The Dulwich Society Journal for Autumn 2014.
So yet another threat to Greendale playing fields has arisen. It is a route we have been down before. In this column in the 2003 Autumn issue of the Journal, (then called the Newsletter), it noted that the threat to the open land was averted in the face of an Appeal by the developers. It quoted the text of the upholding by the Government Inspector, of Southwark Council’s refusal to grant planning permission for a Homebase store on Metropolitan Open Land in Greendale, following an appeal against this decision by the developers, Cliveden Estates and Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. The Inspector’s decision was a significant one over the question of neglected open land – “I do not think the current regime of neglect is a good argument in favour of redevelopment. Such an argument would militate in favour of dereliction.”
In an article on page 4 of this issue, Ian McInnes goes into the detail of the latest application, essentially the same as made in 2003. The photograph of the neglected field shows that it has been unmaintained since Dulwich Hamlet FC acquired the lease in 1993. Use of this former sports field would have been of enormous help for pupils of the ailing former William Penn School, who instead were obliged to be bussed to Ewell for sport. It would also have made life easier for that school’s successor, The Charter School who use the next field but no doubt would like additional space.
It is understood that the field is leased to the football club by Southwark Council and this lease expires at the end of this year. If that is the case, then Southwark Council should not grant a renewal to the present owners of Dulwich Hamlet FC, on the grounds of purposeful neglect as much as anything else, but seek to find a new tenant. No doubt Bessemer Primary School, which is currently being enlarged, or the Charter School, or indeed the successful candidate for the proposed new secondary school would all be likely applicants.
Whether it is the quality of the water in Dulwich or perhaps its benign climate, but there is apparently something in the air which inspires the creation and growth of self-help groups.
In this issue you will read of the newly formed University of the 3rd Age (U3A). Perhaps, it might be argued, it has taken some time for Dulwich to have a branch, but there is one here now and it is offering a broad range of subjects, from Latin to Bird watching.
In North Dulwich there have been three self-help groups which have started recently. All three are on the council estates of Bessemer Grange and Cleeve Hill at Champion Hill. Two have been formed to protect and improve significant areas of woodland, with the blessing and assistance of Southwark Council. Whilst one area is wild but with maintained paths, the other has a small meadow which has been equipped with one or two picnic tables. The third group is a community-based group which is promoting activities in the communal garden behind the homes close to Bessemer Primary School.
The group maintaining the woodland and meadow (which is located behind Sainsbury’s supermarket on Dog Kennel Hill, has, in the process of finding out more about the history of this wooded area, uncovered very interesting information on the original Gaumont film studios which were, a century and more ago, located in a sports field in what is today, Sainsbury’s car park. More of this in a future issue.
Peter John, the leader of Southwark Council outlined the Council’s commitment to a fairer future for all its residents at a breakfast event in mid-July. As most people know, the Labour Party increased their representation in the Dulwich area and now hold all three seats in College Ward as well as one each in Village and East Dulwich.
On funding, he reminded us that there were further substantial cuts to come in Southwark, £33.5m in 2014-15 – and in the region of £100m over the next four years. He confirmed that the Council will need to work even harder to deliver its services but it’s not obvious in Dulwich where existing cuts have been made. We still have fully staffed libraries, the one in Lordship Lane recently refurbished, and our rubbish collection remains as good as ever as, in general, do our road and pavement repairs. There are still flower displays in the Village and we have the Cleaner Greener Safer funding programme - which none of our neighbouring boroughs do.
His main priorities were to build more affordable housing while maintaining a good housing mix to suit everyone, and providing additional school places and affordable child care. He was positive on the prospective use of the former Dulwich Community Hospital site as a new secondary school where two providers are currently bidding, Haberdashers Askes and the Charter School – although there was some work to be done at the department of education who seemed to think the site would be best used as a Harris Primary School for Nunhead.
However the main innovation in the new term was to make access to council swimming pools and gyms free for Southwark residents. This is a product of changes in government funding for public health services - devolving budget control to local authorities, and the Council have widened the remit of the former leisure cabinet post to include Public Health, Parks and Leisure.
From a Dulwich perspective, what do we want over the next four years? No one can object to more affordable housing or more school places - though we do need to think about the impact of any increased traffic. Free access to sports facilities must be a good thing but, regrettably, in Dulwich, child care will remain subject to market forces.
One important thing we want to expand is the remit of the Dulwich Community Council. This encourages a certain amount of local councillor accountability but its most important aspect, responsibility for local planning, has been removed. Centralising decision making in Tooley Street may appear to save money (though that is debatable), but it seems the real reason is that the Council does not want locals to participate in the planning process – probably because they may not give the answer that they want.
Air Raids Trail
Enclosed with this issue of the Journal, is a copy of the Dulwich World War 2 Air Raids Trail which provides a guide to the 12 memorials set up by the Dulwich Society in 2013 to those civilians killed during the war. It has been compiled by the Local History Group and designed by Alison Winfield. Southwark Council have supported this publication with a grant of £2000 from the CGS fund. All Dulwich schools will be asked if they would like copies, free of charge, for distribution among their pupils who might be studying WW2 as part of their curriculum. Extra copies for the public will be available from local libraries.
Car parking in Dulwich
Few local topics arouse such controversy as car parking.
Road space is scarce. It has to accommodate increasing traffic, pedestrian crossings and safe cycle lanes. People working locally, such as school teachers and other staff park in it. Commuters who are continuing their journey by train fill other space. Residents’ parking has to be fitted into all this.
Several roads in Herne Hill and some Dulwich roads are already in Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs) – Stradella, Winterbrook and part of Burbage for example. Residents’ views on CPZs will vary and, in many cases, depend partly on whether they have off-street parking and on the density of housing and car ownership
Typically a CPZ involves a restriction on parking during a set period. Near Herne Hill this is between noon and 2.00pm. Tickets are only available after 11.45, thus effectively barring most commuters. At other times, anyone is free to park.
So the effects of a CPZ are:
• More chance of getting a space on the road near your home
• Your visitors are more likely to find daytime parking when they visit you, although they will have to buy a ticket (from a machine or by phone) or use a visitor’s permit at lunchtime
• A generally quieter road, without cars crawling along looking for possible spaces
• A generally safer road as dangerous and inconsiderate parking will be ticketed
• Less likelihood of finding your own road temporarily blocked by delivery vehicles double-parking.
• Protection from parking displaced from nearby CPZs.
• For the right to leave your own car on the road outside your own house, you would have to pay £125 per annum. You can avoid making this payment if you intend to always park in your own driveway.
• For visitors or tradesmen who are going to be there between 12 and 2.00pm, you will need to have a visitor permit, costing £2.50 - £4.50 per day or ask them to buy a ticket
More generally, people who work locally, like teachers, but leave the area at night, cannot have a permit at any price
The Society is reviewing whether to ask the Council to consult on extending the number of CPZs in Dulwich. We would like to know what our members think. Please email our Traffic and Transport Committee with your views:
1. Name of your road
2. Do you already live in a CPZ?
3. If not, would you like your road to be in one?
Greendale Playing Fields
Football has been played at the Dulwich Hamlet ground for a century - the club is in the Isthmian League but the number of supporters has been falling in recent years and the present stadium, with its three floors in the main stand, has long been a massive financial drain. The current owners have begun a public consultation process to build a new football ground on Greendale (the first presentation was on 19 July), the open area to the west of the stadium which is currently designated as Metropolitan Open Land. The club has a lease for Greendale from Southwark Council until 2015. However, before looking at the proposals in detail, it is worthwhile summarizing how the club reached its current position.
The club moved into the present stadium in 1992, following the demolition of the old Champion Hill Stadium – now the site of the Sainsbury’s supermarket. As part of that development a Section 106 Agreement was signed between Southwark Council, J Sainsbury and Kings College London (the then freeholders) to restrict use of the club site to recreational, leisure or educational purposes.
In 2003 the club made a planning application with the aim of selling the ground for development into a Homebase store, with the club moving onto Greendale. There was considerable local objection and the scheme was rejected by Southwark on the grounds that the Greendale was Metropolitan Open Land.
In 2007, the Southwark Plan designated the football ground as ‘Other Open Space’ (OOS). Essentially, this meant that development was not permitted on the site unless equivalent facilities were provided within 400 metres.
In 2008 Kings’ College, the long standing freeholders, sold the freehold to DHPD Ltd (a property company). In 2009 DHPD Ltd attempted to sell the ground for the development of up to 400 apartments. However no sale followed as there was no planning permission in place.
In 2010 they made a planning application for 60 flats on the car park (ref 11-AP-2250). The scheme was withdrawn in November 2010 probably because the Council said there was no chance of an approval. A further scheme was submitted in 2011 (ref 11-AP-2280). It was rejected in February 2012 on the grounds that building on Metropolitan Open Land would contravene council policies.
In May 2012, DHPD Ltd. went into administration. In September 2013, Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust attempted unsuccessfully to have the stadium listed as an “Asset of Community Value” by Southwark Council.
The freehold was bought by Hadley Property Group in February 2014 and, shortly afterwards, Hadley took over control of the club and paid off a significant number of the club’s debts. The firm has made no secret that it is looking to redevelop some or all of the current ground, with the club being moved to more appropriate facilities nearby.
In summary then, there have been three previous planning applications to develop the existing stadium site and move the football ground onto Greendale and they have all been turned down as contravening the Council’s policy on development on MOL. None have been tested at appeal.
Is there anything different about the current proposal other than the implied threat that if the scheme does not go ahead the club will close? The answer is no and, while residents might regret the loss of the football club, the consequences for the surrounding area for allowing development on MOL are very serious. We cannot allow a precedent to be set. The Council needs to stand by its policies and, in fairness, up till now it has done so, and Peter John, the leader of the Council is recently on record as saying that there will be no development on Greendale because it is MOL. Hadley should go elsewhere.
Furthermore, the fields will undoubtedly be required for games by the proposed new academy status secondary school which is likely to be built nearby. Alternatively, perhaps Hadley would like to offer the stadium as the site for the new school, thus being able to provide a games field to go with it.
VISIT TO KEW GARDENS 24TH SEPTEMBER, meeting there at 11am. Admission £15
This gives a Group rate entry and the use throughout the day of the HOP ON/HOP OFF Explorer Train (with commentary by the driver). We will be joined by a specialised Guide for about an hour, to visit their Zelkova collection, and other special trees, such as their Wollumi Pine.
There are plenty of restaurants, an excellent Shop, and should it rain, it is almost the last day to see the newly restored Kew Palace, free, before it shuts for the Season.
ENTRY Tickets and Information will be posted in advance
Cheques to DULWICH SOCIETY email Trees@ pbmail.co.uk Tel: 020 8693 0256 18 College Gardens SE21 7BE
Local History & Wildlife – Bats, Buildings and Bubbly!
Tuesday 9th September at 6pm
A few tickets remain for this joint evening of observing the scene over a glass of wine when Brian Green will point out the historic landmarks from the balcony of the Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Club followed by a conducted wildlife walk in Dulwich Woods to the newly restored Dewy Pond. The evening is free but application should be made to Patrick Spencer, 7 Pond Cottages, SE21 7LE (tel:0208 693 2043 email:
Visit to the RHS gardens at Wisley
Our annual coach outing in June this year was to the magnificent Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Wisley. Originally a 60 acre experimental garden, Wisley was given to the RHS in 1903 and is now a diverse garden covering 240 acres. In addition to many formal and informal decorative gardens, several glasshouses and an extensive arboretum. it includes smaller model gardens intended to show visitors what they can achieve in their own gardens, and a trials field where new cultivars are assessed. Some 70 gardeners keep it all in tip top condition.
The 35 members of the Society were given a comprehensive tour before lunch, with time afterwards to explore our own interests. Wisley is always changing and always inspirational, highlights for me being the vegetable beds (too dry for snails), some wonderful poppy/wild flower fields, the Fruit Mount (a new artificial mound overlooking the orchards), the Seven Acres arboretum and - as always - the stunning mixed borders.
We enjoyed good weather and good company, the logistics worked well, and we came back both windswept and inspired! Our visits and other events are open to all Dulwich Society members.
Too Many Balls in the Air?
The Dulwich Estate has a number of redevelopment schemes in hand, some of which are unlikely to reach fruition in the foreseeable future. One that might, is the SG Smith Motors’ garage workshop site in the middle of the Village for which full planning permission has been applied for. A consultation was held for local residents and those in Gilkes Crescent made objections which were taken into account in a revised scheme, but those living in Calton Avenue woke up to the plans at the last moment, and despite a spirited meeting with the architects, their objections were made too late and they were advised to make them direct to Southwark Council Planning department.
The long-heralded conversion of the Crown & Greyhound into a boutique hotel with restaurant, bar and function room has now started with the demolition of the large garage and some outbuildings. So far, the bar areas have not been affected although it is understood that the Dog will close at the end of the summer season, although a date at the time of writing has yet to be announced. Its closure will bring to three the number of pubs leased by the Dulwich Estate which will be closed.
One of the others, The Half Moon at Herne Hill, closed because of flooding and the tenant apparently decided not to re-open and handed back the lease. The Half Moon has the distinction of being a Grade 2 ⃰ listed building as well as having a tradition of being a music venue (local folklore claims that both The Who and Led Zeppelin performed there in their early days). The Dulwich Estate has announced that it proposes to re-develop the pub itself; a brave venture under the circumstances. The plans envisage a purpose built sound-proof space for live music while at the same time re-developing the first and upper floors into flats. There are likely to be objections to this aspect of the scheme and probably alternative uses for the rooms above the bars and music space will have to be found. Certainly one observer has suggested a gym. The building of flats at the rear of the pub will probably meet with approval. Given the fact the building is listed, do not expect the Half Moon to re-open soon.
Yet another scheme, and one that seems to be doomed never to be completed, is the redevelopment of the former United Dairies site in Croxted Road. As the dairy closed some 20 years ago, there has already been an unacceptable delay in rebuilding. Now, it is understood, the area health authority has decided not to support a group medical practice on the site. Much of the remainder of the site was to provide affordable housing (without parking provision). A requirement by Lambeth Council, apparently, is that redevelopment of the site has to offer employment opportunities in the resulting building. Considerable time and money have been wasted on this exercise and a stronger appeal for housing provision on this brownfield site should be made by the Estate, over the head of Lambeth Council if necessary.
We are also left with the completely unsatisfactory case of the closed Grove Tavern pub at the important junction of Lordship Lane and Dulwich Common. It is not sufficient for the Dulwich Estate to say that the rent is being paid; clearly the tenants are considering selling the site for development. They have a requirement in their lease that they should open for trade. They appear to be in breach of this and should be brought to account promptly.
They are Remembered
Readers will recall the efforts by the Dulwich Society to return three bronze World War 1 memorials to their original location. Despite publicity from BBC London TV News, the congregation of Christ Church, Barry Road declined to accept them on the grounds that they were a new and amalgamated congregation and had indeed recorded the names of the men of the former church who fell in the war in a Memorial Book which is on view.
The bronze memorials were taken down when the original church (formerly Emmanuel Church) which stands next to Christ Church, was sold to a care home. They were, with the church’s wooden pews, sent to Wellingborough Prison in Northamptonshire, apparently for use by the prisoners in the workshops. The importance of the memorials was recognised and they were rescued and then lost until the prison closed at the end of 2012 when they were rediscovered. Apparently they had also been rescued in the intervening years from a skip! The prison authorities handed them to a local aviation museum where enthusiasts traced the names of the men on the memorials to East Dulwich and to a Non-Conformist church. The former Emmanuel Church was identified and In the autumn of 2012 the Dulwich Society received custody of them.
We are pleased to report that the memorials have been re-instated in the original church (now named Barry House) where they are displayed in a prominent place in the foyer of what is now an out-sourced Home Office facility for the temporary accommodation of asylum seekers. A formal ceremony of rededication, at which it is hoped members of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) and a colour party from the British Legion will be present, will be held this Autumn.
At All Saints Church, West Dulwich, there are also plans to commemorate The Great War. A leaflet has been issued by the church posing questions -Do you think that it is important to remember? How important is the ‘Silence’ when you remember? What is the relevance of the of the Great War today?
The congregation has also decided to find out more about the people who are named on the War memorial in the church. They hope to find out when and where they died through looking at war archives and diaries of their regiments. They also are hoping to build up a picture of how the returning wounded soldiers were treated and what life was like for those who did not sign up. Occasional events exploring the music and poetry of the time will be arranged.
‘Queen of the Park’ Returns (briefly!)
The Journal received an unusual postcard recently – To all my old friends from Dulwich and beyond, This is just to let you know that I am back on my old spot in Dulwich Park waiting for you all to pop over for a chat. As you can see from my gay travel stickers, I have been away for some time. I feel refreshed and ready to stand here for another forty years. And I’ve lost some weight! I‘m so glad that nothing is here to take my place – some old piece of metal posing as art. Please keep all dogs on a lead. With love from the Queen of the Park xx”
Our anonymous correspondent will be delighted to know that Tate Modern is to stage an exhibition of the works of Barbara Hepworth, the first for fifty years. The installation of the replacement piece to the stolen ‘Divided Circle’, by Conrad Shawcross will take place when the flood alleviation work is completed.
Dulwich and District University of the 3rd Age
Never Stop Learning! A New Venture in Dulwich for the Retired
A prospective member phoned to express interest in the U3A. “ I love to learn and I love to teach, and don’t really mind what”, he said. He articulated the thoughts of many of the retired and semi-retired locals who have come along to well attended meetings in Dulwich to get a local U3A branch set up.
The vision of the U3A, founded in the UK in 1982, is to recognise older people as active citizens with expertise, talents and skills to share, through an organisation that they control themselves. U3A groups now flourish throughout the country, with high membership numbers.
We intend to hold regular meetings for all to attend, usually on a weekday afternoon to share information, socialise and hear an interesting speaker. The first few meetings have aimed to raise awareness of our locality – Street Art in East Dulwich, The American Gardens in Dulwich Park, Herne Hill developments and the future of the Carnegie Library.
There is evidently an abundance of talented and motivated teachers and learners in our local area and convenors have offered a variety of activities. Many of these Interest Groups are organised in people’s homes on a wide range of subjects, such as languages ( French, Spanish, Japanese) Art and Music ( both appreciation and playing) , Politics, Philosophy, Poetry, Creative Writing, Crafts, Play reading, Computers and many more, while some groups meet to go on walks or visit Museums and Galleries.
The Dulwich and District branch is run by a volunteer committee who aim to put interested parties in touch with each other and from then on it is up to you all to develop a successful self help organisation.
We are all learning as we go. Come along and meet us at an open meeting, become a member and join or start up Interest Groups of your choice.
Next Meetings 11th Sept. 2.00-4.00 Herne Hill Baptist Church, 6th Oct 2.00-4.00 Carnegie Library
Please contact us: Liz Day ( Chair) on
Willis’ modest personality and quiet demeanour tended to mask the important role he once played in the provision of nuclear energy, an industry in which he was employed from its infancy. After education at Hendon County Grammar School he joined Glynn Mills Bank but soon became disillusioned with his long term prospects. It was probably his living next door to the Handley Page aircraft factory (a target for frequent Luftwaffe air-raids, which he observed close-hand as a young ARP warden) that made him consider engineering as a career. He was sponsored by the War Ministry during his engineering training at Harris College, Preston and after qualification as a mechanical and electrical engineer he was commissioned into the Royal Engineers, serving as Squadron Operations officer in Egypt.
In 1949 he joined the newly created Central Electricity Generating Board as a graduate trainee working in the power stations. In 1958 he transferred to the emerging nuclear sector and spent some time at the first of these at Bradwell, Essex. In 1962 Willis joined the health and safety inspectorate for nuclear power stations based at the CEGB headquarters in London.
With this appointment, he also moved with his family, to live in Dulwich. A founder-member of the Dulwich Society, he served on the transport and gardens sub-committees. In retirement he turned his hand to furniture restoration, attending classes at Greenwich and developing great skill at the craft where his painstaking work encouraged him to take on ever more challenging work. One such challenge, and possibly the largest in actual size, was the restoration of the Dulwich Postal cart when it was rescued from a Tower Bridge antiques shop and looking in a sorry state. With Graham Nash, the restoration was meticulously completed and the cart will shortly be permanently on view at Rosebery Lodge, Dulwich Park.
Derek was one of the foremost architects of healthcare building and a firm advocate of the original aim of providing healthcare facilities for all ‘from the cradle to the grave’. His critique, ‘Changing Hospital Architecture’ (with Sunand Prasad 2008) traces how the coherent design of healthcare buildings - location, content and built form has changed since 1948 but is a victim of continual change by successive governments.
Derek Stow studied architecture at Kingston School of Art and his first job was as assistant architect on the seaside section of the 1951 Festival of Britain on the South Bank. Soon after, he began the first of several healthcare projects including Wexham Park Hospital, Slough.
He formed his own practice in 1962 with his wife Gwyneth. His portfolio of healthcare projects now included strategic planning, development control and master planning, specialist units, day hospitals, primary and community care.
One project, modular health buildings, started with a prototype relocatable health centre at Poplar and evolved into a patented totally relocatable system. Other important projects included the Royal Sussex County Hospital and Whipps Cross Hospital, culminating in the in the building of Kings College Hospital new critical care centre, operating theatres and joint education centre.
Derek was awarded the OBE for services to architecture in 1979 and elected a Fellow of RIBA in 1968. In 2008 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for services to the healthcare environment.
Alan Woodfield, who unveiled the Dulwich Society World War 2 memorial plaque to the victims of two bombings in the Melbourne Grove/Lytcott Grove area has published his third book of poetry.
Alan was aged 15 when the second bombing took place. He was living with his family in Playfield Crescent and remembers the night in January 1943 when the Luftwaffe dropped parachute mines in retaliation for an RAF raid on Berlin the day before. One of the poems describes this tragedy. The Journal published the poem about this event 70 years ago and it is included in this volume.
A Third Venture Into Verse by Alan Woodfield is published by United Press £3.99
Alfred Janes (1911-1999)
Dad (and Dylan Thomas)
By Hilly Janes
Did Dylan Thomas ever visit Dulwich? It seems he drank at the Half Moon Hotel in Herne Hill after watching games at the London Welsh rugby club, which was based nearby. There is even a story that the wandering Welsh poet lived briefly in nearby Milkwood Road - and immortalised it in the title of his much loved play for voices, Under Milk Wood. A sparky new version of his most famous work by BBC TV Wales and a touring production by Theatre Clwyd have been two highlights of the poet’s centenary celebration this year - he was born on October 27th 1914
Although Dylan came from Swansea, he spent much of his life in London, where he made more than 200 broadcasts for the BBC as well as writing propaganda films for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War. If the Milk Wood story is a myth - and there are plenty of those about a man whose reputation has become legendary, and not always for the right reasons - he was certainly very much present in spirit, if not in the flesh, at our home in Dulwich Village 50 years ago when my late father, the artist Alfred Janes made a posthumous drawing of his lifelong friend.
It was his third portrait of Dylan, drawn from memory, and a few black and white photographs in a front room that my father had commandeered as a studio, but which my mother Mary called ‘the tramp’s nest’. The table was covered in pots and tubes of paint, rags, old jam jars full of brushes, screws and nails. The ancient lino was spattered with colour and rarely swept, and there were more jars on the mantelpiece above a two-bar electric fire that we later discovered masked a pretty tiled Edwardian fireplace.
Fred, as he was known to family and friends, perched on a stool in front of his easel to work on the pen and ink drawing, which was to appear in the Spectator magazine in 1964 to illustrate an article about the first full-length biography of the poet. He had died aged only 39 on the fourth of his gruelling, sell-out tours of the USA - this time to perform Under Milk Wood with actors for the first time.
We had moved to the house near Dulwich Park from the Gower peninsula in 1963. Like Dylan, Fred was born in Swansea, where they met in 1931 while my father was back for the holidays from the Royal Academy Schools, where he was studying portraiture. When 20-year-old Dylan’s first book of poems was published in London in 1934, he joined Fred in his grotty digs in Earl’s Court, which my father described as a “happy shambles” and where the only chair had been adapted as an easel.
‘There must have been a strange contrast between our habits,’ Fred remarked. ‘Whereas I was glued to my easel-cum-chair experimenting away day after day, Dylan would disappear for days – perhaps weeks on end; on one occasion he went out to get a haircut and the next time I saw him was in Swansea.’
By now Fred had left the Academy. Although he was a prize-winning student and awarded the prestigious Academy Prize Medal in 1932, he was tired of its traditional teaching methods and stuffy atmosphere. He was experimenting with new, more geometrical styles, inspired partly by Modernist painters like Picasso, Braque and Klee that he he saw in Mayfair's commercial galleries, only a stone’s throw from the Royal Academy, and where his early geometric still lifes were exhibited alongside those of the masters he admired.
One of these works was his first portrait of Dylan, painted in 1934. He was developing a technique of incising lines with a penknife over the finished work, then softening it with turpentine to lend it a brilliant, jewel like quality. It was almost lost because when Fred next returned to Swansea for the holidays, he left it along with four years worth of his Academy work in his digs, intending to collect it all later. But he never did, and it was only because two leading painters of the day, Augustus John and Cedric Morris, had chosen it for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Wales in Cardiff that it survived. It hangs there to this day.
A second portrait of Dylan was started in 1953 - the year that he died. By now Dylan was living at the Boathouse in Laugharne, a picturesque little seaside spot in Carmarthenshire. The Janes family, meanwhile, had settled in a rambling old farmhouse with four acres of land in Gower, where Fred painted in an old coach house with an earth floor and no heating. It sounds romantic, but trying to earn a living from part time teaching and selling work where commercial galleries were almost non- existent was tough. When the offer of a part time lectureship at Croydon School of Art came up, he jumped at it.
In the summer months the orchard at the farmhouse became a rudimentary campsite, where visitors included the Schurr family, who lived in Dulwich. Peter Schurr was a leading neurosurgeon based at King’s College Hospital, and the family became firm friends. My brother was already studying at university in London and drove Fred around on the back of his motor bike to look for a house to buy. Dulwich, with friends already in situ, its excellent schools and beautiful park on the doorstep, seemed ideal.
London in the Swinging Sixties was a far cry from Swansea, with its emerging experimental arts scene, galleries like the Tate and private views where celebrity spotting was part of the fun. ‘There was Hockney, all green velvet suited and peroxided,’ my mother wrote to her sister back in Swansea, after the preview of a Tate show by William Scott, another close friend and contemporary of my father’s from the Academy.
The Institute of Contemporary Arts’ inaugural exhibition in its Regency building in The Mall caused quite a stir with a waxwork model of a dead hippie, computers, pulsing TV screens and a mosaic floor made of coloured light. In 1968, this was revolutionary. And the commercial opportunities available in London were obvious. Swansea- born artists and close friends of Fred’s such as Ceri Richards and Mervyn Levy had made the move from Wales long before. Ceri was achieving major success with retrospectives at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, renowned for its promotion of contemporary artists, and overseas at the Venice Biennale, where he won the prize for best painting in 1962. He had also been taken on by London’s leading commercial gallery, Marlborough Fine Art.
Mervyn, who had shared those Earls’ Court digs with Fred and Dylan while studying at the Royal College of Art, was now a successful writer, broadcaster and agent. His 1950s TV series Painting for Housewives, was the first to teach viewers to paint and draw and he became a regular BBC broadcaster.
Both Ceri and Mervyn were frequent visitors to our house in Dulwich, the original site of James Allen’s Girls’ School (and my alma mater), but now the setting for many lively parties and dinners where Mary would serve ‘Dulwich peasant stew’ and artists and writers would rub shoulders with the local doctors and academics with whom sociable Fred and Mary rapidly became friends.
Among them was an English master at Alleyn’s, Alasdair Aston, an award winning poet and a leading member of the Dulwich Poetry Group, which held readings upstairs at the Crown and Greyhound - or “the Dog”, as we all called it. Daytime visitors would be treated to a ‘wicked Welsh tea’ with egg sandwiches and homemade Welsh cakes, and a tour of the exquisite collection of Old Masters at the Dulwich College Picture Gallery, as it was then called, where my mother served on the Friends’ committee, was not to be missed.
One of Fred and Dylan’s closest Swansea friends, the poet Vernon Watkins, often came to stay when he gave readings and lectures in London, and it was on one of these visits that he and his wife, Gwen, visited Dulwich Picture Gallery with Fred. ‘It was such an experience,” Gwen recalled, because Fred was an innovative painter but you could see how much he loved some of these pictures, in the way that Vernon and Dylan loved Yeats and Blake – they nourished them.’
Fred was indeed an innovative artist, The desire to experiment that had driven him out of the Academy never left him. The ‘tramp’s nest’ was a hive of activity where he worked both on abstract works in a wide variety of materials such broken windscreen glass, perspex and my precious collection of marbles, many of which were displayed in a 1973 show at the South London Art Gallery in Camberwell.
A later phase necessitated raiding my mother’s gardening catalogues for pictures of roses that were subtly altered and incorporated into collages. These were exhibited - and snapped up - in the first exhibition of work for sale by contemporary artists at the Dulwich College Picture Gallery in 1976.
Colleagues at Croydon College of Art were among the trailblazers of their day and included the young Bridget Riley and performance artist Bruce Mclean, who was fascinated by the meticulous preparations that Fred made for his still life classes. Despite the experiments, his work was always underpinned by a highly academic grasp of his craft.
‘Fred would arrive long before his class was due to meet, bringing some of the elements with him, a mandolin, a piece of velvet, a vase or metal jug, wooden objects etc,’ Mclean said. ‘These objects were then arranged with very specific intentions in mind: to prove the students’ powers of perception in relation to colour, perspective, volume, tonal relations, light and shade, straight line and arabesque, texture etc, Each arrangement had its own complex programme and was set within a structured teaching strategy that progressed from week to week.”
Fred’s classical training resurfaced with the drawing of Dylan, and while he was reluctant to take what he saw as a retrograde step, his skill as a portrait painter soon led to commissions of likenesses of the great and the good, who came to sit for him in Dulwich. They included a future Chancellor of the Exchequer, Iain Mcleod MP; the leader of Plaid Cymru, Gwynfor Evans - and the first Welsh nationalist MP to sit in Westminster; and Linford Rees, professor of psychiatry at Barts and president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the BMA.
Out of the studio, one of Fred’s greatest pleasures was ‘a constitutional’ around Dulwich Park, always in the same anti-clockwise direction. A friend and neighbour, Alan Road, also from Swansea and a distinguished journalist on The Observer, recalled how Fred never lost the sharp wit that he had shared with Dylan, even as his health failed in old age. Asked one year where he was going on holiday he replied: ‘Round Dulwich Park in a clockwise direction’. An eccentric local who drove a go-kart led by huskies along the pavement, forcing pedestrians to step aside, was dubbed ‘Ben Cur’.
Fred continued teaching at Croydon, where he became a senior lecturer, and did not retire until his 70th birthday. But he never stopped painting, and only a few days before he was admitted to King’s Hospital with kidney failure in 1999 he sent me on an errand to the Dulwich Art Stationers to buy the finest paintbrush available. When he died soon after, a few months before his 88th birthday, the tramp’s nest had been his studio for almost 40 years - and seen the genesis of many wonderful works of art.
The Three Lives of Dylan Thomas by Hilly Janes is published by The Robson Press
The Dylan Thomas Fitzrovia Festival, instigated by Griff Rhys Jones takes place in October.
c. Hilly Janes 2014
The Oak tree, probably the most recognised and loved tree in Britain, is well represented in Dulwich, both as old field boundary marks and ornamental specimens
Of our two native species, the English Oak, (Quercus robur), has acorns on stalks, while the Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea) has acorns without stalks. Not every year is a good acorn year but both species support a huge variety of insects and wild life while remaining healthy and vigorous. The familiar ‘oak apples’ are the result of a parasite wasp laying eggs on twigs, causing a ‘gall’. This growth is a source of tannin, used in colouring blue/black ink.
There is a magnificent example of a Turkey oak (Quercus cerris) in the Park, near the old tennis courts, marked as one of ‘The Great Trees of London’, with a spread in full leaf of about 130’. These were introduced in the 18th century, but do not support such a rich wild life. The wood is not good to work with, splitting and breaking. Of course the timber of our great oaks is famous for strength, for building and furniture.
There are several oaks from the United States in the Park and along College Road, which colour splendidly in autumn, and one, the Red Oak (Quercus borealis) is sensational in spring too, its foliage emerging a clear bright
yellow, lasting for several weeks, before gradually turning green and then colouring brilliantly red in the Autumn
The evergreen Holm Oak (Quercus ilex), naturalised here from the Mediterranean, is our largest evergreen tree, a very deep green indeed, casting a heavy shade. It tolerates salt winds, provides valuable shelter belts, and despite its size produces tiny acorns, but in spring it can be covered in golden catkins, an amazing transformation.
Another oak, becoming popular as a landscape feature, is the Cypress oak, a natural variant of Quercus robur, from Central Europe. Tall and columnar in habit, (there is one in the Park near the big weeping Willow by the stream), and there is a 20 strong avenue planted on one side of the Windrush Square, in Brixton
That a Hen Harrier should fall out of the sky into a garden near Gipsy Hill is little short of an ornithological miracle. Although she had been given a hard time from the local crows and magpies this bird could not have been luckier. Hen Harriers have been top of the RSPB “need of protection list” as the British breeding population has fallen to about nine pairs and in England there was a single unmated male on a moor in the peak district. Unfortunately they have fallen foul of the northern gamekeepers who believe that they are a danger to the Red Grouse population and who have been illegally shooting them.
In the south of England they are seen in decreasing numbers most usually in the winter on the coastal marshes of Kent Essex and East Anglia and certainly nowhere near the gardens of West Dulwich. This bird is female, fairly uniformly brown but with an owl- like head and a white rump. The male Hen Harrier is a little smaller and a beautiful silvery grey with black wing primary feathers. It certainly needs to be admired rather than shot.
There are other ways in which we might do our birdwatching. One I discovered was to lie on your back in the garden (in good weather) doing your pilates. You may then be lucky enough to see a Red Kite passing overhead. West of London this would be commonplace as the Red Kite has colonized the Thames valley in numbers but they are still unusual sightings here. Another unusual sighting for the summer was a Peregrine Falcon which perched for a while on a roof in Dulwich village. Some Peregrine Falcons have discovered that high rise buildings in London are preferable breeding sites to cliffs with a plentiful supply of pigeon for food, so there are now several pairs to be seen flying over London and occasionally over us.
From the mid summer onwards it is always good to listen for the calls of overflying birds. Waders start to migrate from July onwards and many of them have distinctive calls. A curlew was both seen and heard in July and others may still be reported.
We can also announce the birth of a white Sparrow in West Dulwich of which we have been supplied with a number of excellent photos, one of which we print, accompanying its more usual friends and relations. This is in fact leucism as opposed to albinism where there is complete absence of melanin and the eyes are pink. Leucism is an uncommon genetic mutation that occurs in many species, including Blackbirds and Crows. It is not infrequently seen in Squirrels and there have been a few local reports of white Squirrels. It may be partial or total and is perhaps most frequently seen in Mallard Ducks on our park ponds and lakes. Most of our Christmas Turkeys are leucistic!
Apart from this the news is less good. There has been a drastic fall in our population of House Martins and there are clearly very few breeding pairs, and Swifts are also present in smaller numbers this year. In spite of the good news in West Dulwich the House Sparrow population has fallen again and the long standing colony at the north end of Burbage Road seems to have disappeared.
However, although I reported last time that our Kestrels have gone there was a female and young in Belair park, and after two barren years Little Grebes have managed to produce a chick on the Dulwich Park lake. We will therefore await further records with interest.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (tel: 0207 274 4567 )
“Grandma! There’s an eagle in the garden!” Sylvia Fox of Oaks Avenue, who happens, to be a wildlife enthusiast was unconvinced by this breathless announcement. Her curiosity was peaked however, by the cacophony of squawks she could hear and she went to look. There was indeed an ‘eagle’, or so it seemed in her back garden. It was certainly large with over a 3’ wing span. A murder of crows ( the collective noun for crows Agatha Christie once informed us) aided by magpies was harrying it. It gained the cover of an apple tree whereupon the family cat took up the pursuit.
“She looked absolutely exhausted”, recalls Sylvia. What to do? A handy and now unused large yellow plastic toy chest was to hand and Sylvia placed this over the large bird. But how to move it.? A large plastic tray was found and slid under the toy chest. The ‘eagle’ could now be put into the safety of the long-disused Wendy House in the garden.
A call to the RSPCA produced, after some delay, an inspector who carefully examined the bird. Declaring it uninjured but at the last stages of exhaustion – “It must have fallen from the sky like a stone”, the inspector remarked, it was placed in a box and sent to an aviary in Essex and then forwarded to a second aviary where it was fed and allowed to recover. It was released over the Essex marshes. Sylvia was informed that she had saved the life of a rare female hen-harrier who was far, far off course. And of course Sylvia called the Dulwich Society’s Wildlife line.