village. There are opportunities to be involved in the day, from sponsoring a player, to taking a table at the lunch. If you would like more information contact Richard Bernhard - email:
Long wait for Flood Relief
Thames Water’s flood investigation which covered 100 roads in and around Dulwich and Herne Hill is now complete and Thames Water says that it now has a better understanding of the mechanism of flooding, the extent of properties at risk of flooding and the scope of solution required to reduce the risk of flooding within the Lambeth and Southwark catchments. The best value solution identified is a new strategic sewer across South London plus significant local enhancements to the sewer network. This solution, which the company says has a very high price tag, is however believed to be the best solution for the area. An initial estimate is in the region of £200million. A further £20million is earmarked for ‘local enhancement’. For this reason the company is currently considering the options, one of which is to persuade Ofwat to agree to this expenditure. If it is successful it is possible that the project will be included in the business plan for 2010/2020.
Blue Plaque awarded to Anne Shelton
We are pleased to report that, following an article in the winter Newsletter, a Southwark Heritage Blue Plaque has been awarded to Anne Shelton, the popular singer and wartime “Forces’ Favourite”. This will be placed on the house in Court Lane where she lived over fifty years. There was strong support for the award from around the country as well as locally, many with touching tributes to her work in helping morale during World War ll and afterwards with the “Not Forgotten Association” for disabled ex-service personnel, as well as for her wonderful songs.
Five other Southwark blue plaques were awarded for 2007, including those to Edward Turner who designed the Triumph motorcycle and lived at Peckham Rye, and to Sir Henry Cooper, the heavyweight boxer, born in Camberwell.
The garden of Anne Shelton’s former home at 142 Court Lane will be open on Sunday 8 June from 2-6pm for the National Garden Scheme charities and St Christopher’s Hospice.
Vic Murray has contacted the Dulwich Society asking help in finding the location of a children’s home in the Dulwich area. His mother spent part of her childhood there and he thinks it was near the Horniman Museum and was run by Church of England nuns. She was living there from 1925 to 1935. Please reply to Vic by email
Sanjiva Senanayake emails that she is researching the life of her grandmother, Hilda Muriel Westbrook and would appreciate any help. Hilda was born in Dulwich in 1895 and attended JAGS from 1903. She lived in Glengarry Road and Calton Avenue. She went on to read Modern Languages at Newnham College, Cambridge in 1914, returning to JAGS as a Pupil Teacher in 1917 (at the time JAGS was a pupil teacher training centre. Ed.) She subsequently went to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1919 as a teacher. She married a prominent Ceylonese educationalist (Sanjiva’s grandfather) and stayed to become one of the country’s the leading educationalists in her own right, setting up several schools and playing a prominent role in social reform in the period leading up to Independence in 1948.
Sanjiva is in touch with JAGS but is interested in any further information. Email
BBC Antiques Roadshow comes to Dulwich
The Antiques Roadshow will be televised at the Dulwich Picture Gallery on Thursday 19 June. Doors open at 9.30am to 4.30pm, though filming will continue until 7.00pm, after which the Gallery will be open for Late Night Opening. The new presenter will be Fiona Bruce and the Antiques Roadshow will be in the Gallery itself, and also in the garden.
Visitors are asked to bring their treasures to the experts at the Gallery on the day but if they have large pieces of furniture or bulky objects that they can’t carry the Antiques Roadshow may be able to help. The closing date for letters and photographs regarding bulky objects is Tuesday 10 June to Antiques Roadshow, BBC, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2 LR or email
Admission to the Antiques Roadshow at the Gallery is free.
Have you heard about Probus?
The word comes from PRO(fessional) and BUS(isiness) and it is the name given to a loose association of retired businessmen’s groups around the world. It is strictly non-profit making, non-religious and non-political. The club’s only purpose is to meet and be entertained by a variety of speakers once a month although the local club goes one better and its members enjoy a good lunch at the same time! If you would like to think about joining or perhaps just coming along to try lunch next month, please contact Ben Bourke on 020 7738 6446.
From the comments and letters I have received, it seems that many readers have been entertained by my reminiscences of fifty years of shop-keeping in Dulwich Village. It is a fact, perhaps an oddity of the English that their own recollections of the past and place are invariably tied up with the shops that served them and the people who ran them. Thus, some of the subjects of my tales of the Village have brought back memories to long-term residents. I do have the advantage of also observing my customers and some of these have presented their own memorable moments.
I suppose that of all the customers down the years ‘G’ must rank with the most intriguing. You perhaps remember ‘G’, from ‘Castaway’, the film in which he was portrayed by Oliver Reed. Oddly enough I served in the army for a short time with Oliver Reed and on the occasional evening when we socialised I was able to observe his brooding and intimidating persona at close hand. ‘G’ - Gerald Kingsland, by comparison, I found altogether different. Happy-go-lucky he seemed to me; a cheerful man and slighter in build than Reed, with curly red hair and a beard. Yet his own lifestyle was just as lurid and his soul just as tortured so perhaps Ollie was well cast. ‘G’ lived in Calton Avenue in the1970’s early 1980’s and was a regular visitor to my shop.
He told me about his experiences of living on Robinson Crusoe Island some six hundred kilometres off the coast of Chile and other such stunts which he wrote about for various publications. He outlined his plan to spend a year of self-sufficiency on yet another island called Tuin off the coast of Australia, the experience of which he proposed to turn into a book. Soon after, his story made the headlines, largely because of the unusual step he took in advertising in ‘Time Out’ for a ‘wife’ to spend the year with him. A bored tax clerk named Lucy Irvine applied but the government of Queensland required the couple to be married to mollify the sensitivities of the native population of nearby islands.
A year or more later, perhaps it was two years, Gerald reappeared in my shop. He bore, he said, no malice towards Lucy Irvine who had stolen a march on him by returning from the desert island first and promptly writing her best-selling book also titled Castaway on which the film was based. “ I don’t blame Luce. Good luck to her”, was his perhaps unexpected pronouncement on her conduct. “I’ll write my own book about it.” He did, a year after Lucy Irvine’s. It did not do well.
I did not see Gerald after that visit, although I know that years later he returned to Calton Avenue to spend his final days being cared for by the second of his five wives.
I have to confess that I have never seen an episode from Coronation Street; which is most remiss of me since I shared a classroom at Alleyn’s with one of its earliest stars – Ken Farrington, who (I am told) played the part of Billy Walker in over 400 episodes. The reason I raise the subject of Coronation Street, apart from the fact that it roughly covers the same the timescale as my career as a Village shopkeeper, is that one road in Dulwich always struck me that it might be the southern real-life personification of the road in that particular soap opera. Of course, if you a regular at the Rovers Return you have every right to correct me if I have made false assumptions.
The road in question is Dekker Road. Or rather Dekker Road as it was up until about fifteen or twenty years ago. Do not confuse it with the Dekker Road of today, now largely let by the Dulwich Estate to the upwardly mobile who appreciate its cottage-like charm, generous gardens; and within the catchment area of local schools. No, I speak of the Dekker Road when the rent was £8 per week and most of the occupants were direct employees of the Estate. There lived the gardeners, plumbers, toll-gate collectors, builders, decorators, assistant bailiffs and even surveyors.
The resemblance of Dekker Road to Coronation Street was the closeness of that community. Its menfolk worked together and lived almost shoulder to shoulder with each other. When they were young they joined the local football and cycling clubs and when they retired they played whist in the afternoons at the Parish Hall or at the Old Grammar School. There was a great deal of mutual help among the families, as well, no doubt, as plenty of gossip. In addition to this large number of Estate workers there were a handful of other residents some of whom veered towards eccentricity and were often the subject of the gossip.
Mr Ruston-Kipps was tall and thin and slightly bent and lived by himself and in addition to possessing an impressive name also possessed an impressive briefcase. The briefcase was made of leather and had the royal cipher in gold below the clasp. You see, Mr Ruston-Kipps was civil servant and in those days, that’s what civil servants took to their offices. But Mr Ruston-Kipps had a second job. Quite unexpectedly for a bowler-hatted briefcase-carrying civil servant, he also composed the flowery verses which once embellished the insides of greetings cards which he then sold on commission.
On the other side of the road lived the Duchess. Her neighbours, in one of their more uncharitable moments, dubbed her the Duchess of Dekker; a masterful piece of alliteration, because of her colourful clothing and liberal use of make-up to cover her advancing years. Robert Worley, another friend of mine from the Alleyn’s days has penned his own reminiscences which will appear in due course. He recalls: “Although clothes rationing was still in force, she always turned out in great style – usually a navy blue and white ensemble, down to her ‘co-respondent ‘ two-tone shoes. She was known locally as the ’Duchess of Dekker’, and as a small boy, I considered this a fact.”
The next door neighbours of Mr Rushton-Kipps were the Young family comprising a father and his two unmarried adult daughters. One of these, Norah, had been Dekker Road’s co-ordinator for Civil Defence during World War ll and was one of the mainstays of the road’s solid character afterwards. Among the many interesting wartime effects she passed on to me when I was collecting material for the booklet Dulwich: The Home Front 1939-1945 were three mimeographed letters written to her from a neighbour who was serving with the RAF in Ceylon. Maybe there were other letters she did not pass on although I doubt whether there was any element of a romance between Norah and the airman although wartime censorship may have eliminated traces of affection. The letters certainly looked forward to a time when the young man would return to Dekker Road. The last letter was sent just prior to his departure for home when the war ended. He never made it. His plane crashed on take-off. Norah never married.
Another single lady with an equally strong character was Mildred Thompson who lived in a house in the Village. Strangely she would share a destiny with Norah. Mildred Thompson was engaged to the son of Sir Harry Lauder. He too was killed in a plane crash. She too never married.
And so to Bed
The strangest romance I have ever encountered also focussed on Dekker Road. An elderly gentleman who lived at the Woodwarde Road end of the road answered a ‘For Sale’ advertisement for a double bed belonging to a widow who lived above Bartley’s Florists. Not only did he buy the bed, but fell in love with the seller and the subject of the sale became the matrimonial bed for himself and the former widow in his house at Dekker Road.
Next door to the newly-weds lived Mrs Bunn. Mrs Bunn had been rehoused in Dekker Road after she and her daughter Ethel’s house in Park Hall Road was destroyed in World War ll. Mother and daughter were in their beds in the house at the time when a Vl Flying bomb exploded, destroying the shops and bank at West Dulwich. The floor of Mrs Bunn’s house collapsed and they found themselves covered in debris in the basement and still in bed.
Mrs Bunn had grown up in a street in Bermondsey but had applied for a vacancy for a maid in College Gardens because her prospects of marriage to any of the young men she had known vanished with the news that all the eligible bachelors had been killed in the trenches in the First World War. She became a maid to Dr Lillian Clarke, the brilliant but eccentric botany teacher at JAGS who founded the now famous botany gardens. It was as a maid in College Gardens she met her future husband, thus proving her intuition of better marriage prospects in Dulwich to be correct.
The Hermit of Dulwich
The story of the Hermit of Dulwich is well known – Samuel Matthews, the mentally unbalanced jobbing gardener who attained fame from living in a cave that he had constructed in Dulwich Woods at the end of the eighteenth century and where he was murdered in 1802, an outrage reported in “The Times” of the day. Matthews, we are led to believe, was given permission by the Master of the College to live in this cave and where he, not surprisingly, was the object of much curiosity. The reason I relate this story is because only a few years ago there was a remarkable corollary.
The connection with the Samuel Matthews story is that there was a latter-day hermit also living in Dulwich Woods, in not quite a cave, rather more a shack built on the site of ‘Beechgrove’, a handsome Victorian mansion once used as a nursing home where King George Vlth received treatment. This latter day hermit was a Jamaican named Solomon.
Solomon made his home in the woods very comfortable. His tools, cutlery, pots and pans were conveniently hung along a surviving old wall of Beechgrove, a wall on which on its street side had its mortar pointing between the bricks picked out by Solomon in of an attractive shade of mauve paint which contrasted nicely with the red of the bricks of the wall along Sydenham Hill. The Royal Mail was able to deliver letters to Solomon because he nailed the former house number of Beechgrove to an overhanging tree.
Solomon lived in the woods on Sydenham Hill for a number of years, and like his predecessor two hundred years earlier, apparently lived with the blessing (or the blind eye) of the Dulwich Estate, the present day successors to the Master, perhaps because Solomon was exercising squatter’s rights.
Eventually a more attractive option presented itself to Solomon. He was invited to enter Mais House, a charitable sheltered housing development operated by the Corporation of London, conveniently situated across the road and only 50 metres from Beechgrove. As far as I know, he lives there still.
The Heritage of London Trust is London’s only charity which concentrates on the conservation and restoration of historic buildings which are cared for by the local communities. The Trust has been operating for over 25 years and during that time has helped buildings and monuments in every single London borough and raised and disbursed well over £3 Million to ensure the survival of London’s unique and exciting heritage.In fact the Heritage of London is two trusts: our sister, Heritage of London Trust Operations is a building preservation trust which acts as a regenerator in the poorest areas by taking over problem buildings and finding a sensible and economic end use before restoring the building to its rightful dignity.
The Heritage of London Trust has been quietly busy in Dulwich over the years; we have helped the Picture Gallery twice, restored the clock at Dulwich College and we made a small grant towards landscaping at All Saints, West Dulwich and we are looking at a tomb in West Norwood Cemetery at the moment.One local project where we have been very pleased to offer help is St Augustine’s Church on One Tree Hill in Honor Oak Park, SE23. This area has the most romantic associations and the Hill was previously named “Oak of Honor Hill” because Queen Elizabeth I was entertained to a picnic under the Oak by Sir Richard Buckley on May Day 1602! How wonderful then that the space should still be an open space used for sport (Honor Oak Recreation Ground), allotments (One Tree Hill Allotments Society) and common land where anyone can walk (Friends of One Tree Hill) and of course St Augustine’s Church located within leafy One Tree Hill (entrance for cars in Honor Oak Park).
St Augustine’s is a very beautiful and much loved Church whose foundation stone was laid in 1872. The building is faced in Kentish Ragstone with a battlemented tower surrounded by an octagonal bell turret. You may have noticed the flag of St George flying proudly atop the Hill! The Church has just reached the end of a year long Project Development with English Heritage to determine the work required to stabilise the structure. This is likely to include extensive underpinning, drains renewal, and repairs and refurbishment to the stone facing and internal masonry. Bolstered by grants from other charitable foundations such as Garfield Weston, Marshall’s Charity and National Churches, St Augustine’s Living Heritage Appeal has had a busy year of fundraising events and hopes to commence the restoration work this summer. Further repairs and improvements to the building will continue for some time. Details about services and events can be found on their website www.augustineonetreehill.org.uk
Finally, Dulwich Society members may be interested in the Heritage Weekend the Trust is arranging on 13th and 14th September in Tower Hamlets. This fascinating area has a wealth of history which has shaped our nation’s economic development. We will be producing a guide book for the weekend during August and any member who would like a free copy should send a stamped, self addressed envelope to The Heritage of London Trust, 38 Ebury Street, London, SW1W 0LU.
By Professor Alice Coleman
Crime in Southwark, as elsewhere, is increasing in frequency and also becoming more vicious. Putting more policemen on watch is a limited solution. It does not prevent children from becoming criminals although it may prevent them from offending where police eyes are on them and send them to break the law somewhere else. Mostly it catches them after they have committed mayhem and then milks the taxpayer to keep them expensively in prison. Their lives are ruined and their victims suffer grievously. Yet it was research in Southwark that showed how to prevent child criminalisation in the first place.
Sunday 1st National Gardens Scheme – Gardens Open - 66a East Dulwich Road 12-pm and 167 Rosendale Road 2-6pm.
7.30 pm Sydenham International Music Festival – Concert – Endellion String Quartet with Susie Meszaros, viola. Martinu: String Quartet No 7, Mozart: Viola Quintet in G minor K 516, Mendelssohn: Viola Quintet No 1 in A Op 18. Tickets £13, £8.50 concs.
Friday 6th 7.30pm Concert – Salieri String Ensemble in aid of Dulwich Helpline Access to Art, Christ Church, Barry Road SE 22. Tickets £10 Te: 8761 4898 or on the door.
Saturday 7th 11am Sydenham International Music Festival – Concert – The Carnival of the Animals – St. Bartholomew Festival Orchestra conductor Robert Trory. Tickets £5
Sunday 8th National Gardens Scheme – Gardens Open – 142 Court Lane 2-6pm and North House, 93 Dulwich Village 2-6pm in aid of Dulwich Helpline, light refreshments and teas. Entrance £2.50 (children free)
Dulwich Picture Gallery Coming of Age of American Art ends.
Wednesday 11th 2.30pm Sydenham International Music Festival – Concert - Valerie Tryon, piano. Music of Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schumann followed by Afternoon Tea. In aid of St Christopher’s Hospice. Tickets £8.50
Thursday 12th Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society Lecture – The New Golden Age: Sculpture since 1945 by Eric Shanes. James Allen’s Girls’ School 6th Form Centre 8pm
Sunday 15th National Gardens Scheme – Gardens Open - 103 & 105 Dulwich Village 2-5pm
7.30pm Sydenham International Music Festival – Concert – The London Mozart Players Valerie Tryon piano, Robert Trory conductor. Mozart: Piano Concerto in D minor K466, Philip Sawyers: Symphony No 2 – World Premiere, Beethoven: Symphony No 7 in A major Op 92. Tickets £16, £10 concs.
Wednesday 18th National Gardens Scheme – Garden Open – 5 Burbage Road 6-8.30pm
Thursday 19th BBC Antiques Roadshow at Dulwich Picture Gallery 9.30am-4.30pm and from 7.00pm in the Gallery. Admission free.
Sunday 22nd National Gardens Scheme – Garden Open – South London Botanical Institute 2-5pm. London’s smallest botanical garden
Thursday 26th Dulwich Society Garden Group. Coach outing to ‘Nymans’ and ‘Squerryes Court’. Tickets £28 from Mrs Ina Pulleine, 1 Perifield, SE 21 8NG. Tel. 8270 5477 after 11.am
Saturday 28th Lambeth Orchestra – Concert- Prokofiev:Suite No2 Romeo and Juliet, Tchaikovsky: Piano concerto No 1, Stavinsky: Petrushka(1947). Anthony Hewitt: piano. St Luke’s Church, Knights Hill, West Norwood.
Sunday 29th Dulwich Society Local History Walk – Byron, The Somme, lost railways and garden follies! – an historical walk through Dulwich Woods. Meet at the bottom of Cox’s Walk (opposite The Harvester PH, Dulwich Common) at 2.30pm. Free.
Thursday 3rd, Friday 4th, Saturday 5th Sunday 6th Shakespeare in Dulwich Picture Gallery Garden. The Dulwich Players Present – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 5.30pm and 8.30p Sunday at 6pm.. Tickets £12 seated £6 on the grass ( Box Office tel 020 8670 0890 or The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village.). Bar.
Sunday 6th National Gardens Scheme – Garden Open - 66a East Dulwich Road 12-6pm, 22 Scutari Road 2-6pm, 82 Wood Vale 2-5pm.
Wednesday 9th Dulwich Picture Gallery Exhibition – Painting Family: The De Brays, Master Painters of 17th Century Holland – opens.
Thursday 10th Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society Lecture – Psychology of a City: Architecture of St. Petersburg by Rosamund Bartlett. James Allen’s Girls’ School 6th Form Centre.
Saturday 12th Dulwich Picture Gallery Study Day with Valerie Woodgate – A Day with the Gods: Greek Myths and Legends in Art – 10.30am-3.30pm £29, £24 concs. Includes morning coffee and buffet lunch.
Tuesday 15th -Friday 18th Dulwich Picture Gallery Short Summer Course – Painting for the Petrified: an introduction to painting. Tutor Peter Astwood. 10.30am-4.00pm £85, £75 concs.
Sunday 10th National Gardens Scheme – Garden Open - 66a East Dulwich Road 12-6pm
Tuesday 12th-Friday 15th Dulwich Picture Gallery Short Summer Course – Land, Sea and Weather. Tutor Felicity Montaigu. £85, £75 concs.
The Dulwich Players present – A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the garden of Dulwich Picture Gallery
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of presenting Shakespeare in the garden of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Dulwich Players are staging A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the timeless tale of four young lovers and a group of amateur players who become entangled with the Fairies who rule the forest at night. Performances nightly Thursday 3rd July, Friday 4th at 8pm, Saturday 5th at 5.30pm and 8.30pm, and Sunday 6th at 6.00pm. Tickets £12 seated, £6 on the grass. Box Office 8670 0890. or The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village
Part of the uniqueness of Dulwich is its large amount of open space. It did not arrive like that by accident but as a policy decision made in 1905 by the then Dulwich Estates Governors to keep over 120 acres of Dulwich’s 1500 acres as open space for all time. The last few farms were about to close and there was pressure to build on the land. With the exception of one playing field on the north side of Dulwich Common which was compulsorily purchased for housing after World War ll, this has remained the case; a policy now strengthened by the Metropolitan Open Land Act.
So what goes on in all this open space? We thought it about time we found out. Largely it is used for sports and here is a sample of some of them.
The Old Alleynian (Rugby) Football Club - Dulwich Common
The OAs were founded in 1898 to provide former scholars of Dulwich College with an opportunity to continue to play rugby with colleagues that they had grown up with. This basic idea continues today although the Club has moved with the times and now provides the opportunity to enjoy rugby for those that did not attend Dulwich College as well.
The Club moved to its current home on Dulwich Common in the 1920’s and looks set to remain there for many years. The Clubhouse has been renovated after a fire a few years ago and provides a warm and welcoming place to meet after a game.
As with any local sports club the fortunes peak and trough and the Club 1st XV will finish the 2007/08 season in second position in their league. The recent highlight was winning the 2003/04 Junior Vase at Twickenham – thus making the OAs the best little club in England!
Anyone who watched the recent Six Nations will have seen the contribution by two Old Alleynians – Andrew Sheridan and Nick Easter. These are two of the many Old Alleynians playing for other, more senior, clubs.
Now that the OAs is not just for former pupils of Dulwich College the Club has started a “Minis” section so if you are passing the ground on a Sunday morning you could find up to 400 players aged from 7 to 18 playing the game.
For those who have an interest in rugby and are thinking of playing or just want to watch and enjoy a drink afterwards, please contact me at
Despite a poor weather forecast, Herne Hill Velodrome’s Good Friday meeting passed off in bright sunshine slightly marred by a chill wind. The organisers’ anxiety about the track surface at the north-facing end (the meeting two years ago had to be abandoned because of the danger caused by the wet surface) was allayed when the early sunshine quickly dried the moisture. By lunchtime a large crowd had built up to watch teams and individuals from several European countries compete in sprint and pursuit races.
The Velodrome is at present operated by the Velo Club de Londres, although the lease to British Cycling granted by the Dulwich estate is due to expire later this year. The VC Londres organises Saturday morning training with an induction session for novices and less experienced riders. On Friday evenings there are now youth training sessions. The club has developed a 1.25 miles long mountain bike/cyclo-cross circuit on vacant land adjacent to the track. Bikes are available for use at the training sessions for a nominal sum.
Last year John Watts published a history of the Velodrome – Herne Hill Stadium to Herne Hill Velodrome: a history from 1891-2007.* From the outset the author, a former president of the Southern Counties Cycling Union, makes clear that the book is not a celebration of the stadium’s glory days and Olympic fame, but rather a detailed account of how it came into existence, its management and maintenance. This account is therefore both topical and useful. Topical, in that it arrives at a time when a huge question mark hangs over the future of Herne Hill despite the laudable campaign for its retention by cyclists throughout the country. Useful, because it dispels certain myths and acknowledges that the landlord, the Dulwich Estate, has actually been an ally to the stadium rather than a predatory developer and has renewed the lease twice since the 42 year lease expired in 2002.
The book points out the decline in enthusiasm for track racing, citing the lower than expected attendance figures at the indoor track which opened at Manchester in 1994, and argues that this trend does not auger well for the future of Herne Hill. Indeed, at one time British Cycling faced insolvency and the Manchester Velodrome was faced with closure. This was underlined on Good Friday when I went to take the pictures to illustrate this article and arrived on my folding ‘Brompton’ bicycle. A German TV unit who is doing a programme on the Brompton were thus more interested in my bicycle than the racing going on around them. Good for British exports but bad for track racing.
Nevertheless, there is arguably a much greater interest in cycling, even since 1994 and things may change even more. Indeed, only a week after the 2008 Good Friday meeting, there was a momentous success at the Track World Championships when the Great Britain team won nine gold medals in 18 events at the Manchester Velodrome and the British team is being tipped for great success in the Olympic Games in Beijing. National newspapers which usually take little interest in cycling carried several whole page illustrated reports of the British team’s success.
So what does the success in Manchester mean for Herne Hill? It is virtually certain that if the GB team is able to repeat its Manchester success in Beijing it will refocus the attention of the now huge cycling fraternity towards track racing. It is likely that young riders will be enthused and many of those who live in the south of England will want to train for the 2012 Olympics at Herne Hill. It may be too early to write off Herne Hill Velodrome.
*Herne Hill Stadium to Herne Hill Velodrome: a history from 1891-2007 by John Watts, A4 wire- bound 71 pages £5.90 incl. pp.from the author 45 Juniper Road, Langley Green, Crawley RH11 7NL.
The Old College Club was established in 1884, making it one of the earliest tennis clubs in south London (the Wimbledon Championships began in 1877 and tennis was suddenly fashionable). The original site, including grass tennis courts and a croquet lawn (another game becoming more popular), was probably on the western side of Gallery Road nearer the Village, perhaps near the Old Grammar School building. The club closed during the First World War but it is recorded that members continued to pay their subscriptions so that the club could be revived after the war, and it is thought that it was opened on its present Gallery Road site north of Lovers Lane in the 1920s. The club thrived, taking in members from other clubs that had closed, and by 1939 there were five grass and six clay courts on the present site.
After the Second World War the club survived the burning down of its pavilion (twice!) and a threat of bankruptcy in the 1960s only averted by heroic fund-raising activities by members. Croquet was revived with the construction of a new croquet lawn and grass courts which were expensive to maintain were replaced by artificial grass surfaces. It is now a flourishing club with four hard and three artificial grass courts and a wide age range in the membership, including over 100 juniors. There are a number of men's and women's teams, the top men's team playing in the second highest Surrey league. Full details of the types of membership available are given on its website www.oldcollege.co.uk
The Old College Tennis & Croquet Club Gallery Road, Dulwich SE21 7AB
The Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Golf Club
Founded in 1894, the Golf Club is one of Dulwich’s hidden gems. From both the Clubhouse and the course there are magnificent views of London’s skyline – from Canary Wharf via the City, the Post Office Tower and the new Wembley Arch, to Hampstead and Highgate.
In recent years there have been a series of major improvements to both the course and the Clubhouse. The Club has its own bore hole giving it full control over its water supply. This enabled a full course watering system to be installed some years ago, substantially helping the Green Keeping staff in maintaining the course in excellent condition. Drainage has also been improved considerably, which has greatly helped winter play. Six new tees have been built, and many new trees and shrubs are being planted.
The golf is good at all levels. We have some fine players who do well in County and inter-club matches, but equally, there are opportunities for everyone to play in matches or competitions. We have 830 playing members including Juniors, and a further 250 Social members. Within these figures there are a number of groups – for example the Veteran’s section (chiefly the over 60’s) which has about 100 members, the oldest playing member is 93! The ladies have a similar ‘Perennials’ section.
The Club has excellent facilities – a very good bar and dining room, where members and their friends can get one of the best Sunday lunches in Dulwich. The Club Professional and his staff give lessons (to members and non-members) and also run a shop which offers a fine range of equipment and clothing. The Club has a very active Bridge section, as well as providing a wide range of social activities.
New members are very welcome.
A Century (and more) of Cricket
Cricket came to Dulwich in 1879 when the nomadic Aeolian Cricket Club, which had been founded by the Camberwell Music Society in l867, took up occupation of the Greyhound CC ground in Dulwich Village. Once there, “they became a formidably successful team, seldom beaten”. The Club had previously had the distinction of playing against a team which featured the resident of 7 Lawrie Park Road in nearby Sydenham – a certain Dr WG Grace!
In 1885 the Club moved to the playing fields bounded by Turney, Burbage and Giant Arches Roads and became Dulwich CC, now the Cricket Section of Dulwich Sports Club which also supports Tennis, Hockey, Squash and, in the next article, Croquet. A fine example of its standing in cricket circles occurred in l919 when Dulwich celebrated the resumption of sporting activities following the end of the Great War by declaring at 502 for 8 and then bowling out Sutton for 89 – “just another everyday 413 run victory!”
Mention must also be made of the occasion in l928 when AER Gilligan, the first recorded Dulwich player to captain his country, entertained the touring West Indians who included in their team Sir Learie Constantine and RK Nunes, another future Test captain who had played for the Club. In fact no fewer than 5 Test Captains have played for Dulwich.
Cricket at Dulwich continued to be highly successful in the l930s but the golden era was during the l970s when the Club won the Surrey Championships for three successive years. The Club also reached the National Club Knockout final at Lord’s in l976. In l993 the Club toured India and Kenya and Uganda in 2001.They are going back to India next winter
As for the future development of the game here, John Smith, long-standing President of the Cricket Section, writes: “Dulwich continues to go from strength to strength with the first team at the top of the ECB Surrey Championship Premier League, only one step down from the County system. The Club fields 7 adult teams on Saturdays and 4 teams on Sundays, in two of which youngsters play alongside adults. The Club has recently launched a ladies section. Moreover the colts section has proved a fertile recruiting ground for the adult teams with over 250 junior members playing on a regular basis”. The future seems assured!
A relatively mild winter has been followed by a cold bleak early spring with unseasonal snow and people have been reporting seeing good numbers of small birds in their gardens. Indeed, as the RSPB points out in the context of their annual big garden birdwatch in the last weekend of January, the status of many of the nation’s small birds is reflected in what we see in our gardens. Many of our garden birds, of which the Robin is a typical example, are woodland birds that have adapted to a new way of life. At the end of winter, food becomes scarce and gardens are a refuge, enabling us to see sometimes unexpected visitors.
The Siskin is a typical late winter visitor that we rarely see before March, and this has been observed by several of us at our peanut feeders as a greenish yellow canary-like bird that is distinctly smaller than the abundant Greenfinches. An even more unusual late winter visitor is the Brambling, a pair of which appeared this year in a garden in Rosendale Road. This is a native breeding bird of Scandinavia that winters here typically in beech woods. Its closest relative is the Chaffinch and it is most often seen in the company of Chaffinches as a strikingly marked finch with a rusty orange breast and shoulder and black head. Both the Siskin and the Brambling will have departed to northern breeding quarters by the end of April, so their stay with us will have been short, but we will have seen them at their most spectacular as by erosion of their feather tips they reveal their breeding plumage, thereby avoiding the need to moult.
Staying with the theme of small birds, many of them have clearly survived the winter well. The smallest, indeed Britain’s smallest, the Goldcrest is rarely seen but those of us who have not yet lost our high tone hearing will be able to hear the very high song of repeated notes followed by a brief flourish of equally high notes coming from the depths of many of our conifers in which they remain camouflaged. But the more exciting has been the appearance of a much rarer Firecrest singing in Sydenham Hill woods giving hope that it may become a regular new breeding bird for Dulwich, although this may be difficult to verify. For anyone lucky enough to spot it you will see a small warbler sized greenish bird with a strong black and white eye stripe, bright flame coloured crown and a hint of rust colour over each shoulder.
Amongst the commoner birds one of the remarkable things has been the huge increase of the numbers of Goldfinches in our gardens. A record 35 were counted in a Carson Road garden late last summer and their delightful canary like song has been a feature of our gardens all winter. We have alas had losers. It is now some years since I saw a Bullfinch in Dulwich, but Chaffinches have done well and House Sparrows are managing to hold their own albeit in smaller numbers.
The RSPB pointed out, following the national birdwatch, that Blue Tits had a bad breeding year in 2007. The inclement weather from May onwards appeared to have washed out their supply of small caterpillars on which they feed their young. Great Tits fared better and I have noticed that this winter there have been more Great Tits than Blue Tits on the feeder which is the reverse of the usual situation. Long Tailed Tits breed in April and were able to take advantage of the fine April weather and they prospered, but how they will do in this much more inclement April we shall have to await.
More good news is that Little Grebes are back in Dulwich Park and should breed once more and I have also seen one in Belair Park. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were back from mid-March and are now singing well.
One afterthought; I trust nobody was taken in by the April 1st item on the Today Programme that announced that the RSPB was issuing bird traps as a result of the influx of small birds from the continent in order to repatriate them to Denmark and preserve the food supply for our native resident species.
Wildlife Recorder (020 7274 4567)
The "chattering classes" are back in Dulwich - in my garden, at any rate. They were targeting sunflower seeds in a hanging feeder, chirping away as they played what looked like a game of perch-swapping Musical Twigs.
But were “our” house sparrows really back or was this a false dawn? The prognosis wasn’t good. House sparrows, once a common sight to Londoners, were last year listed, for the first time, on the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan as being in urgent need of special protection. Luckily, this noisy, healthy-looking young trio of visitors had breeding potential. I was determined to put all available experts‘advice into action to encourage them to go forth and multiply. I was “ticking all the right boxes“, including the category marked nest boxes. Yet a state-of-the-art artificial sparrow terrace (sparrows are highly sociable) made of pulped wood chippings and concrete on the front of our house had remained as resolutely unoccupied as a Dulwich Park Park-Keepers’ lodge, despite the fact that it was only inches away from the below-eaves entrance to a(pre-loft-conversation)sparrow nursery in the roof space.
By the time of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Big Garden Birdwatch the following January, I knew that my regular house sparrow grouping had swelled to a regular six-some (although they unobligingly failed to materialise all at the same time in order to qualify for an official recording that weekend). So maybe the bumping up of the bird-feeding regime, making it all-year-round, increasing the number of feeders to three, plus widening the variety of contents to include a special high-energy, no-husks mix from the start of nest-building through to the end of spring had helped?
It was not until I found myself having to raise my voice to counter the racket coming from the pittisporum close to the back of the house, that I realised, last summer, that there was indeed a colony of some considerable size now “hanging out” in my garden.
For the benefit of those among you who would also like to help reverse the alarming trend of house sparrow decline, I have noted the three things which may have contributed to this recent improvement:
- Support feeding throughout the whole year. There were fears that continuing supplying extra food in gardens may discourage parent birds from hunting for vital protein (insects). On the contrary, it would seem to have turned out to be a life-saver.
- Providing suitable habitat: that means high, dense, all-year-round cover, sheltering birds from the elements and from predators. My own garden contains several bird-encouraging features, including a tall (almost roof-height) shrub that has not been topped out or pruned back to make it fit any garden-design brief. But this pittosporum (not a native, but for this conservation purpose, what does that matter!) did not attract a single roosting, or for that matter, gossiping bird until my neighbour’s climber, a white Solanum, a variety of perennial nightshade, began to interweave through its branches, joined in its dizzying ascent by one of my climbing roses. The symbiosis has proved to be a gale, wind and sleet-defying filigree of vegetation that the birds really like. It goes to show that, when it comes to wildlife gardening, maybe we should all be thinking vertically, as well as “laterally“.
- Providing specialised feeds and siting feeds in different places to suit the needs of different species is also proving successful. One such is nyjer seed which comes from the Ramtil plant, a native of Ethiopia. Siskins and redpolls are also known to be attracted to it. As the seed is so fine, a special feeder is advised and a tray can be attached to prevent wastage - though the squirrels may enjoy it! A mixture with no wheat helps to keep the numbers of pigeons and doves down, so allowing other ground-feeding birds to clean up the wastage.
For more information: House Sparrows in Great Britain, joint RSPB,BTO, Defra leaflet, published by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, product code PB 9198; Managing Habitat for Birds and Other Wildlife in Urban Green Spaces, by Su Gough, available from British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU; 01842 750050; e-mail: