The Dulwich Society Journal for Spring 2015.
“I walk my dog this way to look at them, I spot something new every time” and “I see them sparkle every day when I go by on the bus, they are so beautiful” are just two of the comments made by the local community on the new murals at Oakfield Prep School. Members who live nearby, or travel up and down Croxted Road, will have noticed the new additions to the school buildings on each side of the junction with Thurlow Park Road. Designed to signify the 125th anniversary of the school on the site to the south of the junction (the northern extension on the other side of the road dates from post WW2), they were the result of a competition organised by the head teacher, Jane Stevens.
The brief emphasised the importance of giving the school’s pupils an opportunity to develop and expand their own creativity as participants in the design process and, following a series of interviews, Julie Norburn from Art4Space was selected. She and her team worked with the head using the school’s archives to generate designs for the two mosaic and ceramic panels. The lower school (south side) made ceramic pieces for the oak tree and the upper school (north side) created the mosaic anniversary panel adding their knowledge as they went along. Children were involved in cutting the tiles and making design and colour decisions, working together piece by piece. The local wider community were also involved through an open access session as were many parents and teachers.
Once the artwork was ready the panels were assembled at the artist’s studio in Stockwell and installed ready for the grand unveiling. Julie notes that “Mosaic and ceramic is a great medium to use in school projects, both are durable mediums which don’t fade over time. The mosaic work allowed the children to work with different materials which brought texture, depth and an interactive quality to the finished art work. The ceramic work allowed the younger years to really get involved, they loved working with clay.”
Dulwich Opera Company will present a staged performance of Puccini's La Bohème at 7.30pm on Saturday 18th April 2015 in All Saints Church, West Dulwich. The company was recently formed by two young opera singers in the area looking to create more performance opportunities. They gave their first recital in All Saints Church in November, and are now producing their first complete opera.
The cast will be made up mainly of young professional singers, who are looking for more role experience, and will be directed from the piano by experienced music director, Kelvin Lim. Kelvin has worked for many companies around the UK including English National Opera, The Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne, Opera Holland Park, English Touring Opera, Dorset Opera, and Longborough Festival.
The production will be directed by local theatre director, Joanne Boniface, and designed by Nina Dunn. Joanne Boniface has a great deal of experience of creating her own projects and working with young singers. Nina Dunn runs her own studio as a video projection designer and her theatrical work includes projection design for the Glyndebourne Festival, ENO, Northern Ballet and the Mariinsky Theatre’s recent production of Britten’s opera, 'A Midummer Night's Dream’, which won the Zolotoy Sofit award for Best Opera and was shortlisted for 7 Golden Mask Awards.
All Saints Church is a beautiful space to perform in, and for audiences to visit. It is hoped that the design for the opera will provide atmosphere, suggested setting and emotional touches to support the artists. It will integrate fully with the architecture and fabric of the venue and provide the artists with an unfussy but atmospheric concept within which to play.
Tickets will be on sale very soon - for the latest updates, you can sign up to our newsletter via our website. For more information, please see www.dulwichoperacompany.org.uk or email email@example.com
Café culture has taken a small step forward with the opening of Dulwich Village’s newest art gallery. Au Ciel, the French café and chocolatier, has created the display space on the first floor of the premises in Calton Avenue. A low-key opening just before Christmas saw miniatures by 30 artists, including Lucy Duke, Louise Ward and Alexander Young exhibited. It was curated by Dulwich-based Louis Blondiau, the café’s artist-in-residence.
The current exhibition is of Blondiau’s own larger canvases and the space will feature different artists and disciplines every couple of months, including sculpture, photography, and installations. Occasional musical events, plus poetry, music and drama are also planned.
Blondiau, who studied at the Art School of Braine l’Alleud, Belgium, says: “Auciel has been created mostly for local and London artists. As an artist, I know how difficult it can be for artists to show their work. ‘So when I found the opportunity to use the walls of the Au Ciel cafe, I thought this would be good for me, but also for the other artists. For the artists, it is an attractive, risk-free alternative to fees and rents; their only cost is a commission on sales. For that reason, I expect competition to display will be intense, which will help raise the gallery’s profile. We will try to organise an opening for each exhibition, for the community to meet and exchange ideas.
We would particularly welcome participants in the May’s Dulwich Open House event to contact us; our walls are available for them to show one piece of their work.’
Roger Wilkinson, from Au Ciel, adds: “We have always hosted paintings by Dulwich artists and I was delighted when Louis suggested creating a gallery space above the café. The creative community in and around Dulwich will guarantee that the displays remain fresh and vibrant. Perhaps, we can help build a number of reputations.
The gallery is a small, but intimate, space and we hope it will be put to many imaginative uses.’
Auciel Gallery, at Au Ciel, 1a Calton Avenue, SE21 7DE, open Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm; weekends from 9am to 6pm. firstname.lastname@example.org; www.aucielgallery.com
By Daniel Greenwood, Conservation Project Officer, London Wildlife Trust
Separated by a line of crumbling green posts, Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods make up the largest remaining fragment of the Great North Wood, a stretch of ancient woods, commons and pasture which stretched from Selhurst to Deptford. The Great North Wood was originally a product of the wildwood, a landscape made up of naturally occurring trees that colonised in the wake of retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago, as the climate warmed and became more hospitable. The wildwood no longer remains in the UK, its gradual clearance enacted by Neolithic farmers 6,000 years ago. Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods are still here with us because they provided a lifeline for local people living in the Great North Wood and beyond. Both woods, though joined, differ in structure and species present. This article aims to explore some of the differences between the two and why that may be.
Sydenham Hill Wood
Sydenham Hill Wood is a Local Nature Reserve, a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation and is designated as Metropolitan Open Land. Before the Crystal Palace High Level railway and the adjacent Victorian villas were built (1860s), what has been known as Sydenham Hill Wood since the 1980s was broken up into coppices – Lapsewood, Ambrook Hill Wood and Peckamins Coppice, the latter making up much of what is now Dulwich Wood. Coppicing is a craft which dates back thousands of years and meant that many British woods were open and bright, and the oldest woods remaining in Britain today are old coppices. Coppicing is now mostly extinct economically but is enacted by London Wildlife Trust at Sydenham Hill Wood to diversify habitat structure and reignite the lost practice. The timber is used for dead hedging, handrails, other vital woodland infrastructure and as deadwood log piles. Historically this form of management provided timber for small scale industry as well as fuel for charcoal burning. But it was great for wildlife, too. The coppices of Dulwich and the Great North Wood were once a place to hear the song of the nightingale, a migratory bird which is now long gone from London and relies on coppices and scrub to breed where it still resides in England. Coppicing also meant sunlight met the woodland floor offering warmth and nourishment to bluebells, primroses and violets, and the butterflies, moths and other invertebrates dependent on those particular wildflowers. Across the country the collapse of coppicing and darkening of woods has meant a national decline in woodland wildflowers and associated species, particularly once common butterflies like the silver-washed fritillary. Thankfully this species made a return to Sydenham Hill Wood in 2014.
The sunny channel created by the railway will have encouraged plant species which utilise wind to spread their seeds. It is likely that rosebay willow herb, now dominant in the Sydenham Hill Wood glade, made its way down the railway line in the twentieth century. Rosebay willow herb is a non-native plant which colonised Second World War bombsites in London. This is a plant which is generally absent from Dulwich Wood, shielded from the railway line by a screen of oak, holly and hornbeam. On the western boundary of Sydenham Hill Wood runs the Ambrook stream, once a tributary of the River Effra. Before the 1860s, when the railway and housing was complete, Sydenham Hill Wood will have been much richer in ground flora, fungi and their associated species. The disruption caused by the movement of soil and building work will have led to the loss of a number of sensitive plant species and the complete removal of fungal mycelia, the web of fungal roots which produces the mushrooms we see most splendidly in the autumn and which proves vital in the ecosystem of woods. A fungal mycelium links with a wood’s network of tree roots to pass nutrients back and forth in symbiosis.
The impact of the Victorians is a key part in understanding the ecology of Sydenham Hill Wood. Rhododendron was widely planted as a garden ornamental shrub in the 1800s but in oak woodlands its presence is highly destructive. The evergreen rhododendron adds a toxin to the soil in its attempts to maintain dominance and as it grows it begins to shade out everything it overcomes. Over time it will kill oak woodland. Therefore it is one of our target species for removal. Another plant which is disruptive to broadleaved woodland ecosystems like those of the Dulwich Woods is cherry laurel. This poisonous plant, introduced from the Balkans, is planted still today as a hedge plant due to its vibrant, evergreen foliage and low-maintenance nature. It can grow rapaciously, gradually lowering and thickening its boughs to send down more roots when they become so heavy that they travel horizontally rather than upwards. Some large laurels in Dulwich Wood have nothing growing underneath them and the Dulwich Estate plan to undergo clearance work to aid native species. At Sydenham Hill Wood we actively reduce laurel, pulling new saplings which appear each year, often after birds pass the seeds. But we are keen to retain part of the wood’s heritage and manage it without complete removal in certain areas of historical interest, whilst stopping the plant from spreading where possible.
Dulwich Wood is owned and managed by the Dulwich Estate, with the main management tasks being the clearance of paths, maintenance of boundary trees and perimeter fencing, the removal of ivy from mature trees and the emptying of bins and maintenance of signage. Dulwich Wood is not a registered or recognised nature reserve. Unlike Sydenham Hill Wood, Dulwich Wood has remained untouched by development and retains larger spreads of wood anemone, English bluebell and wild garlic. Dulwich Wood’s structure comprises standard sessile oak, ash and hornbeam trees with a holly, hazel and bramble understorey. It has a typical coppice-with-standards woodland structure where mature sessile oaks were harvested for their timber and the tannin residing in the bark, and the hazel understorey coppiced on rotation. There are signs that the oaks were replanted and abandoned after the collapse of woodland industry in the UK which is why there are some dense stands. In recent decades the Dulwich Estate have acted upon the degree of shade in Dulwich Wood by selectively felling an area of trees to allow more light in and an understorey to regenerate. This has had some success with growths of willow, ash, bramble and black bryony present in 2012 and butterflies like the speckled wood being observed on the wing. A botanical survey for the London Naturalist in the 1960s showed a more open wood pasture style landscape, with grassy swards and standard oaks dotted throughout. Many of the species seen then are now lost due to the shade, with species such as common cow wheat disappearing completely. Many of the wildflower species flourishing along the sunnier banks beside pathways in Dulwich Wood are showing a decline from accidental damage through trampling. The woods are experiencing numbers of visitors that their wildlife will not have had to cope with before.
The Dewy Pond in Dulwich Wood
In 2011 London Wildlife Trust enacted a three year programme of regeneration at the Dewy Pond with funding from the Dulwich Estate and the SITA Trust. During those three years the Dewy Pond and Ambrook was de-silted, fenced, and replanted with native aquatic and riparian plants like marsh marigold, yellow flag iris, watermint water avens and hemp agrimony. Volunteers constructed a pond dipping platform from seasoned oak for use with schools and public events. The works involved the clearance of a number of trees and shrubs and has proved highly beneficial for the wildlife which depends on the aquatic environment – aquatic invertebrates, dragonflies, frogs, newts and foraging bats. It has also added another layer of diversity to the structure of both woods, as well as a break from the dense shade of Dulwich Wood’s holly understorey.
Understanding the impact of visitors
One of the biggest challenges to the Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods is managing the impacts of visitors. Footfall erodes soil over time and so clear, well maintained pathways are key to protecting the woods in the long term. Soil compaction degrades soil, reduces biodiversity through trampling and prevents tree roots from gathering the oxygen required to sustain it. Responsible dog walking is not a problem but the impacts of dog fouling are, on many levels. The nutrients added to the soil from faeces raises the level of nitrogen which increases the dominance of bramble, nettle and other vigorous plants. English bluebell and many other important wildflowers are known to be lost when soils become too rich. London Wildlife Trust enjoys a good relationship with dog walkers at Sydenham Hill Wood and the majority of visitors pick up after their pets when visiting. However, the problem does persist. With the impact of visitors in mind, we are attempting to get a sense of how many people are visiting the woods. Between April 2014 and January 2015 we have conducted 24 hours of site transect walks on Monday mornings in 45-60 minute visits between 9:00 and 11:00am. Over this period we have observed 269 people and 122 dogs. This is just a snapshot of visitors to Sydenham Hill Wood. It’s vital for people to visit both woods for the wellbeing of our community and so that the woods are appreciated and their wild inhabitants not forgotten. People have lived and worked in woods for thousands of years and it’s a relationship which is adapting to twenty-first century living. It is only in recent decades, as the scale of woodland loss has been understood, that people are again turning to woods for exercise, fresh air, a sense of solitude and the most important thing of all: a connection with the natural world.
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There had been a road along the top of Sydenham Hill, at the eastern edge of the Great North Wood, for many years, forming the boundary between Camberwell and Lewisham. The ridge had long been a source of gravel but at Peckamans Wood its extraction no longer became viable and was ended in 1838 and the ground levelled. A site on the corner of Wells Park Road which had also been used for gravel extraction was exhausted before 1830. Of the six houses built on the east side of the road prior to 1850, the last two remaining are No. 16 ‘The Wood’, and No. 18 ‘The Elms’.
The Dulwich Estate was the landowner on the west side of the road and the only house on this side of the road prior to the arrival of the Crystal Place in 1854-54 was ‘Holly Brow’ on the northern corner - originally a cottage connected to an Admiralty signalling station. The arrival of the Crystal Palace at the south end of the road, on the former Penge Place site changed everything.
Most of the construction traffic to the Crystal Palace must have come along Sydenham Hill as, at that time, only Penge Road (now College Road) provided a direct connection to the area from Dulwich – and that had a tollgate on it. The first new building on the Estate land was the pub, the ‘Dulwich Wood House’. It was certainly there in 1861 when the landlord, George Ward, was noted as a "publican" at the "Wood House, Dulwich Wood". The general consensus is that it was constructed between 1857-58 by Francis Fuller and the Crystal Palace Company, and it may have been designed by Charles Barry jnr. However the licence was not granted until 25 March 1867 and there are other records which suggest that it may have been there as early as 1853 – when a man called Augustus Henry Novelli was living on the site. We know that Joseph Paxton spent a lot of his time at the Greyhound Inn in Dulwich Village while he was supervising the construction of the new Crystal Place. Given the number of workers, and the passing traffic, there would have been a demand for refreshment and food and it may be that a beer house, which did not need a licence, was set up on the site very early on.
The various parliamentary bills required to allow the construction of the Crystal Palace to proceed allowed the Crystal Place Company, the owners, to use compulsory purchase powers on the Dulwich Estate. It acquired the land to build Crystal Place Parade at a cost of £12,500, a huge sum for the time.
Further land was let to George Wythes, a house builder and major share holder in the company. His holding went from Crystal Place Parade down the hill towards Dulwich Wood Avenue and formed the ‘Dulwich Wood Estate’. He immediately let it back to the Crystal Palace Company. At the same time the land along Sydenham Hill was let to Francis Fuller, the Managing Director and Surveyor of the Crystal Palace Company, as a private speculation. His original concept for what was to be called the Sydenham Palace Estate included a church and a parsonage, 3 taverns, 2 hotels, and 188 large houses - to be designed by Banks and Barry. Unfortunately he was soon in financial difficulties and the land reverted to the Estate.
Meanwhile the Estate’s charitable side was going through a period of re-organisation and once this was complete, a more proactive management regime came into play. The Estate put a short series of advertisements in the Times, the Daily News and the Builder saying that there were sites for sale. Charles Barry was instructed to deal with it and he was also able to offer places at Dulwich College to the sons of prospective purchasers, now much in demand since the re-organisation, and arrival of the new master, Canon Carver. From 1859 onwards a number of individuals and speculative builders purchased the sites - initially at a rate of 5s par foot run of frontage. The average plot size was between 100 and 125 feet, so it would have cost £25 to £30 to purchase the initial lease. The minimum price of the houses to be constructed was generally £1500.
Two years earlier, in 1857, the Lambeth Water Company had rented a site near the junction of the path down to Penge Road called Rock Hill and had constructed a large water reservoir designed to serve the Forest Hill Area. At the same time the Estate also persuaded Camberwell and Lewisham to straighten Sydenham Hill to provide better building frontages, the Estate Manager describing it as being done on a ‘give and take basis’. Camberwell Vestry were responsible for the maintenance of the road and their largesse did not extend to the provision of mains drainage and sewers were not installed until 1864 when a number of houses were complete and their owners were pressing for action.
One of the first purchasers was the eminent civil and electrical engineer Josiah Latimer Clark. His house, called Birchmount (it was later called Hitherwood), was built on the first site north of the water reservoir. It was a substantial house, as he was a very rich man, and he installed a Pulhamite folly in his garden – the sign of wealth in the area. His son, also a well -known engineer, went to Dulwich College. In the 1920s the house became the International Students Hostel.
No 21 ‘Wavertree’ was originally leased by a Mr H C Brown, probably a builder, but by 1871 it was owned by Robert H Bristowe, a member of the Stock Exchange. He had previously lived at Pond House in Dulwich Village and had been seriously affected by the construction of the railway line by North Dulwich Station. Henry Charteris, a public accountant, lived at No 25, ‘Hazel Dean’ while No 27, ‘Mount Henly’ was first leased by Forest Hill builder John Patterson Waterson. By 1871 the house was owned by Frederick Brady, a zinc manufacturer whose firm employed 250 men and 35 boys.
Buxton Shillitoe, FRICS, owned No 29 ‘Birchmount’. His obituary noted that his professional interest was the study of diseases of the genito –urinary tract, but that he did not contribute much to medical literature. He was apparently an active promoter of the ‘Zittmann’ treatment for the later stages of syphilis – which involved the patient sitting in a high temperature room drinking strong doses of a concoction of sarsaparilla and potassium iodide. His hobby was the study of botany and he was a Fellow of the Linean Society.
Henry Stenning owned No. 31 ‘Moss Grange’, and at No. 33 ‘Edenwood’ was Hamilton Cook – the 1871 census gives no details of their professions. No. 35 ‘Burleigh House’ was owned by Frank Chance who was a ‘physician not practising’, while the house on the corner of Crescent Wood Road, No. 37 ‘Birchwood’ was occupied by Edmund Morris ‘a barrister who did not practice’. His house had been built by a Mr R P Hardy and was larger than most of the others, costing £2500.
As well as sewers, the other facility required by the new residents was a church. There is a note in the Estate minutes of September 1863 to an “influential meeting of residents of Sydenham Hill and other parts of the district” which nominated a committee to confer with the Estate about a suitable site for a church and parsonage. There ideal location was said to be “near the temporary railway station”. St Stephens and its parsonage were completed by 1868 but the reference to the temporary railway station does confirm that there was originally no intention to build a station at Sydenham Hill. Whether it was the residents who persuaded the railway company to build it, or whether it did it of their own volition – perhaps to provide additional access to the Crystal Palace, we can only guess at. Early photographs of the station show a very basic installation with wooden platforms and shelters – nothing like the more substantial buildings at West Dulwich or Penge East.
The Post War redevelopment of Nos. 19-37 Sydenham Hill
(Now 1-5 Rock Hill, Nos 1-32 Woodsyre & Nos 1-23 Crouchman’s Close)
In the aftermath of World War 2 few people were anxious to take up oor retain the onerous leases on the large and often derelict houses along the ridge of Sydenham Hill. Those houses which had been compulsorily occupied by Camberwell Council and let out as flats to homeless tenants who had been bombed-out of their previous homes tended to hold-up the overall redevelopment of the area, partly required by the London County Council.
It was not until February 1956 that the Dulwich Estate Architect and Surveyor, Austin Vernon, could report that he had prepared an outline development plan for all the sites. He added that to obtain the development density required, without building in the woods on the lower part of the gardens, the development would have to take the form of rows of flats along the road frontage. He thought this could be done in a pleasant way, “retaining all the rural amenities of the neighbourhood”.
However, there had been no progress when, late the following year , F O Hayes, the Camberwell Borough Architect, wrote to the Estate with a proposal for a council housing scheme on the site. His scheme consisted of 6 blocks of flats four stories in height with a total of 96 units. His letter envisaged the six blocks forming “a regular rhythmic sequence” across the tip of the hill. Austin Vernon responded quickly, and critically, and informed him that his scheme was unlikely to receive favourable consideration as the densities proposed far exceeded the figures set out on the agreed Dulwich Development Plan.
Hayes had other more pressing priorities and decided not to progress his scheme at this point but the Governors had got the message – if they didn’t do something the Council would. Austin Vernon & Partners spent the summer of 1958 working up a development scheme while the Manager liaised with Wates over an outline building agreement. The scheme was shown to a Board meeting in in November, and agreed in principle, and the Architect was instructed to discuss it with Camberwell Borough Council. At the same time Wates confirmed that they were prepared to deal with the site on the basis of the layout presented and erect a series of 78 small 3 story blocks (containing between 6 and 9 dwellings with flats at ground floor level with maisonettes above). The Architect noted that “advantage is taken of the fall of the ground to construct garages under the terrace gardens to be leased to each flat. The approach to the garages is by a private driveway along the back of the buildings suitably laid out to preserve the trees and woodland amenities.”
Requisitioning of some houses remained a problem and, to try and move things along so in late 1959 the Governors agreed to demolish Hitherwood, No 19 Sydenham Hill. In July 1960 the Manager was instructed to negotiate a building agreement for the site and the Architect was told to review his original proposal for the front elevations and consider re-siting the blocks of flats and maisonettes to create a more open vista between them. However, at that point, Wates’ ideas of the most appropriate development for the site changed and they no longer wanted to build maisonettes and flats. Neil Wates wrote a long letter to the Manager saying that the old scheme would be very difficult and expensive to implement and must be amended. The Governors noted his concerns and instructed Russell Vernon (who replaced his uncle Austin as Estate Architect and Surveyor in the autumn of 1959) to review the site again and revise the siting and layout.
Victor Knight, the partner in charge of design, re- planned the scheme and in December 1960 Russell Vernon was able to say “I have given careful consideration to this development in the light of the criticism of the plan previously considered by the Board and I have produced a revised proposal which I believe meets nearly all the requirements by providing for special houses along Sydenham Hill and presenting less mass of brickwork on the frontage than exists at the moment. The open effect is considerably greater, and will introduce the vistas and views previously suggested.” He noted that the height of the proposed terraces was low compared with the original Victorian properties and that the layout made better use of the steeply sloping site and the existing basements. He was clearly proud of the design and added “These houses will be fairly large by modern standards, and having regard to the difficulties of the site, will be priced at over £8500 each. I believe that, if a development on these lines can be achieved, it will result in a unique contribution being made to the better type of private domestic development in London.” The new layout showed a row of terrace houses and flats along Sydenham Hill with three blocks of tall flats located in the gardens at the south end of the site (now the site of Great Brownings) to maintain the development density. These flats were to be approached from Rockhill by a separate access road.
In June 1961 sketch designs for the 5 houses in Rockhill were ready, the Architect noting “The preparation of suitable designs has been very difficult owing to the exceedingly steep gradients”. In October, the working drawings were approved and work commenced shortly afterwards, the houses being complete by May 62. The design had the main dining room and kitchen at ground floor, a full width living area on the first floor - with a raised study corner, and a generous outside terrace, plus a bedroom and family bathroom, and a master bedroom suite with bathroom and dressing area and two further bedrooms on the second floor. On the Rockhill houses the spandrels under the windows were clad in ceramic tiles designed by a well-known contemporary ceramicist, Michael Caddy Des RCA, who was also responsible for the full height ceramic fire surrounds in the living rooms.
The tiled spandrels proved expensive and later terraces in Woodsyre had a cheaper coloured render (in mauve and purple). Here, the building agreement specified 26 three storey houses with garages, parallel to Sydenham Hill, 12 two storey maisonettes without garages, and 6 flats. The site further down the hill, with its 3 tall blocks of flats was put on hold.
In Woodsyre the site slope was even steeper than Rockhill and this enabled the architects to incorporate a further reception room at lower ground floor level “to provide direct access to the garden”. The living rooms also had stunning views over London to the west as they looked out over the woods below. At the end of September Rusell Vernon reported that there were apparently “sales difficulties of houses within this price range where only one garage can be provided”. At that time lessees were not allowed to park cars on private estate roads after dark, and it seemed that most prospective purchasers had two cars. Wates responded quickly and had the layout adjusted to provide 10 more off-road parking spaces.
In March 1963 the South London Press reported on a short ceremony to celebrate the completion of No. 6 Woodsyre, the 1000th home built by the Estate since the war. The front door key was handed over by the then chairman of the Dulwich College Estates, Mr A Scott, to chartered surveyor Mr Geoffrey Rogers, the new owner. Mr Scott paid tribute to Wates saying “They have carried out our desires in every way possible” he said, adding “It was a difficult site to develop because the ground sloped so steeply”.
In the same month the Architect proposed further changes to the northern end of the site. In the master plan this was to be developed with flats and maisonettes but Wates opted for 12 houses with garages below (Nos. 21-32 Woodsyre). In support of the change Russell Vernon confirmed that this meant an additional £30 per annum ground rent and said “I feel that this is a change for the better, as it is sometimes an advantage to get houses together, rather than to mix them with flats and maisonettes.” The serial 3Z houses used were similar to the Serial 3 houses built previously at Dulwich Wood Park and Sydenham Hill except that they had their garages on the floor below – this meant that they no longer had a garden outside the living room, just a balcony.
The final part of the scheme covering the sites of the former Nos. 33-37 Sydenham Hill was Crouchmans Close. Here Malcolm Pringle took over from Victor Knight and designed a compact cul-de sac of 13 ‘Serial 3’ houses and 10 ‘upside down houses’. The latter were specifically designed for steeper slopes. They had three bedrooms, and a conventional plan and section, but were accessed across an entrance bridge at first floor level. This house type was later used at Giles Coppice and Great Brownings.
There must be some strange ornithological magnetism about the lower end of Gipsy Hill as notwithstanding the fall of a collapsed Hen Harrier last May in Oaks Avenue, in October a Brent Goose landed on the Paxton Green roundabout, took a walk down Gipsy Road before heading off in a south easterly direction. Unlike the ever present Canada Geese the Dark Bellied Brent Goose is a winter migrant from arctic Russia which comes in huge numbers to our estuaries. This bird had clearly overshot, perhaps in a high wind. Having found its way from Siberia it should have be able to back track to the Thames estuary. An amused reader suggested that perhaps it was seeking treatment from the Health Centre or the Vet further down the road, but the appearances are that it needed no more than migratory counselling. But to my knowledge it was the first record for a Brent Goose in Dulwich.
Another unusual record was of a Long Tailed Tit with a white head seen in Sydenham Hill wood, a record that got as far as Derwent May’s Nature Notes Column in the Times. The record was remarkable because the Scandinavian subspecies of the Long Tailed Tit has an all white head, and this is never recorded in the UK. However a Long Tailed Tit is no Brent Goose and it is difficult to imagine how such a delicate little bird could have made it across the North Sea. So we may have to conclude that this was a leucistic variant from our own breeding stock, comparable to the white Sparrow we described last year.
However other stronger little birds do make it, most notably now, east European Blackcaps, a pair of which were seen in Gardner Thompson’s garden. These can be a confusing identification as although the male has a black cap the female has a chestnut brown cap which will of course help Blackcaps to identify each other, but raises difficulties for the amateur ornithologist . One has to blame the confusion on a male bias amongst the taxonomists who select these names. The summer Blackcaps are now in Spain.
About thirty Dulwich residents took part in the winter walk in Sydenham Hill Wood with Daniel Greenwood in early December and were rewarded by a fine day and a good selection of our winter woodland birds including Redwings, Nuthatches, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Goldcrests. Up to four Firecrests have been recorded there this winter which have become a regular winter sighting and probably our rarest regular visitor. But apart from the above records the winter has not at the time of writing proved severe enough to bring in the large flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares that often appear. But the colder weather of this January may change this and amongst the smaller birds we may see Siskins, Redpolls and even a Brambling. There has sometimes been a drake Shoveler in Bel Aire and this too is a regular winter visitor that complements the many Mallards. I will as ever welcome the records of anything that may be seen and am happy to help with identification problems.
By Valerie Hill-Archer
Davidia Involucrata is a tree of great beauty. Known also as the ‘Dove Tree’, ‘Ghost Tree’ or ‘Handkerchief Tree’, all being very descriptive of its appearance whilst in flower. Discovered in China in 1869 by, and named after, Père Armond David, a French naturalist and missionary responsible for the introduction of many exotic species to Europe, both plants and animals, including the Giant Panda.
The genus Davidia only contains one species, but there are two varieties: Involucrata and Vilmoriniana. Involucrata refers to the bracks surrounding the flower-head, and Vilmoriniana is named after the French nurseryman, Maurice Lévêque de Vilmorian, who received some of the first seeds to grow. The difference between the two is subtle: Involucrata has short hairs on the undersides of its leaves; Vilmoriniana has none. Introduced to Europe in 1904, the tree was mainly planted in large estates and parklands.
Davidias do not flower young; they are usually at least 10-15 years old before the spectacular display can be seen for the first time. The tree is hardy and quite fast-growing; ultimately reaching a height of 10-15 metres. Gorgeous heart-shaped leaves are bright green. Flowers appear in late Spring/early Summer: red clusters surrounded by a pair of large pure white bracks, which hang down beneath the branches. In the breeze these flutter, giving the impression of huge butterflies or white doves. The flowers later form a fruit, a hard oval ridged nut, about the size of a small conker, which contains seeds. Leaves turn to dark burnished hews before falling. All together a wonderful tree that deserves to be more widely planted. Many fine mature specimens from early plantings can be seen in National Trust gardens and at Wisley and Kew.
Dulwich appeared to have only one tree in a public place, a relatively young specimen yet to flower, in the Picture Gallery’s gardens. Having been made aware of the lack of Davidias in the south of the borough, Southwark Council were happy to plant one for us in a very large, empty tree pit at the junction of Beckwith Road and Half Moon Lane. The tree appears to be about 10-15 years old and is in a space where it should flourish and hopefully flower quite soon. Keep a watch on both these trees and look forward to their first ‘flowerings’ - a sight worth waiting for.
On 20 Saturdays annually between September and the end of the following March, one hundred and sixty children from primary schools across the London Borough of Southwark descend on Alleyn’s School, Dulwich College and James Allen’s Girls’ School for two hours of curriculum enrichment under the auspices of Southwark Community Education Council (SCEC), a small local charity set up by lifelong Southwark resident, Edna Mathieson, in 1992.
Edna’s background in education research at LSE, as an elected member of the old Inner London Education Authority and as a Southwark LEA supply teacher had led her to become increasingly concerned by the way good average, motivated children in local schools were at risk of being educationally short-changed in very large, often mixed-ability classes despite the best efforts of hardworking teachers.
Determined to try to help such children, Edna turned to her colleagues at LSE who pointed her in the direction of Dulwich College because of its long history of educational innovation. Edna quickly won over the senior academics at the College and, in October 1992, the first tentative steps were taken with the launching of a Saturday School aimed at preparing motivated Year 6 primary school children for the potentially unsettling experience of transfer to secondary school. The College provided accommodation free of charge, and volunteer English, maths and science teachers took it in turns to lay on stimulating lessons for two hours on Saturday mornings.
Initially, convincing primary school headteachers that, far from there being any hidden agenda in the scheme, e.g. that the College might be using it to recruit bright boys, there was none at all but, rather, there was every possibility their schools might benefit from the injection of additional enthusiasm for learning brought back by their pupils. Her luck turned when one of the most influential and highly respected headteachers, Josie Spanswick from St Anthony’s, at first a sceptic herself, was won over.
Expansion followed rapidly: drama and, later, computing were added to the curriculum and within three years ten primary schools were involved with the selection of some 60 children being entirely in their hands; SCEC had started to recruit its own teachers and the need to raise funds became a primary concern for Edna and the board of trustees. That SCEC’s existence and activities were hardly matters of common knowledge in SE21 in those early days was hardly surprising as the primary schools Edna had recruited were chiefly in less affluent areas of the borough.
Sometime in 1996 during my time as Acting Master of Dulwich College, I happened to mention SCEC’s work at the College while in conversation with headteachers Marion Gibbs and Colin Niven. Their joint reaction was to suggest that perhaps JAGS and Alleyn’s might become involved in some way. And so it was that, in 1997, a family literacy scheme was launched at JAGS for Year 3 (7+) children experiencing difficulty with any aspect of literacy and, in 1998, a scheme was launched at Alleyn’s for Year 5 (9+) children showing well-above-average ability at mathematics.
Today, SCEC caters for about 160 children annually and employs thirteen specialist, graduate teachers. Outstanding features of our schemes are (i) the small class sizes: 9 for literacy (Y3) at JAGS, 12 for maths (Y5) at Alleyn’s, and 16 for Y6 at Dulwich College; and (ii) the involvement of senior students from the three Dulwich Foundation schools as mentors providing support for the primary children, extra pairs of hands for the teachers and giving themselves invaluable life skills in the process.
At JAGS, for example, every child has one-to-one support from a mentor who helps them with their reading and writing and becomes, in effect, a big sister.
From the start, SCEC has been immensely fortunate to have had accommodation provided rent-free, first at the College and now at all three Foundation schools. The schools also provide, free of charge, administrative support including running the payroll and a staff presence on Saturdays. These benefits in kind account for more than 50% of the charity’s notional annual expenditure. For the rest, we have to raise about £23,000 annually to cover teachers’ salaries (£20k), audit fee, evaluation fee, employers’ liability insurance etc.
Fundraising is a never-ending process with appeals to grant-making trusts at its core. However, in order to broaden SCEC’s fundraising base, we are launching a Friends organisation (Friends of SCEC) and should be delighted to hear from anyone interested in supporting us in what we believe is a most worthwhile enterprise if the following unsolicited comments are anything to go by from children on the schemes:
- I always look forward to coming to Saturday school. I couldn’t write poems but I can now (Y3)
- I can do reading better than before and I’m braver answering questions (Y3)
- I really enjoyed more advanced maths, especially probability and triangle numbers (Y5)
- I liked doing experiments, using microscopes to find out about onion cells and looking at maggots! (Y6)
- I’ve really enjoyed helping young people to learn. It’s rewarding to watch them get more confident every week.
- I joined because I thought it would be a really good experience and my favourite part has been getting to know the kids and seeing them learn.
- I enjoy giving my time to young people. I get a kick out of seeing them learn.
- There’s one kid here whose mathematical insight is already at degree level.
- It’s as fulfilling teaching these children as it is teaching A level students.
- When my daughter started attending she was very tentative and unsure of herself. I have seen her improve over the months, and her confidence has grown in leaps and bounds. She looks forward to coming every week and is so happy and excited to tell me what she has done when she comes out at the end. Thank you so much for instilling such confidence in my little girl.
and a snippet of conversation between a father and son overheard as they left the Y5 maths scheme:
- Father: “How was it this morning?” Son: “Illuminating”.
Chairman of Trustees, SCEC firstname.lastname@example.org 020 8858 6510
From Zeppelins to Vampires and Star Wars! by Don Cameron
Like many things in life it was by chance that I found out about the centenary. I was in a bookshop in Whitstable, browsing through the well-stocked shelves, when I noticed the small poster. I stepped closer and read that Peter Cushing, who had lived for many years in the small seaside town, was being honoured.
I did not know much about the famous actor other than seeing him in scary movies, and I decided to do a little digging (I’m sure he would understand that bit..) and find out about the man who was quintessentially the good guy, and a fine actor.
Peter Cushing came into the world on 26th May 1913 and spent his early years in Dulwich, living with his parents and older brother on Desenfans Road. His father was a Quantity Surveyor, and the household was a happy place where plenty of games were played. One of Peter’s earliest memories, probably from the summer of 1917, was of Zeppelins flying overhead, like long, grey cigars drifting in the sky. When they arrived his mother hustled the two boys under the dining table, covered it with a sheet, and they made believe that it was a wigwam. Such game playing and pretending was something that Peter took to instinctively, and it stayed with him his whole life.
He attended the local kindergarten and thrived under the guidance of a friendly and caring teacher. And it was here that he got his first taste of acting, in a school play. He played the part of a cheeky hobgoblin and, dressed in a green costume, spent most of the show behind a large wicker basket. Such a talent could not remain hidden, and he was determined never to let it happen again!
Not only had he an innate talent for acting but he was also a very good artist. This was something he would develop in later years, and there are some of his paintings on show in and around Whitstable.
He went to Hollywood in early 1939 and had a part in Laurel & Hardy’s A Chump at Oxford in 1940. He then went to New York and made a few brief appearances on Broadway before returning home the same year to help the war effort. He was not accepted for military service due to injuries he sustained in school sports, but he did join the Entertainment National Services Association (ENSA).
After the war he performed in the West End and became a regular and familiar face on the then expanding television service. He appeared in numerous films and became a household name when he starred in the popular horror films for the Hammer Corporation, and as Van Helsing was the scourge of Dracula and his deadly, blood-sucking vampires.
Late in life he landed a role in the hugely successful Star Wars, something that brought him to the attention of a new, admiring generation. It was a long way from hiding under the table in Dulwich, but having dealt with real danger at such an early age, fighting inter-galactic foes was a doddle! Fear was not something that worried him, and his take on life is as good an epitaph as anyone would want:
‘You have to have a sense of humour, darling, to be alive. Even a bit mad. It helps to be mad.”
Reviewed by Brian Green
It must have been in 1944 that I noticed, in the window of a shop in Grove Vale, a silver metal badge bearing a portrait of a cigar-smoking Winston Churchill, set within a large V for Victory sign. The price was sixpence, the amount of my weekly pocket money, and I bought it and pinned it onto my lapel. Twenty-one years later, I stood in the crowds lining the streets of London as his State Funeral procession passed by.
This fascination with WSC was recently rekindled by the latest book of Dulwich author, James MacManus, ‘Sleep in Peace Tonight’. Although it is a work of fiction it draws most of its story from documented accounts of that desperate period when Britain was facing alone the might of Nazi Germany. It was at a time when Winston Churchill used all his powers to try to persuade the United States into an alliance against the Axis powers.
The book’s real-life hero is Harry Hopkins, President Franklin Roosevelt’s trusted aide who worked outside the political framework of Washington and who had been his right hand man in creating work schemes to make the New Deal a success in the 1930’s. The fictional love-interest between Hopkins and his driver/liason officer, a British security plant, adds a human touch to the true story of Churchill’s friendship with Hopkins and through him to reach out to the reluctant Roosevelt.
James MacManus’ book grippingly guides us through the events of 1941, the horror of the Blitz which had continued for months, the losses of merchant ships from UBoat attacks in the North Atlantic, the reverses in North Africa and the alarming preparations for the anticipated German invasion of Britain expected that summer. We are made party to difficulties facing Roosevelt who was beset by opposition against entering another European war from a hostile Congress, a disinterested nation and powerful isolationists led by all-American hero Charles Lindbergh.
Churchill’s first success, his foot in the door, was the passing of Lend-Lease, the US Act which provided defence material of any kind, armaments, ships, food without cash payment. Within two years the amount of material supplied to Britain through Lend Lease was eleven thousand million dollars worth,
MacManus then guides us through Churchill’s efforts to arrange a face to face summit with the President and in this Harry Hopkins has an ally in the CBS correspondent, Ed Murrow. Fact is mixed with fiction when they meet at the Black Cat Club, a private club in London where the door key is thrown out of the window in a sock and the patrons let themselves in, and where blackmarket whisky flows and where over-sexed and over- here Americans like Averell Harriman the entrepreneur who headed the Lend Lease programme and John Gilbert Winant the US ambassador are patrons.
Leonora, Hopkins’ fictional love-interest, desperate to be where the action is, applies and is accepted by SOE once the Churchill/Roosevelt summit had taken place. She does not have a nice war.
Sleep in Peace Tonight by James MacManus is published by Duckworth Overlook h/b £16.99 (also available as an e-book) is on sale at Village Books, Dulwich Village