1616 And All That

For the majority of those people interested in English literature and the theatre, 1616 will be remembered as the year of William Shakespeare’s death. Now, in this, his 400th anniversary year, his works will be scrutinized, performed and reinterpreted, his portrait likenesses argued over, his life in London and Stratford probed. Undoubtedly, the movie Shakespeare in Love will be screened ad nauseam. On the other hand, people living in Dulwich or in any way connected with the Foundation schools will be celebrating a different anniversary altogether. For them, 1616 is a significant milestone in Dulwich’s history. Christ’s Chapel, the Dulwich Almshouse charity (Edward Alleyn House) and the Old Burial Ground can all date their various histories to that year.

1616 was the year that the second part of Edward Alleyn’s legacy came to fruition. In 1605 he , possibly unwittingly, took the first step towards immortality when he purchased the Manor of Dulwich and as a consequence allowed the Dulwich Society to launch its project of raising a statue to him 400 years on, in 2005. In three years’ time we will be celebrating the final Act, when official recognition of his gift, in the form of Letters Patent, ensured his vision would enjoy a permanent legacy.

And so we are here, four centuries later to celebrate Act Two. Each of the elements of the Foundation will play a part in the commemoration. While the schools will wish to keep some of their powder dry for Act Three in 2019, they nevertheless are to stage a gala concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 16th March this year. With four distinguished soloists, an orchestra and choir of over 450 pupils, alumni, teachers and parents performing Verdi’s choral masterpiece, the Requiem Mass it promises to be a spectacular opening to the celebrations.

Several events will highlight the Chapel during the Dulwich Festival. On Sunday May 8th Douglas Tang will give a a organ recital, on Tuesday May 10th Brian Green will give a talk on the Chapel’s fascinating and often turbulent history. The talk will be complimented by some original 17th and 18th century music found in Dulwich College’s archives, as well as other compositions which have a relevance at the Chapel, including works by Handel, Holst and Vaughan Williams. They will be played on the historic 1760 George England organ by Marilyn Harper, Christ’s Chapel Organist.

On Sunday 10th July there will be an Evening Celebration in the Chapel and on Thursday 1st September, the actual anniversary of the Chapel’s consecration, there will be an evening Sung Eucharist . Later that month a history of the Dulwich Almshouses will be published. On 17-18th September, Open House Weekend, the Dulwich Society will give guided tours at the Old Burial Ground and will distribute an information leaflet about those interred, including the 37 victims of the Great Plague of 1665.