The Dulwich Society Journal for Autumn 2019.
Conservation Areas - who needs them? The Dulwich Society was founded four years before the Civic Amenities Act 1967 which launched the creation of Conservation Areas and has been a staunch defender of them since. There are now over 10,000 such areas designated in Britain, two in Dulwich itself (and there is a big argument that the unique style of East Dulwich, built up from farm fields in a single generation in the final quarter oi the nineteenth century should be a worthy candidate). Dulwich’s first listed Conservation Area, largely bounding the Village and College Road was made in 1968 and extended twice, in 1971 and again in 2005.
The object of a conservation area is to preserve areas which are a value to society that require protection. The property rights of all owners of buildings are restricted, not only those owning listed buildings. Changes that can be made are limited and the choice of materials is also restricted. The additional cost to owners is justified by the enhanced heritage effect which can lead to a higher value of property within a Conservation Area.
According to the arguments set forth at its inception, a Conservation Area gives places greater stability, and a clear identity. However, there have been no studies as yet to determine if these values have been achieved or whether the designation protects the character of the area. This was the basis of a recent objection to a development lodged by the Dulwich Society’s Planning and Architecture Group, that the demolition of an existing house, and its replacement by two others, would indeed alter the character of the street. How the Council interprets the application is yet to be seen.
Strong values are also attached to a green and peaceful environment, yet these same values appear to need to be constantly protected against nibbling infringement. For example, when the legislation was passed it restricted rear extensions to houses to be limited to a full-width single storey. Subsequent relaxation of planning laws has eroded this limitation. Perhaps more significantly was the requirement to preserve boundaries especially the spaces between properties. There are numerous examples where owners have extended their houses laterally to the very edge of their boundary thereby eliminating the open and green feel such spaces might provide and at the same time also altering the character of a street.
Not provided for, or even envisaged, by the framers of Conservation Areas, is the lengthy time being taken by owners to alter a property. In practice this might mean unsightly hoardings in place for several years. The case of the proposed housing development behind the shops in the Village is a particular example of an ongoing eyesore compounded with the unnecessary closure of a public road to benefit a private developer.
There does seem to be a case for looking again at the regulations for Conservation Areas to see if these and other irritations might be alleviated by a tightening up of the legislation.
The Dulwich Estate held two public consultations on 4th and 6th July when they showed a number of proposals to enhance the retail offer in both Dulwich Village and West Dulwich in an attempt to try and generate more footfall from locals, and to make both areas more of a destination for visitors.
Starting in the Village, the plans are to take down some of the large trees in front of the shops at Nos 25-49, and level the pavement area in front of them (and plant smaller trees). Unfortunately, there was no mention of controlled parking, an essential addition to free up more space for shoppers by preventing commuters parking there.
In order to improve the footfall here (rather like Gail’s has at the southern end), the Estate are planning to locate an upmarket restaurant/café chain in the former S G Smith showroom - the rumour is that it will be the ‘Ivy Café’, there are already branches nearby in Blackheath, Richmond and Wimbledon. ‘Roger Pope’, the optician, is shortly to be extended at the rear, as is the former Harvey Wheeler unit - but there is no news on the likely occupier there. There was also no news about the potential convenience store, ‘Simply Fresh’ - though the Estate assures us that the company has signed the lease, paid a deposit, and is currently in its rent-free period. About a month ago there were some comments on Twitter saying that work would be underway shortly but, as yet, there is no planning application and nothing happening in the shop unit. ‘Simply Fresh’ do appear to be expanding elsewhere, most recently in South Wimbledon.
Moving to West Dulwich, there are two major initiatives, one is to relocate the ‘Alleyn Park Garden Centre’ to the South Croxted Road corner next to the ‘Dulwich Bakery’. This will then free up its former site to be redeveloped for housing and the plans are for four two-bedroom mews houses, possibly for rent, like the new flats over the road. The other is to pave over the existing parking area in front of the eastern parade and form a landscaped piazza - to provide space for sitting out (for possible future coffee bars perhaps) and opportunities for weekend markets and other public events. The existing parking will be moved to an area behind Tesco, accessed from Park Hall Road.
As far as the shops there are concerned, the ‘Dulwich Bazaar’ restaurant is fitting out at the moment, in the former Italian next to Tesco, and hopefully will open shortly, but the plans to locate a wine bar in the former kitchen shop on the corner of Alleyn Road have run into a number of objections from nearby residents. The other empty unit, the former Phase Eight, is rumoured to be under offer to a men’s barber.
The consultations were quite well attended but there were several comments on whether the Estate was relying too much on restaurants and cafes as the solution to Dulwich’s retail problems. Perhaps it should be reviewing its rental aspirations so as to attract a wider diversity of smaller local operators. The recent opening of the zero-waste shop in Herne Hill is perhaps an example of the type of tenant that could have been attracted to Dulwich if the rents had been right. The other point being made was that empty shops benefit no one, neither residents nor the Estate.
Our Healthy Streets
During May and following on from the Society’s successful traffic meeting on 12th January, Southwark Council has been consulting local residents on both sides of Lordship Lane about the impact of traffic on their environment. It chose an area where there are a number of significant traffic hotspots, and one which was large enough for a strategic approach to be appropriate, but small enough for a reasonable expectation that any proposed improvements could be funded. If successful, the Council will consider taking a similar area-based approach in other neighbourhoods in the future.
A detailed report on the consultation will be discussed at the next Dulwich ‘Empowering Communities Programme’ meeting (DECP) meeting on Wednesday 19th September and all those who responded at the consultation meetings, or online, will be contacted. Initial feedback shows that responses are split 75/25% between Dulwich Village and East Dulwich with most coming from the 35-54 age group. The top three priorities overall were to improve air quality at pollution hotspots, introduce measures to help pupils to walk or cycle to school and to have an area-wide approach to traffic management.
In Dulwich Village the more specific concerns were high traffic volume (particularly at the AM and PM peak times in the school terms), air quality (particularly for younger children) and pedestrian safety at the Dulwich Village junction. In East Dulwich the top issues were pedestrian safety at road junctions, speeding in Barry Road and traffic volume in Underhill Road.
There will be a further public engagement meeting on 16th October where a series of workshops will help focus on how residents respond to the report’s conclusions.
To everyone’s surprise, Thames Water began work on Thursday 18th July on installing a water fountain on the corner of Calton Avenue and Dulwich Village. There was a report in the Guardian the day before that the Mayor had identified 100 locations throughout London for the fountains but there had been no consultation locally at all - though it appears that the Council had been planning it for some time. While the idea is clearly a good one, allowing people to refill their water bottles, the design of the standard unit might not be to everyone’s taste. http://moderngov.southwark.gov.uk/ieDecisionDetails.aspx?ID=6745
Parking in Parks
Southwark Council have confirmed that they intend to go ahead with charging for parking in parks despite the large number of objections. It appears, however, that the Council has run into a problem over Belair Park, which is on a 200-year lease from the Dulwich Estate - and one of the provisions of that lease is that the land should remain freely accessible to the public at all times. We understand that lawyers are on the case. See http://moderngov.southwark.gov.uk/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=50019807&Opt=0 for the Council’s response to the many objections.
Defibrillators in Dulwich
The Society contributed £500 towards the installation of a defibrillator at Bell House and the Dulwich Estate has said that it is about to install an external one next to the Crown and Greyhound. In the meantime, the Society has found out that there are four others in the local area, at James Allen’s Girls School pre-prep on the corner of Dulwich Village and Village Way, the Dental Practice at 112 Dulwich Village, the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Dulwich Park Cafe. Unfortunately, there are no general signs as to where they are.
Zero Waste Shopping
The former magician’s shop in Herne Hill has been taken over by a new zero-waste shop called Jarr Market- the magician has decided he no longer needs a street presence as his business is online. Its aim is to do away with unnecessary food packaging, by encouraging customers to bring their own containers to buy the products on sale - which include grains, cereals, spices, pastas, nuts, condiments, coffee, tea and a range of toiletries and cleaning products, even some sweet treats. There are two other similar shops in the local area, ‘Bring Your Own’ on Evelina Road in Nunhead and ‘Gather’ on Bellenden Road in Peckham.
In June the Dulwich Society held a Summer Drinks evening at Dulwich Picture Gallery’s Colour Palace. Designed by architects Pricegore and artist designer Yinka llori, the pavilion formed a striking and colourful venue for the occasion. In fine weather the pavilion is a great space, affording light and shade and interest. In wet weather it is a disaster.
So bad luck for the Dulwich Society who chose an evening of heavy rain to test the adequacy of the pavilion to stand up to the elements. Unfortunately, it was found lacking. While it was reasonable dry directly beneath its roof, the open sided design allowed rain to penetrate thereby limiting the entertaining space. As a consequence the arranged performance by The Friends Musick, a Tudor costumed madrigal group, had to be transferred to the Linbury Room . Once seated there, the audience warmed both to the singing, which was arranged with a nod towards the Alleyn 400th anniversary celebrations, and physically now that it was sheltered from the elements.
The Friends Musick was formed by Annie Bright, a local resident who has been in the theatrical profession all her life, mainly as a singer but also as an actress and running a drama tuition agency for child actors - Keira Knightley was her first pupil. Annie has served for over thirty years as a member of Equity’s council, the profession’s union, and is a former vice-president. She was a key figure in fund-raising for both the Globe and the Rose theatre campaigns on Bankside - Edward Alleyn’s stamping ground - so we asked her to recall her part in them. Her article can be found on page 8.
With regard to the inadequacies of the pavilion; it was not only members of the Dulwich Society who got wet, the coffee bar and ticket counter located in the pavilion were also partially flooded whenever in rained.
it was Dulwich Picture Gallery’s second hosting of the winner of the design of a pavilion in connection with the London Festival of Architecture - a month long celebration of architectural excellence and competition. The Festival claims to be the largest such event in the world. All the more reason, it appeared in practice, to ensure the design brief added the word ‘shelter’ to its instructions. The dictionary definition of a pavilion is ‘a summer house or other decorative building used as a shelter in a park or large garden.’ - seems pretty clear - it is basically a shelter with a view, and neither of the last two pavilions can be described as that however attractive they might appear in fine weather.
This mistaken concept seems to have permeated into the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL. First year Engineering & Architectural Design MEng students erected their versions of a pavilion in the grounds of Dulwich Picture Gallery and only one of the three designs named The Expandables seemed to afford any weather protection.
The students design brief was to construct a pavilion which ‘reflects on how people gather, interact and exist as a community’.
A bit like the Dulwich Society then!
The four hundredth anniversary of the official blessing by the issue of Letters Patent, to Edward Alleyn’s foundation of the College of God’s Gift, as the Dulwich Estate, Alleyn’s School and Dulwich College were known in 1619, has been celebrated splendidly.
Anniversaries are useful pegs upon which to hang a welcome new building, improvement or enterprise and the schools and the Estate have risen admirably to the opportunity; the Estate by commissioning a film and an exhibition tracing its part in the development of Dulwich in helping maintain its beauty and open spaces. It has also created new amenities with the planting of the Village orchard and the installation of information boards with a linking heritage trail stretching from North Dulwich station to St Stephen’s Church. Alleyn’s School has marked the anniversary by planting 400 trees, one tree for every year, around its grounds, and has offered a program of free public lectures and the installation of eleven large panels outlining the School’s history and purpose around the school’s quadrangle. At Dulwich College the opportunity has been taken to restore the magnificent 19th century buildings and grounds, to publish a series of books relating to the College’s distinguished alumni (see the review of A Cradle of Writers by Patrick Humphries page 31) and promote an impressive series of public lectures. Both schools had memorable commemorative church services, Alleyn’s at Westminster Abbey and Dulwich College at St Paul’s.
If Dulwich likes to celebrate an anniversary, it prefers even more to celebrate two. During the year, the 400th anniversary of the death of actor Richard Burbage who performed at the Globe Theatre on Bankside and after whom the road in Dulwich is named, was marked by its residents with a full calendar of events, a talk on Burbage’s acting company, The King’s Men and the Elizabethan theatre, the showing of the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’, after which there was an interview with the director, a walk from Burbage’s grave in Shoreditch to the Globe Theatre, the theatre Burbage owned and performed at, and naturally - a great street party. Network Rail sponsored a mural of Richard Burbage on the railway bridge in the road which was created by artist Lionel Stanhope assisted by Owain Nichols.
It was in the mid-eighties that I first became involved with the Shakespearean theatre, as one of the first ‘Friends of Shakespeare’s Globe’ - even before the builders started digging a massive hole in the ground. This of course was to become the undercroft of the world-renowned Shakespeare`s Globe on Bankside, inspired by the late Sam Wanamaker.
Sam had a knack of persuading people to organise (or take part in) fund-raising events, and he was aware of the importance of keeping the Globe`s progress in the public eye. The first big event I attended was in 1987 when HRH the Duke of Edinburgh performed the Ground Breaking Ceremony by unveiling of the last oak construction post (timber from the Windsor Estate).
Following on from this, I became involved with numerous fund-raising events such as producing (and performing in) concerts in converted warehouse, (now
demolished) which was used as the temporary Globe offices, exhibition centre and ‘Elizabethan theatre’ in the Bear Gardens - just around the corner from where the Globe now stands.
In 1988 I acquired a splendid ‘Queen Elizabeth’ costume and was asked to do numerous fund-raising appearances at events to mark the 400th anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada and had to make the famous ‘Tilbury Speech’.
It was around this time (during International Shakespeare Week) that I was also asked to appear in costume on the Globe site, when Sam, aided by ‘Friend-of the Globe’ Mr Stanley Shakespeare, gathered together over 500 other Shakespeares from all over the country (and USA) for a special event, and Alleyn Old Boy Julian Glover gave the “O for a Muse of Fire” speech to the delighted audience - and the TV cameras!
In 1989, the well-preserved archaeology of the Rose was discovered during excavations of the site to re-develop a new office block - just a stone`s throw from the Globe site. Sam was quick to latch onto this news as a wonderful opportunity to share the spotlight! So when the ‘Save the Rose’ campaign was launched, he asked me to don my Queen Elizabeth costume and take an entourage of costumed actors (including one dressed as ‘Shakespeare’) to parade down Park Street, accompanied by a Tudor-style band, and of course we caught the attention of the BBC`s TV news cameras! The campaign became a major international news story, and several celebrities from the theatre world such as Lord Olivier, Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench, gave their support.
Not long after this occasion Sam invited me to work for him one day a week, helping to organise fund-raising events at the Globe. One of my first jobs was organising the background music when Dame Judi came to lay a foundation stone. I remember seeing her wearing a hard hat (don`t forget, it was a building site!) and she was ushered into a mechanical digger, and having received prior instructions, proceeded to lift the foundation stone into position, but unfortunately must have pressed the wrong button, and promptly knocked over a couple of barriers! However, she did manage to complete her task successfully - to much applause from the spectators!
In 1992 HRH Prince Edward was invited to unveil the first of the bays, which had been built in the workshop and flat-packed for its journey to the Globe site. I was deputed to organise the music, a balloon release and water display from the Fire Brigade`s boat on the Thames. The balloons were due to be released at 12 noon to coincide with the unveiling, and that was the cue for the fire brigade to turn their hose pipes on. Unfortunately, no-one had considered the state of the tide in the river, and by mid-day it was at its lowest ebb! The men in the fire boat realised this, so they put on an extra spurt which could then be seen above the high river wall which divided the Globe site from the bankside. Sadly though, it wasn`t appreciated by the distinguished guests standing below the river level inside the Globe site; they all thought it was raining and put up their umbrellas! Well, don`t blame me; it was Sam`s idea!
Another royal event for which I supplied a fanfare, was when HRH Princess Michael of Kent came to see a performance on the temporary stage of The Merry Wives of Windsor by a German theatre company - in German. Nothing went wrong on that occasion!
Around this time there was a plan afoot to build a helicopter pad above Cannon Street Station, to ferry City businessmen to and from Heathrow Airport, which would mean frequent flying over the Globe at low altitude - and a great deal of noisy interruption. Sam wasn`t having any of this, so he instigated a campaign to fight the plan. A consultative meeting was held at the Guildhall between the officials and the protesters, which included a large contingency of Equity members, and Sam phoned me and asked me to don my costume again and bring along some colleagues (in costume) as he was arranging for the press and TV cameras to be at the Guildhall. So we got changed in the Bear Gardens offices and walked over Southwark Bridge to the Guildhall, and guess what, people passing by didn`t bat an eyelid at seeing a group of characters in period costume strolling nonchalantly along the pavement! Well, this is London, and anything can happen! I`m glad to say though, that all our efforts paid off and we managed to stop the helicopter pad from being built.
It was in 1990, while chatting to Sam one day about when I used to sing madrigals at college, he suggested that I should form a madrigal group and we could do fund-raising performances, and he said he would arrange for us to have some period costumes, as he had a friend who worked in the wardrobe at the National Theatre. So that`s how The Friends` Musick started. It`s had a number of varying titles since then, and the old costumes have now been ‘retired’ (well, most of them!).
In the early 90s the BBC launched its first National Music Day, and The Friends` Musick did a live broadcast from the stage of the ‘Elizabethan theatre’ in the Bear Gardens, and in subsequent years I organised an annual Festival of Early Music (later to be performed on the temporary stage on the Globe site), plus an exhibition of period musical instruments made by the students at the College of Furniture.
Even in those days, when the Globe was still a hole in the ground, it wasn`t all Early Music being performed there. Knowing that Sam was a jazz enthusiast, I decided to put on a jazz concert one afternoon, with two leading players, my husband Dave Gelly (sax) and the late Campbell Burnap (trombone) and rhythm section. Sam, ever - mindful of the publicity, got an Evening Standard photographer to take shots of them before the concert in hard hats standing on the scaffolding with their instruments - and a fine view of St Paul`s Cathedral in the background! Thus, the first-ever jazz concert was launched at the Globe.
In July 1993 Sam was awarded an honorary CBE for his work in reconstructing the Globe, although of course there was still a great deal more to be done. At that time it was not widely known that Sam was suffering from prostate cancer, and he died in December of that year. After his death, the scene began to change and the ‘Big Business Boys’ started to move in. I soon became aware that they weren`t interested in ‘small’ fund-raising efforts, and some of us began to feel marginalised, so we decided to reduce our efforts. One of the last big events I helped to organise was an Advent Carol Service at Southwark Cathedral in 1996, in aid of the Globe and Cancer Research. The music was provided by Alleyn`s School Orchestra, The Friends` Musick, and a recorder consort. Seasonal songs were performed in costume and lit candles were carried as we moved around the cathedral.
The last event that I took part in (but didn`t have any part in organising) was The Festival of Firsts in 1997 when HM the Queen came to open the Globe. My choir was invited to sing madrigals in the Piazza (the yard surrounding the theatre), and I had a special invitation to attend the Opening Ceremony. Some scenes from Henry V were performed onstage and at one point Jane Lapotaire, dressed as the first Queen Elizabeth, entered on a white horse into the groundlings’ area and with a Shakespeare speech, proceeded to address Her Majesty who was sitting in one of the ‘Gentlemens` Rooms’ in the Middle Gallery. While Jane was giving her speech, her horse started to get a bit restless and began to ‘clip-clop’- causing some of us who were standing nearby to move away to a safe distance! As a result, I lost concentration, so to this day I still can`t remember what that speech was about! Nevertheless, all`s well that ends well, and judging by the tumultuous applause and cheering, the Grand Opening by the Queen proved to be a great success, and I`m sure Sam would have been so proud.
Although farming in Dulwich was virtually dead by the First World War, a couple of smallholdings survived for some years after. One of these was the remnant of Dulwich Wood farm which had stood at the top of Grange Lane since the early decades of the eighteenth century. Most of its land had been absorbed by the expansion of the Dulwich & Sydenham Hill golf course, another 20 acres being laid down as sports fields and leaving under two acres for the former dairy farm. Farmer W E Sharpe was its last occupant and he had run it for some fifteen years as a pig farm, using the former cowsheds as pig pens. Recently, some old newspaper cuttings have come to light which record the farm’s closure.
It was finally the question of blocked drains which did for Farmer Sharpe and June the Pig and her piglets and fellows. Bones in the pig swill had led to the clogging of the drains which ran in several directions, towards the Toll Gate and also towards the Grove House, opposite The Grove PH on Dulwich Common. The farm, which until the late 1880’s had had to survive on water drawn from a 30’ well was, fifty years later, still not connected to the main sewer in College Road.
As the Dulwich Estate’s tenant, Mr. Sharpe was responsible for the drains but as he was nearing retirement, he was unwilling to run to the considerable expense of putting in new drains . As a result he offered the remaining five and half years of the lease on Dulwich Wood Farm back to the Estate, who accepted it and reimbursed Mr Sharpe to the tune of £250.
An inspection of the farm in 1935 showed that there was a two-storey farmhouse and another single storey house; the whole comprising six bedrooms, three reception rooms and a kitchen and bathroom. with the addition of a large number of farm outbuildings.
Although a couple of tentative offers to take the farm as the site of a new house were received, the Estate instead decided that it would demolish the buildings which it considered were beyond repair and clear the site. The land is now covered partly by the Gun Site Allotments and partly by the South London Scout Centre (The Fort). An early occupier of the cleared land which was being restored at the time by the golf club who were negotiating to take it over, was Wilson’s Grammar School, Camberwell who used it as a sports ground.
In the summer of 1938, D H Allport, a distinguished local Dulwich historian who was also a Scout district commissioner received permission for scouts to camp on the fields. He was only just in time as shortly after the War Office served a requisition notice and occupied all of the former Dulwich Wood farm site, and an adjoining two acre field, as an anti-aircraft gun site. A formal 20-year lease was agreed and there was some haggling over the cost of putting in new drainage. There was also a covenant that the site would be restored to its original condition at the end of the lease.
By December 1939, and just three months after war had been declared, the army had erected a number of huts on the former farm and it was not long before the personnel had formed a pig club, so the tradition of running pigs in the area, once a perk for Dulwich’s medieval villagers, enjoyed a twentieth century revival. The army remained in occupation long after the end of the war, using the site as a weekend training centre for Territorial Army soldiers.
In 1961, after the military had left, part of the site was acquired on a lease from the Dulwich Estate by the Scout association. A full account of this, and its subsequent history by Michael Rich may be found in the Spring 2008 edition of the Journal available online. The remainder of the former farm was converted into the present existing allotments.
The future of the site of Dulwich Hospital, following the partial demolition of its wards in 2006, was for many years a matter of deep concern and complete uncertainty for local residents. Initially it was feared that it would be sold off for housing. Subsequently there was a sustained effort by the local community for some form of health provision and a number of plans were discussed. It was not until the spring of 2015 however that some certainty arose following the realisation of the shortage of secondary school places in the Dulwich area and the community was delighted to hear that it would be the recipient of both a new medical centre and a new school.
The success of The Charter School at Red Post Hill allowed it to obtain funding from central government to build a sister secondary school on the hospital site. Southwark Council also added a substantial sum to allow the new school to be built in brick to harmonise with the retained and much admired ‘chateau’ central block.
At the same time the concept of a health facility on the site was also accepted and design schemes for both were put in place. The original plan for the school, rather confusingly also named The Charter School but differentiated by the addition of East Dulwich as opposed to The Charter School North Dulwich, was for temporary buildings to be placed on the north east corner of the cleared site near the Jarvis Road entrance. However, when vacant school premises became available near Southampton Way it enabled the build to be speeded up and the school was able to open in Camberwell in 2017 with an intake of 120 children in Year 7, half of the projected 8 form intake which will eventually work through the school to reach its full strength of 1680 pupils.
At present, the school is restricting its intake to 180 pupils each year until the building is completed. The school is popular and remains seven times over-subscribed. Always intended as a local community school, its criteria for admission is on the basis of distance from the school gate, with the present catchment area being under a kilometre. At such high levels of oversubscription, it is unlikely that the catchment area will extend beyond 1.5 kilometres even when the school admits 240 pupils per year. There will also be a special unit catering for up to 20 pupils with special needs - autistic spectrum disorder, and present thinking is that the unit will be housed in part of the former ‘chateau’ block which will also form the school’s new main entrance. The current entrance in Jarvis Road will also continue to function. It is planned that the NHS will evacuate the hospital by the Spring of 2020 when demolition of the remaining wards and ancillary buildings will take place. The completion of the school will then take a further 18 months.
When completed, the school will have a new hall, a 6th form social space, a drama studio and a suite of music classrooms, practice rooms and recording facilities . These will be located in an extension at the rear of the chateau building. The new block on the west side of the site is already operational and contains a canteen and an indoor sports complex. The range of classrooms on the north of the site has also been completed.
The headteacher, Alex Crossman was appointed in September 2015 and he has overseen the development of the school from a concept rather than a formal plan. He is well qualified for this task with a prior career in a senior post in financial services before becoming the founding chief executive of an educational consultancy for the world’s largest private schools’ operator. Seeking more of a satisfying grass-roots challenge Alex retrained to be a teacher and taught at The Charter School North Dulwich before successfully applying to be part of Future Leaders Trust which prepares school leaders for positions of responsibility in complex urban schools. He was appointed Vice Principal of Ark Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton, which he helped to become a ‘Good’ school. He lives in East Dulwich with his wife and two children, who both attended The Charter School North Dulwich.
The curriculum followed is the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc), which comprises English, Maths at least two sciences, history or geography and a foreign language. In its language choice the school has chosen to offer French, Spanish and Mandarin. (Alex Crossman says that he would very much like to broaden the language offer as the school grows). Pupils will also choose one creative arts subject; fine art, music, drama, digital media and photography are taught. Those pupils who entered in 2017 will take their GCSE in 2021 when Further Maths will also be offered as a subject. When the school reaches its maximum strength it will have a 6th form of 480.
The proposed sixth form will be similar to and aligned with, its sibling school. It is designed to prepare students for higher education, higher-level apprenticeships or high-value work- based learning opportunities such as those offered by many accounting firms. All sixth formers will be required to perform community service in keeping with the tradition established elsewhere in the school.
Currently, 30% of pupils study a musical instrument, Alex Crossman would like to see this rise to 50% - he says - “I’m a strong believer in the beneficial effect on young people‘s development from studying and appreciating music in all its forms”. Certainly Year 10 who are studying for their GCSE can look forward to seeing Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House this September.
School hours are 8.30am -3.10pm although on Thursdays there is an additional lesson taking the day to 4.10pm. After-school activities and clubs are well supported with more than 90% of the pupils participating in two or more weekly sessions which last until 4.10pm, four days per week.
The school is divided into six Houses, each named after a figure of note in a different field of endeavour, each with a connection with this part of London. One of the houses is named after the late Dame Tessa Jowell. Each House holds its own individual assembly one day a week. When the School is completed there might then be space for a whole-school assembly.
In addition to its indoor sports facility, outdoor sports are played at present in fields shared with its sister school in Greendale and some use of Dulwich Hamlet’s ground on Champion Hill. When the remaining wards and outbuildings of the present Dulwich Hospital are cleared from next Easter, most of the land will be turned into sports facilities. Clearly however, in the longer term, as numbers rise, more local outdoor sports facilities will be required.
Commendably, it has become first secondary school in England to declare a climate emergency when it did so in May. In the past few months it has switched entirely to utility providers that rely on renewable energy sources; introduced meat-free days in order to reduce the school’s impact on the environment; banned single-use plastic bottles from the school site; commissioned cultivation spaces around the school play areas in order to grow its own food; and lent support to local initiatives to reduce air pollution.
It has also recently introduced a mental health and wellbeing policy that commits the school to combat the mental health crisis seen developing in young people as a result of the heightened pressures of modern adolescence. An extensive range of counselling and mentoring services is in place to help children who need additional support.
Alex Crossman sees his vision for the school to be “an institution dedicated to the advancement of social justice and community cohesion - two things that can seem sadly elusive in the current climate. That begins by providing the best possible start in life for our students, but also goes much further. I believe that our schools can provide a beacon for inclusive schooling nationally and internationally.”
This bicentenary year is leading to a new focus on Ruskin, including a major exhibition in London, as well as a Dulwich Society talk by Lambeth archivist, Jon Newman. Brian Green’s articles in the last two issues have provided a narrative of Ruskin’s life, focusing on Ruskin’s art criticism, his links to Dulwich and his life in Denmark Hill and Herne Hill. This article will in contrast discuss Ruskin’s ideas. Ruskin was originally known as an art critic but in his 50’s developed an extensive literary output of social criticism before involving himself in a number of philanthropic projects of social reform. I have been puzzled as to why he is widely regarded as having a significant influence on the thinking of the first generation of socialist parliamentarians. As a political historian, this bicentenary has prompted me to re-examine his ideas and legacy.
Ruskin and Socialist thought
Ruskin’s reputation as a socialist thinker derives to some extent from a survey in 1906 by the journalist William Stead of the authors which Labour MPs claimed had influenced them, when Ruskin shared top billing with Thomas Carlyle. Ruskin’s 1860 book of essays Unto This Last is often quoted as his most influential work. This owed much to the following paragraph:
“There is no wealth but life. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest numbers of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest, who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.”
Ruskin is best categorised, like his friend Thomas Carlyle, as a ‘social romantic’. The main argument of Unto this Last’ and his later political and economic works, was that political economy should have a moral basis and that labour had inherent value which was not to be determined by a capitalist system based on profit. His approach was based on a biblically derived notion of social justice - the phrase ‘unto this last’ was taken from the parable of the vineyard in the Gospel of St Matthew. This perspective was shared by the mid-Victorian Christian Socialists such as Frederick Maurice, John Malcolm Ludlow, Thomas Hughes, Charles Kingsley and E V Neale and in fact can be traced back to a much earlier Christian tradition including the Christian economists of the early 19th century and many of the associates of Robert Owen, though Ruskin had a tendency to quote biblical and classical Greek sources such as Plato rather than his contemporaries. Ruskin instead mounted an attack on the classical political economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo, not because of their analyses but because they perceived political economy as a science, disregarding the Ricardian socialists such as Thomas Hodgskin, William Thomson, John Gray and the Chartist, John Francis Bray, who introduced an explicit moral perspective into their Ricardian analysis of labour and value, authors whom Ruskin had apparently not read. Ruskin, while criticising the capitalist system, was however no socialist. He was strongly opposed to any concept of equality, public ownership or collectivism. In Fors Clavigara, letters ‘to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain’, published between 1871 and 1874, he supported private ownership of land with hereditary tenure and opposed those such as Alfred Russell Wallace who argued for land nationalisation.
As a ‘sage’ Ruskin was disengaged from contemporary politics. Socialising, so far as he socialised at all, was with painters and writers, and he appears to have had little or no contact with politicians of any party. He was of the view that he could influence the thinking of others through his writings. Perceiving himself as a Tory and an ‘illiberal’, he was in fact dismissive of both parliament, which he saw as a ‘talking shop’ and of social reform movements. Unlike the Christian socialists and positivists such as Frederic Harrison, who published his own study of Ruskin in 1902, he saw trade unions as divisive. Ruskin was also a strong opponent of democracy. In his view, order required a sovereign. At times, he argued for a theocracy, with a sovereign imposing order and moral behaviour on the populace. Like Carlyle and the positivists he had an admiration for great men (always men) - for heroes. He was a great admirer of Napoleon III and welcomed that Napoleon’s coup d’etat in 1851 to overturn the French second republic. One of his few explicit political interventions was his support in 1865 for the Jamaican Governor Eyre who was criticised by liberals such as John Stuart Mill and James Fitzjames Stephens for his violent suppression of a peasant rebellion which had been led by a Baptist preacher, Paul Bogle. Ruskin saw himself as a teacher rather than a politician. He saw his role as educating a new generation of teachers. One of his students was the historian Arnold Toynbee, who was later to inspire the university settlement movement including Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel. Ruskin tended to read his lectures to various assemblies. For example, his lecture ‘work’, later published in The Crown of Wild Olive was first read to the Camberwell Working Men’s Institute. ‘Traffic’ was delivered at Bradford Town Hall; ‘War’ at the appropriate venue of the Woolwich Royal Military Academy (Ruskin saw fighting as a ‘manly’ activity), and ‘the Future of England’ at the Royal Artillery Institution at Woolwich.
Ruskin and practical Socialism
Ruskin in his later years supported a number of reform projects, believing that change came from philanthropy and from benevolent employers. He is remembered for the Hinksey road building project in Oxford when he led a group of Oxford students (including Arnold Toynbee, WH Mallock, Alfred Milner and Oscar Wilde). As far as I am aware this was his only intervention in civic life in Oxford in his many years as an Oxford academic. In a detailed study of Victorian radical and liberal politics in Oxford, I could find no record of Ruskin’s attendance at any reform meetings in the city (though one source refers to his attendance at one of Morris’ university lectures), although he did found a school of drawing and the trade union college in Oxford is named after him at the instigation of the American philanthropists, Charles Beard and Walter Vrooman, who founded it in 1899, the year before Ruskin’s death. Ruskin is also known for providing financial support for Octavia Hill’s housing management scheme in Marylebone - Ruskin became a landlord, as well as buying land in Sheffield for an agricultural colony through the St George’s Guild, a project based on medieval guild principles, reflecting Ruskin’s medieval romanticism and his anti-urbanism, both of which were to be shared by William Morris. Morris however differed from Ruskin, whom he admired, by also engaging in productive as well as literary activity in running William Morris and Company as a retailer of internal design products such as tapestry and furniture for the top end of the market. He was also a political activist, polemicist, protester and journal editor and founder and leader of the Socialist League and the Hammersmith Socialist Society.
Ruskin’s only engagement with working class socialists was in the Sheffield project and this experience was not a happy one. His connection was with Henry Swan, a Sheffield engraver, who Ruskin had met when he was teaching drawing at the London Working Men’s College in 1855. In 1875, Ruskin funded Swan to buy a cottage in Walkley in Sheffield, to run a one room museum for the St George’s Guild, comprising pictures, manuscripts and books from Ruskin’s personal collection. In April 1876, Ruskin visited the cottage museum to meet a group of Owenite co-operators who had formed a Mutual Improvement Society which met at the Hall of Science initiated by the Chartist councillor and journalist Isaac Ironside. The group also included George Harrison Riley, an engraver and newspaper editor, who had been involved in the First International and had also met Walt Whitman in the United States. Riley had edited the International’s journal in London and now ran a journal called The Socialist, which was more Whitmanite Christian Socialist than Marxist. Ruskin however disapproved of Riley’s communistic tendencies, arguing that any attempt to ‘communise’ a neighbour’s property ended up in ‘ruin and shame’. The Sheffield socialists were originally interested in establishing a community to engage in cooperative manufacture such as boot-making. The project however, possibly under Ruskin’s influence, turned to agriculture with Ruskin funding the purchase of a farm on the outskirts of Sheffield at Totley. Swan recommended a group of tenants. Unfortunately, the group comprised bootmakers, ironworkers and opticians who knew little about agriculture. The group also wanted to operate as a collective, making decisions by majority vote. Ruskin objected to this and he considered the project should be run by a ‘simple and orderly tyrant’. The group wanted to give Ruskin his money back. Ruskin however appointed Riley to take over the project, which was resisted by the co-operators. Riley then threatened the co-operators with violence. They complained to Ruskin who refused to intervene, at which point the co-operators said they were no longer responsible for the farm. Edward Carpenter who had moved to a farm nearby and knew the Sheffield socialists, commented that ‘the would-be Garden of Eden had become a scene of such confusion that Ruskin had to send down an ancient retainer of his (with a pitchfork instead of a flaming sword) to bar them all out’. This was his Scottish gardener, David Downes. Carpenter tried unsuccessfully to intercede on Riley’s behalf. Riley returned to America, where he returned to following Whitman (of whom Ruskin had apparently been unaware). Downes managed the farm till 1886, at which point it passed to George Pearson, a socialist friend of Carpenter’s. Apparently, the incident led to Ruskin’s nervous breakdown in 1878. Ruskin’s authoritarian approach to the Sheffield socialists contrasts with Carpenter’s much more successful libertarian engagement with the same group.
Much of Ruskin’s influence on earlier socialists was in fact indirect and through ethical socialists such as Morris and early members of the Independent Labour Party such as Thomas Barclay, who in 1888 published a pamphlet summary of Ruskin’s teachings (a pamphlet which in my view is much more readable than Ruskin’s own writings), Fred Jowett, who inherited Ruskin’s anti-parliamentarianism, Katharine Conway, John Bruce Glasier and even Tom Mann, before he turned from the ILP to Communism. However, the fact that Phillip Blond, the author of the 2010 critique of contemporary politics Red Tory and director of the think tank Respublica, also cites Ruskin as a precursor, demonstrates that his legacy is not just limited to the political left. Ruskin’s approach to craft and his hatred of mechanisation not only influenced the arts and crafts movement, but also more recent thinkers, such as the philosopher Richard Sennett, whose Ruskinian work of 2009 is entitled The Craftsman. Frederic Harrison may have referred to Ruskin as a ’medieval reactionist’ and an ‘aristocratic absolutist’ but Ruskin’s social theory still has some supporters.