The Dulwich Society Journal for Spring 2019.
There are a number of significant anniversaries being celebrated in Dulwich this year. The sharp-eyed reader will have noticed by our cover and our masthead that this issue is the Journal’s two hundredth edition. Beginning fifty-five ago, with a two or three sheets of foolscap paper, printed on a Roneo duplicating machine and held together by a single staple it was then called the Newsletter. From those modest beginnings it grew into a booklet, and, thanks to modern technology, which has dramatically reduced the costs of reproducing illustrations, into a full-blown colour illustrated magazine.
The first issue appeared in October 1964, summarising the events of the Dulwich Society’s first year. It remained an annual publication until the Summer issue of 1968 when it appeared quarterly and its size was reduced to that of a what was termed a ‘handy-size’. This was when the numbering of the newsletter began. The first twenty-four issues can be found in Southwark Local Studies Library. Newsletter number 1 highlighted some of the issues of the 1960’s. Perhaps it will come as no surprise that at the top of the list was the problem of traffic! All the Newsletters from No. 25 onwards, as well as the Journals which succeeded it, can be read online by going to the Dulwich Society’s website.
Its editors have included two Fleet Street journalists, David Nicholson-Lord who wrote on environmental issues in ‘The Times’ and Brian McConnell QPM a veteran newspaper man recently immortalised in the play performed in the West End; ‘Ink’, concerning the launching of ‘The Sun’ newspaper. The present editor, who has been responsible for the last sixty issues was previously editor for twenty years of ‘The Dulwich Villager’ magazine.
As most residents of Dulwich will be aware, 2019 is also the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the College of God’s Gift by Edward Alleyn, the noted actor/manager and entrepreneur in the golden age of English theatre. Both Alleyn’s School and Dulwich College have an extensive programme of talks and initiatives commemorating the anniversary; Dulwich College has also carefully restored the magnificent building designed by Charles Barry jnr and Alleyn’s is markingit with the planting of 400 trees in its grounds. Both schools are using the anniversary to increase their efforts to provide more bursaries for pupils from poorer homes.
Of even wider significance this year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Ruskin, the Victorian period’s most influential art critic and commentator on social conditions in England. Ruskin lived for much of his life on Herne Hill and Denmark Hill and it is a pity that Dulwich Picture Gallery has neglected this opportunity to stage an exhibition of Ruskin’s enormous contribution to art. Not only would it have provided a fascinating insight into the mind of Dulwich’s most celebrated resident but it would also have the given the chance to display the works of Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites who Ruskin praised, alongside those of some of the Old Masters with whom he was in much dispute. The Journal is carrying a series of articles on this extraordinary man and his influence during this year, the first of which appears in this issue. On page 7 you will also find details of a talk to be given by Jon Newman on Ruskin’s local connections and his reasons for his decision to quit Dulwich and London.
2019 is also the 400th anniversary of the death of the actor/manager Richard Burbage, friend of Shakespeare and rival to Edward Alleyn. The residents of Burbage Road have plans to commemorate their road’s namesake during the year. Jan Piggott discusses in this Journal, the connections between Burbage, Alleyn and Dulwich.
The Society facilitated a very successful meeting at the Methodist Church Hall on Half Moon Lane on 12th January. The main purpose of the meeting was for residents to tell the Council how they thought a more ‘liveable’ Dulwich could be achieved and also listen to how the Council’s current and upcoming policies might impact on the area. Going forward, the aim was to start a dialogue with Southwark, building on the holistic traffic management plan produced as part of the Village junction works, to work together to make Dulwich a better place for everyone, residents, traders and visitors but, most importantly, for our children.
Over 120 people attended to hear short presentations from local MP Helen Hayes, Richard Livingstone, Southwark’s Cabinet Member for Environment, Transport Management and Air Quality, Village Ward Councillors Margy Newens and Richard Leeming, Dr Helen Ward, an expert on the impact of traffic generated pollution on school children, and local resident, Henrietta Collier, who described the implementation of the recent trial street closure experiment outside Bessemer Grange School. There was a wide variety of questions from the floor and Councillors encouraged local residents to put forward ideas for consideration in next year’s Local Implementation Plan.
Local Residents Associations and all those who attended, and left their contact details, will have received a follow up email with the notes of the meeting, and there is more information on the Society’s website. Below is a short summary of some of the main points raised:
Pollution: A number of speakers noted the Increasing volume of traffic pre and post school hours - several of the Council’s most polluted roads are in the Dulwich area - Dulwich Wood Park, Barry Road and Forest Hill Road. The Council’s Air Quality Action Plan plans to target these roads but another option might be to introduce some traffic calming by blocking off some of the roads used as commuter short cuts - like they have in some areas of East Dulwich.
How do we reduce pollution outside our schools? The Bessemer Grange street closure experiment is a great start but we need to do more. While the new route for the Foundation School coaches has been agreed, it has not been implemented, and how do we stop school coaches parking with their engines idling? This is illegal and the council and police should be more pro-active on enforcement. The 20mph speed limit should also be properly enforced, and we need to consider the likely impact of the Mayor of London’s planned ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) which, as currently planned, will split our community in half in 2021, as its border will run along the South Circular.
Parking: Weekday parking by both commuters and long-stay parkers is increasing, reducing the available amount of resident parking. They are not using local businesses and they are preventing many local residents from doing so - how can it be controlled so that residents can park near their homes and by the shops? The Council are currently consulting on its ‘movement plan’ and have just started consultation on a proposed controlled parking zone in East Dulwich. There is also a CPZ about to be introduced in Champion Hill, and Lambeth are also considering one in Croxted Road. These will impact on the Village and, while there are divergent views on them, Councillors reiterated that they were cost/revenue neutral and only introduced where a majority of residents wanted them.
Public transport & Green vehicles: Better access to our stations should be a priority and bus frequency through the Village should be improved, the P4 needs to be more regular and a rerouting of the 201 could offer some benefits. The Council is installing more electric car charging posts in lamp posts but are they being used, and should they not have dedicated parking bays? We should also consider electric bicycles and, if the law changes, electric scooters, as alternatives.
Former S G Smith Site
Following the demolition of the existing buildings the developer carried out further investigative work on the location and size of the underground tanks which served the former petrol stations on the site. As of the end of January, no further work has been carried out and despite being asked several times, the developer has not given any further information on when building is likely to start. The site is surrounded by a very basic security fence and is an eyesore in the centre of the Village. Many residents are coming to the view that there is no intention to start work anytime soon and that Gilkes Crescent should be re-opened and a proper hoarding erected around the site.
Local Residents’ Associations Parking Surveys
Together, Turney and Burbage roads represent about 400 households and, in response to increasing resident concerns, the Burbage and Turney Residents’ Associations designed a short anonymous online parking survey which was completed by 10th December. There were 240 responses, representing a response rate of 60%.
Two thirds of respondents felt that parking difficulties had become significantly worse over the last year. Not everyone experienced parking difficulties but 30% of respondents did sometimes, and 32% experience them frequently or all the time. Parking problems were acute during the week but also during the weekend on Saturday and Sunday mornings (when the four local sports facilities are in use).
Burbage Road car ownership was analysed by comparing the number of cars per household against on and off-street parking in Burbage. 50% of Burbage residents have one car and 38% have two giving an overall average is 1.5 cars per household. Nearly 90% of houses in Burbage have off-street parking. Looking at car ownership and spaces combined, it was reckoned that on any day there should be between 60 and 100 spaces available for non-residents in Burbage road. This was rarely the case.
In the Southwark part of Turney Road, approximately 88% of houses have off street parking, the large majority for one car. Like Burbage Road, 50% of households have one car and 36% two cars. The estimate was that there were 113 parking spaces on the road, of which about 23 are needed by residents who cannot park all their cars on their drive or do not have a drive. This leaves 90 spaces for non-resident parking which can, at times, be fully utilised leaving difficulties for some residents as the parking spaces are not spread evenly along the road.
Responders felt that parking problems were exacerbated by school pick up and drop offs, commuter parking for Herne Hill and North Dulwich stations, visitors to the village shops, gallery and park, tradesmen, builders and visitors to the sports clubs and intermittently large events at Brockwell Park and the Velodrome. Medical staff, employees of local business and teachers also needed our spaces.
Many detailed responses give a lot of other information on inconsiderate parking behaviour and high speeds and intensive use of roads which is dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. That data has not yet been analysed.
The request for comments on the CPZ’s found that residents would need far more information on how this would work specifically. However, there was a significant body of residents who expressed strong support for CPZs, but also a similar proportion who felt equally strongly against. The polarisation of opinion in this way gives the RA’s some concern. There was also a strong view that any solution to the two roads’ particular problems must be found in the context of the wider Village situation so there is no displacement of the problem to other neighbouring roads.
Crime and Policing
There was a spate of street muggings in Village Ward in November and December and this resulted in a substantial increase in reported robbery crime, 32 incidents in total, a substantial increase over the same period in 2017. The good news is that several arrests were made and that two of the criminals have appeared in court, with a third pending. Over the same period the overall number of burglaries was down but motor vehicle crime was up considerably - there are reports of over 50 parked cars having their windows smashed, the thieves looking mainly for spare cash.
At January’s Safer Neighbourhood Panel meeting the police confirmed that Southwark and Lambeth police were being combined as ‘Central South’ on 21st January and that the local SNP cluster, Dulwich Village, Dulwich Hill and Dulwich Wood, would be based at Gipsy Hill Police Station shortly afterwards. The cluster will also have a new sergeant as Tricia Edmeades has moved to Bermondsey and she will be replaced by Jonathan Adams.
Local MP Helen Hayes and Councillors met with school heads and the local inspector just before Christmas to discuss ways of combatting the rise in youth on youth crime. There was a positive outcome and we have been told that three school’s officers will be returning to work in the Dulwich area from late January - one will cover Dulwich College/Dulwich Prep/Kingsdale, the second will cover both Charter Schools and the third will cover JAGS and Alleyns.
News was received that Ann Grisnigt (neé Stone) died on 26th December 2018. Two weeks later, on 11th January further news was received that Bram, himself, had died, thus being reunited with his beloved wife who he met when she was a JAGS teenager and he was a 20 year old Dutch secret agent about to be parachuted into Nazi occupied Holland. As readers will recall, Bram had recently informed the Dulwich Society that the painting of Huize Anna, the code name for Tappen House (formerly Glenlea) on Dulwich Common where the Dutch intelligence agents lived and trained, and which was commissioned by The Dulwich Society and painted by local artist Audrey McLeod and presented to Bram, would, on his death be accepted by the Dutch War Resistance Museum.
Bram and Ann met in 1943 when he was travelling back and forth for specialist parachute training and she was still a schoolgirl. They fell in love, Bram parachuted into Holland in 1943 and after that Ann heard no more until 1945. In the meantime, Bram had been captured, and later imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp. Liberated by the Russians, Bram later returned to Dulwich and married Ann at Emmanuel Church, West Dulwich. Bram was awarded The King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom, a British decoration awarded to men and women of the Resistance.
The 56th Annual General Meeting of The Dulwich Society will be held at 8pm on Tuesday 7 May 2019 at the First Floor Suite, Crown and Greyhound, Dulwich Village, SE21 7BJ
1. Introduction and welcome by Chair
2. Minutes of the 55th Annual General Meeting held on 30th April 2018 to be approved.
3. Chairman’s Report and Review of the Year.
4. Treasurer’s Report and presentation of accounts for the year ended 31st December 2018
5. Appointment of Honorary Auditor. Nominee: Sally-Anne Jeffries, Chartered Accountant.
6. Elections for 2019-2020. Officers, Members of the Executive Committee, Honorary Officers.
7. Questions from members.
8. Any Other Business.
9. Close of AGM Business
After the AGM, the meeting will be followed by an illustrated talk - ‘The Changing Face of Dulwich?’
Refreshments will be served
Note: Nomination forms for election as an Officer or Member of the Executive Committee can be obtained from the Secretary. Nominations must be submitted in writing to the Secretary by two Society members not later than fourteen days before the AGM and must be endorsed by the candidate in writing. (Rule 9).
Minutes of the Annual General Meeting 2018 and the Chairman’s & Committee reports will be available on the Dulwich Society web site www.dulwichsociety.com or on application to the Secretary from 1st April 2019. The Rules of the Society are available at http://www.dulwichsociety.com/about-the-dulwich-society.
Susan Badman, Hon. Secretary, Dulwich Society,
Members who have not paid their 2019 subscription should do so immediately. Final reminders were sent during February. Members who do not do so will not receive further issues of the Journal.
Dulwich Gardens open for charity 2019
Enclosed with this Journal is a copy of our 2019 Dulwich Gardens open for charity booklet, with details of the local gardens that will be opening this year and that we hope you will take the chance to visit. They are all a great source of ideas and inspiration, as well as raising significant sums for local and national charities. Further copies of the brochure are available in local garden centres and other outlets.
Many thanks once again to Ann Rutherford for producing it, and many thanks to the garden owners involved for their wonderful work.
Spring gardens talk - Helen Yemm on “The modern cottage garden”, Wednesday 10th April
This year’s Spring talk will be given by Helen Yemm, who writes the weekly Thorny Problems column in The Daily Telegraph. The talk is in Alleyn’s School, Townley Road, SE22 8SU at 7.30pm on Thursday 10th April, with the opportunity to meet Helen after the talk over a glass of wine.
Tickets are £10 each (including a glass of wine) and can be purchased through Eventbrite (www.eventbrite.co.uk - search “Dulwich Society”) or from Jeremy Prescott, 142 Court Lane, London SE21 7EB (cheques payable to “The Dulwich Society” and an SAE please). Enquiries to Carol Britton
Coach visit to West Dean Gardens and Woolbeding Gardens, Thursday 20th June
Also in the brochure are details of our annual coach outing, which this year is to West Dean Gardens and Woolbeding Gardens (National Trust) in West Sussex.
Tickets are £27 each and can be purchased through Eventbrite (www.eventbrite.co.uk - search “Dulwich Society”) or from Jeremy Prescott, 142 Court Lane, London SE21 7EB (cheques payable to “The Dulwich Society” with a note of your email address and an SAE please). Please note that non-members of the National Trust will need to pay an additional £8 for entry to Woolbeding Gardens; this will be collected on the coach. Enquiries to Jeremy Prescott
We suggest early application for what will be a popular visit.
Non-members of the Dulwich Society are welcome to both events.
The Local History Group presents
Two Hundred Years On: John Ruskin's Vision of South London- a talk by Jon Newman
John Ruskin, who was born 200 years ago was a hugely influential public intellectual whose writings on art, culture, architecture and economics informed and defined so many areas of Victorian life. He championed the Pre-Raphaelite painters, he revealed the greatness of Turner's art, he explained and popularised Venice for English travellers and he made Gothic-revival architecture the default style of his century...
Alongside all these attributes he was and he remained a South Londoner. His family had moved to Herne Hill when he was three years old and he continued to live there and on Denmark Hill for a further sixty years. Yet when he finally retired to the Lake District in the 1880s, his mind now darkened by mental illness, he did so in despair at what he felt Victorian society in general and London and South London in particular had come to. Railway building, air pollution, the destruction of his child-hood haunts, the unrestricted power of developers to put up cheap and ugly houses, the vulgarity of the Crystal Palace ("possessing no more sublimity than a cucumber frame between two chimneys"), all had conspired to send him into a debilitating depression.
Jon Newman, a writer and the archivist for Lambeth Council, has long been interested in Ruskin's links with South London. His talk considers the question: Was John Ruskin merely the first in a long line of thin-skinned NIMBYs, or do his impassioned critiques of industrialisation and uncontrolled growth continue to have meaning for us today?
The talk will be given by Jon at Bell House, College Road on Sunday 24th March 2019 at 3pm. Tickets £5 from Eventbrite or The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village
I’ll start with an introduction: my name is Rachel Dowse and I’m the new London Wildlife Trust conservation project officer for Sydenham Hill Wood. I took over from the previous project officer Daniel Greenwood in July, and have been getting stuck in getting to know the wood, its wildlife and its very special character. I’m already quite familiar with the Dulwich area, as previously I was the Lost Effra project officer at London Wildlife, which involved creating flood-preventing and wildlife friendly gardens along the route of the now-underground River Effra, which used to flow through Dulwich!
Not everyone thinks of visiting the woods in winter, but those that do are rewarded with a landscape transformed from the lush vegetation of summer. Bare branches mean birds become far easier to spot - in November and December we caught sight of jays, greater spotted woodpeckers and even the elusive goldcrests and firecrests - the UK’s smallest birds - who spend their winters in Sydenham Hill and Dulwich woods. Their tiny bodies, hovering almost like hummingbirds, and striking orange or gold crests that give them their name make these birds a really special sight for 32
As part of London Wildlife Trust’s Heritage Lottery Funded Great North Wood project, electronic gate counters have been installed on four of the entrances to Sydenham Hill and Dulwich woods, and thanks to them we know that the cold and mud didn’t put many visitors off, with a huge uptick during the week after Christmas. It’s great to know that so many people spent the holiday period enjoying nature on their doorstep!
Hopefully those visitors appreciated the hard work of our dedicated volunteers over this period. We’ve been building dead hedges alongside paths to protect the delicate woodland understorey from being trampled. This involves hammering stakes into the ground and weaving branches through to create not only a barrier, but also a brilliant habitat for insects, small mammals and even some birds! They’re also quite beautiful, and we’ve had lots of lovely comments from passers-by!
For those interested in the work of the Great North Wood project on One Tree Hill, 2018 saw the first full survey season of butterfly transects at One Tree Hill and Brenchley Gardens, these weekly surveys will continue in 2019. Great North Wood staff and volunteers at One Tree Hill will also be working to clear the few remaining invasive shrubs, restore areas of acid grassland, clear space around the site’s veteran trees and run a series of events at this well-loved site.
As we move into Spring, be sure to keep your eyes peeled in the wood for delicate wildflowers starting to emerge, and listen out for birdsong beginning to increase as birds stake out their territories ready for the breeding season. You might even hear the drumming of a woodpecker echoing through the wood - this noise is the male greater and lesser spotted woodpeckers’ way of announcing its presence to any females!
If you’d like to get involved with volunteering at Sydenham Hill wood, please email me at
Woodpecker Walk, One Tree Hill,
Wednesday, 20th March - 8:00am - 9:30am
Join us for a guided walk to explore the fascinating world of woodpeckers (and other feathered creatures).
Meet by the gates of St Augustine's Church. This event is offered free as part of the Great North Wood project and there is no need to book.
Contact details Tel: 07734 599286
Dawn chorus walk in Sydenham Hill Wood
Saturday 20th April - 5:00am - 7:00am
Join us for an early morning bird walk in the woods. We'll be looking and listening out for the many species of birds that use the woods at this time of year.
Meeting point is inside the southern entrance to Sydenham Hill Wood on Crescent Wood Road, by the noticeboard. There is no need to book and the walk is free.
Contact details Tel: 079 7131 5245
Spring walk at Sydenham Hill Wood
Thursday 25th April- 2:00pm - 3:30pm
Guided walk in Sydenham Hill Wood to find spring wildlife. Celebrate the coming of spring in London's ancient woodlands!
Meeting point is inside the southern entrance to Sydenham Hill Wood on Crescent Wood Road, by the noticeboard. There is no need to book and the walk is free.
Contact details Tel: 079 7131 5245
When John Ruskin, the nineteenth century’s most famous art critic’s father died in March 1864, his son was concerned about leaving his elderly mother alone at the large house on Denmark Hill when he was due to go to away the following month. Yes, there were plenty of household staff, not counting the four gardeners for the 7 acres of grounds, but she was a difficult old lady; insisting on covering the family’s collection of Turner paintings on the walls on Sundays in case they gave too much unwarranted joy on the Sabbath. What to do? Well, you did what was usual in such wealthy families in mid-Victorian England, you found a needy relative to fulfil the task of keeping her company. A distant cousin, Joan Agnew, down from Scotland, was staying in London at this time with another relative and she was invited to Denmark Hill for a week’s visit. Instead of a week, the connection would last for 36 years until Ruskin’s own death in 1900.
Joan Agnew (1846-1924) was barely 18 years old when she met eighty-three-year-old Margaret Ruskin, the art critic’s mother. Despite the wide age disparity, they got on well and Joan agreed to remain as her companion at Denmark Hill. Within a year, John Ruskin (1819-1900) had made Joan his ward and an arrangement was made that she would be allowed to visit her own mother in Scotland for a month every year. She was given three well-furnished rooms at Denmark Hill for her own use. She took over the running of the large house, managing the servants and even cutting Ruskin’s hair. He enjoyed her Scottish dancing and was an enthusiastic dancer himself, not a pastime normally associated with the intense 40-year-old at the height of his intellectual powers.
Joseph Severn (1793-1879), artist and friend of Keats, had met the young Ruskin when Ruskin had called upon him in Rome in 1840. The reason for the visit was a letter of introduction from one of Ruskin’s few Oxford friends, Henry Acland. Letters were addressed to both Severn and fellow artist George Richmond. They got on well and the following year found them all in London where the Severn family had now returned.
Arthur Severn (1842- 1931) and his twin-sister Mary were born at the family house at Buckingham Gate in 1842 and the Ruskin and the Severn families grew friendly, John Ruskin senior sending boxes of almonds, raisins and plums to the children, direct from his wine estate in Spain.
It was Mary Severn, then aged 15, already showing promise as an artist, who unconsciously paved the way for her brother’s contact with Ruskin, by expressing a wish, in 1857, to visit Denmark Hill to see the collection of Turner paintings. An invitation to them both to come for lunch and view the pictures swiftly followed. “We were living then in Belgrave Road close to Warwick Square and went over Vauxhall Bridge to Camberwell, then walked up Denmark Hill, arriving at the beautiful cedar tree just under the gate of Ruskin’s garden”. John Ruskin was delighted to show the young Severn twins his father’s collection of Turners.
The casual friendship between the two families continued, the years passed but by 1861 Joseph Severn’s success as an artist in Rome did not replicate itself in London. To relieve the financial strain, he sought and obtained the post of British Consul in Rome, a post which he retained until his death in 1879. Arthur left Westminster School, his family expecting him to follow his brothers into the Civil Service. Arthur, however had ambitions to be a painter like his father and although the prospect of a clerkship in a government office hung over his head, he stuck to it.
There was an interval of five or six years before Arthur encountered the Ruskins again. He was a guest at a dinner party given by his now married sister Mary and her husband, Charles Newton, the archaeologist who had also been at Oxford with John Ruskin. After dinner, Ruskin was shown a large watercolour drawing by Arthur of St Paul’s at sunrise. He criticized the presence of the ‘horrid Shot Tower and that ugly railway bridge’ in the picture but praised the sky. Another dinner party ensued, and this time Ruskin was shown Arthur’s large drawing of waves breaking by moonlight, “which he seemed to like very much”.
This study was hung at an exhibition of drawings at the Dudley Gallery. The hanging committee raised the price from £40 to £70 and the work sold so quickly that a replacement had to be made for another client. Arthur Severn was thus encouraged on his course as an artist. Most successful as a watercolourist in seascapes and landscapes, he would later exhibit frequently at the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute of Watercolour Artists.
Arthur Severn was not to meet John Ruskin again for several more years and when he did it was at a party at George Richmond’s. Ruskin’s study of Italian art had been chiefly guided by Richmond who had also painted John Ruskin’s portrait several times. At the party there was to be a rehearsal for a play -Severn later recalled, “During a long pause when the curtain was down, finding it a little dull, I looked about me, and a few chairs off saw a pretty good-natured-looking-girl with frizzy hair and a complexion like a rose, with no one to talk to. I sidled up and with no introduction began to talk to her. She was most agreeable, not shy, and looked amused I thought at my boldness”. The girl was Joan Agnew and Arthur was smitten.
“I need hardly say that in a few days I discovered it was absolutely necessary to write to Ruskin and to say that I had some very important questions to ask him, and would he appoint an afternoon about clouds.” Thus, Arthur Severn became a regular visitor to 163 Denmark Hill, pursuing a courtship made excessively long by the obduracy of Ruskin’s concern for his cousin and ward. Some biographers have thought that Ruskin had designs upon the girl himself. Severn was however finally accepted as her suitor, welcomed as a frequent visitor, although he would have to wait three more years for permission to propose to Joan.
During this period Severn met Ruskin in Italy and toured Verona with him and pressed him on his wish for Joan’s hand. Receiving encouragement at last, frequent visits to Denmark Hill or theatre outings with Ruskin and Joan ensued and finally in November 1870 the couple were engaged. Margaret Ruskin, John’s mother, took to Severn and gave him ‘a considerable sum of money’ before his marriage. Ruskin presented the newlyweds the lease of 28 Herne Hill for their wedding present. It had been John’s home from 1823 until his father’s increase in fortune allowed him to lease the larger Denmark Hill house in 1842. However, 28 Herne Hill was retained and it would remain in the family until 1907. The house would not only be the Severns’ London home but also Ruskin’s pied a terre for his many visits to London.
Arthur and Joan were married in the Spring of 1871 and honeymooned in Yorkshire and Scotland. It was while in Scotland that Joan suffered an attack of rheumatic fever. Ruskin, concerned for his cousin’s recovery suggested a spell at Matlock Bath, Derbyshire and accordingly took rooms there in June. With Joan’s poor health, it took the Severns some time to travel to the spa. In the meantime, Ruskin himself had fallen seriously ill with ‘some internal inflammation’. Joan wrote daily to Mrs Ruskin who was alarmed at her son’s illness. Ruskin was incapacitated for over a month and during this time expressed a yearning “to lie in Coniston Water”.
In December 1871 Ruskin’s mother died, a great blow to both Ruskin and to Joan Severn who, by then had lived with her for seven years before her marriage and was her constant visitor afterwards. Soon after, Ruskin was unexpectedly offered ‘Brantwood’ on Coniston by its owner for £1500. Ruskin was quick to agree the purchase; some writers believe he never saw the house before buying it. The wish to live in the Lake District is not so surprising considering his recent thoughts of that area. He was also disenchanted with city life and hated the Crystal Palace which dominated the view over Dulwich from his windows. He was similarly distressed by the increasing industrialization of the nation, the growth of factories and his perceived view of the decline of the craftsman. He at once decided to dispose of the lease of 163 Denmark Hill, move to the Lake District and move in when occasion required him to be in London, with the Severns.
As Brantwood would take some time to be put in order and the lease of Denmark Hill assigned to a Mr Walter Bruce, a distiller, for £1000, John Ruskin proposed, according to Severn, “a delightful plan of taking us abroad with some friends for three or four months.” “We were delighted”. The party consisted of Ruskin, the Severns, the painter Albert Goodwin, a Mrs Hilliard and her daughter together with his secretary Crawley. Ruskin confided his hope to Severn that the ladies would leave them alone enough for them to do some drawings.
The lengthy tour was a success with the exception for Ruskin of Rome which he did not like, partly because of the over-zealous restoration of some of the churches and monuments to which he took great exception - ”It is a nasty, rubbishy, dirty hole -I hate it.” However, the Severns were able to visit Joseph Severn there and Arthur himself particularly admired the Alban Hills. Ruskin, a workaholic as ever, wrote his regular Fors Clavigera letters for publication while on the tour and also wrote instructions for the foundation of the Ruskin School of Drawing at Oxford (now named the Ruskin School of Art) founded for the encouragement of artisanship and technical skills, which would open later that year. He was also making observations and drawings in Rome and Venice for forthcoming lectures at Oxford where he had held the post of Slade Professor of Art since its establishment in 1869 and which he held until 1878 and again from 1883-5. He also was a constant encourager and critic of the art works of Severn and Goodwin, insisting in the detail and the faithfulness to nature. Finally, however, tempers frayed between Arthur Severn and Ruskin, their personalities perhaps too similar, and the Severns returned to London early. Ruskin meanwhile, had been diverted by correspondence from England that suggested a possible reconciliation with Rose La Touche, with whom he was once infatuated and from whom he had become estranged. Ruskin followed the Severns a few days later, to his rooms in the Severn household at Herne Hill.
The trip thus ended, and the Severns finally settled in at 28 Herne Hill, and Ruskin, perhaps showing remorse for his behaviour, dispatched his four gardeners who would no longer be required in the large garden at Denmark Hill to the Severns’ modest garden both to mollify his hosts to give the gardeners a job.
This gesture was typical of Ruskin. He came up with a multitude of schemes to employ the poor, ranging from sweeping the streets of Camberwell to opening a tea shop at Marylebone. He was a believer in the dignity of labour. Another platform he liked to occupy concerned physical exercise. He believed everyone should take exercise but to do it in a productive way rather than wasting time on what he considered, pointless pursuits like games. Both at Oxford and at Brantwood, he would roll his sleeves up and personally lead the digging and resurfacing of a road, thereby reconciling the need for exercise with that of useful purpose. One of his diggers at Oxford was Oscar Wilde.
Brantwood was made ready, but was then only a single-story building, It had yet to welcome the Severns increasing brood of children which would require an additional storey to the house to accommodate them. Both Ruskin and the Severns stayed at Herne Hill frequently in the 1870’s and 80’s, Ruskin writing some of his autobiography, Praeterita, in his room which had once been his former nursery. During this period, and certainly from the mid-1870’s, Ruskin began to exhibit a tendency of over assertiveness in his writings; suggesting that his arguments were the only valid ones. Nowhere was this more obvious than his criticism of the work of James McNeil Whistler. That is not to say that Ruskin had shied away from ferocious criticism in the past. In 1856, Punch magazine had published a lampoon of Ruskin under the title of ‘Poem by a Perfectly Furious Academician’:
I takes and paints
Hears no complaints,
And sells before I’m dry;
Till savage Ruskin
He sticks his tusk in,
Then nobody will buy.
In 1877 Ruskin went to see the Grosvenor Gallery’s first exhibition. The Gallery had been established to provide a window to art outside the mainstream and this first exhibition featured the works of Edward Burne-Jones, an artist Ruskin admired. Ruskin had already criticized the gallery a few days earlier in one of his Fors Clavigera letters for its founders, Sir Coutts Lindsey and his wife Caroline, both amateur artists, having the temerity to put their own pictures on the same walls as professional artists. The Grosvenor Gallery was associated with the aesthetic movement, soon to be pilloried by Gilbert & Sullivan in their operetta ‘Patience’ - the line ‘A greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery kind of man” etc. On display at the opening were some works by Whistler. Of these Ruskin savagely wrote “…I never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a paint pot in the public’s face.” What John Ruskin might have thought about today’s Turner Prize would certainly be interesting!
Whistler, not unexpectedly did not take this criticism lightly and commenced legal proceedings for libel. For Arthur Severn, the rather embarrassing thing was that Whistler and he were acquaintances, brought together by Severn’s brother, Walter, who, some fifteen years earlier, had let Whistler paint his ‘The Last of Old Westminster ’ from his rooms on the site of what is today New Scotland Yard. Severn held Whistler’s work in high esteem. His discomfiture was therefore compounded when at the request of Ruskin’s solicitors, Severn was asked to bring to the court a painting attributed to Titian, Doge Andrea Gritti acquired by Ruskin in 1864 so it might be compared with Whistler’s ‘Symphony’ paintings. Acting as Ruskin’s representative, Severn was required to enlist witnesses on Ruskin’s behalf including William Powell Frith. During the trial Severn was also retained by the defence to look up references in Ruskin’s ‘Modern Painters’.
Severn admired Whistler’s work, thinking Ruskin’s criticism ill-judged. However, he later wrote “I must say I thought it absurd of Whistler asking such high prices for so little work”. Apparently, Whistler, recognizing the difficulty of Severn’s position remained courteous to him throughout.
The court found Ruskin guilty of libel but only awarded Whistler a farthing in damages. Nevertheless, the effect on Ruskin’s reputation was serious and he felt compelled to resign his post at Oxford. The costs of the action were shared between the two men; Ruskin’s was paid by public subscription, but it drove Whistler into bankruptcy six months later.
Between 1880-81 Ruskin had a series of illnesses, mainly depression, lasting about a month each but In 1882 while staying with the Severns at Herne Hill he had a severe mental breakdown which would last two years; Ruskin later described it as his going mad. His health and mental stability would recover and he would briefly resume the Slade professorship at Oxford, however, the previously regular Fors Clavigera letters now became occasional. He was able to take some foreign travel, and started to write what would be his unfinished autobiography, Praeterita, However by 1890 he had become completely incapacitated. It was Joan who nursed and fussed over him, then, and until his death ten years later, in 1900, both at the Severns’ home at Herne Hill and at Brantwood.
Ruskin had, from the time of Joan’s arrival into his life to care for his mother, written regularly to her when he was away. In all he wrote over 3000 letters to Joan, the early ones calling her affectionately his “wee coz” but by the 1880’s a nursery style had crept into his correspondence, “wee Doanie”, “ownie Downie” and later “Di Ma” to which Joan responded with “Di Pa”. In these later years, Joan effectively became not only his constant companion but also his gatekeeper; limiting access to visitors who wished to talk to the great man. Ruskin did not always appreciate this concern, at times becoming belligerent and suspicious of his cousin, and resenting her attempts to control him and screening visitors she thought might upset him. Over the years their roles had reversed. In her youth, Ruskin had been her protector, now she was his.
In his Will, Ruskin left everything to the Severns, Brantwood, its contents including his collection of books, papers and pictures. He made a request in it, that Brantwood would be opened for 30 days each year for visitors. That the Severns failed to completely honour this condition has remained a source of rancour by Ruskin’s subsequent admirers, down to this day. Certainly many of Ruskin’s picture collection was sold off soon after his death and Brantwood might not have been open as regularly as Ruskin had hoped, but it was opened. Ruskin had been a controlling person in his lifetime and one suspects thatJoan and Arthur Severn had no intention that he should remain so from beyond the grave. Nevertheless, Brantwood was not actually sold until after Arthur Severn’s death in 1931.
Arthur Severn only enjoyed mild success as an artist, despite Ruskin’s considerable interest and encouragement. It could be argued that Severn’s fame came more from his association with Ruskin than through his own talent. However, he was an active exhibitor and was elected a member of both the Royal Institute of Water Colours and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters although his work never commanded a high price.
There can be no doubt that he was devoted to his wife. A great test of this actually came after Ruskin’s death, when in 1906, the same year that the Severns finally gave up the lease on their Herne Hill home which had been associated with Ruskin for almost eighty years. The occasion was a visit made to Brantwood by the best-selling author, Marie Corelli ((1855-1924). Corelli was born out of wedlock as Mary McKay, the result of a servant/master relationship of her parents (later legalised), she adopted the name of the Italians violinist and composer. Marie Corelli was aged fifty-one at the time of the visit.
Accompanied by her friend and companion Bertha Vyver, the visit, apparently, was such a success that they were invited back for supper that evening. At the time Marie Corelli was at the height of her literary fame. Between 1886 to 1923 she had twenty-seven romances published and made a fortune. Mysticism and re-incarnation were the themes of many of her books, which were so popular that print runs of some of her novels ran to 200,000 copies and their sales exceeded the combined published oeuvre of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (including the Sherlock Holmes titles), H G Wells and Rudyard Kipling. Admirers of Corelli’s books included, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria. Book reviewers however were continually hostile. Corelli is said to be the inspiration for the popular character created by F C Benson - ‘Lucia’. The recent film ‘Angel’ is based on her life and stars Ramona Garai as Marie. Like Corelli’s later books, it was not a success. Her literary decline was as steep as its rise and by the end of the First World War she was attracting many fewer readers.
Out of the visit to Brantwood had sprung an infatuation by Corelli for Arthur Severn; this led to her mission to make Severn’s work as an artist better known. With her huge publishing output she thought that if Arthur Severn illustrated her books, then he would be exposed to a massive audience. A studio for him was created at her house, Manor Croft in Stratford upon Avon. Severn was offered the choice of subjects he would illustrate in her books. He collaborated with her by illustrating her book ‘The Devil’s Motor’ in 1910 and there were plans for a further collaboration on a book about Shakespeare. However, once she realized that her feelings were not being reciprocated she wrote a thinly disguised story of her betrayal in her fictionalized diary - ‘Open Confession: From a Woman to a Man’.
Joan Agnew Severn died in 1924 aged 76 and was buried in St Andrew’s Church graveyard in Coniston, where John Ruskin lay at rest. Arthur Severn died in 1931. He was also buried at Coniston. Brantwood was sold after his death, together with the remaining Ruskin papers which were auctioned at five sales at Southeby’s and two at Brantwood. Many of these are preserved at the University of Lancaster. Brantwood was purchased as a perpetual memorial to Ruskin by John Howard Whitehouse in 1932.
The 20/12/18 edition of ‘The Times’ used a picture of the Crystal Palace Subway to illustrate an article on the number and type of buildings that Historic England had listed over the year. Although originally listed Grade II in 1972, the subway has been upgraded to Grade II* to reflect the recent efforts of the Friends of Crystal Palace Subway in raising its profile through historic research, restoration, maintenance, and the provision of better public access. The Dulwich Society can claim some credit here as it helped to secure a £16,000 grant for the works from Southwark Council’s Cleaner Greener Safer scheme - to go with the £15,000 from Bromley Council’s Crystal Palace Park Community Projects Fund and a £3,500 grant from The Heritage of London Trust, £6,000 from local businesses and £5,000 from crowd funding. The work done on the interior by the Friends, the paving of the external area on the South West elevation, and the reconstruction of the access stair down to it, have ensured that the subway is now one of the most popular destinations in London Open House in September each year.
Although intended originally for first class passengers, the subway shows how it’s possible to make a simple walk from a station under a road into something special by, in this case, using imaginative architecture to give an appropriately dramatic introduction to the Crystal Palace itself. A more current lower key local example is the soon to be installed new mural in the Herne Hill Station underpass - subways don’t have to be grim and cheerless. And it also reminds us how important trains were in creating Victorian England as, without them, the relocation of the Crystal Palace to Sydenham Hill would have been a non-starter. No number of horse-drawn coaches or buses could have ever dealt with the numbers of visitors.
The update listing description also confirms that the station and the subway were designed by Charles Barry Jnr, son of Sir Charles Barry, the designer, with Augustus Pugin, of the Houses of Parliament, and Dulwich Estate architect & Surveyor from 1858 to 1900. It had always been assumed that his brother, Edward Middleton Barry was the architect, but this now appears to have been a printer’s mistake when the project was originally published in the Illustrated London News. Later researchers saw the article that named E M Barry as the architect and failed to see the correction the following week confirming that it was Charles aol mailBarry. This should not have been a surprise given that the latter lived about half-a-mile away along Sydenham Hill, and that his architectural partner, Robert Richardson Banks, lived literally over the road on Crystal Palace Parade. Unfortunately, the one thing that Historic England have been unable to clarify is who actually built the byzantine style vaults with their amazing polychromatic brickwork. As yet, no paperwork has been found to confirm the apocryphal rumour that Italian workmen were specially imported to do the work - it makes a good story though.