The Dulwich Society Journal for Autumn 2012.
There is a remarkable film, made by Gaumont at its Champion Hill studio and dating from around 1906 which survives in the archives of the British Film Institute. It is a very short drama set on the platform of North Dulwich Station. What the film clearly shows, is how little, if at all, the station has changed over the past hundred years or so. Much of this is to be welcomed, particularly by railway enthusiasts. Indeed, Southern, the railway operating company has carefully restored the grade 2 listed building, the emblems of Alleyn’s College, the London, Brighton and South Coast railway company which first built it, and a shield bearing the date 1866, when it was constructed, are beautifully picked out in heraldic colours.
Amazingly, and giving lone female travellers considerable comfort, the station is manned until late at night with CCTV screens being scanned in the booking office. All of this is laudable. What is not, and is in 2012 totally unacceptable is that there is no disabled access to and from the platforms. Instead, the wheelchair-bound and also, probably, the aged and mothers with buggies are banned from accessing the rail network. Surely this cannot be right. Restaurants, cinemas, sports halls and local councils are obliged to provide toilets for the disabled. Theatres and concert halls provide seats for the disabled. Many buses have been adapted to take wheelchairs.
But how are the disabled living locally, to take advantage of these (state guaranteed) measures if they cannot get to them? Or indeed, how can a disabled visitor reach such Dulwich attractions as its park, picture gallery, velodrome or Southwark Council’s proposed new multi-sports court for the disabled at its ground on Dulwich Common, if they cannot travel here by train?
In the case of North Dulwich Station, the provision of lifts to its platforms is totally feasible and the railway company should be obliged to install them urgently. The case for Sydenham Hill, West Dulwich and East Dulwich stations is just as pertinent and whilst the solutions might be more difficult to achieve, it would be ridiculous to suggest it would be impossible.
Now here’s another pretty state of things, as W.S. Gilbert might have said. Tuition fees charged at King’s College, University of London are as high as any university in the country but it has allowed its former Botany Laboratories in Half Moon Lane to remain largely unused for the past 25 years. Well yes, admittedly Sir James Black OM had use of the first floor for a number years, and considerable refurbishment took place to accommodate him and his team of pharmacologists. But Sir James died in 2010 and had not been working there for some time before that. In any event, the ground floor, basement and other floors were never used after the Botany Department moved to Kensington in 1984.
Presumably King’s continues to pay the Dulwich Estate the rent due on the extensive premises (three large houses were demolished in the 1950’s to build the laboratories) yet there appear to be no plans to utilise the site and King’s seems quite happy to add to its own expenses to maintain the property. Of course this expense is passed on to its students in the form of higher tuition fees.
Surely this state of affairs cannot be permitted to continue. Building space in London and certainly in Dulwich commands a high premium. Can such waste be allowed to continue for another 25 years?
It was gratifying to see the amount of TV and press coverage given to the Herne Hill Velodrome following Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the Tour de France. Hopefully this will make the Velodrome Trust’s fund-raising a bit easier and ensure something can soon be done about the provision of proper changing and storage facilities and the replacement of the old grandstand.
On another optimistic note, work has now started on the Concrete House in Lordship Lane, and there has also been good progress on the project to reconstruct the St Peter’s Church wall and railings opposite. This is an area of Dulwich that needs improvement and it seems it is going to happen.
Not so good news was the Dulwich Festival’s adverse impact on traffic in the village on Sunday 20th May. This is the second year in a row that the centre of the Village has been closed to traffic for the Festival’s final day and many local residents will agree that it should be the last. The confusion and congestion caused by the number of visitors parking on both sides of College Road was definitely a step too far. By the early afternoon it was taking up to half an hour to travel from Dulwich Common to the Picture Gallery, mainly caused by the P4 buses’ difficulties in negotiating their way between the traffic islands and the badly parked cars.
The same thing happened in Gallery Road during Carter’s Steam Fair a couple of weeks later, but no blame to the buses here, it was just bad parking - and there were reports of some serious road rage.
But this is not a new problem, it has happened before on summer afternoons when there are large numbers of visitors to the Park and the Picture Gallery. Southwark Council has been told about it repeatedly, but we are ignored. Their response is that there are no complaints from TFL (don’t they monitor bus timings?) and therefore there isn’t problem.
The wooded lane that connects College Road and Gallery Road, to the south of College Gardens and the Old College Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, appears to be un-named. Although shown as ‘Grove Walk’ on the Dulwich Estate Map, many Edwardian postcards confirm that its historic name in the early part of the last century was ‘Lovers Walk’ and, after a long negotiation with the Estate, the Society has received permission to go back to calling it by the old name.
On Saturday, 22nd September, the Society will hold a short ceremony to dedicate two new ‘Lovers walk’ signs, one each in College Road and Gallery Road. We will start at the College Road end and hope to be joined by a pair of ‘lovers’, dressed in costume to match the figures in the postcards.
All members are welcome to attend at 11AM.
Basements and flooding
Members will remember previous articles both on the retrospective digging of basements and potential flooding. At the last Dulwich Community Council planning meeting it came to light that the Council’s planners were unaware of any history of flooding in Dulwich even though the Council’s environment department had prepared specific flood alleviation plans, and had officers going around the area telling residents about them. Councillors were somewhat surprised at the lack of co-ordination and the two departments were told very firmly to make sure that they worked together in the future.
The Dulwich Estate replies to questions raised in our last issue
In the Summer edition of the Journal, Ian McInnes raised a number of issues which involved The Dulwich Estate. We are grateful to Mr David Sizer, Chairman of the Trustees in addressing these issues.
In reply to the question of involvement by the Estate under the Scheme of Management, concerning the increasing number of basement developments, he says:
It is not open to the Trustees to change the Rules of the Scheme unilaterally although as Managers they do publish the Guidelines which are reviewed from time to time in order to reflect changing circumstances, modern materials and such like. The Guidelines for solar panels are, as many may be aware, currently under review to bring them up to date. It is the Rule of the Scheme that sets out [and thereby limits] the Managers’ power to control alteration to the external appearance of any building or structure on a property visible at ground level from beyond the boundaries of the same [paragraph 3.(a)]. Given the clarity of this wording, there is no scope for interpretation – basements which are not visible at ground level do not require consent pursuant to the rules of the Scheme of Management.
In response to the matter of a pedestrian crossing in Dulwich Village, Mr Sizer replies:
The Estate has never been unwilling to compromise with Southwark Council. I should perhaps first explain (for the benefit of readers) that the Council commenced the installation of the crossing without reference to the Estate which happens to own the piece of land enclosed by the posts and chains. When the Council was made aware that it does not own the strip of land, the Estate offered several proposals for it to be able to secure access to this land, but the Council insisted that it be granted a lease for 50 years in return for a nominal lump sum. As a charity, the Estate could not agree to this as it would have been in breach of the requirements under section 36 of the Charities Act 1993 (which prohibits the disposal of an interest in land at less than fair value), and no doubt the beneficiaries of the Estate would have had something to say as well.
Concerning the delay in opening empty shop, he explains:
A minor alteration to create a bin store at the side of 91 Dulwich Village (formerly occupied by Oddbins) was refused planning consent by the Community Council, even though our application had the support of the Planning Officer at Southwark Council. The premises have therefore had to remain vacant for the past six months despite having a prospective tenant who wishes to open a bakery. We appealed the decision and also submitted a revised application which, we are pleased to note, has now been granted planning approval.
In reply to the lack of progress on the Crown & Greyhound conversion into a hotel, he says:
The Estate submitted a planning application towards the end of last year (having consulted with residents) but in the interim Southwark Council appointed a new Conservation Officer who has requested changes to the scheme. As a consequence, the plans have had to be amended, but we are now told these meet the new Officer’s requirements and a new planning application will be submitted by the end of the month.
Regarding the former Dairy Site in Croxted Road, he states:
We share your view that Lambeth Council’s reasons for refusing our second application for planning consent (to create commercial units with flats above) are somewhat spurious. We have revised the proposals for the site which now include the provision of a new doctors’ surgery and we trust that the Council’s planners will look favourably on our third application, particularly in the light of changes introduced by the National Planning Policy Framework. The Estate is keen to put this derelict site back into productive use.
Lastly, regarding the new layout at the Tollgate, Mr Sizer says:
The changes to the layout of the Tollgate were made on advice received from our traffic consultants and were designed to improve the safe passage of cyclists. We are aware of instances of the width restrictor being damaged and we are monitoring this situation closely.
The Future of Dulwich Hospital - A response from NHS Southwark
Thank you for raising awareness among your readers of the work we are doing on developing Health Services in the Dulwich area. I though it might be helpful to offer some additional detail and context.
This first stage has been an engagement exercise rather than a consultation – we have started by asking people what health services they would like to see provided in their local community. We have had a good response, and there was a public meeting held on the 24th July where the results of that exercise were fed back to members of the community. As a result of this we will be doing further work in the following service areas: primary care, maternity services and care of children in the first year of life, services for people with long term conditions and mental health service for people with mild/moderate depression and anxiety. We are also looking at what out-patient and diagnostic services can be provided more locally.
Later in the year we will be having a consultation which will cover both the service model – i.e. some proposals and options on what services we might be able to have locally, and also on the options for where those services might be – and those options will include the future use of the Dulwich Hospital site.
Programme Director - Dulwich Project NHS Southwark
50th Anniversary: The Dulwich Society was founded in 1963 and next year is its fiftieth anniversary.
The Society will be holding a number of events throughout the year, the principal one being the installation of commemorative plaques to civilians killed in and around Dulwich as a result of air-raids in World War II. There will also be a special exhibition outlining the Society’s impact on the more recent history of Dulwich, from the 1960s to the present day. It will detail the major changes that Dulwich has undergone in the last 50 years, and the Society’s contribution to maintaining Dulwich’s character and amenity. It will show the schemes it successfully opposed in Dulwich and Sydenham Woods, it will remind members of contentious projects such as the proposed road tunnel under Dulwich Park and the impact of Eurostar on local residents. The exhibiton will also include pictures and artefacts from Dulwich’s 1000 years pageant held in 1967 and a showing of the film made of the celebrations..
The Dulwich Society 50th Anniversary Exhibition will be held in the Wodehouse Library at Dulwich College and will opened on 26th January with a celebratory anniversary party – more information will be available in the December issue of the Journal.
During 2013 the Society will be publishing an ‘architectural map’ to accompany the tree map that it published five years ago. Other events proposed include a series of Sunday afternoon talks on local history at Dulwich Picture Gallery during February and March, a show of old films of Dulwich and, perhaps, the opening of the Dulwich Archive in Rosebery Lodge, Dulwich Park.
The Unveiling of WW2 Commemorative Plaques
As reported a year ago, the Dulwich Society plans to commemorate those sites in and around Dulwich where there were significant civilian deaths during World War Two. Twelve sites have been identified and each will have an engraved stainless steel plaque as a marker. The plaques will bear the names, ages and date of each fatality and whether it was as a result of an air-raid, a V1 Flying Bomb or V2 rocket attack.
The unveilings are spread roughly throughout the year and are set at dates nearest to those of the incidents themselves. Dr Kenneth Wolfe, The Dulwich Society’s vice-chairman has kindly agreed to conduct a short ceremony at each unveiling. Where considerable loss of life occurred, surviving relatives will be invited to read out from the list of names.
The ceremonies will commence at Court Lane on Sunday 6 January 2013 at 12noon where 7 people were killed by a V2 rocket on 6 January 1945, followed on Saturday 12 January 2013 at 12 noon by the commemoration of those killed in two air-raids in the area of Melbourne Grove, Lytcott Grove, Lytcott Gardens and Playfield Crescent. The first was on 16th September 1940 when 9 died and the second on 17th January 1943 when 11 died. Details of succeeding unveilings, which commence from April will be published several months in advance in the Journal. A full account of the incidents being marked in January 2013 will appear in the winter edition of the Journal and will be reprinted from contemporary newspaper reports.
The Executive Committee would like the Membership to make known these commemorations, in order that as many surviving relatives as possible might be present. If any member would like to assist personally, either in stewarding, handling enquiries or in circulating information about the unveilings, such assistance would be welcomed. Please email the Editor (
The full list of dates for the unveilings in 2013 is as follows:
- Court Lane SE21: 7 killed on 6 January 1945. Installation 6 January 2013
- Melbourne Grove, Lytcott Grove, Playfield Crescent SE22: 20 killed in 2 incidents – 16 September 1940 & 17 January 1943. Installation 12 January 2013
- Burbage Road SE21: 8 killed in 2 incidents – 17 April 1941 & 22 June 1944. Installation : 13 April 2013.
- Rosendale Road & Lovelace Road SE21: 6 killed in 2 incidents – 23 June & 1 August 1944. Installation: 23 June 2013
- Woodvale SE23: 14 killed on 6 July 1944. Installation 6 July 2013
- Park Hall Road SE21: 3 killed on 4 July 1944. Installation 7 July 2013
- Lordship Lane SE22: 23 killed on 5 August 1944. Installation 4 August 2013.
- Albrighton Road, Wheatland House shelter SE22: 29 killed on 9 September 1940. Installation: 8 September 2013
- Quorn Road, Goldwell House SE22: 6 killed on 15 September 1940. Installation: 15 September 2013
- Woodwarde Road SE22: 3 killed on 24 September 1940. Installation date: 22 September 2013
- Dovercourt Road SE22: 4 killed on 19 October 1940. Installation 19 October 2013.
- Friern Road & Etherow Street SE 22: 24 killed on 1 November 1944. Installation: 2 November 2013
The Queen’s Birthday Honours List - 16 June 2012
We congratulate one of our Vice-Presidents, Marion Gibbs, Headmistress of James Allen’s Girls’ School and Co-Director Southwark Schools Learning Partnership, on being made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to Education.
Southwark Civic Award for Stella Benwell
A well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award was made in the summer by Southwark Council to Stella Benwell in recognition of her long service as a member of the Dulwich Society’s Trees and Wildlife groups, and not least for her many campaigns to secure Dulwich Woods as an open space for the public. The press cutting below (Streatham Guardian 11 May 1989) records one of those battles – this time over the Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Club’s application to the Dulwich Estate to enclose a 500 yard section of Dulwich Wood into the golf course.
Events this Autumn arranged by The Dulwich Society
Talk by Nicholas Reed, author of ‘My Father, The Man Who Never Was’ – the story of Ronnie Reed, Dulwich Society member and MI5 officer and handler of the spy and double-agent Eddie Chapman during WW2. A fascinating first hand account of this extraordinary man by his son.
Sunday 4th November at the Francis Peek Centre, Dulwich Park at 2.30pm. Dulwich Society members free, visitors £5, concessions £3. (tickets available on the door)
Trees Group Autumn Colour Visit to Audley End
Thursday October 18th – Departing by coach from Dulwich Picture Gallery at 8.30am. A Tree Group visit to Audley End, described by Country Life as one of the six most idyllic places in Britain. Before lunch there will be a Tour conducted by the Head Gardener of the many interesting trees, and a tour of the magnificent Jacobean house in the afternoon. Cost (including admission £30 or £20 for English Heritage members). See page 37 for booking form.
An Interview with Dr Gary Savage
Headmaster of Alleyn’s School
by Brian Green
Gary Savage’s youthful looks belie a lengthy career in education. He grew up in Suffolk and attended Bungay High School, a comprehensive, and of similar size to Alleyn’s. After gaining a place at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge to read History, where he gained a double First, he continued his studies there into the politics of the French revolutionary government and gained his PhD. In the course of this study he read an advertisement to teach history at Eton and he applied successfully for this post becoming Head of History and then Master- in- College, house master to the seventy King’s Scholars. At Eton he was a colleague of Dr Joseph Spence, now Master of Dulwich College. From Eton, Gary Savage moved to Westminster where for four years he was Under Master or Senior Deputy Head.
Now firmly settled at Alleyn’s, he sees it as his remit to maintain the ethos of the school and stresses the happy, solid and successful state in which he inherited the headship of the school and praises his predecessors, Colin Diggory, Colin Niven and Derek Fenner for their dedication in raising the profile of Alleyn’s still further after the end of its Direct Grant status and its embarkation upon independence and co-education. He places particular emphasis on the non-examined academic aspects of the syllabus and is keen that after-school and lunchtime activities are encouraged. He has invited lots of guest speakers to the school and has initiated the award of an annual prize (complete with a viva) for a Governors’ Research project for Year 12 pupils to complete over the summer. He wants to make all pupils better learners. This last objective will, he hopes, be made easier by the addition of what he terms an ‘Enrichment Programme’ to the Key Stage 3 curriculum: a general course to awaken curiosity and embed better, more self-conscious learning. He is also keen to keep his finger firmly on the pulse of the school and to that end teaches a course on his own area of research, the French Revolution in the 6th Form. Perhaps more challengingly, he is also to teach history to year 7, an age group he has not taught before.
Traditionalists at the school may rest rather more easy to learn that Dr Savage is not proposing to introduce the International Baccalaureate which he does not think is the best fit for Alleyn’s with its wide curriculum and rich co-curriculum. Nor is he setting out to improve the school’s already highly creditable exam league position; rather, he expects the enrichment and other changes to have an impact in this regard over time. Among some significant curriculum changes he would like to see the introduction of Art History as an A Level course and the introduction of perhaps Mandarin and Arabic to the languages on offer. He is very keen that the 300 strong 6th Form has ample options from which to choose and emphasises that these new subjects will not be delivered as a result of economies made elsewhere in the curriculum. Classics therefore remain safe at Alleyn’s, where no fewer than ten pupils are currently learning Ancient Greek. A wide curriculum choice can be achieved, he says, because the modern language department staff are each able to teach two languages.
He is wary of the present trend for successful independent schools to sponsor academies in the public education sector. Instead, he suggests greater co-operation between local state and independent schools and ways in which this can be achieved are by inviting such schools to share 6th form minority subject study and be invited to talks given by distinguished guest speakers. In addition, Alleyn’s, he says, already participates in the Southwark Schools Learning Partnership and he has begun a new partnership with Sydenham and Forest Hill Sixth Form. He would welcome other community projects. As far as the concept of ‘planting’ schools in developing countries he would rather see some kind of partnership develop with schools in countries like Zimbabwe, India and China. Indeed, Alleyn’s is already developing through its Chaplain, Anthony Buckley, a relationship (and a pen-pal scheme) with a group of schools in Zimbabwe.
Despite the adverse economic climate Dr Savage is convinced of the need to update some of the School’s older buildings. He considers a new dining complex with basement storage and a new Lower School (both to replace the now inadequate buildings erected in the 1960’s) as fairly urgent. He would also like to see the swimming pool refurbished and develop the school’s original gym into an additional Sixth Form Study Centre. A new art studio for the Junior School has already been created. With such a large 6th Form there is also, he feels, a need for greater library and archive space to be filled, he emphasises, with real books, not digital book readers!
To commemorate the 125th anniversary of Alleyn’s move from The Old College in Dulwich Village to its present buildings in Townley Road, the School is to stage a Victorian Day on October 12th. The present- day pupils will experience Victorian school day, lunch will be drawn from a Victorian menu and to round off the day there will be an Old Time Music Hall performed in the School’s Great Hall.
The event will also highlight the launch of a new development project – “Advancing Alleyn’s”. This project seeks to raise funds for additional means-tested bursaries and assist in financing the rebuilding plans.
The Felled North Dulwich Plane Tree
In the last edition of the Journal the actions of Southwark Diocese were called in to question over the felling of an apparently healthy and 200 year old London Plane and the unsightly hoarding in front of St Faith’s Church boarded up vicarage. We are pleased to learn from Dulwich Society member Jeff Segal more about the fate of this magnificent tree:
This column had an interesting piece on St Faith’s in the Summer 2012 Journal. It was quite right about the hoarding around the site being a major eyesore, of course, but I wanted to add a little information to his comments on the London plane that stood in the front garden until early 2010.
I first noticed that the tree had been felled when I was cycling past the vicarage one day in March that year. I’m a cabinetmaker living in Herne Hill and I know that London plane is a rare and beautiful timber, highly valued for the decorative flecks known as ‘lacewood’. I could see that the contractors had already begun to chainsaw the log into small pieces for carting away – either for chipping or for firewood – which would have been a terrible waste. I immediately talked to the vicar at the time, Hugh Dawes, and he got in touch with the diocese and managed to get the work stopped straight away. He told me that the original decision by the diocese to take down the tree was made on the grounds of safety.
As far as I’m aware, the 200-year-old tree had been taken down because of rot (particularly at the base), not because its roots were damaging the house,( I’m not a tree surgeon but when we milled it there were certainly substantial areas of rot in the trunk and in the stump, and some of the boards that we sawed simply fell apart) but the bulk of the log was unaffected and Hugh was very keen on finding a use for the wood. After a few weeks working closely with him I’d arranged for a portable sawmill to come on site for a couple of days and, with the help of my friend and near-neighbour Angus Hanton, found a place to store and dry the boards. Two years later the timber – about two tonnes by weight – is in great condition and looks superb. It’s just waiting now to be turned into beautiful furniture.
Local Police Changes
Following budget cuts, the Metropolitan Police are introducing further major changes to local
policing. They are likely to be introduced in October/November this year, after the Olympics.
All the Dulwich wards will now have a ‘Neighbourhood Police Team’ (NPT) which will replace
the current ‘Safer Neighbourhood Team’ (SNT). From the three Dulwich Wards’ point of view
it could be considered to be an improvement: it brings more areas of police work under local
management, and Village Ward and East Dulwich Ward teams will return to having their own
sergeant (since the last reorganisation in mid-2011, Village Ward has had to shared with East
Dulwich Ward). College Ward had retained its own sergeant because of its size.
The down side is that the three Dulwich wards will join the three Camberwell wards in a ‘cluster’
and that will give the police the option of calling on staff from all the wards in cases of a serious incident in any of the six wards. The concern is that the crime profile in Dulwich is very different
from that in Camberwell and that we might regularly lose some of our compliment to help out in wards in the central part of the borough.
It is not clear where the local team would be located, currently they are at East Dulwich Police station, but this is due to close. The Safer Neighbourhood Panels, and local councillors, are keen that the police continue to be based in East Dulwich and do not move to Camberwell and Peckham.
The athletics coach Scipio Africanus “Sam” Mussabini (1867-1927) has been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home at 84 Burbage Road where he lived from 1911 until about 1916. A pioneering figure in both professional and amateur sport in Britain, Mussabini transformed athletics. His innovative training methods led to his runners winning eleven Olympic medals, five of which were gold. He addressed every aspect of training, using scientific methods, and instilled powerful self-belief in his athletes. He is best known for coaching Harold Abrahams, who won gold in the 100m sprint at the 1924 Paris Olympics, as seen in the film Chariots of Fire (1981), in which Mussabini was played by Ian Holm.
Mussabini was born in 1867 in Blackheath, to a Syrian-Italian father and a French mother, and was educated in France. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a journalist, writing for sports magazines. Specialising in billiards, he later authored various technical and coaching manuals. In 1894 he was appointed coach to the Dunlop cycling team which trained at the newly-built cycle track in Burbage Road where he coached Ben Harris to the first professional cycling championship.
Early in the 1900s, Mussabini entered the world of amateur athletics and coached the young South African sprinter Reggie Walker to a gold medal in the 100m at the 1908 London Olympics. Mussabini always refused to call himself a trainer, whom he described as “a man who comes on with a bag and a little sponge”, and insisted instead that he was a coach. He looked at every aspect of his athletes’ performance: diet, training, race preparation and actual racing and he adopted a gradual, methodical approach to improve technique, fitness and stamina. The Complete Athletic Trainer, which Mussabini co-wrote in 1913, explored these theories fully and blamed the failures of recent British Olympic teams on inadequate coaching.
In 1913 Mussabini was appointed coach to the Polytechnic Harriers at the Herne Hill athletics track, which ran round the inside of the Velodrome cycle track. Here he trained Albert Hill, Willie Applegarth, Harry Edward and the then fourteen-year-old Harold Abrahams.
Mussabini scrutinised their running styles, especially stride length and arm action, and encouraged them to adopt a swinging arm action, which came to be known as “the Poly swing”. He used the techniques of Edward Muybridge to photograph his athletes’ actions and techniques and he insisted they carry stopwatches in order to learn how to run at an even pace. His methods yielded results at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp where Albert Hill won gold medals in both the 800m and the 1500m, and Harry Edward won bronze in the 100m. Four years later at the Paris Olympics, Harold Abrahams won gold in the 100m and silver in the 4 x 100m relay and credited Sam with making him “improve that decisive one per cent, which made all the difference between supreme success and obscurity”
Mussabini served on the British Olympic Commission from 1923 to 1924, and helped to ensure more female athletes received high quality coaching, including Vera Palmer-Searle, who set three world records in sprint races under his tutelage. Suffering from diabetes, Sam died in March 1927 at the age of 60, travelling back from his birthday celebrations in France and is buried in Hampstead Cemetery. His athletes continued to enjoy success on the track however, with a number of them winning medals at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.
A man ahead of his time, as a paid coach in an era of amateurism he was never fully appreciated and he only truly began to gain recognition well after his death and following the film Chariots of Fire. In 1998 the Mussabini Medal was created by the National Coaches’ Federation and is awarded annually to the most outstanding British coach. Past winners include Sir Clive Woodward and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Dr Susan Skedd, historian at English Heritage, said: “Sam Mussabini was generations ahead in his approach. His systematic and intelligent approach to coaching led to his protégés winning many medals over five Olympic Games. Although not a household name, Mussabini’s legacy to the world of sport should be remembered.”
Mussabini told his athletes, “Only think of two things - the gun and the tape. When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other”.
The Unveiling of the Plaque
A crowd of over 60 people gathered in Burbage Road to see Sam Mussabini commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home at 84 Burbage Road on Wednesday 11th July 2012. The house backs on to the Herne Hill Velodrome, where he worked as a cycling and athletics coach from the 1890s until his death and where he trained many medal-winning Olympic athletes, including Harold Abrahams.
With torrential rain beforehand, the current owners of No 84, John Benger and Susan Irvine, kindly allowed everyone to shelter from the English summer but luckily the rain held off and the sun shone for the actual ceremony.
Dr Susan Skedd began by outlining the process of obtaining a Blue Plaque and told of her research into Mussabini, including the confusion caused by his and his father’s use of aliases, presumably to avoid prejudice arising from their surname.
Lord Higgins, Alleyn Old Boy and Olympic athlete of the 1948 and 1952 Games, spoke of being inspired to run by Mussabini’s protégés, including Harold Abrahams, and how he came to know Abrahams in later life. As a young athlete he himself trained at the Burbage Road track and he described an athletics environment a world away from that of today. He explained that the cinder tracks had no starting blocks so the runners had small trowels to dig their own holes in the cinders to allow secure footings. He spoke of a world where the maximum prize was just £15 (in kind not in cash) and how any exceeding of the prize limit would result in a strict lifetime ban.
Kevin Kelly, archivist at Herne Hill Harriers and author of “Into the Millennium, A History of Herne Hill Harriers - 1889 to 2001”, summarised Mussabini’s sporting significance and told of end-of-season dinners where the athletes themselves provided the after-dinner musical entertainment. He brought along a wonderful album of photographs of Mussabini, including a photographic parade of Mussabini’s many hats.
Hillary Peachey, Chair of the Save the Velodrome Campaign, gave an update on the campaign to save the cycle track, the only remaining 1948 Olympic venue still in use today, and there was a message from Lord Coe in which he said, “I’m delighted English Heritage is honouring Sam Mussabini with a blue plaque, right next to the track where he coached Harold Abrahams. As we celebrate Mussabini’s links to the Herne Hill Velodrome and his sporting achievements, hopefully more people will learn about his legacy and the contributions he made to British sport. My father trained at this track and now young athletes using the track today will be inspired by this great man”.
Ben Cross, who played Harold Abrahams in the film Chariots of Fire, unveiled the plaque and passed on a message from Abrahams’ daughter, Sue Pottle, who said that her father would have been delighted to know “old Sam” was being honoured, since he thought Mussabini was much more deserving than he, Harold, ever was.
Among those present were the granddaughter and great grandson of Mussabini. Another relative, who could not attend in person, wrote of being allowed to play with Sam’s starting pistol in the road outside No 84. Dulwich Hamlet School House Captains also came along and were shown an original 1948 Olympic torch by South London Harrier John Greatrex, who ran for Wales in the 1970 Commonwealth Games.
After the ceremony the Edward Alleyn Club kindly opened its doors for refreshment and reminiscences.
Although ancient Olympia took both its Games and Arts very seriously it still required a big stretch of the imagination to see a connection between cycling and art (unless you remember the Patterson drawings in CYCLING magazine!) The connection transpired to be that Dulwich both hosted the 1948 London Olympic track cycling events and it also has a world famous art gallery. Tenuous though this connection is, it was nevertheless celebrated with great enthusiasm in the bright periods between the showers at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in June when the supporters of the Herne Hill Velodrome joined DPG to launch our own Olympic effort, all amid the fantastic outdoor re-creations of Philip Haas.
Herne Hill is the only remaining site surviving from the London Olympics of 1948 and a capacity audience in the Linbury Room was given the flavour of those real austerity years in a fascinating talk by Tommy Godwin, winner of two bronze Olympic track cycling medals on that very circuit. He recalled how spartan the conditions were; athletes were accommodated in B&B’s or school halls although he and some of his team mates were put up at the home of the Editor of ‘Cycling’ at his home in Half Moon Lane. Extra ration coupons were allowed the athletes (2oz per week of butter and extra sugar, eggs and bacon). However, if the actual recipient was not selected for the final team, he had to hand the rations coupons back! After the Games were over Tommy then had to ride the same bike on which he won his medals back to his home in North London. Fellow Olympian Wally Happy, who has been active in the continuance of the life of the Velodrome then gave his memories of cycling in those Lycra-less times. (This writer was so impressed in his youth by the sight of the 4 man pursuit teams working out at the Herne Hill Velodrome in 1948 that he persuaded three school friends to join him in emulating them in a race along Alleyn Park. An event, it should noted, which ended in a pile up of bodies and bicycles)
A parade of keen cyclists, young and old, including members of the Veteran-Cycle Club and led by a very agile-looking Tommy Godwin (aged 91) made its way from the Picture Gallery down Burbage Road to cycling’s hallowed ground.
Several years ago an appeal was made in these columns for information on Mary Lines, a JAGS Old Girl who held, simultaneously, six athletics world records.
The compilers of the Oxford DNB tracked her history down and she now has a place in that famous publication:
When 84-year old Worthing pensioner Mrs Mary Smith died following a road accident in Worthing in December 1978, her death was reported under the headline ‘Woman killed’ (Worthing Herald 15 December 1978). An inquest in January 1979 heard that Mrs Smith, of Gerald Road, had gone out after dark to post her Christmas mail. She ‘trotted’ across George V Avenue in front of a car, which did not have time to stop. Her sister Blanche, a retired nurse, told the inquest that Mary was physically fit.
Nearly 70 years earlier, Mary Smith had been the world’s fastest woman sprinter. Running under her maiden name, Mary Lines, she had been among the pioneering party of British women who represented their country at the Women’s Olympiad held at Monte Carlo in Easter 1921. This was the first of a series of international competitions held during a period when the International Olympic Committee excluded women’s athletics from the Olympic Games.
As Mary Lines (1893–1978) she features among the lives to be included in the latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. They are among a selection of new entries on significant figures in the history of Olympic sports in Britain. Writing in the dictionary, Mel Watman, former editor of Athletics Weekly and official historian of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association, describes Mary Lines as ‘the first star of British women's athletics’,
Mary, who lived at Helix Road, Brixton Hill and attended gymnasium classes at the Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster), took golds in the two sprint events and the long jump at Monte Carlo. The Polytechnic Magazine, which carried her photograph, called her ‘the heroine of the occasion’. Athletics statisticians rank her 11.8 seconds time in the 100 yards race at an international fixture at Paris in October 1921 as the fastest by a woman in that year.
After setting a succession of world records, Mary Lines retired from athletics in 1924. She married a man named Smith, but was widowed in 1947. Records in Worthing Reference Library suggest that she and her two unmarried sisters moved to Worthing in 1971.
Tuesday 4th Beyond Words Poetry Group – Readings by Gale Burns – and Open Mic. Gipsy Hill Tavern, 79 Gipsy Hill SE 19 7pm for 7.30pm. £4 concessions £3
Friday 21st Ensemble 360 – piano quartets by Mozart and Brahms. Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery 7.30pm £20, £18 Friends, includes a glass of wine
Sunday 23rd Friends of Kingswood House – OPEN DAY 1- 4.30 pm. Talks at 2pm and 3.30pm. Displays by the Crystal Palace Foundation and The Norwood Society and music provided by the Beckenham Concert orchestra. Entrance free.
Saturday 29th Jazz in the Garden with Charles Cary-Elwes and Friends. Mainstream jazz and swing. Café open for light meals or bring a picnic - Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery. 6.30-9.30pm Gallery Garden. £18, Friends £15, £5 students aged 18 and under
Tuesday 2nd Dulwich Picture Gallery Lecture:Venus and Adonis unveiled
7.00 for 7. 30pm Linbury room £10, £8. Friends (Includes a glass of wine)
Lecture given by Dr Xavier Bray, Arturo and Holly Melosi Chief Curator at Dulwich Picture Gallery
Beyond Words Poetry Group – The Poets Scratching Heads Collective will be reading from their eclectic range of poems. These six London poets have had their work published in numerous magazines and anthologies. Gipsy Hill Tavern, 79 Gipsy Hill SE 19. 7pm for 7.30pm. £4 concessions £3 Open Mic
Thursday 18th – Dulwich Society Autumn Colour Visit to Audley End, Cost (including admission £30 or £20 for English Heritage members). Leave from Dulwich Picture Gallery 8.30am
Tuesday 23rd Dulwich Picture Gallery Lecture – The Scottish Colourists by Rosalind White. 7.45pm Linbury Room. £10.
Wednesday 24th Spanish Supper and Flamenco Music by Francisco Antonio. Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery. 7 for 7.30pm. £10 to include glass of wine (tapas at £4 dish)
Thursday 25th Friday 26th Saturday 27th The Dulwich Players present Bleak House by Charles Dickens directed by Kevin Smith. Edward Alleyn Theatre Dulwich College at 8pm. Tickets £10 from the Art Stationers, 31 Dulwich Village SE 21
Tuesday 30th Dulwich Picture Gallery Lecture – Irish Art by Peter Scott. Linbury Room 7.45pm £10
Sunday 4th Dulwich Society Talk by Nicholas Reed – ‘My Father, the Man Who Never Was’ based on his book of the same title. 2.30pm Francis Peek Centre, Dulwich Park. Dulwich Society members free, visitors £5, concessions £3
Tuesday 6th Beyond Words Poetry Group - readings by Adrian al-Sayegh. Conscripted in the Iran-Iraq war, his uncompromising criticism of injustice and oppression led to him being exiled. Later the publication of his book-poem ‘Uruk’s Anthem’ led to him being sentenced to death. Following refuge in Sweden he came to London where he still lives in exile. 7pm for 7,30pm Gipsy Hill Tavern, 79 Gipsy Hill SE 19. £4 concessions £3 Open Mic
Tuesday 13th Dulwich Picture Gallery Lecture – The Norwich School by Jessica Saraga Linbury Room 7.45pm £10
Thursday 29th A Bicentenary Evening with Charles Dickens Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery. Scenes, readings and music by members of The Dulwich Players in a programme devised by Jill Alexander and Brian Green..7.30pm Christ’s Chapel. £12 (Friends £10) to include a glass of interval wine.