The Dulwich Society Journal for Spring 2015.
On 31 March 1836 the publishers Chapman & Hall launched the first issue of a new monthly periodical entitled The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Conceived and created by the artist Robert Seymour, it contained four of his illustrations; the words to accompany them were written by a young journalist who used the pen-name Boz.
The story of a sporting-cum-drinking club presided over by fat, loveable Mr Pickwick, assisted by his cockney manservant Sam Weller, The Pickwick Papers soon became a popular sensation, outselling every other book except the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays, and read and discussed by the entire population of the British Isles, from the duke’s drawing-room to the lowliest chophouse. The fame of Mr Pickwick soon spread worldwide – making The Pickwick Papers the greatest literary phenomenon in history.
But one does not need to have read a single word of The Pickwick Papers to be enthralled by the story of how this extraordinary novel came to be. The creation and afterlife of The Pickwick Papers is the subject of Stephen Jarvis’s novel, Death and Mr Pickwick.This vast, intricately constructed, indeed Dickensian work is at once the ultimate homage to a much-loved book, tracing its genesis and subsequent history in fascinating detail, and a damning indictment of how an ambitious young writer expropriated another man’s ideas and then engaged in an elaborate cover-up of The Pickwick Papers’ true origin.
Published by Jonathan Cape h/b £20. Also available as an e-book.
Sometimes, you get lucky. Such was the case when I tried to discover the age of my Victorian house. I found, quite by chance, that the two families who lived in it and the one next door in 1881, at the time of the Census, had intriguing pasts.
Aside from being neighbours, their family stories were very different. However, each was equally fascinating. Simple "Google" searches pulled up references dating back to the 16th century, Burke's Peerage, the Royal Academy, the New English Art Club, country estates - even, to Cromwell.
For two "characterful", but fairly modest, semi-detached early Victorian houses, these discoveries were surprising.
1863 - Rydal Cottage and Grasmere Cottage... in splendid isolation
First, the houses. The initial surprise was that they were amongst the oldest Victorian houses in the Village. The houses sit right in the heart of Dulwich Village, forming part of the longer Gilkes Crescent and located just behind St. Barnabas Parish Hall. But I discovered that, when built, they sat in "splendid isolation", on the outskirts of the Village, in a small curved road known as Elms Road.
They were built in 1863 by local builder, John William Sawyer, shown in the 1861 Census as employing 70 men and 3 boys. He tendered for the job to build 16 cottages on a field, known as "Russell's Field", in 1862. Two pairs of semi-detached houses on the corner were built first, of which one pair was "Rydal Cottage" and "Grasmere Cottage" (names reflective of the Victorian obsession with the Lake District).
Dulwich College archives still have the original lease and the minutes relating to the building works. Two things caught my attention. First, both Rydal Cottage and Grasmere Cottage were leased by the same person - John Goodall - under an 84 year lease signed in 1864, but back-dated to 1863. John Goodall features later in this piece. Secondly, the original plans and elevations for the cottages on which the tender was based were drawn up by the Dulwich Surveyor at the time: Charles Barry Junior. However, although Barry approved the final buildings, it is not clear whether, ultimately, they were to his design. J.W. Sawyer asked if he could build larger houses on the corner plot and "..that the cost of each cottage be £120, and that each of the two houses on the corner plots £300...".
For the next 20 or so years, the two houses and the other cottages, would remain nestled right on the very furthest edge of the extent of Dulwich Village at the time. A village which looked very different from today's….
1867: A contemporary viewpoint
What was Dulwich Village like? In 1867, an eloquent local contemporary writer described Dulwich Village in Macmillan's Magazine. The writer was none other than John Goodall, of Rydal Cottage and Grasmere Cottage, who wrote, in "Dulwich College: The Story of a Foundation":
"..The village of Dulwich occupies a central position on the College lands. It lies in the bottom of the valley between the ridge on which rests the Crystal Palace and the less lofty ridge midway between Sydenham Hill and the Thames. It is so shut in by near hills, or by lofty trees, in all directions, that its horizon is nowhere more distant than a mile or two. It is among the most rural and primitive of all the many charming suburban places within a radial distance of eight or ten miles from London. It has resisted change..... In the past year some orchard-ground and a piece of wilderness which had once been gardens in the rear of the old College have become the scene of building operations. New College buildings on a most extensive scale are now being raised, and have already attained such a height and size as to form a conspicuous object in the landscape as viewed from the rail between Dulwich and Sydenham Hill stations. But, despite present activity, and the progress of the past ten years or so, Dulwich still exhibits a unique individuality, a quaint, staid aspect, a rusticity of appearance throughout its highways and byways....."
The 1870s: Some change in Dulwich, but not much...
John Goodall mentioned, in his 1867 article, that there had probably only been, on average, one house built per year since 1800. Building would gradually increase, once the railway arrived, but it would be very slow. Only a few extra houses and cottages were built over the next 15 years, despite the completion of North Dulwich railway station in 1866/68.
By 3 April 1881, the day of the Census, the Village was largely unchanged.
Let us meet the residents living in the two houses on that day ……
Walking up Elms Road, we would find two families. In Rydal Cottage, we find a family of five: John Goodall, and his wife, Frances (56 and 50, respectively) plus their three sons, Martin (26), Thomas (24) and Arthur (11).
In Grasmere Cottage, are newer neighbours, who have been there at least three years: Edgar and Jane Prescott (42 and 40, respectively) and their six children, Henry, Edward, Edgar, Herbert, Nelly and Isabel (ranging from 15 to 3 years old). The Prescotts also have the luxury of two live-in servants, Jane Mason and Elizabeth Jelley.
Research suggests that the house on the right, as you face it, is Rydal Cottage; on the left, Grasmere Cottage.
As well as sharing an adjoining wall, the families have a few shared experiences, including the ultimate tragedy of losing a child. In addition, the sons from each family attended Dulwich College and John Goodall was even an Assistant Master at Dulwich Grammar School in 1842. Both families seem, also, to have been fairly "well-connected".
We have already seen that John Goodall took the original lease in 1864, had been an Assistant Master, and was a writer. In fact, the earlier 1871 Census describes him as a "Civil Service Clerk in the Office of Education", with, in smaller handwriting below, the words "and author" squeezed in. As shown in the extract above, he had written some pieces on Dulwich itself. He had also authored the entry on Edward Alleyn for Encyclopaedia Britannica.
More significantly, he was one of the authors in a four part history "The National History of England: Civil, Military, Domestic", published in 1868 -1877. The book was very ambitious, spanning Roman times through to 1874. It covered, for each period: civil and military history; law and government; religion; literature, science and art; industry and commerce; and manners customs and social condition and "upwards of 500 engravings illustrative of antiquities, customs, scenery, manners and customs".
The British Library kindly ordered the original volumes for me: large, heavy leather-bound volumes, numbering over 2,000 pages in total. The book is weighty in every sense. The authors were well-respected writers of books on education, history and banking and the introduction was written by Lord Brougham (Lord Chancellor from 1830-34). John Goodall's contribution to this writing "collective" was to author a number of the chapters in Volumes III and in IV, published in the 1870s. He covered all aspects of the Stuarts, William and Mary and Ann, the House of Hanover and the reign of Victoria. His chapter on Charles II starts:
"The restoration of kingly government, in the person of Charles II, was hailed throughout the land with the most exuberant demonstration of delight.... .... A recent bitter experience has taught them to hate the misrule and military oppression of military despotism and the legislation of gloomy fanatics…"
Clearly, not a fan of Oliver Cromwell, then. Little did John Goodall know who would be living next door to him a few years later!
One of the Goodall sons, Thomas Frederick, also achieved some notoriety. He was an artist, who painted using the name "T.F. Goodall". The use of "T.F." was, perhaps, so as not to be confused with a contemporary (slightly better-known) artist, Frederick Goodall, R.A. – although T.F. Goodall was a student at the Royal Academy. He joined as a "probationer" in July 1873, became an RA student on 17 January 1874, at the age of 17, and exhibited fifteen paintings at the Royal Academy between 1879 and 1901. Having seen where T.F. Goodall grew up, it is perhaps no surprise that he focused on landscapes, described as one of the English impressionists.
He would be associated with other great artists from the age and, along with Walter Sickert, John McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent and others (including former schoolmates, Henry La Thangue and Stanhope Forbes), Thomas Goodall was also a founder-member of the New English Art Club, in 1886, which broke away from the Royal Academy, in protest at its "stuffiness".
T.F. Goodall also illustrated "The Order for Morning and Evening Prayer, Litany, and Occasional Prayers, Illustrated with Floral and other Ornamental Borders in Coloured Outline", in 1873, assisting Walter Severn, when T.F. Goodall would have only been 16 or 17 years old. Later, he worked alongside Peter Emerson, a photographer, to co-author a book "Life and Landscape on the Norfolk Broads", in 1887, in which T.F. Goodall wrote a chapter on landscape. In 2013, an original of this rare book of photographs sold at auction for £66,000.
Arthur Hammond Goodall, the youngest son, was a photographer. Some of his photos from 1888 (when 18 years old) are stored in the national archives at Kew – including a photo of the Primrose League "Baumann Habitation" meeting in Peckham.
Initially, I was surprised both by the size of the Prescott family and the fact that they had two servants. Ten people in one house? However, in the previous Census, in 1871, Grasmere Cottage housed a family of seven, plus one servant. Perhaps life was just cosier back then.
Now, this is where my "Google luck" really came into play - in fact, I struck "Google gold". Thanks to his slightly unusual first name, I find that Edgar had a VERY unusual middle name: "Grote". With that, the pages of history started to unfurl, for Edgar had a distinctive (and privileged) family background – on both his father's and his mother's side.
Edgar's father's family - Prescott, Grote & Co.
Edgar Prescott was a stockbroker. He had attended St. Paul's school and then Oxford University. Various references mention Edgar Grote Prescott "of the Stock Exchange" or (in the Dulwich College register, in relation to his sons) as being with "Prescott, Grote & Co.".
Prescott, Grote & Co was a bank founded, in 1776, by Edgar's ancestor George Prescott (c. 1711 – 1790), a Whig MP, with Andreas Grote, a merchant originally from Hamburg. Over the years, the bank name would change, there would be various mergers, and finally, the references to "Prescott" and "Grote" would disappear altogether. In fact, the bank would become part of an entity with which we are all familiar: Royal Bank of Scotland or RBS.
Edgar's mother's family - back to the C16th and C17th
Family connections on Edgar's mother's side proved even more surprising. This is where Cromwell comes in: Edgar Grote Prescott was also a direct descendant of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), from Oliver Crowell's fifth son, Henry.
Again, this was a discovery, largely, by chance – although perhaps the recurring references to "Oliveria" in the family name and the fact that his grandmother was called "Cromwell" should have been clues!
Elizabeth Oliveria Cromwell's father (Edgar's great-grandfather), also called Oliver Cromwell, tried to arrange for the family name to be able to pass to his daughter's husband, so that the family name would not die out. Ultimately, this was vetoed by the King. No surprise, perhaps.
Edgar Prescott in Dulwich
Having seen Edgar's family background, Grasmere Cottage is somewhat smaller than one would have anticipated – albeit, with two servants. Of course, we have seen that Dulwich at the time was a beautiful hamlet. The cottage itself was also in an exquisite location. So it may be that, in 1881 there was money aplenty. Alternatively, the "family business" may not have been as lucrative over the years – or the fact that there were so many children may have diluted the wealth. Who knows?
Whatever the case, the following year, in 1882, things were to take a turn for the worse for Edgar. In March 1882, he was declared bankrupt. A series of notices in the Law Gazette, from 1882 to 1887, deal with creditors meetings, the amount which he could pay to creditors, and, finally, a discharge from bankruptcy. By then, Edgar may not have been living in Grasmere Cottage. 1882 notices simply refer to "Edgar Grote Prescott of Warnford Court" (where the Stock Exchange was based). Later notices, refer, additionally, to a home address of "Hawthornden, Grove Hill" in Dulwich.
Fortunately, by 1891, his financial situation seems stable and Edgar is still living in Grove Hill with his wife and with three servants, including a cook – including Jane Mason, who had been with them in 1881. By now, though, Edgar is an Organist, not a stockbroker. He is still listed as an Organist in the 1901 Census, though, by then, living in Victoria Road.
Some final thoughts
So there you have it. The surprising history (such that I have discovered, so far) of two houses in Dulwich and the families who lived there in 1881 at the time of the Census.
And what of it? What does this small "window on the past" show?
At the risk of hyperbole, I think the most intriguing thing is this: "all life was here". In that one moment in 1881, the full spectrum of life was represented in two families and their forbears: politics; history; religion; art; invention; education; finance; trade; "cabbages and kings" ("cavaliers and kings", even). Here, side-by-side, in Rydal Cottage and Grasmere Cottage.
From today's perspective, perhaps the histories are a little skewed. The families were somewhat privileged and/or moving in privileged circles (for that is why I was able to retrieve so much information so easily). There was also little information readily available on either Frances Goodall or Jane Prescott, representative of the times. Yet, I am struck by how much of what I read can be related, directly, to today's climate of "boom and bust", stock market crashes and recoveries and to current political and economic struggles.
Thursday 12th Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society Lecture -ROMAN TOWN PLANNING: CITIES FOR THE CITIZEN (Geoffrey Toms) 7.30 for 8pm, James Allen's Girls' School Sixth Form Centre. See www.ddfas.org.uk.
Saturday 14th at 7.30pm. A Sequence for Lent. All Saints Church, Rosendale Road. Concert by The Ionian Singers, Timothy Salter conductor/organ. J.S.Bach (Jesu meine Freude), Byrd, Purcell, Fauré (In Paradisum), Rubbra (Motets for Maundy Thursday), Warlock. Tickets £12 (£10 concs) at the door or from 020 8693 1051
Saturday 28th 7.30 pm at St Barnabas Church, Calton Avenue. Dulwich Choral Society, with professional soloists, will perform Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle. Neither small nor solemn! Moving and energetic, with beautiful melodies showcasing Rossini's great contrapuntal skill. Tickets £16 (£8 for under 17s) from The Art Stationers (Dulwich Village), South London Music (Grove Vale) or phone 0207 7274 2349.
Thursday 9th Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society Lecture - TAKE A SEAT: TRENDS IN 20th CENTURY FURNITURE DESIGN (Deborah Lambert) 7.30 for 8pm, James Allen's Girls' School Sixth Form Centre. See www.ddfas.org.uk
Saturday 18th Come and Sing the Verdi Requiem! A workshop day, with our friendly choir, conducted by Aidan Oliver and culminating in a performance with professional soloists. Open to all, from those who wish an introduction to the work to singers who want to deepen their appreciation of it.
Dulwich Opera Company will present a staged performance of Puccini's La Bohème at 7.30pm in All Saints Church, West Dulwich. (see separate notice on poage ? for details)
Monday 27th Dulwich Society AGM at St Barnabas Church Community Suite, Calton Avenue, SE21 7DG. 8pm
Thursday 14th Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society Lecture - THE ARTISTIC TRADITIONS OF TIBET & THE HIMALAYAS (Jasleen Kandhari) 7.30 for 8pm, James Allen's Girls' School Sixth Form Centre. See www.ddfas.org.uk.