The Dulwich Society Journal for Autumn 2017.
The news that The Real Greek restaurant is opening a seventh branch in Dulwich Village in the listed former Café Rouge premises will no doubt be greeted with approval. It brings the Village’s eateries and cafés back to 11 now that the Crown & Greyhound has finally reopened. However, the quality of restaurants within a mile and half of Dulwich Picture Gallery, which includes all of East Dulwich, Herne Hill and parts of Norwood tends to be on the poor side.
Of the 17,538 restaurants in London listed on TripAdvisor, only The Shed in Friern Road, East Dulwich is in the first one thousand places, being placed at number 643. Virtually all the so called ‘gastro-pubs in the area do badly for the quality of their over-priced food, indeed none are listed in the first 12,000 places. Although some diners might regret the closing of Le Chardon in Lordship Lane after a long innings, the good news is that London’s No 1 restaurant on TripAdvisor is only 2 miles away – perhaps surprisingly, in a formerly unlovely area north of Camberwell Green. It is named Zeret Kitchen and is an ethnic restaurant. No doubt talented independent restaurateurs are put off by the high rents demanded in all parts of Dulwich.
But how reliable is TripAdvisor? Apparently restaurateurs and hoteliers ignore it at their peril and certainly one restaurant, near Tunbridge Wells, is taking the author of a bad review to court for damages and is tipped to win its case.
After a wait of six years, the Reverend Susan Height, Priest in Charge of St Faith’s, North Dulwich finally moves into her new vicarage in September. When she was selected in 2011 she fully expected that she, her husband (and their chickens) would move into a new vicarage next to the church on Red Post Hill within two years. It was not to be, the Diocesan authorities had development plans for the large site and proposed rebuilding the vicarage, which was suffering considerable problems with subsidence, and building more houses on the site to offset the building costs of a new vicarage. What they had overlooked however was that there was a restricted covenant on the land which had been granted to the church by the Dulwich Estate when the church and vicarage were built. To make matters worse, a landmark tree fronting the road was found to be diseased and had to be felled. All the subsequent wrangling over legal and planning issues has meant that the priest has been living in limbo elsewhere in rented accommodation.
The Diocese and the Estate finally reached an agreement whereby the vicarage freehold is vested with the Diocese and the remainder of the site will be developed by them to provide two new houses which will be placed on sale and the proceeds split between the Diocese and the Estate. The new 4 bed roomed vicarage incorporates all the latest features – a low carbon footprint, a rain collection tank concealed in the drive which feeds the toilets and the green roof, solar panels which heat both water and the under-floor heating system, insulation panels and triple glazing. The parish is holding an ‘Open House’ to view the new vicarage on 16th September from 2-6pm with a hog roast. All are welcome to drop in.
Susan Height is also to be installed as Vicar (now that there is a vicarage), on 10th September at 6pm by the Bishop of Woolwich. All are invited to this service, which will be followed by a ‘house blessing’.
Susan grew up in Rugby, attending the local parish church where her parents were members. She entered on a nursing career, becoming a midwife and having two children of her own. A visit as a teenager to a Franciscan friary in Dorset had left a lasting impression on her however and when her children reached the age of 11 and 12 in 1999, she began to seriously consider training for the Ministry. She had a placement in London’s Mile End, in an anglo-catholic parish which she found a very satisfying experience, She then served her four year curacy in an evangelical alliance church in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Her first post was then as a team vicar in the Solihull area of Birmingham where she served for six years.
The new science laboratory building at Dulwich College has won two of this year’s Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) annual awards - a RIBA London Award as well as a more prestigious RIBA National Award, the latter given to those buildings across the UK recognised as making a significant contribution to architecture. It was described by the award assessors as ‘a virtuoso of finish and precision’.
The new building, designed by architects Grimshaw, replaces an early 1950s building (an up to the minute facility in its day) and forms an integral part of the College’s current campus master plan. While it is a more prominent building than its predecessor, and very different in appearance, it is sensitive to the existing site, responding proactively to the Grade II* listed Barry buildings.
Sustainability is a core principle in the design and the building uses innovative, environmentally inexpensive and energy-efficient systems. The exterior façade is a collaboration between the architect and artist Peter Randall-Page RA, designed using the ‘Lindermeyer’ or L-system algorithm and whose ‘Dragon’s Curve’ pattern can be seen embedded on the cladding – the idea is to embody the synthesis of Art and Science. The well-designed landscaping around the building has also contributed significantly to the enhancement of the College’s frontage to College Road.
The first phase, opened in April 2015, provided 18 fully-equipped laboratories, three preparation rooms and the James Caird Hall (containing Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous boat). The second phase, completed in July 2016, adds three laboratories for the Lower and Junior Schools, five adaptable ‘Informatics’ suites with free-thinking spaces for creative learning and cross-curricular collaboration, a seminar room with full video conferencing facilities, a versatile 240-seat auditorium (the George Farha Auditorium) and an outdoor piazza for recreation and performance.
‘Ink’, a new play at the Almeida Theatre in Islington over the summer (and transferring to the West End in the Autumn), tells the story of Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the ailing broadsheet newspaper the Sun in 1969, and its relaunch as a successful tabloid. The main characters are Murdoch himself and Larry Lamb, the editor, but also included is Brian McConnell, a well-known Dulwich resident and editor of the Society’s Newsletter between 1993—2000. Brian and his wife Margaret lived at No 9 Frank Dixon Way from the mid-1960s and he was employed by Murdoch for three years as the Sun’s first news editor.
Though often regarded as slightly eccentric, Fleet Street also saw Brian as a competent, hard-working and diligent reporter. He was an archetypal journalist of the old school, hard drinking and heavy smoking, though he quit his 60-a-day habit in the late 1970s after a doctor’s warning. Other than his undoubted journalistic skills his main claim to fame was his accidental involvement in the attempt to kidnap Princess Anne in 1974. Brian and two colleagues were returning from lunch in the cab in front of Princess Anne’s car and, turning around after they heard shots, they saw a man with a gun trying to open the rear door. Brian stopped the taxi and went over to help, saying ‘You can't do that. These are my friends. Don't be silly. Just give me the gun.’ The potential kidnapper responded by shooting him in the chest and opening fire on several others, wounding two policemen and the chauffeur, before being overpowered by other bystanders. Brian spent a week in hospital recovering, and was later presented with the Queen's Gallantry Medal at Buckingham Palace.
Born in Streatham, Brian left school at 14 and worked for the South London Press amongst other papers. After National Service, he joined the Daily Mirror and served variously as the paper's crime reporter, Old Bailey correspondent and editor of the "Live Letters" column. After he left the Sun he returned to the Mirror but as a freelance - mainly because it gave him the opportunity to write books. These included Assassination (1969), which ranged from the Assyrians to the murder of the Kennedys; The Rise and Fall of the Brothers Kray (1969) - based on Mirror reports of their trials); The Neilson File (1983), about the murderer Donald Neilson; and Holy Killers (1995), an account of murderous clerics and religious leaders.
Numerous people have enquired the name of the tree in the Village, at the corner of Calton Avenue, where the memorial to Lt Mark Evison is sited. This year was the first time the Foxglove tree has flowered and it was covered in a profusion of lilac coloured blossom.
A serious infestation of Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars has occurred on the lawn in front of St Barnabas church in a mature oak. It has been treated by the Forestry Commission in conjunction with Public Health England. The pest can be a hazard to the health of people and animals.
If you are one of those people, and there are millions of them, who enjoy wracking their brains to solve a crossword puzzle, either on a daily or weekly basis, or solely on holiday, the chances are that you would have crossed words with Barbara Hall. She has been setting puzzles for the past eighty (yes, eighty!) years, and now aged 94 continues to set the occasional one for a charity. Her books of puzzles run into dozens, fifteen for the Sunday Times alone.
Barbara Hall is tall, slim and straight-backed. She seems to have total recall despite her years and her twinkling eyes suggest that she has enjoyed most of them. Her ambitious and talented parents were socialists with a small ‘s’ and Barbara was sent to her Derbyshire village primary school where her fellow pupils were the children of agricultural labourers and miners. Barbara was clever, won a place at a grammar school, studied music and in her spare time made up crossword puzzles.
In 1938, at the age of fifteen she answered a challenge from the London Evening News to submit a cryptic crossword puzzle. The winner was awarded the distinction of having a puzzle published. Barbara won the competition without revealing her young age. As a consequence she regularly had her puzzles published in that newspaper. Her education was cut short by the outbreak of WW2 (she had been studying for entry to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art with the ambition of becoming a speech therapist). Her father, who had been a WW1 Royal Naval Air Service pilot, worked for the LMS railway company and was transferred to London and Barbara and her mother moved there. Barbara was found a clerical job in her father’s company and in 1941, when she was 18, she was called up for National Service. Like other young women she was offered the choice of joining one of the services or the Land Army. As her father was still a Reserve officer in the Navy, training cadets, she applied to be a Wren (Women’s Royal Naval Service) although she laughingly claims she was attracted by the fact she could wear black stockings and go out with officers!
Entry to the WRNS was not easy and Barbara had to write an essay on why she wanted to join that service. In the essay she said that she compiled cryptic crosswords and could make up cryptic words. The essay must have been convincing and she was enlisted In the rank of Writer (confidential book corrector) in Nore Command, a coastal naval command stretching from the Kent coast to Norfolk. There, Barbara coded the sailing orders for captains of minesweepers, motor torpedo boats and other coastal craft; filling in the lead-covered ships’ code books each week. It was during this work that she later met Peter, a 6’6” tall Free-Dutch submarine captain, fell in love and was about to become engaged. It was at the end of the war and the German fleet was surrendering to the Royal Navy. At Great Yarmouth, German submarines and E boats’ captains were handing over their craft. Peter was accepting the surrender of a Uboat from its German captain when a crew member fired a shot over Peter’s boat as a last defiant gesture. The shot clipped the mast of the British ship which fell on Peter and killed him. Beside him, the German captain was unharmed.
Barbara remained in the navy for another year, during which time she became engaged to a fellow coder, Richard Seymour Hall who in civilian life had been a journalist. She briefly returned to her railway job when she was demobilised but together with her future husband, was awarded a returning serviceman’s place to study at Oxford University. They married and pregnancy with the first of her five sons obliged Barbara to decline an offer of a place at Somerville College and instead followed Dick to Oxford where he was at Keble College. It was there that they met Michael Croft, a fellow old sailor and also a student at Keble and he and the Halls became friends.
During the war she had continued to send crossword puzzles to various newspapers and magazines in this country and worldwide – her work was now being published in the Yorkshire Post, Readers Digest, The Daily Mail and in Isis, the University’s own magazine.
Barbara and Dick’s decision to move to Africa in 1955 while their children were still at primary school age was not so surprising in the light of the example of Barbara’s mother who had been inspirational to her. During WW1, her mother had served in France assisting with the welfare of German prisoners. The Halls settled in Northern Rhodesia, soon to be on the road towards independence. They stayed twelve years; the boys were enrolled in the local school and her husband began to carry out editorial work for various magazines. Barbara took a job as journalist for the Northern Rhodesia Government Information Service and also began compiling crosswords in two or three African languages to improve literacy. She had continued her freelancing, which now included writing occasional newspaper articles. A major step was for Barbara and Dick to start their own newspaper – The Central Africa Mail (later titled The Africa Mail) and Barbara agreed to edit the paper’s ‘Agony Aunt’ column. She says that most of the letters she received were from men rather than women!
Their friendship with the new nation’s, Zambia’s, president, Kenneth Kaunda (he wrote the Foreword to her book of her collection of ‘Agony Aunt’ letters entitled ‘Tell Me Josephine’) and her position at The Central Africa Mail, gave her what some observers and ambassadors considered as ‘influence’. Barbara denies this as exaggeration but nevertheless she was invited as a journalist by Chiang Kai Shek to visit Taiwan. Once there she asked to inspect a women’s prison, a wish that was immediately granted and the conditions and the system Barbara found impressed her. Other invitations followed, from India and even from Chairman Mao – Barbara declined the latter (a portrait of Mao sent by China graces the walls of her study) but in India Barbara was appalled at the conditions she found around the Taj Mahal and wrote a critical article which The Guardian declined to publish at the time. To her embarrassment, it appeared in that newspaper during a state visit by Mrs Gandhi.
The boys were growing up and boarding at Dulwich College and a fifth son arrived who was given the African name of Buchrya (The unexpected one). Barbara says he relishes the name of Butch! A return was made to England and Barbara composed crosswords for The Times and The Observer and in 1969 The Daily Mail commissioned her to compile the world’s biggest cryptic crossword, set on a Christmas theme. Barbara, already working for The Sunday Times as its primary compiler of crosswords was appointed crosswords editor in 1977, a full-time position she held until her retirement in 2010 shortly before her 88th birthday. In 2011 she was awarded the MBE for her services to the newspaper industry. Her book, ‘Tell me, Josephine’ was translated into nineteen languages and she has had 60 books of her crossword compilations published.
Barbara still compiles the occasional puzzle for charitable events, she looks after herself and her garden and her green fingers have encouraged an array of pot plants. She attends plenty of local events and is a member of the East Dulwich Women’s Institute.
Until his retirement, Bernard Nurse was the Librarian of the Society of Antiquaries, previously he had been a librarian at Southwark Local Studies Library and today is the chairman of the Dulwich Society’s Local History Group. He was the natural choice of the London Topographical Society and the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, to compile this substantial work of maps and illustrations of London of largely the eighteenth century.
Until the invention of photography, indeed for many years after, engraved prints were the popular and inexpensive choice of those fascinated by the medium and keen to display them on their walls or in their collections. Engraved illustrations also became a feature of published books. With greater leisure time, the newly arrived middle-class increasingly became tourists and as such enjoyed collecting prints of ‘views’ of places they had been to or aspired to go.
Most of the illustrations are from the collection of the avid accumulator and member of the Society of Antiquaries, Richard Gough (1735-1809), The Society itself was at the forefront in the promotion of topographical illustrations of prominent buildings, monuments and objects and helped to create the market for their sale by publishing a continuous series of detailed prints depicting remains of the past and Gough was the most influential member of the small group responsible for this work between 1771-1797. In his Will of 1806 he made clear his wish for his library to be kept in a building called ‘The Antiquaries Closet’ with related collections to ‘form one uniform body of British antiquities.’ Along with others, Gough had a distrust of the British Museum as a depository for his collection and he bequeathed it instead to a grateful Oxford University.
Bernard Nurse’s glorious book is divided into convenient sections, illustrating maps and scenes of the City, Westminster, the Thames, and London’s fashionable environs (no, it does not include Dulwich!). Miscellaneous prints which do not easily fit into this scheme instead form an interesting short section on topics such as law and order and London’s enthusiasm for firework displays. Each illustration is furnished with a useful commentary.
Lavishly illustrated with full page reproduction, the book is a snip at £30 and will appeal to anybody with an interest in London or the engraved print.
London Prints and Drawings before 1800 by Bernard Nurse published by The London Topographical Society and the Bodleian Library, 226 pages £30
For the golfing enthusiast, a bunker is something to be avoided but in the case of the Dulwich and Sydenham Golf Club, a bunker of a very different kind could have helped save thousands of lives during a critical period of the Cold War. Here I refer to the Royal Observer Corps underground monitoring post which was located on the golf course between the years 1965 until its closure in 1991 when it was converted into a water tank designed to irrigate the course during summer months. Today, there is little sign of the ROC bunker or of the vital role it might conceivably have played in defending London from the effects of a nuclear attack.
The Royal Observer Corps had its roots in World War 1 when Britain was under attack from German Zeppelins when the London Air Defence Area (LADA) was formed with the role of providing advance warning of a raid. During the 1920s the voluntary Observer Corps was formed. Following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, it was soon apparent to the Government that urgent expansion of the Corps was required, including relocating its headquarters from London to RAF Bentley Priory. Key to this expansion was the ability of the General Post Office (GPO) to provide a communications network throughout the United Kingdom. A defining moment for the ROC was in 1941 when the Corps was granted the status, ‘Royal’ in recognition of its invaluable service rendered during the Battle of Britain.
By 1955, during the Cold War, a new role for the Corps was envisaged and this evolved into its primary function, to monitor fall-out in the event of a nuclear attack. In time, a massive programme of building underground monitoring posts was put in hand on a nation-wide basis. In all 800 bunkers were constructed. In May 1965 the Dulwich post was opened. Located at the top of Grange Lane - off College Road - it was positioned so as to provide a panoramic view of London. So what went on underneath the golf course?
Having completed two years National Service, followed by an additional sixteen years service in the TA, I was keen to remain in uniform and so I was attracted by a recruiting advertisement that, from memory, appeared in the South London Press asking for volunteers for the Royal Observer Corps - and I was so curious I thought I would give it a try. I found a very keen bunch of men and women at the instruction meetings which were held at Haberdasher’s Aske’s School near Queen’s Road, Peckham - with occasional visits to the Dulwich site.
After one or two meetings, I was sceptical as to whether ROC members would rush to the relative safety of an underground concrete bunker - leaving their loved ones to be incinerated during an nuclear attack. But I never voiced that opinion. I certainly had my doubts, although I did not question at the time whether the Corps was a very effective tool in defending the civilian population. Some of the large number of Civil Defence pamphlets/booklets issued by HM Stationery Office on the subject of possible nuclear attack offered advice which in my opinion was laughable!
Yet I cannot think that any government would undertake a costly building programme of underground monitoring bunkers without compelling evidence that they would provide invaluable information - thus saving lives. Since the bunker on Dulwich Golf Course could only accommodate two, or three operatives at a pinch, what would happen to the remainder of the unit - exposed to radioactive fall-out - or worse? In my brief time, I never raised that most obvious question, as I did not wish to be chucked out! It was what we would now term, ‘The Elephant in the Room’.
From memory, the Dulwich underground monitoring post was a pretty basic affair housing a complement of two or three operatives. Furniture consisted of two bunk beds, a chemical toilet and storage space for emergency food supplies and a couple of canvas chairs for seating. Lighting was provided by a single dimly lit bulb. Access to the bunker was via a steep ladder - topped off with a heavy metal access cover. Filtered air was produced by a special ventilator shaft. Lining the walls were the specialist instruments for monitoring fall-out. It was not a place that I would wish to stay for any length of time.
My stay with the Dulwich unit was brief as I moved to Horsham in Sussex in 1968. Here was an ROC Group HQ and Sector Control covering the South-East with a properly furnished control room - a much more sophisticated set-up. But my couple of visits to Dulwich golf course did provide an insight into the workings of the Royal Observer Corps - with its motto - Forewarned is Forearmed - and which was finally stood down in 1991 after twenty-six years of service in Dulwich; a remarkable example of the enduring esprit de corps of its members.
It may come as strange for readers of the Dulwich Society journal to hear London Wildlife Trust talk of ‘bringing an ancient landscape back to life’. However that is exactly what we will be doing over the next four years. Thanks to a £699,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery fund for our Great North Wood project and match funding from the Dulwich Estate and the Dulwich Society, we will be able to undertake long-needed management work to protect the Dulwich Woods for the future. A landmark agreement has been reached between the Trust and the Dulwich Estate to undertake work over the next four years that will bring much needed respite to Dulwich Wood through fencing eroded areas where trees are dying off due to degraded soil, and where ancient woodland flowers have been lost to trampling. In Low Cross Wood, the large area of woodland fenced off on the western side of Low Cross Wood Lane, the path that leads to Sydenham Hill station between Crescent Wood Road and College Road, we will be clearing invasive cherry laurel and rhododendrons that are beginning to turn this ancient wood into a dark and denuded place. At Hitherwood, otherwise referred to as the Hitherwood spinney, we will be clearing invasive species and garden waste dumped there over the years. This landlocked chunk of ancient woodland still has English bluebell and wood anemone, but they are declining due to a lack of conservation effort.
I have written on several occasions in the journal about the need to act immediately to conserve Dulwich Wood before its habitats are degraded to a point where it could take decades for it to recover, if at all. This once more open and flower-rich wood has become overrun with laurel and a bit too much holly, and its paths widened by a spike in visitor numbers since 2012. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Dulwich Society and the Wildlife Committee for giving us the opportunity to elaborate on the challenges facing the woods and for taking those concerns forward. We are also delighted that the Society can offer funds to support some of this most crucial work, fulfilling the very raison d'être of the organisation: to protect the amenities of Dulwich. The work of the Society and local residents has led to an historic agreement between London Wildlife Trust and the Dulwich Estate which works in both organisation’s interests. On our part we are hugely encouraged by the steps that can now be taken towards protecting both Sydenham Hill Wood and Dulwich Wood, which in reality is one continuous woodland with two separate legal arrangements. Sydenham Hill Wood has seen far greater disturbance over the past 150 years, whilst Dulwich Wood is now experiencing levels of erosion not seen before in its millennia-old history. These woods do not merely benefit Dulwich, however, with Sydenham Hill Wood offered protection for its ecological importance for the whole of London.
Over the next four years visitors to Dulwich Wood will see new paths installed using gravel and ‘hoggin’ to avoid the bogginess of recent years. New fencing will be installed along the Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Wood borders to allow the regeneration of young trees. It is crucial for a layer of new woodland to follow the mature standards of oak. If there is nothing to replace these trees we will be left with a dustbowl and woodland will be lost. The trees as they are will also suffer individually as the continual trampling – something for which no one is to blame but which we each contribute to over time – will compact the soil stopping the movements of carbon dioxide, oxygen and other gases, nutrients, minerals and, crucially, water to move above and below ground. Fungi play an irreplaceable role in woodlands by supporting trees through symbiotic relationships. If the soil is compacted the mushrooms cannot fruit (though not all of these fungi are in the same order as the well known mushrooms and toadstalls) which means they can’t produce spores and their numbers will deplete over time. The Dulwich and Sydenham Hill woods are home to a great array of mushrooms due to the long life of the woods themselves.
How can this project ever be deemed a success? We are talking here of works that could provide benefits for centuries, as grandiose as it may sound. The protection of young trees and woodland soils will result in new layers of woodland to replace the old.
I would like to end this article with a brief thank you. I began as Project Officer at Sydenham Hill Wood in August 2012 and am approaching my 5th year in the role. Working with the Society has been one of the great pleasures of my time in the job. As someone born in Dulwich Hospital (the bit they knocked down) and spending my youth in the local parks and green spaces, I have a deep affinity with all the Society and local people wish to protect. The recent agreement and award of the Heritage Lottery funded project has been a great achievement for all of us with an interest in the woods, and I am very grateful to all those who have worked hard to get us to this point. Special thanks go to Angela Wilkes, Sigrid Collins, Glynis Williams and Peter Roseveare of the Wildlife Committee; Brian Green, Ian McInnes, Sue Badman and Jeremy Prescott on behalf of the Dulwich Society; and Simon Hoare and Tony George of the Dulwich Estate. To the readers and members, if you have come along to one of our events thank you for your support and we hope to see you again soon.