The Dulwich Society Journal for Spring 2022.
In November 2021, nine British soldiers who died in World War One were given a military funeral more than a century after their deaths. Their bodies were discovered during engineering works in Belgium in 2018 and they appeared to have died together. Two of the nine, 2nd Lt Leslie Wallace Ablett and 2nd Lt Edward Bruty, had connections to Dulwich.
The soldiers, including Ablett and Bruty, were found in a trench and had been killed either by heavy shelling or the trench collapsing. Personal belongings found with the men enabled researchers to identify seven of them as soldiers of the 11th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, then DNA testing of living relatives enabled Ablett, Bruty and the other five soldiers to be specifically identified. The seven were laid to rest with full military honours in a ceremony at Belgium's Tyne Cot Cemetery and were buried alongside thousands of their comrades who fell during heavy fighting at Passchendaele in October 1917. The eighth casualty could not be identified by name but was honoured as an ‘Unknown Soldier of the Northumberland Fusiliers’ and the ninth and final serviceman was buried as an ‘Unknown Soldier of the Great War’.
The Battle of Passchendaele was one of the bloodiest of World War One, when British and French troops launched an assault on German positions around Ypres in July 1917. Heavy rain turned the battlefield into a sea of mud and the fighting continued through the summer and into autumn until the attack was abandoned in November 1917 with around 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties.
2nd Lieutenant Leslie Wallace Ablett was born in 1897, the son of John Joseph Ablett and Caroline Church of Streatham. John Joseph was a buyer of wholesale drapery and furs from Manchester, then the home of the textile industry. Leslie’s grandfather had been a parish clerk and choir master in Withington.
The family moved from Manchester to South London a few years before Leslie was born. Once there, they moved house a fair bit, not unusual in those days when most people rented and the breadwinner’s income often fluctuated. At first the Abletts lived in Nunhead, in Athendale Road before moving to the next road up, Ivydale Road and it was here that Leslie was born. When John’s mother was widowed she moved down from Manchester to join them. By 1901 the family had moved to Rye Hill Park, Camberwell and in 1907 they moved to Eardley Road in Streatham. Leslie joined Alleyn’s School in 1908 and a year later his school report said he was 'bright, cheerful and of good tone. Has worked well'; he was also a keen poet. In 1913 when he was 16 he left Alleyn’s to become a clerk, possibly in haberdashery, the same business his father and brother were in. In 1914 the Abletts left South London for the Portobello Rd and it was from here that Leslie went to war.
In October 1915 Leslie Ablett enlisted with the Artists Rifles Officer Training Corps and was commissioned less than a year later, joining the 11th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers as a 2nd Lt. He was wounded in action in June 1917 and he died in battle on 14 October 1917, aged 20, being found in the same trench as Bruty. His ID bracelet, pen and ring identified him and a relative provided a DNA sample which confirmed the identification.
2nd Lieutenant Edward Bruty, born in 1895 in East Dulwich, was the son of William Dannell Bruty, a carpenter from Bermondsey, and Edith Kate Mary Thompson, known as Kate. The middle child of nine, Edward had four brothers and four sisters and the family lived at 34 Whateley Road until Edward was 15, when they moved to 237 Lordship Lane. The children all attended Heber Road School and when Edward left he started work as a railway clerk. In 1914 he enlisted and became a sergeant in the Army Cyclists Corps before being commissioned into the 11th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers in February 1917. He died in battle on 14 October 1917, aged 21 and was found in a trench with his kit and equipment. The soldiers’ personal effects, together with Northumberland Fusilier insignia, narrowed identification down; then, in conjunction with DNA testing of relatives, seven of the nine soldiers were named.
The Bruty family continued to live at 237 Lordship Lane until 1955.
The Dulwich Players Present
Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters
Adapted by Stephen Briggs
With music by Paul Grimwood
6th - 9th April at The Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College, SE21 7LD
Wyrd Sisters was the 6th of Terry Pratchett’s 41 Discworld® books, and one where he quite properly decides that witches, and not wizards, should be the dominant force, driving forward this wonderful world of magic.
Join us in a story of drama, love and silliness, combining Macbeth and Hamlet with a touch of Lear (and maybe Blackadder); where the wicked are extremely wicked, and good appears in surprising forms. Depressed heroes and brainless guards; noble actors and a vowel-less demon; all guided by rule-breaking witches and - above all magic - as we fly through 22 manic scene changes to that glorious moment when good triumphs over evil.
Tickets are £12 (plus booking fee) available through https://www.dulwichplayers.org/ or
Tickets are also sold on the door, subject to availability.
Wednesday 6th - Friday 8th April at 8pm
Saturday 9th April at 3pm and 8pm
Royalties and Programme Donations go to Terry Pratchett’s chosen charity: the Orangutan Foundation.
Trish Cowley and the Passion Players warmly welcome you to a Gorgeous and Gleeful Grand Old Time Music Hall for fun, frolics and laughter!
There are two performances, 3.30 and 7.00 on Saturday 5th March at St Barnabas Parish Hall - all to raise funds for St Barnabas Church and Link Age Southwark.
Tickets are £10, £5 for concs, from The Art Stationers, Dulwich Village; or call the Box Office - 07768 665293.
The performances will be socially distanced and Covid safe, for audience and actors. Come and have a good time!
The seasons continue to break meteorological records and for wildlife the mild to warm temperatures up to mid-January could be termed a “phony winter”. Arrivals here of the expected Scandinavian Thrushes were few and far between and a Chiffchaff that would have been expected to have departed to warmer climes in the Autumn was recorded in Dulwich woods in December. On New Year’s Eve Stephen Hepburn took this photograph of a fine fresh Red Admiral sunning itself on his greenhouse. Most of our Red Admirals are summer migrants but a few occasionally hibernate along with our resident Peacocks, Commas and Tortoiseshells. This butterfly must have thought Spring had arrived and one can only hope that it returned to hibernation.
My most notable record came on 4th November when I flushed a Woodcock from my back garden. Later that week came an incident recorded by Susan Robinson who rescued a Woodcock that may have hit a window from a cat. It was kept in a box and the London Wildlife Preservation Centre was contacted who collected it for rehabilitation at their unit in Earlsfield. We had a similar incident a few years ago when a Woodcock pierced a first floor window and had to be fished out from under a bed.
Although Woodcocks breed in the UK in small numbers most of our birds are winter migrants from Scandinavia and eastern Europe. They are crepuscular or nocturnal in habit and migrate at night. They appear to migrate at low level which, when they come through urban areas puts them at risk of collision with properties. If you are lucky enough to see one at close quarters, as Susan Robinson observed, it has a most attractive plumage ideal for its daytime woodland camouflage. As the accompanying picture shows it is a bird species closely related to Snipes which are wetland waders but has evolved with its probing feeding method to woodland life and indeed are occasionally able to over-winter in Dulwich.
Sparrow Hawks have once more featured in my correspondence, on two occasions eating pigeons on patios. Perhaps it is the same bird that has found overfed woodpigeons in our gardens a sitting target but too heavy to take away. It was noticed that there was a big influx of some hundreds of Black Headed Gulls and a few Common Gulls over the Christmas weekend that have now dispersed. Ringing records indicate that these are largely winter migrants from the continent rather than our own breeding population. They of course lack the dark brown head plumage of their breeding season and they all depart punctually at the beginning of April. They leave behind a small residual population of immature Lesser Black Backed and Herring Gulls that hang about throughout the year.
I have been asked why the numbers and variety of the waterfowl on our lakes are so much fewer than on Kelsey Park in Beckenham, particularly as the dredging and reed planting of the Dulwich Park lake was intended to provide greater diversity. It is difficult to give a clear explanation but the fact that Little Grebe, Mallard Tufted Ducks and Moorhens still breed successfully and there is a good hatch of Dragonflies suggest that the bio-health is good enough and a single drake Shoveler that has now turned up can be seen feeding vigorously. My personal view is that our parks now have to balance a lot of human recreational activity and also dog walking which has increased over these Covid years and the disturbance created puts extra pressure on wildlife space. Further measures to improve the management of the lakes for wildlife will need to accommodate these pressures and require more advice from the managements of both parks.
My article in the last magazine issue carried a photo of a Green Shield Bug which I deemed innocent. I was taken to task by a reader who had apparently received a nasty bite from a Shield Bug that took a long time to resolve. I asked Jeff Doodson our entomologist who supplied the photo about this and he reassured me that these bugs are vegetarian and unlikely gratuitously to bite a human. There are of course other blood sucking bugs, also belonging to the insect order Hemiptera, most notoriously the Bed Bug, that will take a meal from us through a proboscis pierce. Insects that bite us and why could feature in a future article so I would welcome readers comments or experiences.
Peter Roseveare, Wildlife Recorder
Tel: 020 7274 4567
by John Hughes
Three species of Sequoia are to be seen In Dulwich. This article covers the two evergreen species: Giant Sequoia Sequoiadendron giganteum, and Coast Redwood Sequoia sempervirens. The third species, Dawn Redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides, is deciduous and so will be considered in a future article on deciduous conifers. The genus is named in honour of Sequoayah (1770-1843), a native American polymath who created the Cherokee syllabary, making reading and writing in Cherokee possible.
Both Giant Sequoia and Coast Redwood originate from California, the former in a 300-mile band on the western Sierra Nevada at altitudes between 3,000 and 8,000 feet, the latter in a 500-mile coastal fog belt, just stretching into Oregon. Both are huge trees. Giant Sequoia is now the most massive tree known and one of the longest living (the oldest is estimated to be over 3,200 years old). Some historical Coast Redwoods were probably as massive as the largest Giant Sequoias but most of these ancient trees were destroyed for their wood, which is of exceptional quality. A native Coast Redwood is currently the world’s tallest tree and the species is also very long-lived: the oldest surviving specimen is estimated to be over 2,200 years old. Giant Sequoias have suffered less from the logging industry because its wood is brittle and has little strength. About 75 groves survive.
Old-growth trees of both species have massive, fluted, strongly buttressed trunks. The reddish bark of both species is particularly thick and spongy in the case of Giant Sequoia - thick enough to punch hard without damage to the knuckle. This makes it more resistant to fire damage, to which its habitat makes it more susceptible. One might expect that such giant trees would produce huge cones but in fact both trees produce small ovoid cones, brown in colour. Coast Redwoods produce two leaf types: most are needles held in two flat sprays, rather like those of Yew; but the leaves of new twigs and high branches are scalelike and held all around the branchlet, like those of Giant Sequoia.
Giant Sequoia was introduced to Britain in the mid-1850s and became immediately popular as a status tree in parks, estates, churchyards etc. Perhaps inevitably, given its imposing nature, it was named Wellingtonia, after the Iron Duke. Similarly, the largest specimen in the Sequoia National Park is called General Sherman. Rather oddly, given how frequently it has been planted in this country, there is no mature example to be seen in Dulwich, although there are several recently-planted examples. Perhaps the best of these is in Dulwich Park, to the south of the bridge leading from the lake to the ornamental garden. This is displaying a splendid disregard for the stake that supported it when young, see photograph top right.
Coast Redwoods were also introduced to Britain in the mid-19th century. There are several mature examples in Dulwich though even these are scarcely out of single figures in terms of the human lifespan. The best grouping is in Peckarmans Wood, from which the photographs of trunk and leaf below are taken.
A collection of both species is by the Paxton Green Health Centre. There are no fewer than three young Giant Sequoias on the green in front of the centre, one in poor condition; two more on the central island of the nearby roundabout, together with a multi-stemmed Coast Redwood. There is a further recently-planted Giant Sequoia at the bottom end of Long Meadow, facing the roundabout. Some thinning is likely to be needed in future if these trees are to be allowed to grow to anything like their adult size.
Who Lived in Houses Like These?
Early Residents at Nos 22-28 Dulwich Wood Avenue
by Ian McInnes
The previous article in the Autumn 2021 Journal described how 18 of the 22 original houses on the east side of Dulwich Wood Avenue, or The Avenue as it was then called, were built by Gipsy Hill based builder Richard H Marshall, and of these, four remain today, Nos 22-28. These are large properties which attracted wealthy occupants and, because their names often appeared in contemporary newspapers, it is possible to find out a substantial amount of information about them.
Henrietta M Ward, a wealthy spinster, was the first lessee of Auburn Villa, No. 22. She was followed for a brief period in 1872-73 by the Hon Adeline Paulina Irby (1831-1911), an inveterate lady traveller in Eastern Europe in the early 1860s, along with her companion, Georgina Muir McKenzie. The couple subsequently wrote a book titled ‘Travels in the Slavonic Provinces of Turkey in Europe’. Published in 1867, It sold extremely well and the second, and subsequent, editions had a preface by the Prime Minister of the day, W E Gladstone. With the help of Florence Nightingale, they raised money to support refugees in Herzegovina and Bosnia and later opened a school for girls in Sarajevo - and raised further funds to open at least 20 other schools. There is a street in Sarajevo, ‘Mis Irbina’, named after her. She was followed at the house by Colonel James Marquis of the Bengal Army (retired) and then Mrs Caroline Damant, the widow of another Bengal Army officer, Guybon Henry Damant (1846-79). He was well-known in India as an ethnographer and folklorist but she had only been married to him for a little over a year when he was killed. At the time he was the political agent in the Naga Hills, a notoriously politically unstable area, and was shot dead with 35 of his men leading an attack on a local town, Khonoma, to recover illegal weapons. Caroline Damant retained her connections with India and, in 1896, lent the house briefly to an Indian princess who was visiting England. Sarah Begum Sahiba (1853-1925), previously an English woman named Sarah Vennell, the sixth wife of the Mansour Ali Khan, the Nawab of Bengal who had married her when she was just 17.
Gipsy Lodge, No. 24 was first tenanted by a wealthy Irish widow, Mrs Susannah Matcham Moore, a niece of Lord Nelson. Her husband, George Montgomery Moore, 16 years older than her. had died in 1834 - his father was Nathaniel Montgomery Moore, an Irish MP. Their son, Sir Alexander George Montgomery Moore KCB (1833-1919) served in the British Army, mainly in Ireland. He commanded the 4th Hussars from 1868 to 1880, served as assistant adjutant general in Dublin and was put in charge of the Belfast district in 1886. He later commanded troops in Canada. He took over the house from his mother in the 1880s and lived there with his wife and a number of servants until his death in 1919. From the mid-1920s the occupants were the Carnaby family, of the local estate agents, Marten and Carnaby, who had offices at West Dulwich Station and at 104 Thurlow Park Road. Born in Streatham, William Carnaby had been brought up in Croxted Road, his father being a gas apparatus manufacturer. He had set up in the estate agency business in 1901 and in the 1930s Grace’s Guide was describing them as one of the leading firms, adding that ‘their illustrated Guide to residential Dulwich and Property Register is to be found all over the world. It is one of the finest of its kind published by the profession, and most useful to those contemplating a change of residence.’ The author has a copy from 1910 and it is certainly very informative, if slightly depressing on prices. In 1932 William Carnaby’s son, William Fleming Carnaby, was awarded a three-year scholarship for Cambridge University by the Chartered Surveyor’s Institution while still at school. He served in the RAF during WW2 and was promoted to Squadron Leader - unfortunately losing his life in February 1943 when the De Havilland Mosquito he was flying broke up in mid-air just before landing.
Next door, at Preston House, No. 26, lived Watkin William Taylor, a senior officer in Her Majesty’s Customs - with the long-winded title of Examiner and Principal Consultant of Landing and Warehousing Accounts. While undoubtedly a successful civil servant, his son, Herbert Arnaud Taylor (1841-1915) is arguably more interesting. He was briefly a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers before resigning his commission and joining the engineer Latimer Clark, another local resident living at Beechmount (later Hitherwood) at No 19 Sydenham Hill. Clark’s firm, the Electrical Telegraph Company, were employed by the British Government to lay submarine cables. Taylor’s first important project was the installation of the Persian Gulf Cable in 1868 while in 1873-74 he was engineer in charge of installing the Anglo-Atlantic cable. Mr Taylor senior died in 1878 and the house was then occupied for a few years by one Henry Gallup and then by a retired bank manager, George E Gates. The latter had worked for the London and County Bank (later part of the National Westminster Bank) which, in the mid-1870s, was the largest bank in the country with over 150 branches. When he left the Chatham branch earlier in his career in 1868, his customers presented him with a large silver tray with the inscription ‘Presented to George Edward Gates, Esq., for many years manager of the London and County Bank at Chatham, by a large number of his friends, as a token of their esteem and appreciation of his unvaried courtesy and sterling worth.’ His wife lived in the house until her death in 1907 and she was then followed for a short period by a retired army doctor, Brigade Surgeon Lieutenant-Colonel John Ross Murray MD FRCSE. Early in his career, in the 1860s, he had taken part in the New Zealand Wars but he was later posted to India, where he was based in Lucknow. The year after his death his wife gave a donation to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, where he had trained, to endow an adult bed to be named ‘The John Ross Murray bed’ in memory of her husband. Towards the end of WW1 there was a new tenant, Oswald Marsh, a noted stamp dealer. He specialised in British and Commonwealth stamps, controls, and cut-outs. He was a life member of the Fiscal Philatelic Society and produced several well-regarded philatelic journals, including Marsh's Monthly Offers, Marsh's Weekly Philatelist and Marsh's Colonial Philatelist.
The fourth house, Tilford Lodge, No. 28, was the first on the road to be completed, in December 1859. It was leased to Thomas Lamport Harris, a merchant previously living at a house called Oak Villa on the other side of Gipsy Hill. He and his family lived there until the late 1870s when he assigned the lease to Margaret Hamilton, a naval commander’s widow - she was in residence at the 1881 Census along with nine lodgers. She left very soon afterwards, perhaps the Estate objected to a boarding house being in such a prestigious road. By July 1881 the tenant was Sydney Charles Scott, a city solicitor, in his early-30s. By Dulwich standards he had an exotic wife - she was an American citizen but had been born and brought up in St Petersburg in Russia. Sydney was a gifted amateur pianist and the couple’s eldest daughter, Marion (1877-1953), was to become a significant force in reshaping women's roles in classical music. She was a pioneer in championing the work of several generations of British composers and musicians through her work as a music critic and musicologist. The nearby Crystal Palace was central to her early life - she was enrolled in the Crystal Palace School of Art when she was four years old and had begun piano lessons - but changed to the violin. By the age of 15, she was performing regularly around London with her father as accompanist, her parents even purchased her a Guadagnini violin - one of the great historical violins, ranking just behind Stradivari and Guarneri. One can only speculate as to whether she met two of the other local musicians like August Manns, the conductor of the Crystal Palace orchestra between 1855 and 1901, who lived nearby in Dulwich Wood Park, or Alfred J Eyre, Crystal Palace’s resident organist between 1880-94 who lived at No. 11 The Avenue, just up the road.
The Scott’s left the house in 1906 and it was then taken over by a tea dealer, Charles ‘Itzi’ Schlee (1865-1943). Born in Hamburg, he had gone out to China and had become a partner in the tea merchants, Robert Anderson & Co. In the late 1890s the family moved to London and in 1907 he was elected chairman of the China Tea Association, By the early-1900s the profitability of the tea trade in China had substantially declined, hampered by competition with Ceylon [Sri Lanka] and India, and a high export duty from China. The goal of the association was to promote China tea as a healthier option than its Asian rivals. Schlee had five sons, four of whom went to Dulwich College between 1910-16. He must have spent most of his time travelling to and from China because his wife was in charge of the family’s dealings with the Dulwich Estate - in February 1910 she sought permission to change the coach house into a playroom for her children by filling in the door with windows. There was no objection.
by Brian Green
If the idea of lording it over your neighbours appeals you, then you are in luck. The title of lord of the ancient Manor of Levehurst is up for sale; a snip at £3995 (incl VAT!). Of course, the first question you might ask is; ‘Where is it?
Levehurst manor, which dates from 1290 is bounded by the southerly leg of Croxted Road, which was once called Hall Lane, parts of Norwood Road, Leigham Vale and a line roughly parallel with Canterbury Grove on Knights Hill. You could easily survey most of your terroir from the top of a No 3 or 68 bus.
According to the title deed, the first lord was Pinus Bernardi of Florence, a Citizen of London who in 1309/10 received a grant of free warren (leave to hunt the King’s beasts) in the manor of Levehust. By 1326, our friend Pinus has an oratory at his manor house, which a map in the National Archives dated 1563 appears to show as south-west of St Luke’s church, West Norwood on the slopes of Knights Hill. The title to the lordship of the Manor of Levehurst has not been in use for the past 250 years.
To confuse matters, there are two Knights Hills, the one running south of St Luke’s Church to Crown Point, and the other. bounded roughly by Croxted Road and Thurlow Park Road is mostly covered by allotments and the Peabody Estate (and is partly owned by The Dulwich Estate).
This would be useful knowledge to any future lord of the manor. Such a person would also be pleased to learn of the connection with Dulwich which played landlord to the Knight, sometimes spelled Knyght, family and who gave their name to both local hills.
You may remember the Knights (as we shall call them). They featured in the pages of the Journal last autumn in an article ‘Who Was Who in Dulwich in 1425’. They were in the wool trade, having large flocks of sheep which they sometimes over-grazed on Dulwich Common. Some were also members of th City’s Worshipful Company of Butchers’. The family’s connection with Dulwich is first recorded in 1389 when John Knight of Camerwelle leased a house and garden in south Dulwich which he had acquired from Nicholas de Strode. The family then began acquiring other land and property locally for the next two centuries.
Over this long period they leased a considerable number of the fields on both sides of Croxted Road, both in Dulwich and in the neighbouring manor of Levehurst and also in Lambeth. These extended southwards including a large field once named Blabbesheth (or Blobbesheth) probably in the ownership of the Archbishop of Canterbury who also owned a large part of the Great North Wood, hence the name Norwood. The Knight’s field was next to another field named Gillians, today memorialized for us as present-day St Julians Farm Road, on the slopes of the southerly of the two Knights Hills. Their farmhouse was probably Knights Hill Farm, between Lancaster Avenue and Elmcourt Road and later occupied by Lord Thurlow and his mistress Polly Humphries from 1771 for some thirty-five years.
In the middle of the 16th century a couple of incidents involving Henry Knight, his brother John and brother in law Henry Rydon who was married to their sister Elizabeth, provides the evidence that life in and around Dulwich was not always tranquil.
The first incident took place in 1547 when, according to the Star Chamber account Henry Knight was assaulted at his lands at Blobbesheth by four assailants who were armed with hooked bills and other weapons. The assailants were identified as Henry Henley, Richard Heryngman, John Foryng and Thomas Kelly.
In April 1558 Henry Knight’s brother John was involved in some form of financial dealings with a Sir Thomas Newneham which culminated with John Knight being forcibly evicted from Knights Hill Farmhouse, leaving him ‘most shamfully spoylled dispossessed and disinherited of all his substans and welth’. This allegation was denied by Newneham.
Two months later, on Sunday 12th June 1558, John Knight while hunting in the area with friends decided to take matters into his own hands and entered his old home claiming that he wanted to get back some of his possessions. However, Newneham’s servants, armed with roasting spits, cornered him in the hall. Fearing they were ‘like to have killed him’, a friend passed a bow and arrow through the window. After Knight fired a warning shot, the servants fled, but locked him in for the next three hours.
John Knight’s brother-in-law, Henry Rydon, who was entertaining friends at his house at Battersea received a message of John’s predicament. A party was formed including Henry Knight which immediately set off for Knights Hill. According to the case brought by Newneham, this group numbered twenty-one ‘unrewlie and ryottuus persons… being all well weaponed with bows arrows Bylles staves pykes swords and bucklers and other weapons ‘. entered the house ‘wyth force and armes’ and removed various possessions, including a horse and saddle from the stable.
Knight and his fellow defendants strenuously disputed these allegations as ‘craftily contyved & wrought by froward and subtill invention’, asserting that they approached the house peaceably to negotiate John Knight’s release, and had summoned the constable and a justice of the peace from Camberwell to prevent any mischief being done. Henry Knight, for his part, denied carrying ‘any manner of weapon save only a dagger which he commonly useth to weare in quiet and peaceable manner’. Rydon, it was claimed, had only a billhook. Apparently Newneham’s men agreed to release John Knight and Rydon’s party made their way back to Battersea.* However, Newneham did not let up and the case dragged on in the Star Chamber for a number of further hearings.
After two centuries of intense agricultural activity at least some of the family moved out of farming and into law and Henry Knight’s son Nicholas is described as a lawyer of Thavies Inn, Holborn, now part of Lincoln’s Inn. In 1599 Nicholas Knight surrendered his lands in Dulwich to Edward Duke and Francis Calton for the sum of £400 thus ending the long family connection other than their Knight name, immortalized on Google maps as two distinct hills in South London.
Fast-forward 250 years and the northerly of the two Knight’s Hills, where the Knights grazed their sheep had become part of Lord Thurlow’s large estate and had later been acquired by Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift from Charles Ranken who lived at Belair. It would be an advantageous transaction for soon after the purchase the College was able to sell off some of this land for the building of a new railway line by the London Chatham and South Coast Railway Company.
This transcription appears in The Wood that Built London pages 41-42 by C J Schueler
Louise Michel (1830-1905)
By Sharon O’Connor
‘London! I love London, where my exiled friends have always been welcomed, London, where old England, standing in the shadow of the gallows, is still more liberal than the French bourgeois republicans’
Known as ‘the French grande dame of anarchy’, the ‘red virgin’ and ‘the good woman’, Louise Michel was a Paris Communard, a lifelong revolutionary socialist, a teacher and a voluntary exile from France to East Dulwich, where she entertained anarchists and journalists from around the world, always with her many pets in attendance. She spoke of East Dulwich as ‘the place I loved most in England’.
Louise Michel was born in May 1830 at the Château de Vroncourt in Northeast France, the illegitimate daughter of a serving-maid, Marianne Michel, and the son of the house, Laurent Demahis. She was brought up by her paternal grandparents who gave her a good education but she was always treated as a slightly detached member of the family. She trained as a primary school teacher but could not teach as she would not pledge allegiance to Napoleon III; instead she opened her own school. She had an affinity with revolution from a young age, saying, ‘The task of teachers, those obscure soldiers of civilization, is to give to the people the intellectual means to revolt’.
She moved to Paris, began publishing poetry and started a correspondence with Victor Hugo. Her revolutionary activities increased and in 1871 she played a key role in the Paris Commune, fighting on the barricades, driving an ambulance and participating in armed violence. Michel said, ‘I descended the Butte, my rifle under my coat, shouting Treason!’. Charged with attempting to overthrow the government, at her trial she dared the judges to execute her, saying ‘Since it seems that every heart that beats for freedom has no right to anything but a little lump of lead, I demand my share. If you let me live, I shall never cease to cry for vengeance and l shall avenge my brothers. If you are not cowards, kill me!’. The authorities declined and while some 20,000 Communards were executed, Michel was among the 10,000 who were deported, in her case to New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean. She served seven years and 7,000 Parisians turned out to welcome her home.
In 1890 she was arrested again and after an attempt to commit her to a mental asylum she moved to London with her friend Charlotte Vauvelle, and there she pretty much remained until an ill-fated trip to Algiers just before her death in 1905. She continued to give speeches and conduct revolutionary activity in London, France and across Europe, attending anarchist meetings, leading demonstrations and speaking to huge crowds. She was friends with the Pankhurst family and made a particular impression on a young Sylvia Pankhurst.
At first Michel lived in ‘Petite France’, just north of Soho and the traditional quarter of French political refugees but in 1893 she moved to 15 Ardsley Terrace, Placquett Rd, now Copleston Road East Dulwich. Her house was at the Grove Vale end, though it no longer exists. The houses cost £50 pa to rent, contained six rooms, a washhouse, and gardens front and back. The residents at the time were ‘comfortably off with good average earnings’ and were mostly clerks. Michel was said to be on the brink of poverty most of the time but while about half the houses in the road were in multiple occupation, she was able to rent the whole house. Placquett Road was probably fairly cheap at the time because it backed on to Camberwell council’s depot; the depot particularly impacted nos 11 and 13 - the Council bought both houses themselves. A journalist describes visiting her ‘small house near the station’ where the parlour had a piano, a few chairs, some photographs and a table on which stood several volumes by ‘prominent Anarchists’.
Michel quickly became a central figure in London’s international anarchist circles. Her time was spent in writing and protest and her speeches and articles were reprinted across the world. She also wrote her memoirs and a history of the Paris Commune while she lived here. She started the International Anarchist School in Fitzroy Square employing both exiled anarchists and pioneering educationalists as teachers, but the school closed when explosives were found in the basement. There is no evidence they were placed there by Michel and they may have been planted by an employee, Auguste Coulon, who was suspected of being a police spy. Louise was upset and felt herself surrounded by enemies: ‘I went back to East Dulwich in a most troubled frame of mind’.
She joined the Peckham International Anarchist Group, marched in the London May Day parades, spoke at revolutionary meetings and may have spoken at the Peckham and Dulwich Radical Club on Rye Lane. She often contrasted Britain’s liberal atmosphere with France’s repressive stance saying, ‘in England the destitute can assemble and say openly what they think; or at least they can tell one another about their miseries unreservedly’. She also remarked that ‘the working classes find in England, under a monarchist regime, far more freedom than in Republican France’. Her contemporary, Annie Besant, who lived in Colby Road, moved in the same circles and spoke at many of the same meetings.
Edith Thomas, Michel’s biographer, mentions that Michel was visited in East Dulwich by journalists who found Michel, now in her sixties, surrounded by cats, dogs and a parrot called Coco that used to cry ‘Vive l’anarchie!'. In December 1893 a New York Times journalist interviewed 'the notorious woman Anarchist, who occupies a little house at East Dulwich, a suburb of London'. In 1895 the papers reported that she was hard at work on a novel in her ‘quiet house in Dulwich’ and also preparing a lecture tour of America.
Michel lived at Placquett Road until she moved to 25 Chesterfield Grove in 1899 where her neighbours were typically grocers, bakers, tobacconists and drapers, though unlike Placquett Rd the houses were mostly in single family occupation. By 1900 she was boarding at 8 Albion Villas Road in Sydenham and appears in the 1901 Census there as an ‘authoress’. She was living there with her long-time friend and nurse Charlotte Vauvelle, Charlotte’s father, Auguste, and Charlotte’s brother, Achille, a lithographic printer. Again, their neighbours were typically shopkeepers and clerks. By 1903 she was living in Dahomey St (now Rd) in Streatham.
In 1904 Michel visited Algeria to advocate for an uprising against the French government. While there she became ill, returned to France and died in Marseilles the following year. Her funeral in Paris was attended by more than 100,000 people and memorial services were held all over France and in London. She is commemorated in the names of French streets, schools and parks and in the Louise Michel Sports Club in London, a radical sports club for people involved in the workers’ movement. The London-based Strawberry Thieves Socialist Choir sing ‘Danse de Bombe’, which Michel composed at the time of the Paris Commune.
We are grateful to Helen Hughes who heard the song and brought Michel to our attention, and to Duncan Bowie for sharing the chapter on Michel from his new book ‘Two Hundred Years of Dulwich Radicalism’.
Continuing the story of the Friern Manor Farm Estate:
Part 2: The Dairymen - William Blackmore Noble and John Mee
By Gavin Bowyer
A large part of the Friern Manor Estate, some 118 acres, bounded by modern day Barry Road, Forest Hill Road, Wood Vale and Lordship Lane, were listed on the 1838 tithe map as being tenanted by William Blackmore Noble and John Mee. As the joint tenants of the Friern Manor Farm, they leased 90 acres of grass and 28 acres of arable land.
William Blackmore Noble was born in Rotherhithe in 1789 and joined the Royal Navy in 1803. John Mee was born in Ireland in 1790 and joined the navy the following year. Both joined as midshipmen at the age of fourteen, soon after the start of the Napoleonic Wars. They soon saw action.
In early November 1805, John was serving with Sir Richard Strachan’s squadron when they pursued and captured four French ships of the line fleeing the Battle of Trafalgar. William became a lieutenant in 1809 and John achieved the same rank a year later. They probably met for the first time when their careers overlapped when William joined the HMS San Josef in November 1810, the ship on which John had been serving since June. The San Josef had been captured by Nelson in 1797 from the Spanish at the Battle of Cape St Vincent. During the period that William Noble and John Mee served on HMS San Josef, it was stationed in the western Mediterranean and was part of the Channel Fleet blockading the French ports.
After HMS San Josef, they served on different ships patrolling home waters. Then in January 1814, during the largely forgotten War of 1812, fought against the USA, they both saw active service again. John Mee transferred to HMS Tonnant, the flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane off the eastern coast of the USA. In June 1814, William Noble joined the newly built 56 gun HMS Prince Regent on Lake Ontario supporting the British forces in Canada.
On 24th August 1814, Cochrane’s fleet supported the army in the capture of Washington and burning of the White House and Capitol Building. The British next began to prepare to assault Baltimore, Lieutenant Mee was present at the bombardment of Fort McHenry guarding the approach to the city, which inspired the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner. In the event the attack on Baltimore was not pursued and instead the task force sailed south to attack New Orleans. The campaign ended at the Battle of New Orleans when Andrew Jackson led the American forces to a resounding victory against the British troops.
In March 1815 John Mee transferred from HMS Tonnant to HMS Narcissus but, with an end to the war with United States that same year, the Royal Navy much reduced its strength and in May 1816 he was placed on the Navy List at half-pay and retired from the Royal Navy. One year senior in rank, William Noble had retired a year earlier, serving his last 11 months on HMS Charwell in Canada.
On 1st September 1818, William Noble married Esther Allen at St Leonard’s in the City of London. They had three daughters, Mary Ann born on 27th May 1819, and Maria on 27th July 1820. Both were baptized at St Leonard’s and the family was living in Newgate Street, with William’s occupation given as mariner, presumably still on half-pay. The third, Eliza Esther was baptized on 30th May 1823 in St Giles Camberwell. This time, William is recorded as a gentleman but without an address. As former ship-mates, Noble and Mee had clearly stayed in touch and perhaps had already formed a business partnership. On 5th April 1832, at St Bride’s Church, City of London, John Mee married Elizabeth Allen, Esther Noble’s sister with William listed a witness.
In 1838, William Noble is recorded as appearing as a witness at the Old Bailey in the prosecution of one of his servants, James Smith. William gives his address as parish of St Andrew, Holborn, and states that he kept a dairy farm with John Mee of Peckham Rye.
It seems, John was running the farm day to day. In the 1841 census, both John and William with their wives and William’s daughters are at Friern Manor Farm. In the neighbouring lodge lived Charles Austin, dairyman, and his family.
Newspaper reports from 1842 show that they were still running Friern Manor Farm. On 12th July 1842, James White, a 53-year-old employee, was brutally assaulted by William Webb, a fellow employee, using a billhook in the stables on the farm. John Mee gave evidence along with Mr Barnes, his foreman, and two employees, Taylor and East, at the hastily convened trial.
Later that month, there was a great storm across much of London. Two of Mee’s men were mowing rye grass when they were struck by lightning. The lightning scorched the grass and burnt off the scythe handles from the blades. The men survived and speedily left the field.
Evidence of the expansion of Noble and Mee’s business enterprise beyond Dulwich, comes in a newspaper report of a fire in Fetter Lane, Holborn, on 21st August 1843, when a terrific explosion destroyed the entire back of a house precipitating a chest of drawers and a bedstead onto the roof of the Friern Manor Farm Dairy, some 50 yards away. In 1846, Mee and Noble are listed in Kelly’s London Postal Directory as Dairymen, 1 Bartlett’s Passage, Holborn, however, the 1851 Census suggests that they had by now retired from the business. John Mee had moved to Lambeth and William Noble to Swanmore, Hampshire. Both retained their reserve naval status, eventually being made Royal Navy Commanders on the retired list. John Mee died in Ventnor on his 82nd birthday in 1872. William Blackmore Noble died in Redhill, on 16th March 1889 at the age of 99 years.
Benjamin and George Wright
In 1851, Benjamin and George Wright are listed as the occupiers of Friern Manor Farm and Trade Registers show that they have taken over and further expanded the dairy business. The brothers were from Clerkenwell and respectively 29 and 25 years old in 1851. They were two of the sons of Joseph Wright, a manufacturer and major leaser of Royal Mail coaches to operators, with up to 250 coaches leased out at one time. In 1836, Joseph obtained the contract for the London to Birmingham Royal Mail service. He realised that the days of horse drawn mail coaches were numbered and moved into the manufacture of railway coaches and wagons, setting up a large works, in 1847, at Saltley, near Birmingham, selling and leasing wagons to operating companies. So, although in their twenties, Benjamin and George had a substantial family business behind them.
In 1851, also listed as living at the farm are two maidservants, a cowshed hand, five milk carriers and a groom. Additionally, Will Steele, the cowshed foreman and his family were living at the Friern Farm Cottage. Charles Dickens mentions a Mr Wright in his glowing description of the farm, in his article, “The Cow with the Iron Tail”, in the 9th of November 1850 issue of Household Words of which he was editor. The article described the problems of the adulteration of milk sold in London. Dickens holds up Friern Manor Farm as an example of the production and supply of hygienic and pure milk. He described the farm in detail. The dairy herd contained up to 300 cows of varying breeds and types. They grazed lush grass, supplemented with mangold wurzels, turnips and even kohlrabi. This rich diet meant they each produced 18 quarts (about 19.5 litres) of milk a day.
The workers all lived at the farm. The milking took place at night in two sessions, one at eleven o’clock and the other at one thirty in the morning. The milk was passed through several strainers, and placed in churns, barred across the top, and sealed. The milk was despatched in a van about three o’clock each morning and arrived at the Dairy, Farringdon Street, between three and four. The seals checked and taken off. Next the milk carriers, or " milkmen," all wearing the badge of Friern Farm Dairy, collected their pails, filled, fastened at top, and sealed. and away they went on their early rounds, delivering to the early breakfast-people. Late breakfasters were supplied by a second set of men.
On 11 June 1853, the Illustrated London News printed a similar article extolling Friern Manor Farm husbandry practices, especially regarding hygiene and the quarantining of newly bought cows before their release into the herd and the careful disposal of manure.
In November 1851, the two brothers went their separate ways, dissolving their partnership in the farm by mutual agreement. The notice of the dissolution lists two dairies, 20 Farringdon Street in the City and 8 Charles Street off Grosvenor Square. Benjamin’s interests in the farm and Charles Street were bought by Henry Benwell. Benjamin retained some interest in the Farringdon Street dairy and George retained his interest in the Farm, managing it and supplying the two dairies. In 1857, there was a legal dispute between Benjamin Wright and Henry Benwell. Benjamin claimed that in their agreement Benwell was restricted from serving his customers within a three-mile limit of the Charles Street dairy. The judge decreed this over restrictive and proposed the restriction on deliveries only to Benjamin’s former customers.
In September 1855, George married Anne Mary Cadwell, in Clerkenwell. In 1861, George and Anne are living at Friern Manor Farm with two servants. As in 1851, there are six milk carriers and John Legg, dairyman, and his wife lived at the Friern Farm Cottage Farming on the Friern Manor estate ended when freehold of the farm was purchased by the British Land Company in 1865 and the leasehold agreement had terminated at end of September 1867. George Wright moved to Watford and expanded the milk business still further, opening a dairy in Hornsey. This still exists and is today a pub restaurant and retains a remarkable set of sculptured wall panels depicting the activities of the farm. Even the name of the Friern Manor Farm continues to exist as a shell property company, interestingly with some property in Peckham.
On 4th December 1880, George died at Pareora, Merrow Road, Guildford. In the statutory notice for creditors, his businesses were listed as 20 Farringdon Street, City of London, 191 High Street and 20 Fairlight Terrace, both in Peckham and 64 Hanley Road, Hornsey.
In October 1853, Benjamin married Anne Turton and moved to Edgbaston, to join his other brothers at the railway works, now called Joseph Wright and Sons. In 1862, the company went public, as the Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd. Benjamin retired to St Leonards in Sussex and died in 1871.
The young David Cox (1783-1859) - who became a great and famous watercolour artist - on his marriage in 1808 moved to Dulwich Common, and lived there until 1813. His cottage was next to Edward Alleyn’s surviving windmill (dismantled in 1815) something he loved to draw, at times with grazing cows and the mill pond that was still there in the foreground when Pissarro made his celebrated painting of the College. The cottage and mill were on the north-east traffic-light, cross-roads corner of the present Dulwich College grounds, almost exactly where now on those ample lawns you might still catch in summer an Arcadian sight of boys sporting boaters at an idle game of croquet, shadowed by Charles Barry Junior’s main elevation of the College, and iron-fenced from the South Circular traffic that rumbles and fumes on its arterial course. We are to imagine that when Cox lived at Dulwich the ancient North Wood and the green and pleasant pastures of the God’s Gift Estate were intact. Many artists of the day visited and sketched here. William Blake alludes to the Dulwich hills, and surely knew the country village estate well when he lived in Lambeth, or indeed at eight or ten years old, walking from Soho to Peckham Rye, where he saw that tree full of angels and was thrashed for lying by his father when he got home. Blake’s disciple, Samuel Palmer, wrote of the ‘sweet fields’ and ‘mystic glimmer’ of Dulwich in his most beautiful 1824 Sketchbook, calling it the ‘Gate into the world of vision.’
Cox originally came to Southwark from his native Birmingham to paint scenery at the Royal Circus (or Surrey) Theatre in Blackfriars Road; he was also employed as drawing-master to many pupils, that included members of the cultivated London ‘nobility and gentry’, such as Lady Sophia Cecil, Lady Exeter, and Henry Windsor (future Earl of Plymouth). From 1805 he indicated his ambitions as an artist by exhibiting at the Royal Academy. He left Dulwich but would later return to live in South London, in Kennington, from 1827 to 1841.
Cox wrote and illustrated four really influential painting manuals, and the first, the New Drawing Book of Light and Shadow, in Imitation of Indian Ink, was published (anonymously) in 1812 by Rudolph Ackermann at his flourishing ‘Repository of the Arts’ shop in the Strand. Among the twenty-four aquatinted plates, reproducing Cox’s examples for copying, were (among some other South London views) two with the title ‘Dulwich,’ both dated November 1809, and ‘Near Dulwich’ of January 1810. All were engraved by Ackermann’s man ‘Sutherland’ (Thomas) about whom hardly anything seems to be known. The Pond Cottage in ‘Dulwich’ (fig. 2), featuring a fishing child (with a little porringer) in the foreground, was pictured by Cox before Charles Druce, the Manor Estate Steward and Solicitor, redeveloped the site soon after the prints were published and can be located on the map (fig. 1) of 1806. All three aquatints show typical textbook trees, clouds and chiaroscuro of the period, with still or running water; one (‘Dulwich’, fig. 3) has a delightful figure at a well. ‘Near Dulwich’ (fig. 4) shows a house with a remarkable ancient structure. ‘Cottage Views’ and humble poverty played an essential part in the Romantic Movement’s fashionable appetite for the ‘picturesque’ at that time. There is little sign here of the way Cox’s art would develop, with his original perspectives and his wild and windy weather effects that expand the spirits. In 1857, when reviewing exhibitions, Ruskin noted his later work saying, ‘there is not any other landscape which comes near these works of David Cox in simplicity or seriousness.’ Among his fellow water-colour artists who flocked to Wales, Cox (according to Hall’s biography of 1881) became ‘a sort of little king at Betws,… waited on, respected, and beloved by all who came into contact with him. Lord Willoughby might be owner of the soil, but David Cox was lord of the people’s affections.’ These aquatints, are restrained, of course, being fairly early work, but also because they were carefully composed as teaching models of first principles in the art.
One person whom we know copied from them was Charlotte Brontë, when she was thirteen. She reproduced the sepia aquatint, ‘Dulwich’ (fig. 3), and dated it January 5, 1829; what appears to be Indian ink was in fact water-colour wash, as was recommended by the letter-press in Cox’s manual. It is thought that she most likely made this work under her drawing-master, John Bradley, hired to visit Haworth parsonage by her father. This ‘polite recreation’ or ‘accomplishment’ of water-colours, practised by countless oppressed genteel women of her day, actually determined Charlotte Brontë to dedicate herself to becoming an artist; she exhibited works locally, but it was not a success, and she took up writing (with an ostensibly gender-unspecific pseudonym, ‘Currer Bell,’ the forename in homage to her contemporary, the brilliant Yorkshire book collector, Frances Mary Richardson Currer).
When asked by the publishers Smith, Elder in 1848 to contribute her own illustrations to the second edition of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë declined, writing in response,
I have, in my day, wasted a certain quantity of Bristol board and drawing-paper, crayons and cakes of colour, but when I examine the contents of my portfolio now, it seems as if during the years it has been lying closed some fairy has changed what I once thought sterling coin into dry leaves, and I feel much inclined to consign the whole collection of drawings to the fire.
Readers of that most wonderful novel Villette (1853) might take it for a personal recollection of the author’s early painting in water-colours, making copies from such manuals as Cox’s Dulwich (though strictly an aquatint rather than a mezzotint) in Chapter 35, when Lucy Snowe says:
‘I bent over my desk, drawing - that is copying an elaborate line engraving, tediously working up my copy to the finish of the original, for that was my practical notion of art; and strange to say, I took extreme pleasure in the labour, and could even produce curiously finical Chinese facsimiles of steel or mezzotint plates, things about as valuable as so many achievements in worsted-work, but I thought pretty well of them in those days.’