The Dulwich Society Journal for Autumn 2015.
Marion Gibbs retired last month as headmistress of James Allen’s Girls’ School. She also resigned as a vice -president of the Dulwich Society in April. She takes with her the thanks and respect of staff, alumni and pupils alike. Marion has been at JAGS for twenty-one years, and has been in the teaching profession forty years. She is always pleased to point out that she taught for many years in the state sector, in two prisons and was a member of HM Inspectorate of schools.
We met as she was sorting out those papers she needed to pass on to her successor, Mrs Sally- Anne Huang, and those to be shredded. We had met in that same room when she first arrived when we talked about JAGS. I had a year or two before written a history of the school.* Now, twenty one years later, another chapter has ended.
Marion is particularly proud of the school’s achievement of opening up JAGS to the wider community through its bursary programme. She highlights the fact that although there are 800 girls in the senior school, 126 are from less well-off homes and receive either a half or a full bursary which in some cases includes school uniform, lunches and travel. She is also proud of the quality of teaching and the attention given to pastoral care. Modestly, she does not mention JAGS high academic achievements.
If those were the plusses, on the minus side she would desperately have liked to see the planned community music centre built during her tenure. Started as long ago as 2005, the scheme has dragged on and been dogged by local criticism and she says she has even received hate mail over this building project. She has naturally been considerably upset by this, especially, she says, as the school shares its facilities, through its sports’ club with some 5000 community users. It would have been easy but unkind of me to have pointed out that it is because of this sharing of resources that independent schools such as JAGS continue to enjoy charity status as well as income from sports club membership. The plans have however now been passed and work is expected to start this autumn. I am sure it will be called the Marion Gibbs Music Centre.
It was disillusionment with the new direction the Inspectorate was taking with the advent of OFSTED that led her to apply for the JAGS headship after two years as an HMI in Classics. She accuses the new culture which came in with OFSTED as concentrating on number crunching, double standards and bureaucracy. She cites the 400 regulations of OFSTED rules and the 240 pages of the manual for inspections as prime examples. There is no mincing of words as far as education and Marion’s views are concerned! Yet she approves of informal inspections as a means of identifying good practice, but believes the inspectors should arrive unannounced. If she had it her way, these informal inspections would assess a school to see whether it was in serious trouble and found to be inadequate. If that were the case, then a formal inspection might be considered. She thinks that the present system where inspections are notified in advance, leads some schools to rehearse for them so diverting time and energy from what the school should be doing.
The discussion naturally led to seeking her opinion on the public examinations system. She is rather disappointed that her views on education have not been sought by the DEA, especially as she has been writing a monthly blog for SecEd, the newspaper for secondary schools, for some time. As usual, she is forthright..” Nobody takes any notice of me, but if I were head of Eton or Tony Seldon (headmaster of Wellington) I would have been invited to No 10 to discuss education but I never have.” Perhaps because some of her views might be considered too radical no invitation is likely to arrive. A pity, because what she says is based on a lifetime of experience at the sharp end of education and resonates with the many in the teaching profession. She advocates a single national examination board instead of the present confusing and sometimes uneven situation which prevails with multiple boards. “It would deliver a level playing field”, she firmly believes. She goes further, by saying that if universities were prepared to change their admission dates to January, there would be no need for UCAS form filling or schools predicting grades, but instead the examination results would be known before applications were made. This would free up considerable time for concentrating on the A level exams themselves and leave a final (autumn) term for performing community action work.
She finds the AS exams disruptive but rejoices over the demise of GCSE course work modules, arguing that pupils can resit modules time and again. This she considers silly. She would like to see league tables abolished and argues that what is the point of a parent taking into account a school’s standing in examination success rate tables seven years before the child itself is entered for the exams; staff change and different year cohorts often have quite different capabilities. She also accuses some schools of chasing points to get higher up the league tables.
By now, fully on a roll, she criticises society for not valuing academic and skills-based subjects equally, and treating craftsmen as second class citizens. She complains of deskilling in this country and cites the success of Germany’s engineering tradition. She sees an opportunity to redress this imbalance in the Government’s new decision to make school attendance for all children compulsory up to the age of 18 - providing it is prepared to develop technical schools.
She is equally forthright in her dislike of the trend towards the proliferation of academies and especially those run by commercial chains. While the old local education authorities were sometimes found wanting, she believes, in time some of the current wave of academies will also. She has resisted JAGS sponsoring an academy but points out that she was a co-founder of Southwark Schools Learning Partnership with Dr Irene Bishop CBE, a Saturday learning co-operation between three independent and seven state schools aimed at boosting results and breaking down barriers. Marion says that the scheme has affected the lives of thousands of students and hundreds of teachers. It was for this initiative that she was awarded with the CBE.
Was she, I asked, as passionate about single sex education for girls as her predecessors had been? “Definitely yes,” was her reply. According to Marion Gibbs, girls perform better at subjects such as physics and maths in a single sex school. “ In co-ed schools there is a tendency for girls to sit back and let boys take over these subjects”. Furthermore, she believes that girls are not so concerned how they look if they are not sharing a class with boys.
Marion has had no problems with Muslim students’ dress. “Parents from all faiths are informed when they apply, that JAGS is a Christian school and they are happy to agree that headscarves and trousers will be permitted but there would be no wearing of the nihab or burka.” On the other hand, she says, there is an issue of over girls’ feelings of anxiety, caused perhaps by the current national paranoia concerning the sometimes depressing state of world affairs.
In an interview she gave recently in the Evening Standard it was a comment she made about the pressure being greater on girls’ lives from the widespread use of social media rather than from exams that made the headlines, not the rest of what she said. But, she also takes a swipe at media generally, saying that it “increases pressure on girls to look slim and pretty, do well, get a good job and bring up five children”.
To counter the intrusion of social media, she banned mobile phones and tablets in the classrooms and she suggests that they should also be banned by parents in girls’ bedrooms. The problem, she says, is that some parents are unable to say no and set and maintain boundaries so important in the development of adolescents.
Marion is buying a house on the Sussex coast. It has a large garden and she is looking forward to growing fruit and vegetables. She also wants to take up sailing again, perhaps as a crew member on a yacht. She intends to write and will try fiction or drama. She wants to catch up on her reading She also intends to get well. Unknown to the staff of JAGS, Marion has been unwell for some time. She will keep up a connection with Dulwich as she is a governor of The Charter School.
She will miss JAGS and JAGS will miss her. She would like to be remembered for her famous 3Cs - Care, Courtesy, Consideration. “ I am very proud of JAGS success, and the good standards achieved by teaching in tandem with pastoral care...I have touched a few lives”.
The recent election result for Dulwich and West Norwood resulted in a large majority for Helen Hayes, the Labour candidate, in excess of 16,000 votes or 31.4% over the Conservative. In the previous election of 2010, Tessa Jowell, Labour, had a majority of 9,365 votes or 19.4% over the Liberal Democrat. The increase is largely the result of votes being transferred from the Liberal Democrat to Labour. Helen Hayes’ majority is almost as large as Tessa Jowell’s over the Conservative in the first election for the new constituency of Dulwich and West Norwood in 1997 (16,769 votes or 36.8%). This was the largest majority returned for the present constituency, although not as great as the Conservative, Sir Frederick Hall, gained in 1931 (17,000 votes, 71%) for the previous Dulwich seat.
Looking back over 130 years, two long term trends stand out: the growth of the electorate from 16,500 in 1910, 30,000 in 1918, 55,000 in 1990 to 71,500 today; and the swing in Dulwich from one of the safest Conservative seats in the country to one of the safest Labour, with a period of very close elections between 1945 (211 vote majority) and 1979 (122 vote majority).
The Dulwich constituency was created in 1885 from the former Eastern Division of Surrey. It followed the 1884 Reform Act which gave most adult men the vote and the 1885 Redistribution of Seats Act which provided better representation for urban areas. From 1885 to 1945, the seat was held continuously by the Conservatives. There was only one really close election in February 1906 when the Liberals gained a landslide victory in Parliament, but the Dulwich MP just held his seat by 300 votes. Boundaries were altered to reflect population changes but these made no difference to the outcome. In 1885, Penge was included and the constituency stretched as far north as Camberwell Church Street; after 1918 the northern section was transferred to Peckham and the borough boundaries were more closely followed.
The Conservative MPs were generally successful businessmen. Sir John Blundell Maple held the seat from 1883 until his death in 1903. He had transformed his father’s small furniture shop in Tottenham Court Road into the well-known brand, Maples, a highly profitable company at the time. A bye-election was held in 1906 when his successor, Frederick Harris returned to South Africa. This was won by the future Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, a wealthy iron merchant, who had lost his seat in the general election earlier that year and was looking for a safer one. His name is on the plaque marking the laying of the foundation stone for St Barnabas Parish Hall in 1910. Bonar Law was succeeded by his personal friend, Sir Frederick Hall, a company director and member of Lloyds, who served until his death in 1932. Hall was regarded as a local hero for raising and commanding the troops for the Camberwell Gun Brigade during the First World War. He was followed by Sir Bracewell Smith, who made his fortune in property development, building the Park Lane Hotel, his family owning the Ritz. He was also Lord Mayor of London.
The position of the main parties changed significantly between 1945 and 1997 with all elections close compared to the previous sixty years; there were five changes in representation and the MPs generally came from professional and public service backgrounds rather than business. Boundary changes were more frequent and made more of a difference. In 1950, Camberwell’s four constituencies were reduced to two and the Peckham wards of Nunhead, Rye Lane and The Rye, where two-thirds of the electors were Labour supporters, were brought into Dulwich. This was partly compensated by the transfer in 1983 of the safest Labour ward, Barset, from Dulwich to Peckham. Post-war Dulwich was also transformed by the loss of many large houses, which proved difficult to sell, to be replaced by smaller houses and flats, with the consequent increase in population. The Boundary Commission aimed to take the new estates into account and keep the electorate within a higher band of between 50,000 and 70,000 voters.
The first Labour MP for Dulwich was Wilfred Vernon, a major in the WW1 Royal Flying Corps whose majority in 1945, when Labour swept to power after the war, was just 211. He managed to retain the seat with a slightly increased majority in 1950, and still following the national trend lost it the following year to the Conservative, Robert Jenkins, who trained as a barrister. Jenkins majority was 691, but he gradually increased it to 2,250 in 1959 before losing the seat to the Labour candidate, Samuel Silkin in 1964, the year when Harold Wilson formed the first Labour government since 1951. Son of Lewis Silkin, MP for Peckham, Samuel was educated at Dulwich College and became a distinguished lawyer who served as Attorney-General under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. He lived in Alleyn Road and was one of the architects of the Leasehold Reform Act which enabled leaseholders on the Dulwich Estate and elsewhere, to acquire their freeholds. He retained his seat in all five elections which followed, although his majority against the impresario and founder of the Miss World contest, Eric Morley in 1979, when Mrs Thatcher came to power, was only 122.
Gerald Bowden, barrister, chartered surveyor, academic and member of Lloyds gained the seat back for the Conservatives in 1983. He just held it against Labour’s Kate Hoey throughout the Thatcher years, but the small national swing to Labour in 1992, not enough to defeat John Major, was sufficient for social worker and director of a mental health charity, Tessa Jowell, to win the seat from Bowden with a 5% majority. Since then the Labour vote has been consistently high at between 45 and 61%. Boundary changes in 1997 probably account for the Labour Party’s ability locally to withstand national fluctuations in voting patterns. Changes that year to reduce the number of MPs in the area created the new constituency of Dulwich and West Norwood. Others, ten years later, to include more of Lambeth and less of Southwark meant that there are now only three Southwark wards, College, Village and East Dulwich, and five from Lambeth.
The draft proposals made by the Boundary Commission in 2011 to reduce the number of London MPs and secure a larger electorate of between 73,000 and 80,500 voters would alter the constituency still more. A Dulwich and Sydenham seat would be formed by taking in Peckham Rye and part of Lewisham and transferring out the Lambeth wards. The three Dulwich wards would represent less than half of the constituency. The national scheme was blocked by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition government but could be revived by the new Conservative administration. If implemented, will we return to the more marginal results of earlier times?
Dulwich Picture Gallery - M. C. Escher’s first UK retrospective
Dulwich Picture Gallery will bring to London ‘The Amazing World of M. C. Escher’ (14 October 2015 - 17 January 2016) the first major UK retrospective of original work by the great Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher ( 1898-1972) offering a rare opportunity to rediscover a giant of twentieth-century art and master of illusion and paradox.
Escher created some of the most popular images in modern art despite operating quietly at the fringes of the art world. His name instantly conjures up images of hands drawing hands, impossible staircases and distorted self-portraits in mirrored spheres. He succeeded in transforming his observations of reality into fascinating worlds, seducing and enchanting the viewer with drawings and lithographs that, over the years, have become part of our visual language - adorning teenagers’ bedrooms and appearing on famous LP covers. Often classed as a graphic illustrator this mesmerising exhibition of original drawings, iconic and lesser known prints, lithographs, woodcuts and archive material will highlight his supreme skill as a master draughtsman and unparalleled technical ability.
The exhibition comes to Dulwich following its run at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. It will showcase over 100 works as well as previously unseen archive material from the collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Netherlands. Arranged chronologically, the show stretches across Escher’s whole career, tracing the periods that inspired his unique creativity.
Travel was hugely influential in the development of Escher’s work. He lived in Rome for ten years, taking annual trips through various parts of Italy where, inspired by the mountainous scenery and picturesque towns and buildings, he created irregular perspectives, impossible in natural form. In Still Life with Mirror (1934) for example, we see Escher using surreal illusion perhaps for the first time. When he moved to Switzerland in 1935 and then Belgium in 1938 he worked from images in his mind, rather than directly from observations. Escher focused on the concept of eternity in art - the subject of the well-known lithograph Drawing Hands (1948).
A shift in interest was also prompted when he re-visited the fourteenth-century palace of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain in 1936, where he became enraptured by the Moorish fortress’ tiled walls of tessellated mosaics. He coined the phrase ‘regular division of the plane’ describing his technique of tessellation which enabled him to express eternity and infinity in a single print.
This is no more evident than in the woodcut Metamorphosis II (1939-40). Nearly four metres in length, it has tessellations both simple and complex effortlessly merging into each other; from fish to birds; hives to bees; simple blocks to stretching panoramas which then morph into chess pieces. The technique is also adopted in the extraordinary lithograph Reptiles (1943), where creatures crawl, fully formed, from a flat, two-dimensional drawing. This play between the two dimensional and the three dimensional, between art and reality, and between the ‘real’, the reflected and the imaginary, would remain constants in Escher’s art.
Escher’s world is one of playful imagination and the unexpected, executed with mathematical precision to create impossible, timeless realities that would inspire amazement in the viewer. He often communicated with - and absorbed much from - academics, most notably the British-born mathematicians H.S.M. Coxeter (1907-2003) and Sir Roger Penrose (b. 1931). Both were quick to grasp the complexities and originality of Escher’s work; Penrose was hugely influential in the creation of two of Escher’s most celebrated works, Ascending and Descending (1960) and Waterfall (1961) where, in the latter, the mathematician’s “impossible triangle” was thrice-slotted into the picture to create a flowing yet physics-defying water structure.
Throughout the decades Escher’s work has become truly ubiquitous, pervading popular culture in a way few other artists have achieved. His images have appeared on album covers (Mott The Hoople), his concepts in films both classic (Labyrinth) and contemporary (Inception), and countless homages to the artist have surfaced on television (The Simpsons, Family Guy) and most recently in the gaming app Monument Valley. However, the artist was not always happy about his images being used. He famously turned down a plea from Mick Jagger to design a Rolling Stones album cover.
The exhibition has been organised by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. Patrick Elliott, the Gallery’s Senior Curator, said:
“There are two qualities one needs to become a great artist: imagination and technique, and Escher had both in spades. There aren’t many artists whose work makes your jaw drop, but he’s one of them. The odd thing isn’t that we are showing Escher’s work, it’s that few people thought of showing him before”.
Ian A. C. Dejardin, Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, said:
"It is difficult to think of an artist with a broader appeal than M C Escher. His images are so magical, and so incredibly clever, that he creates impossible images that feel utterly real, like the very best fantasy writers. Enjoying these impossible realities, it’s easy to overlook the astonishing skill that has gone into the drawing. This exhibition is a revelation; the artist defies categorisation, but Escher is a worthy addition to Dulwich’s wonderful series of exhibitions devoted to graphic artists."
Lichens On Tombs in Dulwich Village Old Burial Ground
A recent survey found 22 lichens here - 15 lending the patina of age to the stonework, seven growing on the trees.
Lichens (pronounced “like-ens”) are low-key, often very slow-growing organisms that pass under the radar, as it were, unless the observer has a hand-lens with which to appreciate their colours and coral-like beauty. In fact, our pavements may be sprinkled with grey-greenish blobs that could be mistaken for old chewing gum. But, here just a few miles from the City, their presence should be applauded. Because the presence of lichens - even in a spot like this - squeezed between roads on two sides of a triangle - is a good indicator of the quality of the air we breathe and a marker of a healthy environment. Following the Clean Air Act in the last century, lichens are recolonizing our towns and cities.
Lichens aren’t one living organism, but a pair which thrive together, taking what nutrients they need from the atmosphere or rainwater. One half of the partnership is a simple alga, or bacterium, which shelters within the growing tissue of a fungus. It is the fungus which gives lichen its visible structure. And the fungus is the dominant partner, exploiting the alga for the sugars it manufactures by photosynthesis.
Like the tomb stones on which they appear, the lichens belong to particular “families”, or biological type groupings, too. All the Burial Ground examples are of the crustose variety, so closely associated with the stone that they could not be easily removed without taking some of the stone surface off, too. The most common ones are the black, brown or white “stains” on the flat-topped chests (lichens belonging to the Verrucariales family). It is the fruiting bodies which give the colour - in this area, they are dark, but others nearby have attractive orange-red fruits on a dirty green background, seen in close-up.
On the large Smith Family Memorial, (west-facing vertical slab), there are orange and yellow lichens of the kind that favour basic limestones. One type is making a comeback after being very adversely affected by acid pollution. Two small plants are developing, one within the protective niche of the decorative frieze. A vivid green, powdery lichen (Psilolechia lucida) can be seen on the south-facing side of the top of the Boobyer Memorial.
Local lichen recovery is best seen on the Burial Ground’s gnarled Cornelian cherry. Look along its low, horizontal branches for the frilly, grey-green leafy plates of Phaeophyscia orbicularis (but please don’t pick them off!) You might catch sight of other types higher up - apple-green Flavoparmelia caperata, green-grey Physcia adscendens and P.tenella, mauvy-grey Physconia grisea and Xanthoria parietina, easiest to spot because it is bright yellow.
Remarkably, about one third of all the 2,000 species in Britain and Ireland are found in churchyards and burial grounds. Here, they play their part in a rich, intricate mosaic of flora and fauna in a green corridor where species of grass, moss, fungi, wild flowers, shrubs and veteran trees thrive. Insects, reptiles, birds and mammals go about their business undisturbed - from blackbird hunting a meaty worm to slow snail rasping a vegetarian meal from a lichen’s surface. All signs of life going on amid the Memento Mori resting in peace.
Angela Wilkes, Wildlife Group Chairman (with thanks to lichenologist Ishpi Blatchley)
In early spring when hormones start flowing some of our local Mallards disperse around the area and appear in unlikely places, often being led by ducks pursued by multitudes of drakes. This year a saga arose in Alleyn Road when a limping duck arrived in the garden of Dr. Jan Welch in Alleyn Road. Perhaps the duck’s disability was such that she could not achieve lift off but she decided to stay put as the Lame Duck of Alleyn Road. She was visited by various drakes but as the accompanying photo showed there appeared to be a favoured male and we speculated that perhaps they might even achieve a family. However this was not to be so, but with the leg recovered they have decided that they are on to a good thing and have taken up more permanent residence to the extent of being able to challenge the cat. We await further bulletins.
On a more serious note we have had some interesting records the most unusual being a Crossbill in the grounds of the Picture Gallery. Crossbills are not easy birds to see as they spend their lives at the tops of pine trees where their beaks are adapted to extract the kernels from pine cones. They are obviously not resident in Dulwich but may be amongst the small birds that overfly us without the possibility of identification.
Little Owls have been seen again in Belair Park and tawny Owls are still breeding in the woods. A Red Kite has been once again seen overflying so it is perhaps only a matter of time before they become resident in this part of London. Of the summer migrants the short haul birds such as Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps are maintaining their populations but the long haul migrants are in trouble. Swifts are fortunately still breeding here in small numbers in older houses but unfortunately our House Martins failed to turn up in May. I thought we had lost them completely but a pair arrived in late June and at the time of writing there are six birds in the Burbage Road colony. This is a far cry from the number of over fifty just a few years ago. This may partly relate to migration hazards or to the difficulty of building mud nests in dry years.
However, some of our resident birds are having a better year. There are sizable flocks of juvenile Goldfinches and Greenfinches flying about and also Starlings, which need to be mentioned as they have also been declining in recent years. With last year’s good breeding of Blackbirds there were bigger numbers of singing males giving morning and evening concerts. Hopefully this will be sustained when the song starts again next February.
As to other wildlife there are still a few Hedgehogs in Dulwich despite the national decline. We are encouraged to leave passage holes in our garden fences to keep them off the streets. It would be useful if readers could let me know of where they have seen Hedgehogs so that we can encourage protection. I rather suspect that as well as losing them from accidents with traffic they may also fall prey to our large numbers of foxes. It does not seem so far to be a good butterfly year in Dulwich, but there were a few Peacocks and Tortoiseshells and Brimstones early on, so we will need to wait for the results of the summer hatch.
Please continue to send your records both of unexpected wildlife and the anecdotes of unusual encounters and I am happy to give help with identification difficulties. The plumage of juvenile birds can be confusing and not always illustrated in the books.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (Tel: 0207 274 4567)
Notable Trees In Dulwich - The Dawyck Beech
First found growing on a Scottish Estate, in Peebles sometime prior to 1850, this natural variant of the native common or European Beech, Fagus sylvatica, is slowly becoming more widely planted for its narrow upright growth. It is rather like a Lombardy Poplar, but with much better foliage.
Two of these trees can be seen in the grounds of Dulwich Picture Gallery, along Gallery Road, where they form, with two different beeches, a screen for the building, as seen from the road. Here these four beeches ( a Dawyck, a common Beech, then a copper Beech, then finally another Dawyck beech), make a good place to compare and appreciate the different forms, though as here, they are planted too close together and cannot do themselves justice to the wide spreading outline that they achieve in isolation.
No, these are not trees for the domestic garden, not even the Dawyck beech, for they need a lot of space and light, and when in leaf, cast too great a shade for other plants to grow beneath them. However a mature beech wood, with its typical smooth grey trunks, reaching upward from the forest floor of fallen russet leaves, is a memorable place to walk in autumn. Pigs love beech mast - as the nuts are called - and used to be driven into the woods to be fattened up in the autumn.
The well known THONET bentwood chair, originating in Austria around 1836, was probably the first produced chair to achieve world wide distribution, and is made from steamed Beech with a woven or plywood seat, and is still being made to this day. It is said that due to its ingenious construction, no fewer than 36 of these chairs could be packed into a one metre cube, enabling them to be easily shipped worldwide.
There is another lovely variant of the common beech to be found in Dulwich, with deeply incised leaves, known as Fern Leaf Beech. A small specimen can be found on College Road, in the hedge line just before turning into College Gardens. It is well worth looking out for, though how it came to be planted in quite such an unpromising site, remains a mystery. A good specimen can become very large and has an ethereal grace. It would be good to rescue this one from the surrounding encroaching holm oaks.
Beech can make a useful good hedge too, and if trimmed will retain its leaves throughout the winter, as can be seen in the hedge opposite West Dulwich Station. Finally, there is the Copper Beech, with darkest foliage of all the deciduous trees, and are I think loved or hated in equal measure. They make a striking accent in a landscape setting or a park, and I for one would much regret their absence.
Most gardeners use lots of compost, to improve the structure of soil and to add nutrients, as well as for mulch to keep soil moist and to suppress weeds. It’s particularly useful in Dulwich with its clay subsoil. I use a lot and make most of my own.
How do you make the stuff?
You need a mix of green vegetation (e.g. grass cuttings, vegetable waste, weeds - but mind those seed heads) and woody brown material (e.g. straw, dead leaves, prunings, woodchips, scrunched-up newspaper or even cardboard), best placed as layers in a compost bin. Add water if needed to keep the heap moist, and turn it periodically to mix and aerate the ingredients (so two or more bins are best, moving the contents to the next bin when full - it gets easier as you move the heap along!). I have a shredder for prunings etc. I sieve the output using a wide-mesh sieve, adding any left overs to the start of the next batch. The cycle takes three to six months. Dulwich Riding Stables is a good source of often free stable manure with a straw or woodchip base.
Where can you get compost bins?
Compost bins help retain warmth and moisture. Southwark Council subsidises a range of compost bins and wormeries, with a 330 litre black plastic compost bin available for £10 from the marvellous Reuse and Recycling Centre off the Old Kent Road, or two for £15. Providers of wooden compost systems include archwoodgreenhouses.co.uk, tate-fencing.co.uk and originalorganics.co.uk.
Or you can make your own, the larger the better. The Which? Gardening factsheet How to make a compost bin shows the wide range of materials that can be used, from chicken wire to wood, with the key ingredients being ventilation gaps in the sides, a removable front or side for easy access, and a cover (old carpet) or lid to keep out the rain and keep in the heat. The cheapest bin? - four pallets, free on most Dulwich building sites.
What does the Council do with your garden waste?
The contents of those brown bins are composted by Veolia, and sold as an organic peat free soil conditioner for agricultural, landscaping and garden use under the Pro-Grow brand. It’s available at the Old Kent Road depot at £10 for four 30-litre bags. So, you can make your own compost or you can buy it back.
The RHS website is a good standby, and the Dulwich Vegetable Garden at Rosebery Lodge (open throughout the year on Wednesday and Sunday, 10.30am to 12.30pm, Sundays only in November to February) runs an active wormery. The Chelsea Physic Garden has a comprehensive “Compost Clinic” half-day course several times a year (chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk) and Brockwell Community Greenhouses sometimes run courses (brockwellgreenhouses.org.uk ).
Jeremy Prescott, Gardens sub-committee
The Extraordinary Life of Colonel Leonard Lytcott By Brian Green
Why is is the name Lytcott familiar you might ponder, And then it will dawn on you that you have passed by the little road off Melbourne Grove when taking a short cut towards Lordship Lane when the traffic in East Dulwich Grove was snarled up. And then you might remember hearing of the tragic bombing which took place there in January 1943 during a peaceful interlude between the Blitz and the Doodlebugs when Hitler ordered a retaliation raid for the RAF bombing of Berlin and the following night German bombers dropped landmines willy-nilly on London. And then you will recall that in 2013 the Dulwich Society placed a memorial there to the air-raid victims. You might even ponder why the road was named Lytcott Grove.
While a few facts are known, it is odd that apparently no research has ever been carried out on the life and importance of Leonard Lytcott. All we know is that he was a colonel in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War and that in 1662 he and his family took the lease on a farm in Dulwich. And they had a tragic death soon after. No portrait of him exists.
We do not know the date of Lytcott’s birth, nor does a portrait of him exist. We do know that he was the eldest surviving son of Sir John Lytcott, a professional soldier who served in Ireland and was knighted for his service and became a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber of James 1st and died in 1641 at the age of 65. His mother was Mary Overbury, the sister of Sir Thomas Overbury who was poisoned in the power struggles of the Jacobean court. Leonard Lytcott was also the nephew of John Thurloe, a key figure in Oliver Cromwell’s inner circle. In 1652 Thurloe was named a secretary for state.
A year later, Thurloe became head of Parliamentarian intelligence and developed a widespread network of spies in England and on the continent. One of his great successes was the infiltration of the Sealed Knot, the Royalist secret society and he foiled several Royalist plots to assassinate Cromwell. He was the appointed postmaster-general and used this office to intercept mail and was almost certainly in correspondence with his nephew who by this time was one of General Monck’s most trusted officers.
It would appear that like his father, Leonard Lytcott also became a professional soldier. In 1643 he was listed as serving as a captain in Antrim in Sir John Clotworthy’s Regiment of Foot which had been raised the previous year. He seems to have had rapid promotion because he next appears in September 1645 as a colonel commanding a regiment under General Poyntz during the battle of Rowton Heath when Charles 1st Royalist army was defeated when it attempted to relieve the siege of Chester. In the following year he was commanding a Northamptonshire regiment which included its own chaplain.
Lytcott then seems to have been posted back to Ireland where, in October 1649, he is placed in command of his old regiment named after Sir John Clotworthy. Clotworthy himself had been impeached for betraying the Parliamentary cause and with embezzlement. The command of the regiment had first passed to Clotworthy’s brother and then to Owen O’Connoly who was subsequently killed in a skirmish.
Lytcott’s command of the Irish foot regiment was relatively brief. General Monck had just brokered a truce with the Irish when news came of unrest in Scotland and the rallying of the Scottish Covenanters under Charles 11nds banner. The English Army assembled at Berwick under the command of Oliver Cromwell in readiness for the subjugation of Scotland. Lytcott was summoned to Scotland in July 1650 and may have been present at the ensuing battle at Dunbar in September 1650. We do know that he had orders to raise a regiment of horse at Leith. It was known as Colonel Leonard Lytcott’s Horse. In February 1651 Lycott wrote a letter to Parliament which was read out in the House.
Lytcott’s Horse was in action later that year when General John Lambert led a sea-borne invasion, landing at Fife to get around the Covenanter stronghold of Stirling with a view to cutting Scotland in half and deny the southern Scottish troops reinforcements from the north. Early in 1651 the Council of State, the executive authority of the Commonwealth, had ordered the construction of special flat bottomed boats, which arrived in Leith in April. While this would enable men and horses to be ferried in close to the northern shore, it would take time for the army to land in sufficient strength to fight off a counter-attack.
A bridgehead was secured with difficulty and the ensuing battle of Inverkeithing, fought in July 1651 was decisive in securing Scotland for Cromwell and Parliament. Because of their inexperience, Lytcott’s men performed poorly in the battle and the regiment was later disbanded, probably because of the firm grip the English army had by this time over Scotland.
With his regiment disbanded, Leonard Lytcott was appointed governor of the burgh of Linlithgow and occupied Linlithgow Palace as his headquarters. The battle of Inverkeithing had been financially disastrous for the burgh. The council report of 27 December 1651 showed that it reckoned its losses, due to the English invasion, to come to the vast sum of £25,500 sterling. The Linlithgow council appealed to Colonel Lytcott and Colonel Kid, another officer, making them aware of the burgh's desperate financial position and to try to get a reduction in the town’s cess payments (the cess was money levied on the local inhabitants to maintain the occupying English army). Lytcott `acceptit favorablie and hes promised to befriend us being sensible and sure knowledge of our extrieorinarie Iossice'.
The good relationship struck up between Lytcott and the Linlithgow council worked well for the burgh throughout the Interregnum and, in general, Lytcott’s sympathetic attitude
towards them made the case for the burgh's petitions to the authorities in Edinburgh
considerably stronger. In particular, he helped the council when they petitioned the central authorities for money for the rebuilding of the tollbooth later in the decade.
In February 1659 Parliament appointed Lytcott, and two other colonels, Commissioners of Excise at Leith. The winning of Scottish hearts and minds by Lytcott would pay dividends at Christmas 1659, when it allowed General Monck to leave a reduced garrison behind when he prepared to march on London.
Oliver Cromwell had died in September 1658 and was succeeded by his son Richard as Lord Protector. Richard’s alienation of the army led to a military putsch by a group of army grandees and Richard was forced to dissolve Parliament in April 1659 . For the next three weeks power was in the hands of the General Council of Officers headed by General Fleetwood. There was much debate as to whether England should be a Protectorate or a Republic. It seems that the senior officers in the army favoured the former and the junior officers and rank and file, the latter. However, the general mood of the population was for Parliament to take possession again. Acknowledging this, Parliament was recalled by the Speaker William Lenthall at the command of the army council. Lenthall had been in secret correspondence with General Monck for some time and Colonel Lytcott was later included in this interchange of letters, indeed acting as a clearing house of information and intelligence.
Lytcott had also been recalled from his other duties in Leith to take command of Colonel Ralph Cobbett’s regiment of Foot after Cobbett, who was a religious radical, appears to have plotted to get some of his men to revolt and seize command of Monck’s army and possibly Monck himself. Monck who had heard of this plot through an informant had him arrested and imprisoned. The regiment would continue to be commanded by Lytcott until the entire army was disbanded in October 1660, with the exception of Monck’s regiment which became the Coldstream Guards.
Relations between the army council in London and Parliament deteriorated through the summer of 1659 and by the autumn elements of the army were being deployed in the City. The army intimidated Parliament in October when General John Lambert placed soldiers around the House and prevented the members from assembling. The mace was seized and Lenthall’s coach was stopped as he was entering Old Palace Yard.
The army council next ordered General Lambert to Newcastle to contain Monck’s forces which had declared its support for Parliament and was stationed at Berwick. A new civil war therefore appeared imminent. Monck’s skill in diplomacy, augmented by intelligence from London sent by John Thurloe to his nephew Lytcott, succeeded in maintaining an uneasy truce with Lambert, to whom he sent several letters offering friendship. The letters were signed by all his officers, including Lytcott.
In early December 1659 matters took an even greater turn for the worse with ugly confrontations in London between the army and City apprentices when the latter were denied their right to petition the Lord Mayor. The apprentices threw roof tiles from the houses and “great pieces of ice from the gutters” at the troopers. Shops were shut and there were several fatalities and others wounded. In spite of this the apprentices delivered a petition to the Lord Mayor in support of Parliament, “and the preservation of Magistracy and Ministry.”
On 16th December Leonard Lytcott wrote from Monck’s HQ at Coldstream, a newsletter to Lenthall and Parliament saying that he had heard that “The rotation of the wheels of state begin to run right. The apprentice boys of London drive the cart in the right channel”. In many ways it’s an odd letter, Lytcott asks the readers to pardon his mirth for example. Presumably the stress and strain of the previous months have been released. Good news was received from London on 22nd December 1659, when the Speaker and six members of Parliament wrote to Lytcott informing him that army regiments in Portsmouth and Taunton as well as elements of the navy had defected to Parliament, and that other regiments were being raised in its support in Kent and asking Lytcott to convey this intelligence to General Monck. Two days later another letter from Lenthall says “Wee are neere the end of our troubles; all parts are up for Parliament” and sends news that all the army regiments in London had declared for Parliament as well as the garrison at the Tower.
On January 1st 1660 Monck finally decided to march on London and as he slowly and carefully advanced south, Lambert’s army gradually melted away or deserted to Monck. The army in Ireland declared for Parliament and Fairfax took up arms again to secure Yorkshire on behalf of Monck. We do not hear any more of Leonard Lytcott for over a year. We must assume that he commanded his regiment on its entry into London on 3rd February and remained as its Colonel while order was restored, the army grandees and other unreliables rounded up and Parliament recalled and until the regiment was disbanded in October 1660. We might guess that he then settled with his family in the parish of St George’s, Southwark. We do not know, if, with his connections he had any part of Monck’s invitation to Charles 11 to return from Breda to the throne of England.
What we do know for certain is that records next show him incarcerated in the Gatehouse Prison of Westminster Abbey where he is being held in close confinement, together with a number of other former colonels, majors and captains. All had been arrested in their homes early in 1661, either because they were considered anti-Royalist, republicans or capable of subversion. Lytcott and some of the officers twice petitioned the Lord Chief Justice for information of the charges against them and the names of their accusers. After confinement for 4 months their lawyers successfully obtained a writ of habeas corpus but it was ignored by the prison governor, Sir Edward Broughton. After 12 weeks of their husbands’ imprisonment, their wives, headed by Lytcott’s wife Susanna had also petitioned the King and the House of Lords for their husbands’ release or to be brought to trial. They were allowed to visit and found conditions in the Gatehouse Prison harsh. They found their husbands also had to pay for their imprisonment: 20/- for ‘turning the key’, 5/- for use of a pair of sheets, £5 ‘iron fees’. One officer, Major Henry Wansley, an anti-Royalist was held in even in worse conditions which were such that “he could not stand upright on account of the lowliness of the ceiling, not lie down for the filth and nastiness of the place”.
Leonard Lytcott served at least 4 months, and possibly as long as six months or more in prison. We next hear of him as living at St George’s, Southwark and negotiating a lease for a farm in Dulwich in May 1662. He acquired the lease of a farm house and lands called Little Lordship, Addington, Butchers fields, Blanch Downes and the hill field in Dulwich, in the following November. The Lytcott family then moved into their substantial Dulwich farmhouse with its surrounding fields which are thought to have lain along Lordship Lane from around Dulwich Library as far as Dulwich Common. Their tenure in Dulwich was short; on 26th August 1665 Colonel Leonard Lytcott died of the plague. On the 11th September his wife Susanna died, two days later his son Thomas, on 2nd October his son Benjamin, on 28th October his son Leonard, on 2nd November his son Temple. In addition two of his household servants also succumbed to the plague. Colonel Lytcott was buried at St Giles, Camberwell, the remainder of the family may have been buried there also, or at St George’s, Southwark.
Sources: The Clarke Papers of Sir William Clarke secretary to General Monck for twelve years and bequeathed to Worcester College Oxford
House of Commons Journal
Dulwich College archives
Edinburgh Research archive
On The Street Where You Live - College Road - from the Tollgate to St Stephen’s by Ian McInnes
The Dulwich Tollgate photographed in an idyllic ‘rus in urbe’ setting features in many old postcards. What the pictures don’t show is the large Victorian houses running along the west side of the road which somewhat compromise that setting.
The southernmost section of College Road, between the Tollgate and Sydenham Hill, dates from 1787. Built by John Morgan, Lord of the Manor of Penge, its aim was to provide better access for his cattle and carts between the Penge and Dulwich Commons. First called Locus Lane, then Penge Road, the name was finally changed to College Road in 1870 after the construction of the New College. To stop the new road being damaged by other people’s animals the tollgate was added in 1791.
Prior to the construction of Sydenham Hill Station in 1863, the imposing Woodhouse (later Woodhall) was the only house on the road. St Stephen’s church was built in 1867, along with its large vicarage, St John’s Wood House. The first vicar, Rev John Meek Clark, was extremely wealthy and he contributed towards the cost of what was even then a substantial house. The parish came under the control of Rochester Diocese in 1905 and, when the Rev F Ernest White (Clark’s successor) retired in 1907, the house was felt to be too large, and the lease was sold.
The incoming tenant was James O’Mara, a successful Irish bacon importer and MP - Winston Churchill and he were the youngest MPs in the House of Commons when elected in 1900. The year he moved he changed his allegiance from the Irish Home Rule party to Sinn Fein. He called the house ‘Dunlica’ but he and his family returned to Ireland shortly after the outbreak of WW1 in 1914. His wife Agnes was a suffragette and, in 1913, was Hon Secretary of the Dulwich Branch of the New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage.
In 1868 the Dulwich Estate divided the land along the west side of the road, from the new railway station as far as Union Road (now Hunts Slip Road), into potential building sites with 100 foot frontages. Previous issues of the Journal have described the history of the two largest houses built by wealthy owner occupiers, Breakspeare, directly south of the station ticket hall, and Oakfield (later Stonehills). The remainder of the sites were acquired by local builders the first of which was John Waterson Patterson of Forest Hill. He had been building in Crescent Wood Road during the 1860s and leased the site next to Breakspeare in the autumn of 1870. The house he built, Redholme, cost £1500 and was the only house to last into the 1980s when it was demolished to form Dulwich Oaks. Its claim to fame is that it was in the road in front of the site that Camille Pissaro sat when he painted both St Stephens Church and his view over the fields down to Alleyn Park.
The next builder to express an interest was George Paull (of Acacia Cottage, Hamilton Road, West Dulwich), who agreed to take three of the plots next to Oakfield and build three large detached houses to be sold for £2000 each. The first house, ‘Elphinstone Lodge’, was purchased by an East India Merchant, William Nichol, who had a business in Bombay. He remained abroad and the house was rented out to a rich widow, Anna Maria Cronyn. Nicol’s firm had been taken over by a larger firm, Smith Fleming & Company in the mid-1870s but there had clearly been liquidity problems as, in February 1880, the firm, and all the directors, including Nicol, were declared bankrupt. However the 1881 census shows him still living in the house along with his large family and their servants - including a cook, housemaid, parlour maid, kitchen maid etc. Like most of the other residents in the road, generous numbers of domestic staff were an essential prerequisite to the enjoyment of the College Road lifestyle.
Paull’s second house, ‘Moira’ was sold to Charles Champion, a solicitor. His family remained in the house for over sixty years with his two unmarried daughters still living there in the early 1940s. The remainder of the houses to the north, Nos 64 - 80 were all developed by Joseph and Samuel Bowyer. Based in West Hill in Upper Norwood, they had built most of the houses along Dulwich Wood Park and Farquhar Road for the Crystal Palace Company during the 1860s. From 1875 they also had a storage yard and joinery shop on the corner of Pond Cottages - now a very pleasant green space opposite one of the gates to Dulwich College.
Twelve houses was a large project, even for them, and in order to raise money for the construction, they mortgaged each house to Henry Harrild and his wife Anne, the owners of Round Hill House in Sydenham. Henry’s father, Robert (1780-1853) had been an extremely rich man following his invention of ‘composition rollers’ for printing. Prior to this printers used leather ‘ink balls’ to apply ink to blocks of type, a method dating from Caxton’s time. Harrild’s rollers revolutionised both book, and more particularly, newspaper production, and his company rapidly became one of the largest manufacturers of printers in England. Henry was one of three sons, and the only one not to go into the printing business. Presumably he was happy to live on his inheritance and gained some additional income by acting as a mortgagor to local builders.
The Bowyer brothers’ first purchaser at ‘Enfield House’ (No. 80) was Ernest C Delcomyn, a partner in the Hull based firm of corn merchants, Hiort Knudsen & Company. Born in 1828 in Denmark, in 1890 he became the Danish Consul General. His two sons went to Dulwich College; Ernest A (born 1860), was in the first eleven in 1878 and also edited the Old Alleynian. He took over his father’s firm while his brother Louis (born 1863) moved to Florida in the 1890s.
Most of the new lessees were professional men or wealthy businessmen, though there was one wealthy widow, Mrs Ellen Sowler in ‘Melrose Lodge’ (No. 78), who was listed in the census as ‘living on dividends’. A later owner of her house was Julius J Runge, a director of the successful sugar importers Tolme and Runge. He and his firm were the subject of hostile questions in Parliament in WW1 as to why the government was using a German firm to buy sugar for the war effort - it was pointed out that, although he had a German name, he was a naturalised British citizen (he was born in Cuba).
‘Westbourne Lodge’ (No, 76) was bought by Charles B Saunders, an accountant. From 1885 the owner was a retired admiral, Robert Coote who had had a successful naval career commanding HMS Victory, HMS Gibraltar and HMS Arethusa. His final appointment was head of the China Station. His wife Lucy was the daughter of the famous Arctic explorer Admiral Sir William Parry.
Another long standing resident, and also a German, in name at least, was Johannes Conrad im Thurn, director of a general merchant company and a small bank with interests in South America. He had been living in Dulwich for some time - the 1860 plan of Christ’s Chapel shows that he rented a pew there. The most famous member of the family was his grandson, Conrad Donald im Thurn, who was responsible for the publication of the Zinoviev letter in 1924 - the oft quoted reason why the Labour party failed to win that year’s general election. A later owner of the house was E A Rehder, a German name but in fact a solicitor who had been educated, with his two brothers, at Dulwich College.
In the late 1890s and early 1900s several of the houses were sold, with new 80 year leases, to the Alliance Economic Investment Company. By the 1920s the demand for large houses was almost non-existent and most were converted into flats. One of the few houses that remained in single occupation was ‘Arden’ (No. 76). Lewis Silkin, later a Labour MP and the Minister of Town and Country Planning in the 1945-50 Labour administration, bought it from the Hon. Samuel Vestey in March 1924 and negotiated a new 80 year lease at the same time. Later elevated to Lord Silkin of Dulwich, his son Sam was MP for the local area between 1964 and 1983 and lived further up College Road in Great Brownings.
Several of the houses were badly damaged during WW2. Late June and early July 1944 was a particularly bad time in this part of Dulwich. ‘Tollgate House’ (No. 70) was demolished by a direct hit from a V1 at 2:33am on 27 June 1944. The Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Club clubhouse had been destroyed the day before and Woodhall House on the other side of the road was hit on 3 July - with Dulwich College being badly damaged a week later.
The 1957 Dulwich Development Plan identified the houses as an area to be redeveloped and, in July 1960, Russell Vernon, the Estate Architect, confirmed that he did not consider the existing old houses on the road worthy of retention and that they should all be demolished.
None of the houses on the west side of the road south of Hunts Slip Road remain, on the east side, only the former ‘Comely Bank’,(now Eller Bank No 87) which is now DUCKS remain. Built in the 1880s for Walter Haggan, a Scottish bank manager, it was named after his wife’s birthplace, Comely Bank in Edinburgh. From the 1940s its large site had been used as a company sports ground, most recently by Johnson Matthey.
The Elms, Care Home, Barry Road: A Home for Life
A short local history of care in a fast-changing world by Dorothy Oxley
After all the suffering of the Second World War, the early 1950s were a positive time of recovery, growth and a determination among many people to make the world a better place. For Deacon George Jennings of Rye Lane Chapel, worried about what would happen to the elderly members of his congregation when they could no longer look after themselves, that meant convincing the people of his church that they should raise the funds to establish an old people's home in the local area. By sheer persistence, he succeeded, and in 1952 the Minutes Book of the Rye Lane Committee records that: “This meeting of Rye Lane Chapel members considers and approves the purchase of 147 Barry Road as an old folks’ hostel and pledges itself to help financially and in other ways to further its objects”.
The Committee might have been idealistic, but it was also hard-nosed enough to ensure that the project would not go ahead unless the people of the Church proved they could and would back it financially, because they set the condition that: “The sum of £2,300 must be promised by way of gifts and loans within one week of the issue of an appeal to all members of the Fellowship”. This was quite a tall order, when you consider that £2,300 in 1952 represented quite a large sum of money - in the following year, when staff were being recruited, the Minutes note that the rate offered to a part time cook would be £200 per year, with a part time domestic help earning £156 per year. Nonetheless, the condition was met, and the house purchased by the Housing Association the original Committee had set up to run it - South East London Baptist Homes (given the plural in the name, they had clearly hoped this would just be the first of many,!) 147 Barry Road cost £4,750, with almost as much again being spent on improvements, furnishings and fittings, and the gifts and loans of church members were backed up by a mortgage from London County Council. In order to ensure that the Home retained the active support of the local Christian community, members of Rye Lane Baptist Church, and other churches which by then had also become involved, were invited to become 'Shareholders' - supporters who paid an initial £1 for the privilege and were in return allowed to vote at AGMs. The aim was, of course, to encourage their continued interest and support, both as donors and as volunteers, and to help the Home in any way they could.
Even before the house was quite ready for occupation, the process of selection for both staff and residents began, and the Minutes of 1953 outline the decisions made, some people being rejected because they required a higher degree of care than the small, new Home could provide. But Mr Jennings had not underestimated the need for residential care with a loving, Christian focus - the rooms were soon filled, and by the time of George Jennings' death on 5 July 1958, the Home's Committee had already recognised that it was too small to meet this need, and an extension was planned. The LCC again agreed to consider a loan for this (which they agreed in 1959) and the 1958 AGM Minutes report that £668.15s.2d has been received in donations to the Building Fund. Donor support was also crucial to running the Home, since the fees charged to each resident in 1958, £5.7s.6d fees per week, were not sufficient to offset the operating costs. This remained true in 1960, when the AGM Minutes record that 'Losses in running the Home are more than covered by some wonderful legacies'.
By 1960 building work had begun. However, the extension work did not go smoothly; the original builders, Messrs. Champion of Scilla Road, went into liquidation and the work had to be completed by Messrs. Sawyer & Son Ltd., which meant of course that it finished later than scheduled. However the new extension (named the Jennings Wing, and officially opened by the then President of South East London Baptist Homes , Revd. Theo M. Bamber. in 1962) enabled the Home to increase its residents to 24 (which could include some sharing a room).
Staff shortages are first reported at the 1962 AGM, with a plaintive note about the Home having “brought one lady all the way from Yorkshire for interview at our expense” (it's not stated whether or not she got the job, but presumably not!). At this time the Home recruited mostly locally, and certainly within the UK, though there were two Australian sisters, Pearl and Connie Couchman, who had come to England for a short working holiday, worked at the Elms on a temporary basis, and loved it so much that after a brief scheduled return home to Australia, they returned and stayed working at The Elms for many years. Young people rarely did 'gap years' between school and university in the 1960s - but there was a steady flow of young working people travelling from Australia to England, and from England to Australia, for 'working holidays'.
In 1965, the way London was governed changed, with the over-arching LCC, passing local responsibility to Southwark Borough Council. For The Elms, this brought one immediate benefit, in that it had been agreed that charitable organisations would be excused 75% of rates, whereas previously it had been only 50%.
Meanwhile, social change was happening both outside and within the Home. TV had become a big part of everyday life - even though it wasn't that long since people were crowding round the only TV in the street to watch the Coronation! The Elms acquired its first TV for residents in 1966, via the Wireless for the Bedridden Society, and the Minutes record that one resident, aged 95, was thrilled to see TV for the first time. There was, however, an informal rule that the TV should only be used to watch religious services on Sundays. In 1988, by which time a second TV had been acquired, some of the residents were protesting that they wanted to watch other programmes and the Committee decided that the TV in the lounge should be reserved, on Sundays, for religious programmes but residents could watch anything they like in the Garden Room!
Less welcome changes also took place. In 1967 the AGM minutes recorded that the Committee were already noticing a growing change in patterns of care for the elderly: “The Local Authorities are endeavouring to keep people in their own homes as long as possible. If they are not well, they are taken into hospital for rehabilitation then returned to their own homes, so that this means that people are older when they apply to come into such a home as ours. We are now getting applications from people in their 90s. Some are strong-minded individuals, having had a lifetime of doing what they wish and now, in the close of their lives, having to live with a lot of other people.” Obviously, this adjustment wasn't always easy, for them or for their fellow residents and staff! But some clearly appreciated the atmosphere in The Elms - one resident, in 1968, told the Matron “I do hope that I don't ever have to leave here and go into a HOME”
In 1971, the President of South East London Baptist Homes, the Revd. Theo Bamber, died and his place was taken by Dr Spiers, who had been the Home's doctor since it first opened its doors in 1953. By then an increasing number of applications were being received from people with higher care needs, and the Committee knew they had to consider how they could meet these needs. Was it time to start raising funds for yet another extension? But there were also other demands which first needed to be met in the next few years; by 1976, new fire safety regulations for residential homes had been brought in, requiring around £6,000 of extra expenditure - though a Trust met the cost of half of this, funding an automatic fire warning system. The Home had its first ever fire drill, and got everybody out in 6 minutes (improving this to 3 minutes the second time round!). Over the next few years they seem to have become quite expert at this, and in 1982 they hosted a delegation from the International Hospital Federation, when people from 17 different countries came to look at the Fire Detection system and see a practice evacuation.
By 1980, the Home was full, but this included 16 short stay residents - The Elms was branching out into respite care when rooms were available, and the AGM Minutes report “We have been able to relieve families of the burden of looking after a loved one while they can have a holiday, which is a very worthwhile service.”. In the same year, the Home had started to take on young people 'with a background' from Southwark's Springboard Centre; the Home gave them a job and some training, while the Council paid their wages for a year, then tried to place them in a permanent job. Unfortunately, it's not recorded if any of them ended up permanently employed by The Elms. But despite what was obviously quite a good working relationship with Southwark Council, the Home was finding it difficult to get Council funding for the elderly people who wanted to come in ... “Hospitals are unable to take in geriatric patients and we have 18 on our waiting list and it is tremendously difficult to admit ladies needing financial assistance from the Borough Council.” The position wasn't helped by the fact that a downward trend in donations meant the Home could not afford to prop up operational losses as they had done in the past, when fees were unrealistically low. The Home had to pay for itself. Any money raised was being put towards new developments essential to meet the increasing need for a higher level of care.
An original aim was always to build a 'sick bay' wing, and in January 1986 it was agreed to purchase some land from the house next door (145 Barry Road, owned then by Mr and Mrs Wylie, the Warden and Matron of the Home). However, advice from the Centre for Policy on Ageing was that having a 'sick bay' would not only probably require a 'dual registration' (i.e. as a nursing as well as a care home, which would mean they'd have to employ a State Registered Nurse day and night), it was also against the Code of Practice for residential homes, which stated that: 'intensive or terminal care should be provided in the resident's own room, not a special care unit.” The Elms has abided by this Code ever since, and tries, whenever possible, to give end of life care to residents this way, helped by specialist hospice nurses.
So the eventual plans for the new wing changed to include four rooms plus a sluice, two toilets suitable for wheelchair users, a bathroom, a laundry and a store room. (These were still the days when Homes were not expected to provide en suite rooms for their residents - the regulations to that effect didn't come in until later- so bathrooms and toilets were shared). Work on the wing began in the latter part of 1987 (and before this, a sun room had also been added, at a cost of £12,000, in memory of Ray Rickman). The new wing, named in honour of Dr Spiers, was completed in May 1988 and formally opened the following month.
In 1995, the Home's oldest ever resident, Mrs Elizabeth Ponman, celebrated her 107th birthday. Can you imagine all the changes this lady must have seen taking place in her very long life? Two World Wars; an explosion in technological developments, the institution of the National Health Service, and a huge range of social and cultural changes. She would have known a time when there was no alternative but the 'Workhouse' if you were poor and vulnerable; but by the time her life came to an end there were benefits that acted as a safety net for many people, and financial support from the Council ensured that an elderly person without sufficient funds could go into residential care (though it was sometimes a struggle to get this!). Her education had probably ended at the age of 14 (if not earlier), and, as a girl, her opportunities for a career would have been very limited, with marriage the preferred option, provided the love of her life didn't get killed in the First World War or the outbreak of influenza which followed in its wake. She would also have seen London becoming far more multi-cultural and multi-faith, with Acts passed to try to protect those facing discrimination, whether because of their colour, race, sex, creed or disability. Music, fashion, cinema, the Arts, everything had undergone a whole series of sweeping changes, at a much faster pace, perhaps, than ever before. Even within the Elms she would have seen the impact of some of these changes - but the initial aim of the Home remained unchanged - to provide a loving, caring environment where elderly residents could feel secure and valued until the end of their lives.
Considerable changes were also taking place in the Care Homes sector, with stricter and more complex regulations and monitoring. This wasn't a bad thing in itself - horror stories of what could happen to residents in a badly run, uncaring Home mean that standards and inspections are vital. But the requirement to set up and adhere to a whole range of care policies, to keep in line with employment, immigration and safeguarding regulations and to meet the standards of both Councils and the CQC, involve a great amount of paperwork, much of which is handled by the management, but in a small, charity run Home, the overall responsibility still falls on the volunteers who make up such organisation's Boards. The pool from which these volunteers could be recruited was also getting smaller, as over the years the Minutes record a slow but steady reduction in the number of 'Shareholders' and supporters, as some of those who had been involved from the beginning either became too ill or old to continue - quite a number in due course became residents of the Home themselves- or because they moved away. And, sadly, although local churches were circulated with updates on the Home's activities, such as the Open Day and the Thanksgiving Service, vital links had been lost and the new generation of churchgoers just didn't seem to want to get involved to the same degree. This is not, of course, something which only affects voluntarily run Care Homes - it's a pattern in many organisations, where finding people who have the time and interest to take on committee responsibilities is becoming increasingly difficult.
Nonetheless, South East London Baptist Homes continued in maintaining a small but very active Board, and they were keen to continue the development of The Elms, not least, to start to provide the kind of en suite facilities which had now become the norm in Care Homes built since the regulations changed. But this would cost quite a lot of money (it had originally been hoped this might be between £250,000 - £300,000 but by the time the work went out to tender in 2008, the estimate had risen to £600,000). The winding up of the Herschell’s Trust in 1997 brought £110,000 to The Elms (half of the monies held by this Trust after they sold the almshouses they owned at Loughborough Junction, which had become so run down that the Trust could not possibly afford to bring them up to standard; the other half of the funds went to another independent care home, Trinity House). However, the Elms were required to treat these funds as an investment, and only to use the income from this to help meet running costs So further redevelopment only became possible when two generous legacies were left to the Home, and the Board decided to use these to redevelop the original front part of The Elms to provide six en suite rooms on the first floor, (where there was at that time only a small sleep-in flat) with lift access, plus improved kitchen and other facilities on the ground floor. Following a tender process, a local firm called Standages were given the contract to carry out the work.
Before they could begin, however, up to six residents had to be temporarily rehoused. Fortunately, London & Quadrant Housing Association kindly allowed The Elms to use their property at 164 Friern Road (which backed onto The Elms and was vacant, pending a proposed change of use to a home for people with learning difficulties), and a route was created between the main Home and this house so that the fitter Elms residents could move in and 'commute' back to The Elms for main meals, activities and to socialise with their friends there. A temporary kitchen and storeroom (housed in a Portacabin) also had to be set up in the car park at the front of the building. Work then commenced in late July 2009 with 'practical completion' (when the work was signed off, subject to a 6 months' snagging period) at the end of September 2010, well over the original 32 weeks' estimated duration. Although minor problems were still being corrected into the spring of 2011, this work allowed the Home to offer to its fitter residents the kind of en suite facilities they could expect in more recently built homes, but the redevelopment work ran over budget, leaving The Elms with severely depleted reserves. Further, the local Councils which had provided financial support for residents unable to meet their own fees were themselves increasingly facing cuts and unable or unwilling to provide fees at the level which The Elms needs to maintain its high staffing ratio and level of care provided
So, financially, the past few years have been a struggle, and the Board might have been expected to simply sit tight and try to ride out the storm. Instead, in 2013 (the 60th anniversary of the first residents moving in to the Home), they made the bold decision to purchase 145 Barry Road, with the aid of what remained of their investments and a mortgage from NatWest. The aim was threefold. Firstly, they still had a vision for improving the facilities of the Home, so that every resident could enjoy en suite facilities, and this will require more land. Secondly, the past use of the land on which 145 Barry Road sits - thought at one time to be used for growing watercress - and perhaps with insufficient depth of foundations, when the two new wings were built, has meant some settling has occurred. Installation of water capture tanks beneath the lawns has helped to improve this, but it is not a long term solution. Within the next 20 - 30 years, major rebuilding is likely to be necessary. Thirdly, with such invested monies as remained producing only low income, but property prices still showing a healthy rise in London, even if part of the extensive back garden was first transferred to The Elms for future development use, the resale of the house should provide a better return. Many charities might nonetheless shrink from a quite risky strategy that would inevitably leave them with very low cash reserves - but the Board of South East London Baptist Homes has always been a bit different. Their discussions, recorded in their Minutes, have always seemed to have been one part careful thought given to the strategic options, and one part faith that the Lord will provide!
So, what is The Elms like today? The Home which began as a small care home where a few fairly able old people could spend the rest of their lives has become one which is now permitted to take up to 30 residents, many of whom are very frail, and may be disabled, confused, or both. Although the Elms is not a nursing home, they are able to care for terminally ill residents, supported by District, Hospice and MacMillan nurses; this is usually what residents and their families prefer; a peaceful passing in a familiar place where they feel safe and loved and among friends. The Home is still however a place for living, not just waiting to die, with a weekly pattern of varied activities such as arts and crafts, exercise, poetry and reminiscences arranged by staff and supported by volunteers including young people from the Brit School and Alleyns. Residents are involved in choosing what they want to do, and what they want to eat (the excellent cook comes to all residents' meetings to ask them for menu suggestions).
While once the emphasis was on taking residents who were committed Christians (a reference from a minister initially being required), The Elms now welcomes people of all faiths and none, though it is still seen as the 'home of choice' by many elderly Christians. Recently more men have been taking up residency - the Home used to be dominated by ladies, who tend to live longer - and some couples have also moved in together. Staff, too, are multi-faith and multi-national, though stricter regulations, especially with regard to what courses can be taken by those on student visas, and how many hours they may work, means most overseas staff now come either from the European Union or already have full working visas. Recruitment continues to be something of a challenge, but it is perhaps a tribute to the atmosphere at The Elms - and a tribute to them for working so hard to create that atmosphere - that the current Care Manager of the Home, Susan Baterip, has worked there now for over 25 years, with her deputy, Hyacinth Shand. They too have seen, and weathered, a huge amount of change.
The Trustees have decided to create a dementia garden at The Elms. One of the fundraising initiatives is a climb over the O2 in September by 16 volunteers. For enquiries about sponsorship or the home generally contact either Ken Deller