The Dulwich Society Journal for Summer 2012.
Farming in Dulwich, which had provided income for the Priory of Bermondsey for 400 years and for almost as long for Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift, was virtually over by the outbreak of the First World War. Its decline was slow and its demise was finally brought about by the efficiency of home milk deliveries by the new giant dairy companies which sprang up with the introduction of bottling plants and homogenised milk and the use of milk trains for nation-wide distribution..
As has been argued recently in this Journal, the decline of farming happily coincided with the arrival of the 5 day working week which allowed the new found leisure time to be spent on sporting activities in Dulwich’s former farm fields. Clubs sprang up for cricket, tennis, football, golf and athletics. Paternalistic employers rented fields for sports grounds, former students at Alleyn’s and Dulwich College formed Old Boys Clubs for games and one large-scale enterprise, the cycle stadium (Velodrome) was created.
In the eighteenth century Alleyn’s College had encouraged its tenant farmers to take a scientific approach to husbandry and crop rotation. Farmers were advised to ‘marl’ their land - to add carbonate of lime to the clay soil to break it down to improve drainage. When, towards the end of that century, wheat prices rose because of a series of failed harvests and a little later by a naval blockade caused by the Napoleonic War, the College required farmers taking out new leases on farmland to turn the land over to tillage which, while benefitting the nation’s wellbeing, also attracted a higher rental than that used for pasture.
Another development towards increasing productivity by improving Dulwich’s clay soil occurred around the same time when a number of local farmers bought large quantities of broken china and smashed clay pipes from London’s dust collectors and after reducing the size of the fragments even further, ploughed it in to lighten the soil and so improve the drainage. Do not be surprised if you unearth fragments of this early form of re-cycling in your garden.
By the closing decades of the nineteenth century cheap imported wheat was delivering body blows to British farming and London’s farms were either turned over to housing or existed for the provision of fresh milk, the fattening up of cattle for the market and pasture for horses. East Dulwich’s Friern Farm was completely built over within a generation from its sale in 1865.
The increasing demand for recreational space led directly to the creation of parks and Dulwich Park which was opened in 1890 was one of the last inner London parks to be laid out. Its 72 acres were largely taken from Dulwich Court Farm. Nevertheless, in 1897 Alleyn’s College still had 53 fields leased out on its estate.
Court Farm was probably the oldest of Dulwich’s farms and its history is well documented from the early seventeenth century. At one time it comprised some 300 acres of land. Indeed, it was probably very ancient, being the seat of the medieval manor court which gave it its name. By 1896 it was still leasing fields for its dairy herd where Dekker, Desenfans, Druce and Dovercourt roads now stand. Known as the Five Fields they included a field named Brownings which was bounded by Court Lane and newly opened Calton Avenue. The farmer, Mr Low also leased Plough field and he complained that the field, which had a public footpath cutting across it (now built up as Eynella Road) was useless as a pasture as it was used as a playground by children from East Dulwich. He protested to the Dulwich Estate that he would only lease the field if the footpath was fenced in, to which the Estate agreed. To make up for some of the loss of his land taken to form Dulwich Park Mr Low also leased four fields on the south side of Dulwich Common comprising 42 acres.
By the turn of the nineteenth century it was getting increasingly difficult for the Dulwich Estate to get a good return on farmland. At the end of the eighteenth century it could demand £4 an acre for pasture or £10 an acre for land put under the plough. By 1901 fields next to Cox’s Walk could only be leased for £2.15 an acre. The size of Court Farm continued to shrink in the early twentieth century as many of its fields were built on. The houses in these new roads branching out of Court Lane were laid along within existing field boundaries and residents can find old field boundary trees and hedges across their back gardens. The farm continued to pasture cows for local dairies on a remaining strip of land in Court Lane adjacent to the farm which was finally built on in the 1920’s.
Dulwich Wood Farm developed rather differently as farming began to fade away in Dulwich. Situated at the top of Grange Lane and adjoining Dulwich Woods, Dulwich Wood Farm still relied on a 30’ well to supply drinking water in 1884. When this well became polluted and the water unfit for drinking, the farm was connected to the main water supply some half mile distant in College Road at the Dulwich Estate’s expense. Mr Ward, the farmer, was a long standing and respected tenant and there was probably a family connection with Ward’s the butcher’s in Dulwich Village which had a slaughter house at the rear of its premises (now the site of Park Motors).
Mr Ward was succeeded at his farm by Albert Cullen who had the misfortune to suffer severe losses in 1893 when a long drought led to the failure of his hay crop. No rain fell between 4th March and 15th May and in the period May-June only 30% of average rain fell. To pay his rent and to attempt to make up his losses Farmer Cullen let some of his fields to local golfing enthusiasts for play. There had already been a request to the Dulwich Estate in 1887 from some leading local figures for a golf course but the Estate had pointed out that Mr Ward had recently expended £400 on cow sheds and farm buildings and it declined to take any action. Now, while it still required Cullen to stop his ad hoc arrangement and to dismantle the shed he had provided for the golfers, it did, in the following year, sanction the sub-letting by Mr Cullen of four of his fields comprising 42 acres, to two interested golf clubs who agreed to amalgamate to form the Dulwich & Sydenham Hill Golf Club. Cullen was permitted to retain the hay crop from the golf course and to graze sheep there. The golfers were not allowed to play on Sundays and no alcohol was permitted to be served. The Dulwich Estate also insisted that local residents were to have preference to be elected members.
Dulwich Wood Farm itself was now reduced to 20 acres and in 1903 Albert Cullen assigned his farm to James Bacon of the Elder Road Dairy. Bacon was a long established local cow keeper and grazed his cattle in what today is known as Long Meadow or Bell Meadow but was then called French’s Fields after another cow keeper, Thomas French, a dairyman from Croxted Road who also leased the fields. French’s dairy still exists, an attractive building, now converted into housing it stands on Gipsy Hill between Woodland Road and Cawnpore Street. By the 1920’s Dulwich Wood Farm had been totally absorbed into the golf course and the farm buildings are now covered by the South London Scout Centre.
At Potash Farm, which stood in the field now occupied by the Old Alleynian Club on the south side of Dulwich Common, money had also been expended on new farm buildings in the early 1880’s. The farm was run by the Woodhams family. They leased a block of 6 fields, some now used as sports fields and others are incorporated into the golf course. They also leased a four acre field on the north side of Dulwich Common which is now Southwark Sports Ground. Unlike some of the other local farms, Potash Farm ran its own milk round, serving customers along the Common and on Sydenham Hill, supplying fresh milk drawn from churns from the back of a farm cart.
There were three farms in Burbage Road at the turn of the nineteenth century. Parsons Farm had cow sheds and a slaughter house and adjoined the former Lower School (Alleyn’s) field next to the old Grammar School. Henry Parsons leased the surrounding fields which are now used as sports fields. He had acquired the cowsheds from Henry Lassam who was also the village baker and was something of an entrepreneur. In 1887 the premises were inspected by the Dulwich Estate following a complaint but pronounced the farm to be in perfect order. Henry Parsons lived at Bell Cottage in College Road which was then divided into two dwellings. Further down Burbage Road were six small fields amounting to a total of eight acres adjoining the newly built bicycle stadium run by the London County Athletic Club. Today these fields are now covered by houses on the east side of Burbage Road and by part of the Velodrome site. In one of the fields was a collection of farm buildings known as the Half Moon Dairy Farm. Mr J Hammond, the cow keeper made a number of complaints to the neighbouring cycle stadium claiming that spectators were standing on the roofs of his cowsheds watching the events and damaging his property. Hammond had his own retail dairy premises in Half Moon Lane. In 1903 Hammond sold his dairy business to Mr John Philips.
Directly across Burbage Road a farm track ran alongside the railway viaduct (Giant Arches Road) to what was simply named The Farm. This farm had been run for many years towards the end of the nineteenth century by a Mr Mayhew. By the 1890’s Mayhew obviously saw that there was little future in farming and increasingly let his fields for sporting activities. The Dulwich Cricket Club (formerly the Aeolians) which had played since 1867 at the cricket ground behind The Greyhound inn in the Village, relocated to The Farm in Burbage Road when the old Greyhound was demolished. The club used former field number 694, a 4 acre pasture, for cricket. In 1903 Mayhew took a short lease on two acres of land adjoining Turney Road earmarked for future housing and let it to several tennis clubs. On the opposite side of Turney Road a George Crutcher similarly leased 4 acres of future housing land and developed it for sports purposes.
In 1905 Mr Mayhew offered to take the vacant farm fields in Green Lane which had previously been leased to Henry Bessemer for his Model Farm and where he had kept a herd of Alderney cattle. Mayhew later assigned these fields to a Mr A F Hirschell for athletic purposes. Adjoining the railway line from North Dulwich Station, the fields were acquired by JAGS in 1912 and were partly used by Dr Lillian Clarke for her practical lessons in botany and where she planted a wood, created a country lane and developed examples of British habitat such as a peat bog and a pebble beach. These features, including the Natural Order beds are still maintained by the school.
In Gallery Road another Model Farm was created by Sir Evan Spicer at ‘Belair’. Spicer continued to employ a cowman and maintained a small herd to supply his household with fresh milk into the 1920’s. This farm was housed in very old farm buildings where the car park now stands.
At the end of Pickwick Papers, Dickens describes Samuel Pickwick retiring to Dulwich ‘one of the most pleasant spots near London’. He takes a house with a large garden, and ‘fitted up with every attention to substantial comfort…Everything was so beautiful! The lawn in front, the garden behind, the miniature conservatory, the dining-room, the drawing-room, the bed-rooms, the smoking-room, and above all the study…with a large cheerful window opening upon a pleasant lawn, and commanding a pretty landscape, just dotted here and there with little houses almost hidden by trees’. This text is taken from the first complete edition published in 1837, later revised but only to remove the word ‘just’. Although Dickens’ son is reported to have said that his father had no real house in mind when he was writing the book, the house now numbered 31 College Road has often been associated with Mr Pickwick. By the early twentieth century, the previous name ‘Trewyn’ had been changed to ‘Pickwick Cottage’ and featured on postcards of the time as ‘Pickwick Villa’ or ‘Pickwick House’. A book of photographs of London, called ‘Wonderful London’ published 1926-7 illustrated the house as ‘the home of Mr Pickwick at Dulwich’ on the same page as a picture of the ‘supposed’ Old Curiosity Shop near Lincoln’s Inn Fields, immortalised by Charles Dickens, as if there were no doubts about the former.
By the end of the 19th century, the house did bear some resemblance to Dickens’ description, with an attractive lawn in front, a garden behind, many trees outside and rooms inside that could have been used as he suggested, and a small conservatory. However, when Dickens was writing Pickwick Papers in 1836 and 1837, the house was then two cottages with small gardens, and it was only converted into a single dwelling in the 1840s.The front garden was added later in the nineteenth century and the rear garden extended in the twentieth. The association seems to have come after Dickens’ death in 1870 when his fame was well established and a huge interest developed in anything Dickensian.
The two old cottages are described in a deed of 1790 in Dulwich College Archives as being leased to the occupier of Bell House next door, each consisting of a front and back chamber [upstairs] and a front parlour, kitchen, washhouse and privy [downstairs] . This matches the description of the elderly Tom Morris, who wrote in 1909 that Pickwick Villa had originally been two small four-roomed cottages, with whitewash fronts. The present house incorporates some outer plaster walls of these cottages in the front with some weatherboarding remaining at the back.
In 1832, 21 year leases of what were described as wooden premises were granted to the two occupiers, Christopher Mason, gent and Samuel Nail, merchant at a rent of £12 a year each. They had been renting the properties from the previous leaseholder who occupied Bell House. Tom Morris remembered a man called Mason living there with his daughter. He said he kept cows and sold milk and was one of the parish overseers for Camberwell; then after Mason died his daughter married a gentleman called Nale, who turned the two cottages into one. A different story is given by Sir Alfred Temple, who was assigned the lease in 1926. He says his aunt Sarah married Samuel Nail, an insurance broker at Lloyds; her father, George Temple, lived in London but spent the weekends in Dulwich between 1787 and 1821 when he died and left the place to his daughter. Temple says it was never known as Pickwick Villa in his aunt’s time, and it was many years after her death that he noticed in passing that it had been so called. Morris has clearly confused the two occupants as Selina (Sarah) Temple, not Miss Mason, married Samuel Nail in 1822.
After Dickens had written Pickwick Papers, the two cottages were joined into one by Samuel Nail, who by then was occupying both cottages. In 1840 Dulwich College granted him a new lease, which merged the previous two, on condition that he substantially repaired and improved the property. The rent was low at £24 a year and the period long at 31 years. However, he agreed to convert the two premises into one, erect a small coach house and stable where a shed and pigsty had been, pull down the back part and rebuild in a more substantial manner, spend £150 on the improvements and not allow the front fence to extend beyond the line of the brick wall in front of Bell House. £150 would be about £12,500 today but the work would cost a great deal more. The results can be seen in the front part of the house, with one entrance and staircase, fine panelling in the dining room and rendered walls, although the rear has been considerably altered since the 1840s.
The house and gardens were so attractive that Temple recalls that Queen Victoria on her way to Crystal Palace once asked who lived there and met his aunt. She was there until1865, and the following year Samuel was given a new lease for 21 years to include most of the land in front of the house between it and the road. It is one of the distinctive features that the front garden extends so far out. Most of the other land in front of the houses on this side of the road is grassed over. It belongs to the Dulwich Estate and was previously common land or ‘waste’ belonging to the manor. Samuel Nail was appointed a Governor of Dulwich College in 1858 and seems to have been able to use his position to acquire the land on condition that he kept it in good order as an ornamental enclosure. By the beginning of the next century it was regarded as part of the property and the requirement to keep the fence further back in line with the wall of Bell House was dropped. Nail also managed to negotiate a very reasonable rent of £28-9 shillings, and appealed against an assessment for rates of £35 a year. He must have been very annoyed when the Justices of the Peace raised them to £45 instead.
Samuel Nail died in 1867 and the house was let, acquiring its name of Trewyn by 1871. The census of that year records a young Manchester warehouseman (wholesale merchant in cloth) and his wife living there with their two daughters. By the time of the next census in 1881, Charles Court, a chief examiner in the Post Office occupied the house with his wife. Tom Morris describes him as a retired pensioner and an invalid with a much younger wife, although the census gives their ages then as 61 and 54 and ten years later as 72 and 62. Morris says she kept the cottage and garden in good style ‘which made it a great attraction to the London people who passed by on the way to the Crystal Palace’. She had two horses which she drove herself around the district, the groom riding behind her. A schedule to the lease taken out by Charles Court in 1886 lists the rooms. On the first floor were four rooms and on the ground floor were a dining room, drawing room, larder, pantry, passage, kitchen and scullery. The conservatory had iron piping for hot water and there was a two stall stable. Charles Court died in 1894 and his widow, Elizabeth, assigned the lease to another widow, Ann Trickett of Catford.
It was in the period when the Courts were living there that the association with Pickwick was made. The earliest reference traced is in the 1886 edition of Robert Allbutt’s London Rambler “en zigzag” with Charles Dickens: ‘the house - a white, comfortable looking residence, stands (left) near the station, as we approach [from West Dulwich]; corresponding in style and position with its Pickwickian description’. This was one of many books published after Dickens’ death which coincided with the growth of the rambling movement and increasing interest in his writing. Early ramblers liked to combine their exercise with literary interests. The assertion has been repeated many times since. The 1906 volume of The Dickensian, a journal devoted to Dickens studies published by the newly formed Dickens Fellowship, contains a long article on Pickwick and Dulwich. The author says Mr Pickwick’s house “is still to be found…a neat square white building with a closely secluded garden before and all around it, so that it can but just be seen, peeping from its cosy nest, out into the high road beyond its chain-and-post railing”. The earliest dated references to Pickwick Villa, House or Cottage appear about this time on Edwardian postcards as well as a lease from 1906, although Trewyn is not finally dropped as the official name until the 1920s. The nearby Pickwick Road was also given its name in 1906.
After the Courts left, more land was added to the rear garden but the house gradually fell into a poor state of repair. The Dulwich builder, Ernest Mitchell lived there from at least 1901 to 1912. However, Mitchell lost money trying to exploit his invention for making petrol gas and fell into arrears with the rent so the Estate Governors had to take back the property into their own hands. It was let to a succession of others including from 1918 to 1921, the Hon Maurice Baring, author of the ‘Lonely Lady of Dulwich’. By 1924, the house was described in The Dickensian as ‘then unoccupied and in a very dilapidated condition. The small inscription “Pickwick Villa” on the front garden gate is almost unreadable…No doubt the house will soon be removed to make way for some modern villa’. It appears to have been saved by Evan Cook, the removal contractor from Peckham, who restored it and Sir Alfred Temple, Director of the Guildhall Art Gallery, who acquired the lease in 1926 and moved in to the property which his grandfather had occupied over 100 years before. He was not to enjoy the stay very long as two years later he died.
In 1930, the artist, Henry Hoyland, leased the property and was allowed to build a studio in the garden. Best known for his circus paintings he was friends with the Fittons who lived in Pond Cottage and were the subject of an article in the last Journal and a further one in this issue. Hoyland moved to Leamington during the war, but returned to Dulwich afterwards, his daughter Mabel taking over the lease on his death in 1947 until 1954.
Its charm and associations probably helped to preserve the house in the 1920s, which has been considerably extended and well looked after ever since. Charles Dickens would never have known the house but it remains the sort of property that the fictional Mr Pickwick would have enjoyed in his retirement.
Dulwich College Archives: leases from 1790 to 1947
Census returns: 1861-1901
Southwark Local History Library: photos
The Dickensian: October 1906, April and July 1924, autumn 1986
Robert Allbutt, London rambles “en zigzag” with Charles Dickens 1886
Arthur Hayward, Dickens Encyclopedia 1997
Tom Morris, Multum in Parvo 1909, pp 25-6
Wonderful London 1926-7, p1037
The assistance of the present owners, Sheila and Vic Kullar and Dr Tony Williams, associate editor of The Dickensian is much appreciated.
Having reported in my last article of a spectacular break in of a Woodcock into a bedroom in Dovercourt Road I have now to report what came to me as another attempted break in. This time it was of all things a Goldcrest, our smallest British Bird which was reported to be assaulting the window of one of the doctors’ surgeries at Elm Lodge at the top of Burbage Road and proving to be a considerable distraction from the good doctor’s consultations. “What was it doing?” I was asked.
As for most things in nature there was an explanation. When I visited I did not see the occurrence but observed that there was a conifer close to and at the rear of the building, the preferred habitat and breeding site for Goldcrests and there was indeed to be heard the vigorous high pitched song of a male Goldcrest coming from it. What I realized was happening was that the Goldcrest had spotted his reflection in the window and had mistaken it for a competitor to be expelled at all costs. This is a well recognized piece of behaviour in small birds particularly Tits, but I had not heard it before as a feature of Goldcrests. A Blue Tit was photographed in The Times recently attacking its reflection in a car wing mirror. The Goldcrest bears the Latin name Regulus Regulus which means Little King and its American cousins are known in the USA as Kinglets, so perhaps the aggressive behaviour has a history.
Apparent idiosyncratic behaviour is not uncommon and Brian Green has an obsessional Blue Tit that insists on removing dead leaves from above an occupied nest box. Very little is wasted in nature and this is probably a strategy that limits the risk of parasitic infestation. Birds will also remove the encapsulated fecal sacs from their young and I once had a Wren in my garden that lined up the removed fecal sacs along a branch of a neighbouring tree.
Winter has given way to Spring with the immediate end of fine weather. The cold snap this winter was marked by an influx of the previously absent winter Redwings and Fieldfares which were seen gorging themselves on the still copious berry crop and then they promptly disappeared with the fine weather.
I was glad to read that Brian Green had seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which is rare and on the endangered list. This Woodpecker is not very easy to see as it is smaller than a Starling, but otherwise distinguishable by a red cap to its head and barred wings instead of the larger white wing patch on his Greater Spotted cousin. Hence its other name Barred Woodpecker. As we were going to press, Stella Benwell reported sighting a Ring Ousel in a garden in Hawarden Grove, presumably brought down from its migration by April’s bad weather. It can be distinguished from the Blackbird by the white crescent on its chest.
The summer migrants will be in by the time this article is read. A Blackcap was starting to sing in my garden at the beginning of March so that I could not be certain whether this was a winter migrant from East Europe or a very early summer migrant from Spain or Africa; such is the vagary of our weather.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (tel: 020 7274 4567)
One of the most distinctive pines in the Dulwich area is the Bhutan Pine, Pinus wallichiana, which once stood in the front garden of the former doctors’ surgery in Half Moon Lane and now stands by the entrance to Dulwich Mead. Sadly, one of the other denizens of the old front garden, a large horse chestnut, did not survive the change of use, although other horse chestnuts from the gardens of what were two large houses did.
The scientific and common names both point in different ways to the tree’s Indian origins. The tree was first brought to the attention of the European scientific community by Nathan Wolff Wallich, a Danish botanist, while he was curator of the Botanic Garden in Calcutta - hence wallichiana. Bhutan is the mountain kingdom where he found the tree although, as it occurs across the whole vast mountain tract from eastern Afghanistan to Yunnan in southwest China, it is best described as being of Sino-Himalayan distribution. In its native habitat it will grow right up to the glacier forelands at a height of over 4,000 metres.
The Bhutan Pine, now sometimes referred to as the Blue pine, is not a rare London tree as it tolerates air pollution effectively and is quite frequently planted, but it is always a joy to see a good specimen such as that in Half Moon Lane. When you look up at it, you can see that everything about the tree is on a large scale, although our tree is still not fully grown. The cones are very large, clustered, pendulous, often leathery and spotted with dry resin. The needles which are also much longer than is usual with pines, hang in lax bunches of five and are bluish in colour, hence the tree’s alternative common name. The tree has quite a graceful and open look and indeed pines generally allow much more light to shine through them than many other conifers - for example, the serried ranks of Sitka spruce planted on our own hills, to say nothing of the dread Leyland cypress, still an all-too frequent bane of town gardens.
Living as we do in a crowded corner of a small island, however, perhaps the most refreshing thing about this tree is its inspiration to us to think about the wildness and colossal scale of the mountain country where it grows - where “one by one, row after row/ up and up the pine-trees grow/ ... To another greater, wilder country” (Robert Browning, in The Flight of The Duchess).
Alleyn’s in the 1940s
- What was it like taking school exams during an air-raid?
- What happened to the schooling of those London secondary school pupils who weren’t sent away on an evacuation scheme?
- How did the school children and teachers cope in the post-war austerity years with the scarcity of books, equipment and kit?
Answers to these questions - and many more - can be found in ‘Alleyn’s in the 1940’s. This is the fruit of Alleyn’s School’s oral history series whereby pupils interview Alleyn Old Boys (AOBs) about their childhood memories of Alleyn’s. The first report, ‘Alleyn’s in the 1930’s was published last year.
Using the transcripts of the pupil-led interviews, author and Alleyn’s Head of Alumni Relations Susannah Schofield, delved into the School’s Archives to dig out other documentation of the time. One of the gems she discovered were the handwritten notes of the then Headmaster Ralph Allison for a briefing to his staff about the benefits of the proposed School’s evacuation to Rossall School in Fleetwood, Lancashire in 1941. He scribbled that the evacuation is ‘a piece of positive and creative educational work in a world given over to destruction. It has some of the refreshing qualities of the irrelevant and the eccentric. It is I believe something of an adventure and will demand certain of the pioneering and frontier virtues in its accomplishment: loyalty to a common cause and a zest for improvisation.’
Alleyn’s had quite an improvised and peripatetic existence in the Second World War. Along with many other London schools, Alleyn’s was first evacuated to Kent where they had ‘first-row seats’ for the Battle of Britain - and indeed, many of the AOBs described what it was like watching dog- fights in the skies above Pilgrims’ Way. One remembered that ‘up on the cliffs at Kingsdown, we’d throw stones at the Heinkels as they skimmed over!’ The younger boys were then evacuated to Rogerstone in Wales - and more bombs targeting the steel and aluminium works. There, some of the boys experienced ‘hot-bedding’, where they would sleep in the bed of their steelworker-host during the night only to give up the bed to them in the morning on their host’s return from the night shift for him to sleep in. Finally the boys moved to Rossall where they stayed from January 1941 to March 1945. One of the memories of Rossall most mentioned by AOBs was the football match Alleyn’s played against the RAF team based in Blackpool: a team whose captain was none other than football legend Sir Stanley Matthews; Matthews was the RAF station’s Physical Training Instructor. (Alleyn’s lost.)
Meanwhile, back in SE22, the Townley Road buildings were not gathering dust and cobwebs. On 18 March 1940, the staff opened the School’s doors to boys whose families had not sent them on an official evacuation scheme. Boys from nearby schools, such as St Dunstan’s College, Strand, Wilson’s Grammar, continued their education at the South London Emergency Secondary School (SLESS). Over 1,200 boys from 24 local schools were on the roll during the emergency school’s existence from 1940-March 1945. It is these boys who give unbelievable - and comic if it weren’t so chilling - accounts of taking their School Certificate exams whilst cowering under their desks as the Luftwaffe raged overhead.
After the war, rationing and shortages continued and the AOBs remember the awful food, the war damage to the area, the paucity of books and kit. One of the AOBs described the communal approach to PE: ‘I remember how in the gym they had a stack of plimsolls and you just put on two plimsolls that fitted your feet.’
The 1940s decade at Alleyn’s finished with the School fighting for its survival. Following the war, the cash-strapped governors had to find ways to fund repairs to war-damaged buildings on the Estate, and they accepted an offer from the London County Council to purchase Alleyn’s and to convert it into a ‘multilateral’ [comprehensive] school for up to 2,000 boys. ‘Alleyn’s in the 1940s’ describes the combined efforts of staff, parents and AOBs in their campaign to save the school. Their campaign succeeded. Thirteen years after the Education Act, Alleyn’s was granted Direct Grant Status in 1957.
Headmaster Dr Gary Savage says: ‘The Alleyn’s oral history series is a fascinating and hugely worthwhile project for the School and our pupils. As an historian myself, I have relished the way our AOBs’ memories have given a local flavour to national events which happened in our relatively recent past. Like its predecessor (‘Alleyn’s in the 1930s’), ‘Alleyn’s in the 1940s’ is an eminently-readable synthesis of first-hand testimony, archive documentation, images and official evidence, all beautifully put together by the School’s Head of Alumni Relations. I have received many letters of appreciation about it from our AOBs who have enjoyed remembering their Alleyn’s school-boy days; and I hope that other Dulwich residents might also enjoy this insight into Dulwich days gone by.
There are a small number of copies available and if you would like a copy, please send a cheque made payable to ‘Alleyn’s School’ for £5 (£15 for overseas). Alternatively you can download a copy here http://www.edwardalleynclub.com/design/pdfs/1940s%20rpt%20for%20web.pdf
The idea for a new poetry venue came from a combination of the need to avoid traipsing across London to places like The Poetry Café in Betterton Street, Covent Garden or even to Tavistock Place or Camden to get my poetry ‘fix’ and the offer from a local publican who said that he would love a poetry night at his pub. This fitted in well with the idea to start a poetry club in South London, something sadly lacking south of the river, which I shared with Angela Brodie whom I had met at a poetry class at Morley College.
Beyond Words opened in March this year when we were lucky enough to have Ruth O’Callaghan as our opening poet. In April we chose two local poets to read for us. Peter Ebsworth, himself a much-published poet, is editor of The South Bank Poetry Magazine. He was supported by Hannah Lowe who was selected to read at the Aldeburgh Festival last autumn to represent the new and upcoming voices on the poetry scene. In May, Roddy Lumsden who teaches at The Poetry School and also at Morley was our guest poet and he was supported by Emily Hasler, one of Salt Publishing’s ‘Younger Poets’. On June 5th we welcome Clare Pollard, poet, playwright, and TV and radio scriptwriter. Clare’s most recent book Changeling became a Poetry Book Society recommendation and we hope to hear her read from it. In July we showcase Hannah Lowe with more vibrant tales of family life and no doubt poems from ‘The Hitcher’ recently published by Rialto. We round off the evening with a local group called Little Machine who have adapted poems ancient and modern to be sung accompanied by music and good humour. Their most recent event was to take the stage after Carol Anne Duffy at the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival.
Beyond Words meets every first Tuesday of the month at ?? Gipsy Hill SE 26 and for aspiring poets one of the best things about the venue is that we always run an ‘open-mic’. We are pleased and surprised with the strength of the work from people who turn up on the night with their notebook or scrap of paper and reveal some amazing truth hidden away in a few sentences. It has been a pleasure to hear.
What is the link between a well known Impressionist painting and an abandoned railway line? The answer is to be found in Dulwich. The painting is Pissaro's 1871 ‘Lordship Lane Station’ which can be seen at the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery at Somerset House. The railway line is the long closed Crystal Palace High level line which ran through Dulwich and terminated at Crystal Palace High level station on a site now occupied by a housing estate.
The line was first authorised in 1862 to run from Peckham Rye. At Nunhead Junction it diverged from the Greenwich Park branch, turned south and after a mile parted company with the line to Bromley. It climbed continuously at 1 in 78 all the way, after 1 mile reaching Honor Oak station. Continuing south it bridged London Road, passed Lordship Lane station and Upper Sydenham station (1884), which was located between two tunnels, the second of which gave access to Crystal Palace High Level Station. This was connected to the Palace by a fan-vaulted pedestrian subway in finely detailed red and cream brickwork. This subway and an adjacent courtyard survived the 1936 fire, and was used as an air raid shelter during the war. It is now a Grade II listed building. Although the subway is now sealed off, it is sometimes opened to allow organised visits.
The line was opened in 1865 without any intermediate stations, but later that year Lordship Lane and Honor Oak stations were opened, followed by Nunhead in 1871. As there was all ready a station to the south of the Palace with a direct service to Victoria, the line was really built too late to capture the main Crystal Palace traffic, though there were originally 33 trains a day. The Crystal Palace was already in decline, not helped by a ban on Sunday opening.
However the area was being developed and in 1884 another station was opened at Upper Sydenham. This did not bring any substantial increase in traffic as the stations were near existing LBSC stations. The line's catchment area included cemeteries, very low density villa development and extensive open areas of the Dulwich College estate which had demanded restrictions prior to the building of the line imposing special architectural treatment of some of the railway structures. In 1908 there was further competition after the introduction of electric trams and later buses.
Owing to manpower shortages the line was closed in 1916, but re-opened in 1919 to take advantage of the Army demobilisation centre at Crystal Palace. Service was initially only to Blackfriars but was extended after electrification in 1924 to London Bridge as well. The destruction of Crystal Palace by fire in November 1936 resulted in even more loss of business and traffic had dwindled to a mere trickle, so when war broke out in 1939 service was reduced to just a shuttle service to Nunhead. In January 1946 the line was re-opened again with the same shuttle service and a few peak hour trains to Blackfriars, Unfortunately passenger figures did not improve with many trains running empty, and with a host of repairs required it was decided to close the line in 1954. The last electric train ran on 18th September and a final steam special the following day. This was the first permanent closure of an electric line on the railway system. The track was lifted in 1956/7 and the land
was sold to the LCC who passed it on to local councils for housing and open space development.
Although much of the route of the railway has now been lost to residential development, it can be traced in places. Architectural features remain such as the ornamental portal of the Paxton Tunnel just north of the terminus. Of the route today from Nunhead there is nothing to be seen until Brockley Way where the route can be seen through Brenchley Gardens. Cross Forest Hill Road, and pass Camberwell Old Cemetery and you can pick up the route adjoining Horniman gardens which is now a nature trail managed by the Trust for Urban Ecology. The section between the Cox's Walk footbridge , from which Pissaro painted “Lordship Lane Station” and the northern entrance to the Crescent Wood tunnel is managed by the London Wild Life Trust and is known as Sydenham Hill Wood nature reserve.