The Dulwich Society Journal for Spring 2014.
There are two subjects which are currently exercising the minds of some Dulwich people. They are not necessarily the same people.
The first is the matter of the future of Dulwich’s sports fields, open spaces, parks and woods. A look on Google, focused on Dulwich reveals plenty of open space, admittedly a lot less than say before World War 2. Then, if Google had been invented, further great swathes of open land would have been revealed in both north and south Dulwich, at the extremities of the Dulwich Estate. Go back even further, to pre-World War 1 and a great deal more would be visible, private parkland now covered by the Casino estate on Red Post Hill and the subject of Bernard Nurse’s article, ‘Homes fit for Heroes’.
What remains is still extensive and perhaps an anomaly in suburban London. Let’s take the Woods for instance. You will read elsewhere in this journal, of the late Stella Benwell’s spectacular success in opposing the development of the sites of two former houses, Lapsewood and Beechgrove, by the predecessors of the Dulwich estate. It appears that this land is not preserved for the public forever, but rather is still controlled by the Dulwich Estate and not included in the Sydenham Hill Wood remit to the London Wildlife Trust. Which is rather a clumsy way of saying, that given unlimited resources a further legal contest could one day ensue.
However, more pressing is the apparent need for Dulwich’s surviving sports’ clubs, especially those who cater for young people, to pay their way, especially with last year’s very wet winter and this year’s absolutely appalling one. Grounds cannot be used so income falls. What to do? A solution come up with by some struggling clubs is to turn their premises into daytime educational facilities which will help pay the rent. The problem is that a conflict of interest occurs when the premises are too small and an extended building is deemed to be required. Questions arise of course, whether clubs are paying too much in rent, or whether additional use, say by schools, might alleviate the problem
This question will be discussed at a Public Meeting at the Crown & Greyhound, Dulwich Village on 18th March.
The second subject exercising minds is the adequacy of local provision of education, i.e. are there enough local free schools, either primary or secondary? Some readers will remember a distant time when London school rolls were falling so fast that schools were closed and the buildings sold off. However, what we now seem to have is a return to the demand of the 1890’s, when the population of Dulwich, and especially East Dulwich, expanded at such a rate that few vacant sites remained for schools. The schools that were built were three-deckers with minimal playground space.
We seem to be reaching that stage again. Three sites present themselves locally for schools. The smallest, the former East Dulwich police station on Lordship Lane has already been earmarked for purchase by the Education Funding Authority. But is it large enough? A more spacious site, but one which is being fought over by several other interests, is the Dulwich Hospital site. The last, with the tantalising possibility of using nearby sports’ fields, is the site of the former Grove Tavern at the junction of Dulwich Common and Lordship Lane. It would be irresponsible if these options were not considered by the people of Dulwich. What may be required is a second public meeting where the facts could be presented and options discussed.
Over the last three months, three issues of the society's eNewsletter have been sent out to all those members whose emails we have. The response has been very positive and, if you have not received yours, please send your email to address to
Progress is being made on the Dulwich Archive at Rosebery Lodge and we are looking for members who would like to be part of a team to organise and run it. If you are interested please also email
Dulwich has been a busy place over the last two months. The works to the railway bridges in Croxted Road, Rosendale Road and Village Way have caused an amount of traffic chaos, not helped by the unexpected closure of the latter at the end of January when a leak was spotted in a water main under the bridge.
There has been a serious outbreak of graffiti in Dulwich Village. Southwark Council's graffiti removal team has been dealing with it and the local safer neighbourhood police team have changed their shift patterns in response. Report graffiti on the 24 hour hotline 0207 525 2000 or online at http://www.southwark.gov.uk/info/200089/street_cleaning/422/graffiti Please also contact the police on 101 or
Complaints about Gail's bakery are growing, particularly over the number of cycles and motor cycles being parked illegally on the pavement while their owners go inside to buy their coffees. There have also been problems over the outside tables affecting on the width of the pavement left for pedestrians.
Some members are also becoming increasingly concerned over the future of the local sports grounds and playing fields. While there have been successes like the Herne Hill Velodrome where a planning application for the new club house is imminent, there are queries over the future of several other areas where the existing tenant either wants to leave or is having problems paying the rent. A current case is the future of the Southwark Community Sports Trust sports ground, backing on to the southeast side of Turney Road, where residents' objections are now appearing to be impacting on the proposed flood alleviation scheme in the area.
To try and find out how members feel about sports grounds the Society will be holding a public meeting on the 18th March at the Crown and Greyhound in the Village at 7.30pm. More information will be available nearer the time in the eNewsletter and on the Society notice board in the village.
The restoration of the traffic island at the Burbage Road junction with Gallery Road is expected to happen in the shortly. The consultation was completed in December.
The Garden Group
John Ward has retired after 20 years as Chair of the Group. The Society is very grateful to John for the huge effort he has put into the Group’s activities. He will be succeeded by Jeremy Prescott. Jeremy is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic gardener and opens his garden for both the National Gardens Scheme and St. Christopher’s. We wish him every success.
Enclosed with this issue is the 2014 edition of Dulwich Gardens open for Charity. It has been edited by Ann Rutherford. We are sure that you will find it a very useful pictorial guide to local garden openings and associated events.
The Dulwich Society Garden Group is presenting an illustrated talk by Valerie Muir ‘What’s different about Organic Growing?’ on Thursday 24th April at Belair Recreation Centre, Gallery Road. Admission free. 7.30 pm for 8.00pm (Refreshments served at 7.30 pm). Non - members welcome.
St Peter’s Church, Dulwich Common
After several years of negotiation between the Deeper Life Bible Church and Southwark planning department, concerning car parking on the site, planning consent was finally granted in December 2013 for alterations to and the refurbishment of the stone boundary wall and decorative cast iron railings on the church’s front boundary wall. Primarily promoted by the Dulwich Society, the work will be funded by a Cleaner Greener Safer grant from Southwark Council, a Heritage for London Trust grant, the Deeper Life Bible Church and the Dulwich Society.
This will be an additional improvement to the area following the Dulwich Society’s other successful promotion of improvements at the eastern end of Dulwich Common. Notably, the alterations to the metal wicket gate at Cox’s Walk to allow buggies and small bicycles to access the walk, and the replacement of the unsightly remnants of the concrete post and mesh fencing along the frontage of the Streatham and Marlborough Cricket Club with an Oak paling fence, which has now weathered down to a light grey.
The Society now has around 25% of its members’ email addresses and the first two monthly eNewsletters were sent out at the beginning and end of December - a copy has been put up in the notice board outside the Village Post office. If you wish to receive it please send your email address to the membership secretary at
Rosebery Lodge, Dulwich Park
The Society has now agreed a draft lease with the Council to take over Rosebery Lodge in Dulwich Park as a local archive, museum and community facility. Refurbishment work on the building began in January and the aim is to have everything up and running by the Dulwich Festival in May.
East Dulwich Police Station
The Dulwich area is very short of new school places and the site has been identified as a possible site for a new school. Following concerns that the site would be sold for commercial development the Society submitted an application to have the police station identified as an asset of community value under the Community Right to Bid legislation.
Judith Kerr Free School
Members of the main committees of both The Dulwich and Herne Hill Societies were shown round the new school by the head at the end of last year. There are approximately 90 children there at the moment and this will increase to 150 in September 2014. The eventual school role will be 350 and there is proving to be considerable interest from local families.
The school is run by the CfBT Education Trust who also manage Oakfield School on Thurlow Park Road. The Half Moon Lane site used to be the King’s College London’s Sir James Black Laboratories and the existing building appears to have lent itself well to conversion into a school.
Crystal Palace redevelopment
The drop in session on the Chinese ZhongRong Group’s proposed reconstruction of the Crystal Palace building was very well attended and the project managers advertised for architects during December. It is clear that London Mayor Boris Johnson and the London Borough of Bromley are very keen on the scheme but the Dulwich Society is concerned that there are no representatives on the project’s steering group from either Southwark or Lambeth. The potential environmental impact on the Dulwich area from the increase in traffic is considerable and the Society is watching the proposal carefully. Unless there is parking is banned on site, people will drive to it, and Dulwich sits on the direct route south from central London.
We had a good response to our request for more volunteers to help deliver the Journal but we always need more. If you enjoy walking around the area, and have the time to help out, please contact the chairman on
Proposed redevelopment of the Crown and Greyhound into a Hotel
Dulwich College new Science
Block (computer generated impression - Grimshaw design)
Dulwich Society Newsletter Digitalisation
For the past ten years, firstly the Newsletter and more recently the Journal have been available to be read online and this has been a valuable tool for anyone interested in Dulwich. The Archives Department of Dulwich College has now offered to digitalise the earlier issues. Our secretary, Patrick Spencer has a complete run for our own archives with the exception of nos.58 & 72. He would be very grateful if any member could supply these. The digitalization process requires a second set which can be taken apart. There is a second set but we are missing Newsletters 85, 88, 94, 98, 103-4. Can you help?
THE DULWICH SOCIETY ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
Notice is hereby given that the 51st Annual General Meeting of The Dulwich Society will be held at 8.00pm on Monday 28th April 2014 at St Barnabas Church Community Suite, Calton Avenue, SE21 7DG.
1. Minutes of the 50th Annual General Meeting held on 9th April 2013 to be approved.
2. Chairman’s Report
3. Secretary’s Report.
4. Treasurer’s Report and presentation of accounts for 2013.
5. Appointment of Honorary Auditor.
6. Reports from Sub-Committee Chairmen.
7. Elections for 2014-2015. President, Vice-Presidents, Officers, Executive Committee.
8. Any Other Business.
Note: Nominations for election as an Officer or Member of the Executive Committee must be submitted in writing to the Secretary by two members not later than fourteen days before 28th April 2014 and must be endorsed by the candidate in writing. (Rule 9).
Patrick Spencer Hon. Secretary
7 Pond Cottages SE21 7LE
Minutes of the Annual General Meeting 2013, the Chairman’s report and reports of the Sub-Committee Chairmen for 2013 may be seen on the Dulwich Society Website www.dulwichsociety.com A hard copy may be obtained by application to the Secretary.
As useful as a Chocolate Teapot!
Users of North Dulwich Station will be either amused or mystified to see that Railtrack have installed disability boarding ramps to assist wheelchair passengers alighting from trains at North Dulwich Station. The only obstacle which now confronts the disabled, (apart from giving 24 hours notice to travel), is how to get their wheelchairs up the 30 steps from the platform. Is it not about time that lifts were installed at North Dulwich, West Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Stations?
Dulwich Festival 9th-18th May
With Spring just around the corner, it isn't long before the Dulwich Festival bursts into life for another ten days of exciting arts events. Running from 9th-18th May, the 21st Dulwich Festival continues its tradition of drawing internationally acclaimed artists, musicians and authors together - alongside familiar faces in the local community - to celebrate the local area.
The Festival opens with a fascinating talk - Life, Death and the Limits of the Human Body with Dr Adam Rutherford & Dr Kevin Fong - on Friday 9th May. Internationally acclaimed chamber musicians The Chilingirian Quartet promise to give a spell-binding performance on Wednesday 14th May at Christ's Chapel in association with the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery.
For those of you who remember The Tiger Who Came To Tea, the In Conversation With session with the popular book's author and illustrator Judith Kerr is a must. Judith will be speaking on Monday 12th May. In her 90th year, this remarkable woman has not only produced some of the best-known children's books, but also faced extraordinary challenges growing up as a child in Hitler's Germany. Hear all about her escape from Hitler - an experience which inspired another classic book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, and her long and varied life since then. A fascinating evening!
2014 not only marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, but is also the 70th anniversary of the mass breakout from Stalag Luft III in March 1944, masterminded by Roger Bushell and immortalised in the Hollywood film The Great Escape. Hear a vivid account of the escape from Simon Pearson, Times journalist and author of the first biography of Roger Bushell on Tuesday 13th May.
The ever-popular Scratch Come & Sing event returns on Sunday 11th May at the Holst Hall, JAGS. Opportunities to explore the local area abound with the return of Artists' Open House showcasing the visual arts throughout hundreds of spaces in the area, as well as wonderful architectural, tree, history and street art walks planned across both weekends of the Festival. Follow Festival developments as they happen via our social media: www.dulwichfestival.co.uk / twitter.com/dulwichfestival / facebook.com/dulwichfestival
DULWICH SOCIETY FESTIVAL EVENTS
Sunday 11th May Dulwich Society Local History Walk led by Ian McInnes - 'Dulwich Village centre’ - The appearance of the centre of the Village is shortly to change with the proposed redevelopment of the S G Smith site. This walk will look at the history and development of the immediate area over the 100 plus years from 1850 to 1980. Meet on the corner of Turney Road and Dulwich Village opposite Dulwich Hamlet School. Walks at 2pm and 4pm. Suitable for wheelchair users
Tuesday 13th May Dulwich Society Trees Walk in Dulwich Park led by Letta Jones. Meet at the Court Lane entrance at 6pm
Sunday 18th May Dulwich Society Local History Walk led by Brian Green - An exploration of North Dulwich, its Georgian houses and its significance in the histories of World War 1 and World War 2 . Also visiting the sites of the Gaumont Film Studios and the World’s second largest telescope!. Meet at the Crown & Greyhound. Walks at 12noon and 2.30pm. Suitable for wheelchair users.
Inspired by the Subway
Next to the unmissable Crystal Palace transmitting station, hidden amongst the foliage lies a remnant from the heyday of the Crystal Palace. Underneath the main road, is a fan-vaulted pedestrian subway, built to link the High Level Rail Station to the famed Crystal Palace.
Closed formally since 1954, the Subway has continued to be used in many inspiring ways. In World War II it was an air-raid shelter, while in more recent years it was used in a Cadbury’s Wispa advert and featured in Chemical Brother’s Setting Sun music video.
Today the Friends of Crystal Palace Subway is working with local authorities to reopen the Subway and provide access to this unique piece of local heritage. As such, a Heritage Lottery funded project titled Inspired by the Subway was set up to work in conjunction with local volunteers and after-school childrens’ art groups to research, conduct oral histories and communicate the history of the Subway.
These findings and oral histories will be presented in an exhibition during Open House London on the 20th and 21st of September 2014.
Anyone wishing to share their memories or materials please contact Sue Giovanni at 07956 861052 or email her at
Living in one of Dulwich remaining Pre-Fabs
Peter Mendham has lived in one of Dulwich’s last pre-fabs since it was built at the end of World War 2. Peter’s family originally came from Swindon but during the war had lived with Peter’s grandparents in a tiny house in St George’s Way, Peckham. When Peter’s father was demobbed after the war the family were anxious for somewhere larger and jumped at the chance of moving into a prefab, one of four, built on the site of a bombed doctor’s surgery in Lordship Lane close to the junction with Townley Road.
The pre-fab offered central heating, a bathroom, a refrigerator and most luxurious of all, an indoor toilet, none of which was in the Peckham house. The rent was 7/- per week. Each pre-fab was sited in a good sized plot and many of the occupiers became keen gardeners. Peter Mendham is no exception and his garden (see photograph taken in November 2013) remains a superb example.
Camberwell Council erected 519 ‘prefabricated bungalows’ and the London County Council a further 611 in the borough (Dulwich, Camberwell and Peckham) to alleviate the chronic housing shortage caused by war damage. However, corrugated iron Nissen huts were probably included in this number. The history of prefabricated houses is a long one, but the design of many of those built after the end of the war were based on an American design and many were imported before manufacture in Britain got underway. It was originally estimated that they had a lifespan of 10 years. They have certainly lasted longer than that.
Stella died in January at the age of 93. She grew up in Oundle, Northamptonshire, where her father was the vicar. Her life-long interest in wildlife was stimulated by her parents who were keen birders and enjoyed long tramps in the Welsh hills. Stella attended a boarding school for daughters of the clergy in Derbyshire, continuing into the sixth form which numbered seven students! She applied for entry to Cambridge but was deemed to be too young so instead she enrolled at Bedford College, University of London to read philosophy. The demands of World War 2 determined that Bedford College would relocate to Cambridge so in a way her original ambition was realised. It was whilst living in digs at Cambridge that she met her future husband Christopher who was a fellow boarder at the house. They married during World War 2 and Stella served as a Lady Almoner, what we would call today a social worker, at the Brompton Hospital. Meanwhile Christopher was serving in the 8th Army in the Western Desert and Italy. At the end of the war he joined the Civil Service and the family settled in Court Lane in 1951. A secondment to the NATO HQ in Paris meant that Stella and their three daughters accompanied him and they lived in Paris for three years. Coming back to Dulwich in 1957 they moved into Calton Avenue. Latterly Stella lived in Dovercourt Road.
Once in Dulwich, Stella volunteered to work for the Care in the Community scheme at Sudbourne School, Brixton and then took a teaching certificate and taught at Rosendale Junior School where she remained until her retirement in 1980. She remained in education by helping with pupils’ reading at Dog Kennel Hill School. She then started on her third career, as an active member of the Dulwich community.
She was an early recruit to Dulwich Picture Gallery and one of its first volunteer guides. Gillian Wolfe says that the education programme at the Gallery began through an idea Stella suggested to the then Director, Giles Waterfield. As he had earlier been in charge of education at the Royal Pavilion at Brighton he was very keen. Stella was the first person to support Gillian’s efforts on her appointment to the Gallery in 1984 and she continued to be associated with the Gallery as a guide and teacher and at one time had responsibility for the garden.
At the same time she also became a very active member of The Dulwich Society and was chairman of the Trees Committee for over twenty five years. Her most significant success was her campaign, in the company of Ronnie Reed and David Freeman to preserve an area of Dulwich Woods which was under threat of redevelopment for housing. Stella also had a keen eye for an open space that needed trees, or several, and over the years she saw the planting of trees in Horniman Triangle, Long Meadow (Gipsy Hill), and Belair Park. Full of ideas, she was delighted that her scheme for a map of Dulwich’s notable trees came to fruition and was so successful that it was reprinted and is now in its second edition. In latter years she turned her attention to arranging an autumn coach outing to look at trees outside of Dulwich. These trips were always oversubscribed and most rewarding.
Somehow Stella also found time to be an active member of the Dulwich Park Friends. In that capacity one of her great achievements was to oversee the planting of the copse and nature trail in the Park, made possible by a winding-up donation by the Dulwich Village Preservation Society in 2007. Now, seven years later, the copse is well established and there is a shady native woodland in a corner of the park. She also joined Isaac Marks in the creation of the winter garden in the Bandstand Field thereby creating a splash of colour in a barren season of the year.
Stella received more than one civic award from Southwark Council and typically she wanted to know what all the fuss was about. The thought of being honoured for her work never entered her head. Her mind and sense of humour were fully active until the last. She joked that she would like to be visited by anyone with a bad cold or chest infection to speed her departure.
Nick Earle was a very familiar figure around Dulwich, almost the typical vicar you might have thought, with a Panama hat, a clerical collar and urgent step, who, when greeted, invariably broke into a beaming smile. But while he was a priest for most of his life, his day job was in education. For this he was well equipped, a formidable intellect coupled with a firm grounding in the Classics and an enjoyment of literature. It might therefore come as a surpise to those that did not know him well that he was an outstanding mathematician.
He gained a First in maths at Trinity College, Cambridge, returning after National Service in the Scots Guards, to take another first in Theology also at Trinity. Curacies in Bristol, New York and Aldgate followed. In 1961 he was appointed to the Maths post at Dulwich College.
The Venerable Robin Turner CB who was in his last year at the College when Nick was appointed writes:
When his controversial book, What’s Wrong with the Church? was published in 1961, I well remember the stir it caused. This tended to give Nick a reputation of an enfant terrible at the time, though I suspect much of what he wrote then would be considered uncontroversial today. The subsequent publication in, as I recall 1963, of Bishop John Robinson’s book Honest to God caused an even greater stir and I suspect to some extent eclipsed the impact of Nick’s book.
I got to know Nick personally much later when I returned to the College as Chaplain on my retirement from the Royal Air Force Chaplains’ Branch in 1998. By this time Nick had settled back in North Dulwich and he used to be a fairly frequent visitor to the Masters’ Common Room where we would often chat over a cup of coffee. By this time he had resigned his Orders as a Priest in the Church of England and naturally we spent some of our time discussing his reasons for this. In these discussions I came to admire him as a man of courage and principle.
As is well known, in November 1998 the Church of England General Synod took the historic decision to ordain women into the Priesthood. In order to accommodate those for whom this decision was unacceptable the Church came up with the solution of the “two integrities” thus preserving a semblance of unity within the Church of England. For Nick, integrity was indivisible and he, though fully supportive of women’s ministry, felt he could no longer hold office in an organisation which propounded what he saw as dishonest and inimical to his concept of the Church and the Christian Gospel.
This did not mean a cessation to his commitment to truth. Perhaps this is best illustrated by a little book he published in 1998 Does God Make Sense? This slim volume, a copy of which I still have on my shelves as a gift from him and which I have recently re-read, tackles in an approachable way the meaning of the language used in the philosophy of religion. It is dedicated to “The staff and pupils of James Allen’s Girls’ School” and illustrates the depth of learning of this remarkable man.
In 1971 Nick Earle was appointed Headmaster of Bromsgrove School. There he transformed the school, introducing co-education at a time which was very far-sighted, and oversaw the smooth assimilation of girls over the age of 8. Inevitably this brought pressures on boarding accommodation and houses in the town were brought onto the campus. Sports facilities took a great leap forward with the building of the school’s first sports hall and swimming pool.
After retirement from Bromsgrove in 1985 he and his wife Ann moved to Dulwich and he began teaching philosophy and maths part-time at JAGS and becoming an honorary curate at St Faith’s. He was a huge asset and gave great support to the vicar. As a lifelong devotee of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas he became an enthusiastic and key performer in St Faith’s legendary G & S productions. His other publications include Culture and Creed (1967), Logic (1973)
Paxton Green Time Bank is now five years old but still there are many people who don’t know about it - or even what time banking is and the benefits it can bring to individuals and the community.
To explain briefly, time banking believes everyone has something to offer, whether a skill or just time to be with someone. Members offer to help other members on a one-to one basis or volunteer in a local charity and “bank” the hours they spent. They can then “spend” those hours on help for themselves, or on training opportunities, workshops, social events, or special outings. Among the three hundred members of PGTB there are over 150 different skills on offer, for example: learning Arabic or chess, dog walking, computer support, gardening, befriending, shopping, de-cluttering. All skills are valued equally: an hour is an hour is an hour.
For example: a member helped another, whose first language was not English to fill in an on-line job application, helped another think about how to plan replanting her garden, and taught a third how to make chutney. In return the member spent two of the hours: one on having her car cleaned (a job she hated!) and another having a delicious Lebanese lunch cooked for her.
Essentially, therefore, time banking is a cashless economy which enables even those who have few monetary resources to partake more fully in society and enjoy what many take for granted. Need your windows cleaned? Need some decorating done? Brush up your German? Get your computer fixed? None of these comes free in everyday society.
By taking part in time banking people get to know their neighbours and make friends in a way which has become rarer in today’s frenetic society, and which helps build a stronger, safer community. It goes further: it is based on co-production which means that members do much of the organising themselves, setting up and running group activities with just modest help from the small staff at the one-room office in Kingswood House. This builds confidence and skills which can be preparation for returning to work.
Time banking has a side benefit for the NHS: many people who might be lonely, impoverished, or depressed may feel useless and unvalued. Being able to contribute, even in modest ways, does wonders for well-being and improves health, both mental and physical. In fact PGTB was set up by GPs at the Paxton Green practice who realised that many patients were looking for social contact as much as a repeat prescription. Recently published research found that around 20% of visits come in this category, a sad reflection on our society.
To learn more visit www.pgtimebank.org or to join call 8670 0990 to speak to a member of staff.
Dulwich Croquet Club is hidden off Burbage Road as part of the Dulwich Sports Club. It has three lawns, one of which is used all year round, and a membership which includes many casual weekend players but also includes some of the best in the UK, with several ranked in the top 100, and one of whom, Pierre Beaudry, is currently ranked number 17 in the world! The quintessential stereoytype of retired lieutenant-colonels invalided out of India infesting the croquet lawns of England persists - in much the same anachronistic way as bowler hats and furled umbrellas. The reality is a very lively, active, sociable and growing club with a wide range of ages and skills. The club's first team are currently the national champions, and every year the club collects trophies at club and individual level in competitions across the country; and last year Pierre Beaudry won an impressive trophy at the world championship in Cairo. At a more down to earth level, the Christmas dinner saw the club take over Pullens in Herne Hill, and the New Year's Day croquet and bangers and mash event saw the clubhouse bar packed with players, some nursing sizeable hangovers from the night before!
The club was formed in 1912 as part of the croquet craze which swept the country in the late 19th century. The opportunity for dashing men and unchaperoned women to get together on the lawns was doubtless one driver, and a pleasing feature of the game remains that men and women can and do play and compete on entirely equal terms. The tale that Edward Alleyn once won five shillings and a silk codpiece playing against Richard Burbage on the lawns of the club may not be entirely based on fact, and the sighting some years ago of two ghostly Elizabethans playing by moonlight may reflect the quality of the wine available at the club bar.
Those interested in joining the club should make contact via the website, www.dulwichcroquet.com, or simply by coming along to one of the club sessions on Thursday morning (10.30 a.m. until early afternoon) or on Sunday morning (from 10 a.m. until - in good weather at least - early evening).
Tricia Thorns has had theatre in her blood since childhood. She performed in her first pnlay at the age of 4, two years later she was writing plays, making costumes and dragooning cousins into playing ‘bit’ parts. Her mother, who had herself wanted to be an actress and performed in amateur productions, had started a small school where drama and ballet featured in the curriculum in her rambling house in Epsom, just after the Second World War. Tricia’s mother continued as headmistress until she reached the age of 84.
Tricia gained a grammar school place at Rosebery School, Epsom, and it was in a school production on Founder’s Day when she was 11 that she discovered her gift as a comedy character actress. Her part in a one act play, The Ugly Duckling, included a lengthy speech and the howls of laughter from the audience at her comic role, was music to her ears. By the time of her A levels she was desperate to go to RADA but her family persuaded her to go to university and she dutifully went to Nottingham where she read Classics. It was at Nottingham that Tricia started her first theatrical company, performing the works of Harold Pinter with which she has had a life-long love. Her company was set up in opposition to the established university drama society which was casting roles among a small circle of friends. Tricia was determined to be cutting-edge and her first Pinter play was The Lover, a one act play set in suburbia.
By the time she had graduated, she was too late to apply to any of the leading repertory companies for the forthcoming season but she was offered a place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for the following year. There was no alternative than to take a gap year in which she took fencing and dancing lessons. An avid reader of ‘Stage Magazine’ she saw an advertisement for an acting assistant-stage manager with John Neville’s Park Theatre Company at the Fortune Theatre in the West End which was presenting a play about the American theatre critic, Dorothy Parker. To her delight she was taken on by Neville but only having a probationary Equity card, her ‘acting’ part of her job description was limited to graceful arm waving in the wings. However the ASM role fully occupied her and she immersed herself in this to such an extent that later on she omitted to mention, until the day before the Saturday matinee that she would not be able to work the following day. “Why is that?”, demanded the director. “I’m getting married tomorrow” replied a nervous Tricia. “Well you had better have the next two performances off “, was the reply. And so it was. Tricia reported for work again on the Monday.
The season ended after six months and Neville quit England for Canada and Tricia was back to temping again, working as a hospital clerk (handling complaints, a task she thoroughly enjoyed), acting as a chef (she loves cooking) and preparing dinner for 200 lorry drivers. She wrote ‘hundreds of letters’ for stage work and finally landed a part for the Derby Playhouse season who were looking for an actress who was blonde, curly and curvy. The part was in the musical ‘Silk’. The year was 1971. The season ran for five months and alternated with farces such as ‘Not now Darling’ by Ray Cooney and dramas like D H Lawrence’s ‘A Collier’s Friday Night’. Rehearsals lasted from 10am-6pm and then it was time to get ready for the evening performance of a completely different show. With youth on her side, Tricia, with her husband Graham Cowley, who was ASM at the Derby Playhouse, and the production manager Judy Gemmell started the Derby Playhouse Studios on top of their main roles in the company. It was all very experimental and the first production was Dear Janet Rosenberg, Dear Mr Kooning with Tricia playing Janet Rosenberg, Graham playing Dear Mr Kooning and Judy Gemmell directing. When the season ended they took the play to the Richmond (Yorkshire) theatre.
Then followed years of rep in regional and touring companies, running through the Aychbourn list of such plays as The Norman Conquests and Ben Travers’ farces. Although farce is Tricia’s forté, no role was refused and Shakespeare, Somerset Maugham and Shaw were taken in her stride. Finally a big break came with the lead part in Ray Cooney’s Run for your Wife at the Duchess Theatre in the West End. Run for your Wife is the West End’s longest running comedy,
Following this nine-month long role there was a three month tour and London run with Jim Cartwight’s ‘Two’, another tour and London run with the lead in Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ and a UK tour for Max Stafford-Clark’s ‘Out of Joint Company’ with two Restoration plays, ‘Man of Mode’ and ‘The Libertine’ which also played in Moscow and then had a successful run at The Royal Court.
A lengthy spell in numerous television roles happily coincided with the arrival of a daughter and Tricia was spared the grind of touring. As a character actress she was very employable and appeared in A Touch of Frost, Darling Buds of May, Keeping up Appearances, Emmerdale The Bill and numerous others.
It was through James Allen’s Girls School where her daughter was at school, that Tricia first became involved in directing amateur theatre. She assisted the staff in some JAPS productions and found that she could handle large numbers of performers. Towards the end of the 1990’s, with stage roles drying up she reached a low ebb. It was during morning service at St Faith’s Church one day in 1998 that she found herself reading a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury challenging congregations to ask themselves what spiritual contribution they might make towards the forthcoming year 2000. The letter suggested that otherwise there was not going to be anything spiritual celebrated.
Inspired, or transformed, by this challenge, Tricia went home and immediately started to write a long list of possibilities. Her list included adapting Old and New Testament stories to drama, thinking of actors, musicians, orchestras and choirs. She conceived a grand epic, set in churches, halls, but also in unlikely streetspaces where the week leading up to Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection could be portrayed.
She convinced virtually all of the churches in Dulwich to participate, identified the places where the story would be told, and carried out her plan - The Last Supper was in the upstairs room of the Dog in the Village, the Trial of Jesus was in the hall of Melbourne Grove URC, the Crucifixion was in the small park adjoining Sainsbury’s, at Dog Kennel Hill, the Resurrection took place at dawn in St Stephen’s churchyard. It was a monumental effort involving hundreds of people which so inspired those performing (in the main people who had never acted before) that firm friendships were made, and the year well and truly spiritually marked by Passion Play 2000.
The Iraq War of 2003 was the next inspiration for Tricia who was moved by the scenes shown daily on television. She and her husband Graham decided to look at soldiers’ stories from The First World War and undertook research at the British Library. It was a virtually unploughed furrow. There was a huge list of plays written during that war, some banned by the War Office because they showed a left-wing tolerance and the Russian Revolution had put the authorities on the defensive. With the help of the National Library of Scotland they were able to whittle the list down to 12 possibilities. Two were written by Miles Malleson, now remembered as an actor who portrayed doddery old vicars, but as a young man something of a firebrand.
Miles Malleson’s plays Black ‘ell and D Company were staged on a 3 night run at the Soho Theatre. On the first night there was an audience of 50, the second 100 and the last night was house-full. The two plays were joined by a third, Brigade Exchange and the triple bill staged at the Pleasance Theatre where it enjoyed a four week run. Another WW1 play, Red Night was put on at the Finborough.
What followed was rather different. Tricia was given a privately published book of World War 1 letters. The letters were written daily from the outbreak of the war by a young soldier, and lasted until he was killed in action. Those to his mother were humorous; intending to ‘cheer her up’ by reciting ‘funny’ incidents in the trenches and of the men under his command. Those to his father changed in tone, from proud nationalism to weary disgust. The difference in the two types of letters fascinated Tricia and she adapted them into a moving one-man play, ‘My Real War 1914 -‘. It had two successful UK tours and two runs in London, including one at the Trafalgar Studios.
She then had great success with the acclaimed production of London Wall, which had an initial season at the Finborough Theatre and went on to run at the much larger St James’ Theatre. Last month, to coincide with the forthcoming anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1, Tricia directed another well received wartime smorgasbord - a revival of three short plays entitled What the Women Did at the Southwark Playhouse.
And so what will Tricia do next? Ever one for a challenge she is directing a play about the Stonewall riots in New York in the Sixties, entitled ‘Hard Rain,’ at the brand new theatre space at Vauxhall called ‘Above the Stag’, which runs until April 5th. She is also devising and directing an evening of Shakespeare for his Baptismal Anniversary at St Paul’s Church Covent Garden (The Actors’ Church).
Tricia Thorns is fortunate to be supported by her husband, Graham Cowley, the producer for the ‘Out of Joint Company’, the British and international touring theatre company based in London which specialises in the commissioning and production of new writing. His is the quiet but efficient presence behind so many of Tricia’s productions.
I am writing this article on the weekend of the National Garden Birdwatch organized each year on the last weekend in January by the RSPB. In fact I am looking at a virtually birdless garden in the pouring rain with feeders that have been full all week. In most years at this time I am replenishing feeders almost daily to keep pace with voracious flocks of Goldfinches and Tits. So where have they all gone? The assumption is that in this wet winter there is abundant food elsewhere but we will have to wait for the national survey to give us an indication of whether this is a population trend or whether this is an anomaly thrown up by the weather.
It has of course been an unusual winter and wildlife has been reacting accordingly. A frog that should be hibernating is hopping in and out of my garden pond which has on and off been turned into a lake. A local Blackbird that normally starts singing on St Valentine’s Day has been in full song night and morning since early December. A well fed song bird will often warble a subsong out of season perhaps because it has nothing better to do, but to be able to hear one of our finest songbirds in full throttle in December is a bonus for any weary commuter trekking home from Herne Hill Station.
Otherwise we could say this has been a fine winter for ducks. On Dulwich Park lake besides the resident Herons readers may have noticed one or two pairs of Shoveler ducks. These are more striking than the ubiquitous Mallards, the drakes having deep maroon coloured bellies, white breasts and bottle green heads. Both males and females have what look like oversized beaks adapted for filtering out water surface food. They are winter visitors and though some will breed in this country many will have come from the near continent. This is indeed the case with many of our ducks and it is noticeable that the numbers of Tufted Ducks on the lake is far in excess of those seen in the summer. Although still very much wild birds they have become tame and urbanized in the winter months.
The flocks of Black Headed Gulls on our parks and playing fields have been larger than usual this year. Many of these are also tame and taking food intended for the ducks but perhaps fortunately do not invade our gardens. I was however interested to read that ringing records from birds seen on Clapham Common indicated that many came from breeding colonies as far away as the eastern Baltic Sea where clearly the arctic weather is untouched by the Atlantic jet stream. They all depart fairly promptly in April leaving us with a small population of non breeding Lesser Black Backed and Herring Gulls.
By the time this article is read Spring should be with us and we will hopefully start to see the butterflies mentioned in my last contribution. I was interested to hear of a Purple Hairstreak butterfly, normally really difficult to see, had been found in a garden affected by rain but able to return to its canopy when dried out. Such records are the stuff of natural history and of more significance than twitching the appearance on these shores of migratory strays from distant climes.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (Tel: 0207 274 4567)