When the Barron family, living at Aysgarth House, Dulwich Village, decided on some major alterations to their home they little realised what would be discovered when the foundations for a new basement room were excavated. The builders started turning up dozens of all kinds of bottles. Oddly, most were undamaged and Greg Barron decided to make a collection of these artefacts as they were unearthed. He explains, "The spot where we planned our new basement seems to have been the basement of the old Greyhound Inn or perhaps the grocer's shop which stood next door to it in the nineteenth century. The remains of two walls, forming an angle of the old basement, were more or less intact and it was within these that the bottles and other artefacts were found." Some of the bottles were still sealed, although most were empty. They varied from Bovril and marmalade jars, to a number of delicate, thin and square blue coloured bottles. A clay pipe was found intact.
Perhaps the most interesting find was a fragment of an earthenware jar inscribed with the name of 'Middlecott, Greyhound, Dulwich'. The Middlecott family were the proprietors of the famous Greyhound for the first half of the nineteenth century in the days when it was Dulwich's principal inn and stage coach stop. It was during the Middlecott's tenure that famous people like Ruskin and Thackeray were patrons. The Greyhound straddled what are now Aysgarth and Pickwick Roads and its cricket field extended as far as Turney Road. It had stabling for fifteen horses and six coaches, a bowling green and a small menagerie. The large room on the first floor was used for dinners, balls and occasionally for vestry (forerunner of the borough council) meetings. In 1860, the parents of children at the infants' school, then located in an unhealthy overcrowded room in a former pub further down the village, met to found the present Infants' School.
Pieces of clay pipe are frequently found in Dulwich gardens, along with small fragments of china. The explanation for this has only recently come to light. When the field in Gallery Road now occupied by Dulwich College Preparatory School was being equipped with new land drains, the top soil and turf were removed. A Dulwich Society member was surprised to find so many china and clay pipe fragments in the spoil and filled a large bag with them. Her curiosity drove her to the Victoria & Albert Museum where she was informed that none of the pieces were later than 1830 and they were probably used by farmers to break up the heavy clay soil. They would have been bought commercially from London dust-collectors.
Thanks to two Dulwich Society publications - 'Who Was Who in Dulwich' and 'Dulwich - The Home Front 1939-1945' two significant projects have come to fruition. In July a Southwark Blue Plaque dedicated to Phyllis Pearsall (1906-1995) was unveiled at her former home, 3 Court Lane Gardens where she lived until around 1914. According to Southwark Heritage which sponsors the scheme, Phyllis Pearsall was the highest nominated person of the fifteen voted on by the public. Her name was brought to the attention of the public by the Society's book which outlines her work in producing the London A-Z guide which she originated in 1935. She walked every street for up to eighteen hours a day and covering 3000 miles and listing 23,000 roads.
A number of tributes were paid to Phyllis Pearsall at the ceremony including one by Nigel Syrett from the Geographers A-Z Map Company who knew Phyllis personally. He said that when she retired she made a unique and very generous gesture, by leaving the company she founded entirely to its employees. Today the A-Z has sold well in excess of 60 million copies - greater than the combined sale of all the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling and Dan Brown's DaVinci Code.
A telephone call to a member of the Society's Local History group from a television programme making company in Devon requesting help in researching wartime allotments in Dulwich led to the forwarding of a copy of 'Dulwich - The Home Front 1939-1945' together with a back-copy of the Newsletter which carried an article on allotment gardening in Dulwich (Dulwich may hold the record for the most allotments in the UK - 936 plots!).
This led to a number of members of the Society assisting further with programme. John Ward, chairman of the Society's Garden group was a useful contact and features significantly in the film, as does Jim Hammer. Judith Fitton was a helpful source of information as was Liz Johnson, who had recently completed her history of Dulwich Park was able to give some useful pointers about the allotments in the Park.
Through these contacts the producers were able to trace Gwen Wild, who as a child assisted on the family's wartime Dulwich allotment. The producers also found one of the Keefe family who appear in a number of archival photographs of the wartime allotments in the Park held by the Imperial War Museum. 'Dig for Victory' is produced by Twofour Productions and is largely concerned with the wartime allotments in Dulwich. It has been commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society and is available from RHS outlets on DVD.
Attractive wooden plaques bearing the inscription 'Safe routes to School' appeared throughout Dulwich in the summer. They have been designed and made by pupils at Alleyn's Junior School as part of the Walk to School campaign. However, only about one third of pupils in the numerous independent or private schools in Dulwich are local children. The remainder arrive at school by coach, car or train.
The London, Brighton & South Coast Railway's London Bridge to East Croydon and Crystal Palace line was finished in 1866 and electrified around 1928, although the occasional steam goods train could be seen into the 1960's. A second bridge replaced the original bridge across Burbage Road at the beginning of the 20th century.
In 2005 Network Rail decided that a replacement bridge was required and it was scheduled for June 2006. A new concrete bridge was assembled in the vacant yard between the railway and the Velodrome, and it was planned to dismantle the old bridge and put in the replacement over the weekend of 23-25 June so as to disrupt railway traffic as little as possible. However, after a very noisy Friday night, during which two gigantic cranes were moved into place either side of the bridge, everything went wrong as one of the cranes had fractured a gas main. This meant that all work had to be suspended whilst the gas authorities repaired the main.
Network Rail decided to suspend work that weekend so that train services could be resumed on Monday morning, and re-scheduled the work for the following weekend. Needless to say, the road remained closed for all this period causing a lot of traffic congestion through the Village.
Again, two gigantic cranes were positioned either side of the bridge. The old bridge was demolished and the new bridge raised and dropped into position. This time everything went well, except for some slight alignment problems which were quickly corrected and by Monday trains were again running, if a trifle slowly, over the bridge. By the end of the week, much to the relief of local residents, things were back to normal and we can now enjoy the sight of a fine new bridge in Burbage Road.
The Capital's biggest architectural event, where London is turned into a living exhibition for 48 hours, is all about seeing, experiencing, exploring and understanding architecture, engineering and design. In total, 500 contemporary and historically significant (and often private) buildings will open their doors to the public.
Last year Open House welcomed 360,000 visits to buildings across the capital and this year the numbers are likely to rise even higher. Locally, Dulwich Picture Gallery and Christ's Chapel will be open and admission, like all London venues is free. Brian Green, on behalf of the Dulwich Picture Gallery will be conducting an hour-long guided walk entitled Looking at Dulwich's Architecture 1600-2000 on Sunday 17 September at 2.30pm. Booking for this walk, at the Gallery, is advisable.
A list of venues of Open House Weekend is included in The Buildings Guide www.openhouse.org.uk
Over the weekend of 15 September there will be a ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle Flers-Courcellette when tanks were used for the first time. Part of the battle involved the taking of High Wood which after numerous failed attempts was given to the 47th London Division. The tanks were a failure and the 1st Surrey Rifles were called to attack High Wood. The First Surreys who were based at Flodden Road, Camberwell were made up of men from Camberwell, Peckham and Dulwich together with re-badged other soldiers from previously decimated regiments. In the battle the 1st Surreys were virtually annihilated. Of the 550 men and 19 officers who went 'over the top' that day, 15 September 1916, only 60 men and 2 officers survived injury or death.
A new rose, named Tea Clipper, introduced at this year's Chelsea Flower Show by David Austin, the rose grower, has been adopted by the Friends of the Horniman Museum. The apricot coloured rose, with a perfume of tea and citrus will eventually be sold at the museum.