The Dulwich Society Journal for Autumn 2019.
Dulwich Picture Gallery will mark the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death (1669) with Rembrandt’s Light, a major exhibition exploring the artist’s mastery of light through 35 of his greatest paintings, etchings and drawings. London’s moment in the ‘Year of Rembrandt’ will bring together major international loans including The Pilgrims at Emmaus, 1648 (Musée du Louvre, Paris) and - shown for the first time ever in the UK - Philemon and Baucis, 1658 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC), Tobit and Anna with the Kid, 1645 and The Dream of Joseph, 1645 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin).
Arranged thematically, the exhibition will trace Rembrandt’s mastery of light and shadow, revealing how he used both for dramatic effect, from evoking different moods in religious and mythological stories, to depicting raw human emotion in the subjects he knew well. It will focus on Rembrandt’s critical middle period of 1639-1658 when he lived in his dream house on the Breestraat in central Amsterdam. The large-scale windows of this spacious home (today The Rembrandt House Museum) gave him access to the ideal light for creating art.
The exhibition will showcase a new LED Bluetooth lighting system at the Gallery, and leading cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, famed for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back; The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Mars Attacks!, will work with the curators to devise an atmospheric visitor experience. Through carefully constructed lighting and innovative design, the exhibition spaces will reflect the variety of Rembrandt’s work, from high-drama and theatricality to the contemplative and spiritual. This approach takes inspiration from Rembrandt’s own words in a letter of 1639, when he cautioned a new owner of one of his paintings to: “hang this piece in a strong light and where one can stand at a distance, so it will sparkle at its best”. The exhibition will begin by addressing the artist’s sophisticated control of light to convey motion and emotion. Key paintings will demonstrate the influence of contemporary theatre on Rembrandt’s method, including the The Denial of St Peter, 1660 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), where multiple moments of the story are told within a single scene, and The Woman Taken in Adultery, 1644 (The National Gallery, London), where the figures inhabit the temple setting as though they were actors on a stage.
‘Manipulating Light’, the second section of the show, will transport visitors to Rembrandt’s workshop, as witnessed in his drawing The Artist’s Studio, c.1659 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). The means by which Rembrandt evoked day and night will be explored in etchings from the Rembrandt House Museum including Student at a Table by Candlelight, c.1642 and Woman with an Arrow c.1661, as well as his only surviving nocturnal painting, Landscape with the Rest on the flight into Egypt, 1647 (National Gallery of Ireland).
The penultimate section, ‘The Meditative Mood’, will focus on Rembrandt’s religious and intellectual works. Rembrandt’s ability to create multiple layers of meaning and subtle shifts in mood made his works enduringly popular as tools for private contemplation. In Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb, 1638 (Royal Collection Trust), the dawn breaking over Jerusalem echoes the dawning recognition between the characters in the scene.
The exhibition will culminate with a selection of compelling figurative paintings including the Gallery’s Girl at a Window, 1645, which will be displayed for the first time alongside A Woman in Bed, c. 1645-6 (National Museums Scotland) and A Woman Bathing in a Stream, 1654 (National Gallery, London). Rembrandt’s Light will be the first exhibition to be curated by Jennifer Scott since becoming Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2017 and is co-curated by the Gallery’s Assistant Curator, Helen Hillyard.
The accompanying book, Rembrandt’s Light, by Jennifer Scott and Helen Hillyard, is published by Philip Wilson Publishers and includes essays by the curators and by David de Witt and Franziska Gottwald and features an interview with cinematographer Peter Suschitzky. Jennifer Scott, The Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, said:
“Over 200 years ago, Sir John Soane revolutionised architecture with his innovative top-lit design for Dulwich Picture Gallery. Taking inspiration from Soane’s ambition to create the ideal conditions for viewing paintings, we are thrilled to present a fresh approach to Rembrandt, focusing on the 19 years when he had access to the ideal light for creating art. Our own remarkable ‘Girl at a Window’ will play a starring role alongside masterpieces from some of the world’s other great art collections. Visitors familiar with the Dutch master of light should prepare to fall in love with Rembrandt all over again, and new audiences will find an immersive way-in to an artist who, had he been alive today, would have given film-makers a run for their money.”
Peter Suschitzky said:
“I have been inspired by the work of the greatest Old Masters throughout my life, so to have the opportunity to work with some of Rembrandt’s finest paintings is hugely exciting. Rembrandt seems to me to have been striving to find a universal truth in the human condition and used light to create motion and emotion. This parallels cinematography, where sculpting light and directing the gaze of the viewer to the desired place in an image is essential for powerful storytelling.”
27 College Road
Tuesday September 10th 2019
Another evening of great poetry and music planned! Following on the success of four previous evenings we are holding another event. The invited poets are :
Dajit Nagra BBC Radio 4 poet-in-residence. Dajit will give a 15 minute talk on how he came to poetry and then a reading.
Chris Beckett poet from Carcanet, 'Three Songs from Ethiopia Boy' have been performed and sung by the Chineke Jazz orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
Chrissie Gittins will read from her new collection published by Indigo Dreams
and 6 floor poets, first come first served. Floor poets may read up to 25 lines and entertain us as we are always on the look-out for new voices.
Music to lighten the soul with jazz singer Bernadette Reed.
£10 per ticket to include a glass of wine or soft drink.
This is an exciting new venture! Do come and help to take Bell Poets forward in this enterprise. The next evening will be in January and will revert to free entry.
Hope to see you there in the delightful Bell House, 27 College Rd.SE21 7BG
Further information: Wendy French
and Robert Hancock
Book through Bell House website https://www.bellhouse.co.uk
Following on from Mark Bryant’s article in the previous Journal on Dulwich connections with Nazi Germany, there was a recent article in the Times about another one, a little known visit to London in March 1939 by Reichsfrauenfühererin Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, the head of Nazi Germany’s National Socialist Women's League (NS-Frauenschaft). Invited over by the Women’s League of Health and Beauty and the Anglo-German Fellowship, she visited Dulwich, or to be more precise Sydenham Hill, to tour the Lapsewood Training School for Girls from the Special Areas.
Lapsewood, a large house on Sydenham Hill on the corner of Cox’s Walk was originally built by Charles Barry Jnr as his own house in 1861. He sold the lease on to Edward Clarke, a wealthy stockbroker in the mid-1870s and Clarke lived there for nearly forty years, with his wife, thirteen children, and numerous servants. Although Clarke died in 1916 his wife remained in the house until her death in 1928. Her executors then tried to sell the remaining 15-year lease without much success, until in 1931 it was acquired by the Government as a domestic service training centre for unemployed young people from what were called at the time, the ‘special areas’ - unemployment hotspots like Tyneside and Wales.
A rather patronising article in the Northern Daily Mail in June 1932 under the heading ‘SUNSHINE SUSIES - how they are solving the servant problem’, reported that the ‘Sunshine Susies of Sydenham Hill’ were the happiest girls in London (‘Sunshine Susies’ was the title of a musical comedy film starring Jack Hulbert produced in 1931). Apparently, there were 40 of them, ‘Welsh girls with dark and dancing eyes, rosy-cheeked Yorkshire lassies, and nimble-witted cockneys’, and they all lived at Lapsewood ‘among the trees and the flowers singing all the time’. And the reason why they were so happy was that they were learning ‘to be first-class domestic maids and are being taught house-wifery, cookery, needlework, and other difficult things.’
Queen Mary visited the house a few days later and was photographed admiring the centre’s mascot, a small dog named Jennifer. Presumably the establishment closed during the war as it was re-let in October 1947 to the Ministry of Education as a hostel for student teachers. Converted into flats In the 1950s, it was finally demolished in the early 1960s. The grounds are now part of the Sydenham Hill Wood managed by the London Wildlife Trust.
For the Gowan family, from Wexford, the Troubles dated back to eighteenth century when 20 year old Philip Gowan made the break from the old country, selling his properties in Tipperary and moving to London to make a new life as an ‘American’ merchant.
Philip Gowan (1778-1856) was descended from Scots who had colonised Ireland in the 17th century as a result of the government-sanctioned Plantation of Ulster, when land was confiscated from members of the Gaelic nobility. Philip’s great-grandfather, John Gowan, had been an officer in William of Orange’s army and had amassed large estates in Wexford. Philip’s uncle, John Hunter Gowan, was an Irish loyalist and leader of the Wingfield Yeomanry, aka the 'Black Mob'. His brutality was infamous and in 1798 his men were responsible for a reign of terror when the Catholic peasants of Wicklow and Wexford rose up against British domination. Men were flogged to death, homes were burned, and suspects were tortured with caps of burning tar. Gowan was said to celebrate the atrocities by stirring his punch with the amputated finger of an elderly man who had admonished him for his crimes by wagging his finger. John Hunter Gowan remains a hate figure in local nationalist tradition.
Philip Gowan was already settled in London when he married Cecilia D’Olier in Dublin in 1814. They lived at first in Bedford Place in Bloomsbury where six of their children were born. Cecilia was descended from a French Huguenot family; her great-grandfather, Isaac Olier, escaped to Holland during the Edict of Nantes, adding the prefix D' to his surname. In 1688 he followed William of Orange to England and then on to Ireland where he became a merchant. Cecilia’s father, Jeremiah D’Olier, was a goldsmith and co-founded the Bank of Ireland. D’Olier Street in Dublin is named for him.
Becoming a member of the London Stock Exchange with offices in Billiter Square, Philip’s firm of Gowan & Marx specialised in trading American bonds and we know Thomas Jefferson traded with them in the 1820s. Gowan & Marx financed Moncure Robinson, who designed a revolutionary locomotive which caused a sensation when it was launched in America; he named the engine ‘Gowan & Marx’ after his backers. The Russian ambassador heard about the engine and tried to persuade Robinson to go to Moscow to build locomotives for the Czar.
It seems likely that it was Philip Gowan’s neighbour at Billiter Square, Charles Druce, legal advisor to the Dulwich Estate, who introduced the Gowan family to Dulwich. Gowan moved to Wood Lawn, then an entire terrace rather than the existing house of the same name at 105 Dulwich Village, in 1822 and lived there until his death in 1856, aged 71. His wife, Cecilia, remained at the house until her death in 1860 and is buried in West Norwood cemetery. Wood Lawn was obviously a happy place for the Gowans and some of the family continued to live there until 1878. It was said that Philip had the 300ft lawn laid with special turf from Epsom Downs - perhaps this is why the house had the word ‘lawn’ in its name.
On 25 January 1833 their son, Charles Cecil Gowan had been baptised at Christ’s Chapel in Dulwich. He grew up at Wood Lawn, the youngest of Philip and Cecilia’s ten children. On 26 January 1860, Charles married Elizabeth Anne Cutcliffe from South Molton in Devon. They lived briefly in Sydenham before moving to The Chestnuts on Dulwich Common.
Charles Gowan (1833-1895) started his working life as a clerk to a wine merchant in the City but around the time of his marriage he left there to join the family firm, which by now had become the City’s principal dealer in US securities. As the British Empire stretched across the globe from Canada to India, Gowan & Marx were well placed to take advantage of the opportunities and business was good.
Gowan & Marx were a successful firm but also behaved with exemplary honour. In 1845 a bond they had offered in St Domingo defaulted, but they reimbursed their subscribers in full. In 1865 when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated the news caused Gowan and Marx to cease trading even though the firm was widely known to be ‘extremely rich with assets far beyond its liabilities’. It opened again a few days later, ‘paying 20s on the pound’ (ie full value) despite the difficult economic environment.
In March 1873 Charles Gowan and his wife moved into Bell House in College Road, just down the road from Charles Gowan’s childhood home.
Charles and Elizabeth had four daughters, Mary, Frances, Alice and Annie and a son, Frederick. They were very much involved in the local Dulwich community, funding coal, blankets and Christmas dinner for the poor and when Charles Gowan recovered from serious ill health, he presented a white altar cloth to Christ’s Chapel ‘as a thank-offering for his recovery’. Their daughter Annie presented some paintings to the Reading Room (now the Old Grammar School) in the Village at the same time. Charles Gowan died in 1895 and Dulwich’s connection with the Gowan family ended.
Although by the time this article is read it will be early Autumn. At the time of writing it is high summer in a season of mixed weather with the trend being towards drought in spite of patches of heavy rain, just sufficient to give temporary protection for our gardens. Fortunately we have been spared the “Beast From The East” this year which apparently damaged both Spring migration and breeding in 2018.
We have had few spring passage migrant records. A Cuckoo was heard on one day in May in Sydenham woods. Cuckoos do use Dunnocks as hosts but with not enough large caterpillars here to feed the young they cannot be expected to try and breed in Dulwich, so migrants will move on.
The good news is that a pair of Little Grebes have once more bred in Dulwich park lake and we have had our summer breeding population of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. Although we have lost the Burbage Road House Martin colony, I have been informed that there is a colony breeding in the Anerley end of Crystal Palace and I have seen a few flying over Dulwich.
The main focus of national ornithological anxiety this year has been the breeding population of Swifts which appears to be diminishing rapidly. The screaming parties have always been part of the English summer and readers may have noticed that there are fewer flying around this year. There has been a national campaign to try and remedy this with a web site www.swiftconservation.org. Steven Robinson has the position of South London Swift Conservation Officer and he has been undertaking a project of making Swift nest boxes at his son’s primary school at Goose Green. He has actively used nest boxes at his own house and has supplied photographs of his boxes together with a picture of Swifts in one of the nests. It is a scruffy jumble of feathers and aerial debris gleaned in flight by the parents which of course cannot alight on the ground. Steven emphasizes that in order to attract Swifts to a new box it is helpful if not essential to use a recording of Swift calls and with his school they have one of these, a Cheng Sheng Tweeter to broadcast to passing Swifts. He is happy to offer advice to anyone contemplating joining the Swift conservation efforts. His e-mail contact is
Historically Swifts nested in holes in trees and in the northern end of their breeding range they still do, but have adapted to utilise holes in houses to which they owe their sizable numbers that presumably grew over the past few hundred years. Houses now have fewer holes these days, but it is possible with new builds to incorporate bricks with holes for the Swifts, which a neighbour of Dave Clark in East Dulwich has done, and with successful Swift colonisation. Alas the lack of nest sites is not their only problem and a reduced number of aphids in the air, essential for nestling food means that the adults have to travel further to get enough to bring back. to feed their young. Steven’s latest photo shows just one nestling in his box whereas two or three might have been expected.
Food for nestlings has become a problem in the times of climate change and a mismatch between availability of such items as small caterpillars and times of hatching is a potent cause of failure. A friend of mine with a camera inside a nest box described to me the unedifying experience of watching his baby Blue Tits die one by one of what appeared to be starvation. Hopefully this will prove to be an exception and there will be better luck next year.
Butterflies seem to be doing better this year with Red Admirals and Painted Ladies coming in as visa free migrants from the continent. The good news is that a Marbled White butterfly usually found on chalk downland but has been noted to be expanding its range. The so called Grass Butterflies ( Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Skippers ) are now on the wing with a plentiful number in Green Dale where there is an uncut field, and once more we have Stag Beetles. Southern Hawker Dragon Flies and azure Damsel Flies featured in an article last year are once more abundant. We are grateful for your records and photographs so do keep them coming.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder
020 7274 4567
Let’s get one thing straight, the importance of feeding wild birds should not be underestimated, it's quite simply massive on many levels. As a business, estimates vary between £200-300 million pounds per annum being generated just in the UK. The fields that grow the seed mixes which fill our feeders are industrial in size and so are the warehouses that store it. As a pastime the number of people who feed wild birds in their gardens or on their balconies varies between 40-50% of all households and this does not even take into account the more informal feeding of our wildfowl in the local park. More importantly this practice has, as yet, an unfulfilled capacity to engage, re-engage and energize our relationship with the natural world. This at a time when there is an increasing recognition in both scientific and social channels of the importance of nature for our physical and mental well being as well as the degradation of the environment and loss of species is becoming a hot topic within mainstream media channels.
But why do we do it?
A few years ago I started to wrestle with this question and to navigate the arduous corridors of academia to give a scientific dimension to any answers. Is it just about a self-centred joy and pleasure we get from this activity or is it about a more altruistic motive, the birds survival.? In going forwards it is always a good idea to check out what has been before and there had been surprisingly little research done on the human part of this common day activity; lots and lots of scientific papers on how feeding may or may not affect birds but little about us.
I'm guessing that we have probably fed birds from when we were cave dwellers, but it is our relationship with bread that gives credence to a long history of feeding wild birds. We've been making bread across societies for over 10,000 years, indicating a change from nomadic to sedentary agricultural lifestyles whilst the breaking of bread cannot be underestimated. It is deeply embedded in our psyches. Across societies and religions it symbolised and symbolises sharing and caring and goes hand in hand with a ritualistic aspect. And where there's grain there's birds. Spread the seed in the chicken coop and the sparrows will congregate.
This religious theme continues through bird feeding history with various hermitic saints practising goodwill to birds and other animals but it's not until the Renaissance and into the 18th century that the factual mentions start to mount up often in the context of a large house with grounds, an upper class household, with crumbs and plenty of largesse.
When we get to the 1890's the practice really accelerates. During this decade Britain is in the throes of chronically hard winters, and in urban centres it was common to see birds in distress and dying through cold and lack of food. In London, Gulls, previously rarely seen inland, were becoming part of the everyday tapestry of the Thames and where two decades previously it was common sport to shoot them, workers were now sharing their lunches with them.
This informal feeding rapidly became more formalised with the introduction of bird feeders and tables. Where once it was winter feeding it's now all year round, where once it was scraps left in the garden, on the windowsill or thrown from a London bridge it is now so sophisticated that seed mixes are being sold on the strength of the types of birds they will attract and by inference the species they may deter,. This plays on the deeply engrained ambivalence we still have for birds. We still eat them, shoot them for sport, but we have favourites and enjoy their antics in our gardens and chase across the country when a rare species flies in.
This history lesson suggests that our motivations are a mix between anthropocentric, e.g. pleasure and ecocentric or aviancentric drivers such as bird survival….but is there more to it than this?
Lets go to the science.
The research itself was based in London and the South east where 30 individuals who fed birds regularly were interviewed in depth about their habits and motivations. These interviews often lasted well over an hour and formed the basis of a disitillation into an online questionnaire in which over 500 people feeding birds took part of which approximately 50% were members of environmental organisations such as the RSPB, BTO and Wildlife Trusts. From this qualitative element nine major themes were elicited which fed into the quantitative part of the research which produced the numbers as expressed graphically within the paper which you can find here:
Pleasure and bird survival were confirmed as the two most important motivators to feed wild birds alongside nurture, being close to nature, children’s education, not wasting food, personal atonement, companionship and making amends. Not all respondents would have all these nine motivations operating but the research showed that such a simple practice has potentially complex themes operating. These drivers have been formed through equally complex cultural roots. With our historical relationships with birds through domestication, pet ownership and garden stewardship, our innate need to be close to nature, themes of austerity reinforced by two world wars and environmental guilt it is now slowly dawning on us how we have negatively impacted on nature. Furthermore for respondents with children there was a strong drive to pass on this interest and a recognition that a trigger to feed is often instilled at a young age.
What was a striking element of the research findings was the real depth of feeling and importance that respondents placed on the practice. 'They are the world to me', 'I don't know what I would do without them', 'I get lost in their world' were just some of the quotes that displayed a profound connection with the birds that visited the respondents gardens.
As with all research more questions than answers have been posed particularly the need to unpick what do we mean by pleasure. From the interviews this pleasure seems to encompass the softer side of the human psyche; spirituality, wonder and awe but also harder edged themes of control, paternalism and domination. The research also suggests the untapped potential for engagement and barriers to engagement as the majority of respondents declared themselves as white and over 35 years old. It should be classless, ageless, raceless and creedless.
In an increasingly urbanised society where urban green spaces are becoming more important yet more threatened there is an increasing concern that millennials will suffer from an extinction of environmental experience. Bird feeding offers a direct interaction with wild animals at home and in communal spaces with little financial investment and very little effort. The trick will be to communicate the over-riding pleasure that can be experienced through feeding birds and the potential care for our environment that this can generate for all of our health and well-being; that's massive.
With a 40 million decline in the UK bird population since the 1970’s, the dawn chorus is not what it was, and we need to act now to prevent further loss of birds and wildlife. This was the message earlier this year from the RSPB, and it released a charity single Let Nature Sing, consisting entirely of birdsong, to publicise the message.
The single reached number 18 in the charts (not that anyone, even my teenage daughters, seems to care about the singles charts these days). It got me thinking about the birds I used to see in our garden or around Dulwich when we moved here 20 years or so ago, but which are no longer present. Sadly, the list is quite long.
House sparrows were in abundance back then but have now disappeared. Greenfinches would outmuscle the tits on the birdfeeder and a Chaffinch would pick up the pieces on the ground underneath. I have not spied either of these finches for several years. Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush would join the Blackbird on the lawn, now it’s just the Blackbird. House Martins would circle the big trees on the playing fields alongside the Swifts and nest in the eaves; the House Martins have gone, and while the Swifts are clinging on their numbers are clearly down. Collared Doves no longer accompany the Woodpigeons, and Starlings are a rarity nowadays.
So what has caused this decline, and what if anything can we do about it at the local level?
While loss of habitat, domestic cats and disease have played a part (disease almost certainly in the case of the Greenfinch), it is generally acknowledged that the decline of insects is the major factor. One of my abiding childhood memories is of my father washing down the front of the car and the windscreen to remove the dead flies after a long drive. No need to do that anymore.
Putting out bird food in our gardens is helpful, particularly to help adult birds through the winter, but does not solve the problem at breeding time that most nestlings need insects not seeds. To try and encourage more insects we can plant bee and butterfly friendly flowers and shrubs like lavender, buddleia, hebe, knapweed and foxglove to name but a few. We can keep a corner of the garden less tidy, go easier on the leaf blower and piling up some of the larger bits of dead wood to make a “bug hotel” rather than putting it all in the brown recycling bin.
Those who watched Springwatch this year know that the BBC have undertaken a Gardenwatch project, encouraging us all to log what wildlife we have in our gardens
currently, and do what we can to make our gardens that bit more wildlife friendly.
It is encouraging to see Southwark and the Estate letting some areas grow wild and creating new wildlife friendly areas such as the wonderful wildflower meadow in Dulwich Park and the new orchard by the Old Grammar School.
On the plus side there are some birds that are now regularly seen in Dulwich that were not here 20 years ago. Goldfinches are thriving in our gardens, thanks largely to the wide availability now of niger seed for our bird feeders. Jackdaws are back. We are all well aware of how well the Ring-necked Parakeets are doing - a mixed blessing given their screeching and propensity to hog some of the best nesting holes, but a colourful new addition, nonetheless.
Some of our old favourites seem to be doing as well as ever. Blue Tits and Great Tits abound, the Blackbird’s song continues to light up summer evenings, the Great Spotted Woodpecker seems firmly established as a garden bird now, and I am regularly woken up of a morning by the yaffle cry of a Green Woodpecker. There is still a lot of local wildlife to savour.
Let’s hope in another 20 years’ time I am not reminiscing about the days when we had blackbirds on the lawn, but rather I am thinking how good it is to have the song thrush back alongside them.
Dulwich Choral Society is marking its 75th anniversary this year in style with a concert of Bach’s Magnificat and Ascension Oratorio in November at All Saints, West Dulwich, following a memorable performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah at Cadogan Hall in April, which drew an audience of almost 500. The Society recently completed a multi-year Bach cycle including performances of the Christmas Oratorio at the Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich, and the St. Matthew Passion at Cadogan Hall.
The choir has gone from strength to strength over the past 13 years under the baton of Music Director Aidan Oliver, who was also appointed this year as Chorus Master at Glyndebourne, a role he added to his existing commitments as Chorus Director of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and founding director of Philharmonia Voices.
Dulwich Choral Society (DCS) was launched in 1944 as an evening class of both singers and orchestral players, focused on classical repertoire with a particular emphasis on sacred music. Over the years it has performed regularly under a succession of conductors, the first being Leonard Rafter, a composer and Dulwich resident. In 1962 Graham Stewart took over, and he led the choir for the next thirty years. During that time Stewart steadily built up membership and musical capability with increasingly ambitious performances.
He was replaced in 1993 by a young keyboard player Susan Farrow, and under her leadership a number of less commonly heard works were performed. During this period, the choir also started biennial trips to European venues, including Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2004 on the choir’s 60th anniversary, where it gave performances in Sarajevo and Mostar. Our most recent trip last year was to the Amalfi coast and the cathedrals of Sorrento, Salerno and Ravello.
DCS currently performs two main concerts a year with professional orchestras or ensembles and soloists, as well as a summer concert of lighter music and a charity Christmas carol concert. It collaborates with local school choirs and puts on workshops and 'Come and Sing' events. We welcome new members, and if you would like to try us out, please visit dulwichchoral.com
Biographer, music writer and Old Alleynian Patrick Humphries, was persuaded to write this compendium of five of Dulwich College’s most famous authors over tea in the Master’s study, a place where in his schooldays he feared being summoned for a caning., If Patrick did not excel academically at the College, he was in good company; neither did all of his subjects; indeed, only one, A E W Mason, famous as author of ‘The Four Feathers’, went on to university, the others left the school for pretty mundane jobs in banks, wine warehouses and accountancy. However, both Mason and PG Wodehouse were extrovert enough to appear (briefly) in drama productions although Wodehouse favoured G & S even as a member of the chorus. Mason, who lived in newly built Kingswood Drive was a keen member of the College’s cadet force.
Raymond Chandler seems ‘content’ with his schooldays at Dulwich and like Wodehouse had a lasting affection for it, even sending food parcels from the USA to his old Classics master during WW2, but he initially showed only modest signs of his future skill as a thriller writer, becoming a instead an adolescent ‘flaneur ‘ in Paris soon after leaving school. This experience left him with not only a window into a seamier side of life which would be useful in years to come, but also a dependency on alcohol. Surprisingly, he then entered the Civil Service (third out of 600 candidates at the entrance exam) with a position at the Admiralty. Writing occasional columns for newspapers and reviews and poems for magazines, hardly sustained him and he even fell back on Dulwich for employment as a Classics supply teacher for a year. Moving to California he became an accountant, first in a dairy company before becoming an executive in an oil company. It was not until 1938, when Chandler was aged 50, and over thirty years after he left the College, that his first book - The Big Sleep was published but then his success, if belated became unstoppable. It is suggested that the name of his world-weary hero, Philip Marlowe, was borrowed from one of the names of the College’s Houses.
Denis Wheatley was at Dulwich for less than a year, probably much to the relief of both parties. He loathed it, just like C S Forester and he left to become a cadet on a naval training ship. His books were hugely popular between the wars when he was the nation’s best selling author, and Humphries, who had a soft spot for Wheatley’s novels when he was a youngster, says that his books would be seen today as anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist and misogynistic (are there any other failings left!) but otherwise were all jolly good at the time.
Of course, it is Wodehouse who has most space devoted to him. His love of his old school verged on the side of obsession and can only be explained if you consider that with his parents away in the Far East for his entire youth, and brought up instead by aunts, the College was his real family -then it all makes sense. Patrick Humphries draws on his extensive knowledge of the music world to let the reader know what a force Plum was in musical theatre and Hollywood as a librettist.
All five chosen authors occupy the furrows of a well-ploughed field of literary biography, but this study brings out interesting facets of each and are spliced with the biographer’s own memories of their shared alma mater. If Dulwich College was their writing cradle, Humphries shows us that Hollywood’s film studios became their main avenue to fame,
In fact, Patrick Humphries himself had to overcome obstacles much more challenging than his subjects of this, his twenty-first book, While he was at Dulwich his academic work suffered and sport became a no-go activity after he lost a leg to cancer as a schoolboy.
A Cradle of Writers by Patrick Humphries is available from Dulwich College Commissariat price £20. Hardback 221 pages with illustrations
On 8th June at All Saints Church, West Dulwich, South London Community Music held a gala concert to celebrate 25 years of service from Bob Bridges. Over that time, Bob has provided his passion, dedication and expertise as conductor and music director for the Southwark Concert Band (now known as South London Symphonic Winds), the South London Jazz Orchestra and London Sings! The following tributes are typical of the many paid to him at the concert:
“I remember when Bob first arrived at the Southwark Concert Band in 1995. We had 21 members, hardly any percussion, and huge gaps in instrumentation. We had only one trumpet - bad news for a concert band.” - JS
“When we first met Bob, he talked about a five-year plan. I was treasurer and was worried about simply paying the rent for our weekly rehearsals, and having to tell the band we did not have the funds for new music at the moment. Bob said he wanted a band of 60 players, a full percussion section, two formal concerts a year in prestigious venues, more engagement with the community and to spend at least £1,000 a year on new music.” - PM
Paul Millington, who co-founded the South London Jazz Orchestra with Bob, interviews him about his work and experiences with community music on both sides of the Atlantic.
Bob, these are just two of the many wonderful tributes from band members. You have left quite some legacy. When we first met some 25 years ago, you had a very strong commitment to community music. How did this come about?
I was very fortunate to have a family where music was a strong part of our heritage. My paternal grandmother was Ethel Bridges, a well-known composer. As a child, she was once invited to play the piano for a select group at a reception in San Francisco, and rather scandalised the high society audience by playing ragtime music. Her brother was the well-respected 20th century concert pianist Charles Cooper. I remember parties at the San Francisco home of Charles and his wife, pianist Marie Cooper, where, at two grand pianos, Great Uncle Charles played and discussed duets with renowned 20th century cellist Pablo Casals, who was a family friend.
At school, I was always studying music scores, which I found quite easy to memorise, so that from the age of 12, it was an easy step to conducting music groups at school. When my Uncle Ray, then a talent agent located in Beverley Hills, saw me conducting light operetta at the age of 14, he gave me introductions to various professional conducting opportunities. An association with the Deutscher Musik Verein (DMV) of San Francisco, which was a community organisation open to all ages and abilities, followed several years later. All this as I pursued the dual track of my education and professional conducting career. During those 15 years I developed my early sense of the unique issues of community music, which generally does not have the support resources of their professional counterpart. My connection with DMV allowed me to conduct many concerts with the band and I had extended experience with their string orchestra, and by affiliation with the northern California German and Swiss choirs.
While in high school, I wanted to conduct more large-scale symphonic band repertoire and took the initiative of forming the South San Francisco Summer Symphony, using university rehearsal and performance space, generously loaned to me. These large spaces were not in use during the summer months, and by leafleting many San Francisco peninsula communities, aided by publicity through personal contacts, a very large wind orchestra and several smaller music ensembles were developed. These groups performed to substantial audiences. I managed and conducted this summer season for eight years.
It was apparent to me that good organisation and sound finances were fundamental to any music group which aimed for long-term successes, and community groups were full of enthusiastic volunteers who were prepared to do what was necessary to organise the rehearsals and concerts. So, yes, the answer to your question is that I am a big fan of community music groups.
Did you listen to contemporary music?
Yes, of course. I regularly attended the Monterey Jazz Festival while I lived in California. I remember I was quite young when I talked to Dave Brubeck and Ella Fitzgerald backstage and complimented them on the beauty of their music. In retrospect they were each very polite to indulge the fawning comments of such a young admirer.
I suppose your music career did not provide you with much of an income?
That’s right. During my teen years, I had virtually no expenses and a surprisingly substantial conducting income, but it was clear to me that my personal assets were not something on which I wanted to rely in the future. Anticipating the inevitability of a family one day, I included economics in my university studies, and so became a stockbroker in my 20s and later moved into investment banking. This began some years of a day career in finance and of evenings conducting community music.
When at last I had some financial comfort, I was persuaded by my children to leave this very high-pressure work environment and indulge my love of the performing arts again. I completed an MFA degree in Conducting at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), which involved conducting many music ensembles. Also, as a lover of theatre, I took out a lease on a property in Melrose Place in order to run a fringe theatre, putting on quality productions with up-and-coming actors in front of small audiences, often including local LA and Hollywood celebrities.
How did you come to live in London?
Well, UCLA had a reciprocal arrangement with the Royal College of Music in London and regularly exchanged music staff. As the theatre lease was about to expire, my next move was to London where I was offered a teaching residency at the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music, by the director Dame Janet Ritterman. Also, I wanted to do some research on a distant relation of mine also named Robert Bridges who was the British Poet Laureate from 1913 for 17 years until he died. This allowed me to hone and co-mingle my meagre writing, genealogy and cinema interests.
Soon after I arrived in London, I saw that the Southwark Concert Band were looking for a music director and conductor, and it was a community band, which seemed a good opportunity to work with amateur musicians in the UK.
I remember you impressing our small committee when we first met you. You had ideas for our expansion with a five-point plan to be achieved within five years. After the meeting, I remember reminding the others that Americans are inclined to exaggerate a little. But in fact, we achieved those objectives in under two years. Also, we kept having to change venues for our two formal concerts a year, in order to accommodate the size of the band and ever-increasing audience.
What were your ideas on repertoire at that time?
The concert band were playing quite a lot of popular tunes, Gilbert and Sullivan medleys, marches, and many arrangements of orchestral music, that sometimes did not work very well for concert band. We needed to spend at least £1,000 on new music every year. There is a lot of music especially composed for concert band, and better arrangements of classical music available. Also, we needed some instrumental features for particular players to play, and of course some American favourites.
Yes, we always groaned at rehearsal when you called out for the book of Sousa’s Marches, because they were quite difficult to play musically, especially up to speed, but they are extremely well-composed short pieces with lovely counterpoint melodies, and were great for encores. We always enjoyed The Liberty Bell and The Stars and Stripes Forever, and loved hearing the piccolo part trilling away over the top.
Had you always thought that our community band should be looking to start other ensembles?
Yes, that was always the way in the States - people wanted to play other types of music, and a community organisation with enthusiastic people was a great way to achieve this.
I remember, five years in, when we first talked about starting up a jazz swing band. We were standing at the bar in The Fox on the Hill after an SCB rehearsal on a Thursday night and I casually mentioned starting up a new band under the SCB community umbrella. You listed the issues to be addressed, and I told you that I had borrowed some charts, several SCB players were going to come along to rehearsal, a draft flyer was ready, and we just needed a grant to fund rehearsals for a few weeks, and did Wednesday evenings fit in with your diary? You were incredibly supportive and it really took off.
This November 3rd will be the 20th anniversary of the South London Jazz Orchestra’s first rehearsal, when 19 people showed up.
Nineteen tentative members! A far cry from today’s membership roster. It was no surprise to me that if sufficient people buy in to the project with excitement, then the enthusiasm rubs off onto others and anything can be achieved.
At the time our favourite motto was “Build it and they will come”, and that certainly happened.
Do you remember our first gig, the following May at The Half Moon in Herne Hill? It was packed with friends and the audience response was just unbelievable. We must have played American Patrol, Satin Doll and Splanky many hundreds of times since then, but that first time, the audience reaction was exhilarating.
What have been the highlights for you over these 25 years?
So many; it is difficult to pick them out. Many formal SCB concerts with 75 players in Dulwich College Great Hall, years of children’s concerts at the Dulwich Festival with guest celebrities such as Brenda Blethyn narrating Peter and the Wolf, raising funds for many charities, SLJO performing at the Stockholm Jazz Festival and the Montreux Jazz Festival, and the concert band touring the Champagne region of France, and all the other foreign tours. Playing many 100 Club gigs for swing dancers, hearing the choir singing difficult arrangements, including in 2018 a multi-choir and intimate instrumental ensemble performance of John Rutter’s stunning Requiem - too many to list in full.
But actually, more than all these performances, the way band members have welcomed and encouraged new players who may never have played in a band before, and helped them improve as musicians, giving them confidence and new friendships. The spirit in all the groups has always been very uplifting. I have always hoped that my own ethos of group members welcoming, befriending and supporting each other would permeate each ensemble if they saw those characteristics from the leadership. I leave it to others to judge whether this has been achieved.
And you have been the catalyst for all of this. How have you handled ‘musical differences’ over the years?
We have always encouraged discussions about the musical direction of each band. There are always players who wish to play various musical styles, and over the years there have been many spin-off bands and smaller ensembles created by musicians who first met in our community bands. Quite often, they also continue to play in SLCM. I can think of at least a dozen other groups that would probably not exist if the players had not met in SLCM bands - not to mention several marriages, and many close friendships.
How have you managed to keep all the people involved in performances? In particular with SLJO, who have around 80 regular players at rehearsals and around 120 subscribed members ?
For the bigger venues, it is not too big a problem because not everyone is available for every gig in any case, although the SLJO rhythm section do have to work out a rota amongst themselves, because six drummers, guitarists, keyboard players or bassists all playing at the same time would be rather overpowering! For the smaller venues, we organise a rota so that everyone gets a chance to play in a 17-20-piece band, and sometimes we send out a smaller band where just background music is required. It is a lot of work for the committee but it keeps everyone involved. We are playing gigs most weekends and normally have a couple of tours in the diary, so everyone gets to play quite regularly if they want to.
So, having stepped down from some of your responsibilities in SLCM, what will you do with your time now?
I will still be conducting London Sings! and hope to maintain close connections with the other bands. I have always been involved with social charities in the USA, in Switzerland and the UK, most recently with issues such as homelessness and housing shortages, substance abuse, fair treatment of refugees, and mental health. These are still very worrying social issues that need support. I will have more time for concert going and art exhibitions, and will be able to more regularly visit my family in the States and my three young grandchildren, in particular.
Bob, you deserve to have some leisure time now, as you have worked tirelessly over the last 25 years and established a formidable legacy. Many thanks again from all of us who have found our feet as musicians - sometimes against all expectations - and have played prestigious venues and festivals, have made many friends, and have had a lot of fun in the process. Thanks, Maestro.
The New Conductors of SLCM
Dimitri Chrysostomou became conductor of South London Symphonic Winds in August 2018. Born and raised in London, Dimitri read music at the University of Birmingham, studied classical saxophone at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and has conducted the University of Birmingham Wind Band. He has conducted many string quartets, wind bands, symphony orchestras and choirs, including performances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and seven European tours. He is also currently assistant musical director with the John Lewis Partnership Music Society.
James Keirle was appointed conductor of the South London Jazz Orchestra in September 2018. James plays piano, trombone and tuba. He has a Masters in Composition at the University of Manchester, where he conducted the University Brass Band for three years, winning the National University Brass Band Competition two years running and also being named Best Conductor. James also led the University Big Band for three years and founded a 10-piece jazz ensemble in his native Guernsey. He is also currently conductor of the Holborn Community Orchestra and works as a music teacher, composer and performer.
The South London Jazz Orchestra celebrates its 20th birthday on the evening of 9th November at the Wheatsheaf Hall in Vauxhall.
Other upcoming Concerts can be found at the websites of:
South London Community Music - limited company, registered charity
South London Symphonic Winds
South London Jazz Orchestra