The Dulwich Society Journal for Summer 2013.
An Interview with Brenda Last OBE
By Brian Green
Last December Brenda Last was presented with the insignia of the Order of the British Empire by HRH The Prince of Wales for her services to Dance. It had been a long journey and Brenda recalled that on the day of the awards ceremony the part that her first dance teacher, Biddy Pinchard, had played in starting her upon her career.
Attendance at Biddy Pinchard’s dance academy on Brixton Hill was not a likely one for Brenda Last. She was born in 1938 near Loughborough Junction where her parents kept a tobacconists’ shop in Hinton Road. At the age of 3½ and coinciding with the Blitz,
which devastated a good deal of the area, she contracted Diptheria which turned into Rheumatic Fever. In a children’s hospital near the Borough, her left leg was encased in callipers and her mother told that Brenda needed to strengthen that leg. At first her mother thought that rough and tumbles with her three older brothers would be sufficient, but they were a good deal older and a chance look at a local newspaper provided her mother with a better alternative. It was an advertisement for a dance school. And so, despite the threat of enemy bombers, Mrs Last took Brenda to the dance studio located in a large Victorian house on Brixton Hill.
After a very few Tap lessons Biddy Pinchard said to Brenda “You don’t want to wear those callipers do you?”. Brenda didn’t and lessons began in earnest, which would continue for many years, in tap, ballet and classical Greek dance. The journeys to Brixton Hill and the dance school continued through the war, through the V1 and V2 raids, and beyond.
She passed her 11 plus and gained a place at Mary Datchlor Girls’ School where she did well both academically and in sport. Her parents were keen for her to become a pharmacist, considering this a potentially good job for an able girl. The headmistress, Dame Dorothy Brock, interviewed her and asked if she wanted to continue into the sixth form. Brenda explained her love of dance and that she went to classes after school almost every day, and on Sundays as well if she could. Dame Dorothy was very understanding and encouraged her to pursue her chosen career. Brenda was excused school games so she could do her homework. From an early age she was coached by Vera Volkova, the famous Russian teacher and Andrew Hardie taught her Pas de Deux in her early teens. She left school at 16 and shortly after won the gold medal in the Royal Academy of Dancing’s prestigous Adeline Genee competition. This guaranteed a place for her for a year at the Royal Ballet’s upper school, although her parents still had to pay the fees!
Her independence soon showed itself and before taking up her place she joined a small company performing at the Edinburgh Festival, thereby arriving at The Royal Ballet School after the term had already started. There was no opening for her in The Royal Company at the end of her year, probably because of her lack of height (she is only 5 ' tall). Undaunted, she decided to strike out on her own and an opportunity quickly presented itself when there was an opening at the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford upon Avon for a part in Toad of Toad Hall where the choreographer was Elizabeth West.
Elizabeth West proved an inspiration to Brenda and when West announced that she and choreographer/dancer Peter Darrell were to form a small company in Bristol where she would be Director and Darrell responsible for choreography, Brenda became one of the ten original members of the company which was titled Western Theatre Ballet.
Elizabeth West offered the young and eager company something totally new and vibrant, performing both classical and modern works. An old removal van was found from somewhere which carried the scenery and costumes to a variety of venues, halls or theatres where the young company were to perform. Emanating outwards from Bristol, they toured Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. The company eventually found itself at Dartington Hall, the progressive school near Totnes which had a theatre, an unusual asset for a school in those days. It was an exhilarating time for an eighteen year old hopeful
As rehearsals were held in London as well as at the Bristol Ballet School, Brenda took the opportunity, when not touring, to save money by living at home. The wage paid by Western Theatre Ballet was only £7 per week She then decided to get an agent for additional work. What was forthcoming was an appearance on television (in black and white) as a dancer in a Vic Oliver show, pantomimes and films.
Her big break came when Western Theatre Ballet was performing in a week-long engagement at Elmhurst Ballet School in Camberley. An unexpected member of the audience was Dame Ninette de Valois, Director of the Royal Ballet. “Madame”, as she was called, was so impressed by Brenda Last’s performance that she said she was to come and see her in London. Brenda wrestled with her conscience about leaving Western Theatre Ballet and Elizabeth West where she had had such an inspirational time. Finally, and after being persuaded by a member of the company, she wrote to Dame Ninette and was invited for an interview.
A difficult parting was made even more difficult because upon being offered a place in the Royal Ballet’s touring company in 1963, Brenda heard that Elizabeth West had been killed in an avalanche in Switzerland. Nevertheless, Peter Darrell took over full control of the Western Ballet (it was later invited to become the Scottish Ballet) and Brenda and he parted on good terms. She had been with the company for six years.
Brenda Last immersed herself in the Royal Ballet. She was a member of the corps de ballet in the touring company and after two years she was promoted Principal. She remained there for over ten years, and danced the role of Lisle in Sir Frederick Ashton’s ‘La Fille mal Gardée’ 101 times. Brenda preferred being in the touring Royal Ballet as it gave her the opportunity to dance more often than would have been possible at Covent Garden, which houses both the resident Royal Ballet and Opera Companies. However, when the resident company was performing elsewhere, the touring company got the exciting opportunity to dance at Covent Garden. In 1971 she performed the role of the Black Berkshire pig in the film of Ashton’s ‘The Tales of Beatrix Potter’. Having progressed through the corps de ballet to Principal, Brenda was appointed to the post of Ballet Mistress in 1973.
She was a friend of the dancer and Director, David Blair. Blair had left the Royal Ballet where he had been principal dancer after the arrival of Nureyev and had established a successful freelance career as a guest dancer in a number of prestigious companies including American Ballet Theatre in New York. In 1976 he was invited to direct the Norwegian National Ballet and he asked Brenda to go over to Oslo to see the Company after he had made a start. However, before he could take up his appointment he died suddenly at the age of 43 and the Norwegian National Ballet asked a shocked Brenda Last to be its new Artistic Director.
Taking on the Norwegian National Ballet was an exhilarating experience, which powerfully motivated Brenda, and her doubts about leaving her enviable position in the Royal Ballet were soon overcome. She staged a host of works including ‘Les Rendezvous’ by Ashton, ‘ Lady and the Fool’ .and ‘Pineapple Poll’ by John Cranko and modern works including ‘The Tempest’ by Glenn Tetley with a wonderful score by the Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim.
After three years Brenda Last returned to London, a move precipitated by the death of her mother. However, another opportunity presented itself where she could balance looking after her father and continuing her career. She joined the London Contemporary Dance School. This gave her the artistic freedom that her maverick nature craved. She stayed fourteen years during which time she also worked extensively with the Noriko Kobayski Ballet in Tokyo where she mounted works from the Royal Ballet’s repertoire, including Coppelia in 1986 and works by Ashton and De Valois. Teaching throughout the world followed, with spells with the Royal New Zealand and Australian Ballet companies as well as the English National and Scottish Ballet.
Brenda Last remains hugely involved in dance, both as a teacher and as an official. She was an advisor on the Arts Council Dance Panel for many years and is currently Director of Training and Fellow of the British Ballet Organisation and a Trustee of the Royal Ballet Benevolent Fund.
She and her husband, musician Stephen Lade, continue to live in Dulwich and she is a member of the Dulwich Society.
Dulwich's biggest intergenerational dance project
The first rehearsal of Synchronised, a project with Dulwich Picture Gallery combining forces once again with Rambert Dance Company took place in April. Facilitating weekly rehearsals with two local community groups, Blackfriars Settlement and The Salmon Youth Centre in Bermondsey, Rambert will teach participants to perform a piece from their stellar repertoire while taking inspiration from the Gallery’s world-famous Collection.
The culmination of ‘Synchronised’ will be a beautifully-crafted, intergenerational final performance at Asylum, Caroline Garden’s Chapel, in Peckham on Monday 10 June 2013. The show will be followed by a documentary film screening of the project at the Gallery in July 2013.
Over the eight weeks, a group of 7 - 18 year-olds from the Salmon Youth Centre, Bermondsey and older adults from Blackfriars Settlement worked with animateurs from Rambert Dance Company to rehearse the repertoire, ‘Hush,’ a light-hearted and affectionate celebratory dance of family life choreographed by Christopher Bruce (Winner of Best Modern Choreography, Critics’ Circle Dance Award in 2009). Each group rehearsed separately and will be reunited for their final rehearsals bringing their respective dances together for their performance at the chapel.
’Synchronised’ was launched at the Gallery in April; older and younger participants came together for the first time to enjoy a taster workshop with music from the ‘Hush’ repertoire. Collectively they explored the Gallery, finding links to the themes of family and childhood in ‘Hush’ in both the Gallery’s permanent collection and temporary Murillo exhibition.
The theme of family life also extends to the space where the final performance will be showcased. The chapel in Caroline Gardens sits in London’s largest complex of almshouses once known as the Licensed Victuallers' Asylum. In contrast to contemporary connotations, this site was not a place where former pub landlords were hidden away; instead ‘Asylum’ is used in the older sense, meaning “sanctuary”. This tranquil square was a haven for the staff and families who, after a long and loyal service to the brewing industry, could happily live out their days and the ‘Synchronised’ participants will draw upon images from these residents ‘at play’ in their rehearsals.
Asylum is also the perfect venue for this dance partnership to reside having been built only 13 years after the Gallery. This is the third project that has seen Dulwich Picture Gallery and Rambert Dance Company collaborate and the first time that there has been a cross-generational element.
The Alleyn Legacy - The Dulwich Almshouse
By Michael Maunsell
As a relatively recent Trustee of the Dulwich Almshouse House Charity I have been struck by the fact that Edward Alleyn's heritage now concentrates largely on the early years of life through education. During his lifetime he made a major contribution to the elderly through the provision of an almshouse in his new College and had also intended to build them in the three other parishes which are still beneficiaries of the Estate. These are: St Botolph’s ,Bishopsgate where he was baptised, St Giles Cripplegate (later St Luke’s ,Finsbury), where he had his Fortune Theatre, St Saviour’s, Southwark where he was churchwarden and St Giles, Camberwell, the parish in which he built his college.
The main function of the Dulwich Almshouse Charity is providing a home for fourteen residents over the age of 60 who are in need or require suitable housing and who come from the areas of benefit, which cover the aforementioned parishes of interest to Edward Alleyn.
The Charity’s income derives from two sources; an annual payment from the Dulwich Estate and contributions from residents of Edward Alleyn House. The contribution is calculated starting from the Rent Officer’s assessment of a Fair Rent which is eligible for Housing Benefit for those who are entitled to claim it. The main costs are in providing accommodation and ensuring that this is maintained in a good state and also by retaining the services of a Warden. In recent years we have improved the flats by ensuring that each has a bathroom with a sitz-bath with shower and toilet and three of the four staircases have chair lifts. The flats and common parts are subject to a rolling programme of redecoration and repair. The Trustees receive a lot of support from the Dulwich Estate staff in planning and carrying this out. However in seeking to do more, particularly to assist those with impaired mobility, is very difficult in a building of such heritage significance.
When there is a vacancy the Trustees seek nominations from the areas of benefit, particularly Southwark, and applicants will be seen and assessed against housing, financial, medical, and other criteria which the Trustees have approved. There is sometimes a waiting list. This is sheltered accommodation and so when a resident joins, and whilst here, s/he must be able to run their own lives and provide for themselves without the need of on-site medical or other assistance.
The Charity has always looked outside as well and it does this in a way which reflects the areas of interest of Edward Alleyn through the award of grants. A number of needy pensioners are supported in Bishopsgate/Shoreditch and Camberwell and funds are also given to charities working with the elderly in those areas and also in Cripplegate and the City. The Charity also supports Dulwich Helpline and other local charities. The Warden, through an outreach scheme, visits and provides help to about ten local, isolated, elderly people who have been referred by the local agencies.
Ensuring that the senior citizen whose home is in the Almshouse is treated with the dignity and respect expected in the 21st century is important. The Trustees believe that in carrying out his wish to provide relief in this area of need Edward Alleyn would require nothing less. We are very fortunate to have the full support of the Dulwich Estate and its other Beneficiaries in what we are doing.
Tuesday 4th 'Beyond Words' poetry venue is pleased to invite Hylda Sims to read her poetry and sing for us. Hylda spent much of her life performing jazz and skiffle and was a member of The City Ramblers in the 60's(and still performs with The City Ramblers Revival ). On the same evening prize winning poet Jill Abram, the Director of Malaika's Poetry Kitchen will read some of her poignant and satirical poems. The Gipsy Tavern, Gipsy Hill SE19 8pm.
Saturday 8th Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery - Walk - Dulwich Common and Beyond led by Ian McInnes 2.30-4pm £6. Tickets from the Gallery
Wednesday 12th Dulwich Picture Gallery Exhibition A CRISIS OF BRILIANCE 1908-1922 Paul Nash, CRW Nevinson, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington and David Bomberg opens
Thursday 13th Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society lecture - BANKS, BURGUNDY AND PIRACY : the Fifteenth Century artists of Bruges by Christopher Herbert. James Allen’s Girls’ School Sixth Form Lecture Theatre, James Allen’s Girls’ School 8pm
Saturday 16th Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery Walk - Hidden Herne Hill led by Ian McInnes 2.30-4pm. Tickets from the Gallery
Sunday 23rd 6-8pm The Dulwich Society Wildlife Group SWIFT WALK led by Steven Robinson and Dave Clark. Meet at 5.45pm at Dulwich Park, College Road entrance. Bring binoculars.
Tuesday 2nd. ‘Beyond Words’ poetry venue presents - 'LiTTLe MACHiNe' - Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy said of them "the most brilliant music and poetry band I've seen in decades!" From Ovid through Shakespeare to Larkin and the present day their range of work is 3000 yrs long and their musicianship is powerful.
Local poet and editor of South Bank Poetry Magazine Peter Elliot will be there too reading from his brand new first collection. The Gispy Tavern, Gipsy Hill SE 19 at 8pm.
Friday 5th Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery - AN EVENING OF RUSSIAN OPERA
6.30pm Reception with sparkling wine included in the price. 7.15pm Performance in the Gallery with long interval for picnics. £40
Thursday 11th Dulwich Decorative & Fine Arts Society lecture - TWENTIETH CENTURY WOMEN COLLECTORS: their influence and legacies by Marina Vaizey. James Allen’s Girls’ School Sixth Form Lecture Theatre 8pm
Saturday 13th All Saints Church, Rosendale Road. Concert - The Ionian Singers, conductor Timothy Salter, and Nephele Ensemble (flute, harp, violin, viola, cello). French and English music from the late 19th century to the present. Pre-concert illustrated discussion at 6.15pm with Nephele Ensemble included with ticket for concert at 7.30pm. £15 (students £8) at the door or from 0208 693 1051
Advance notice - Tuesday 3rd September ‘Beyond Words Poetry’ brings Ros Barber, author of three previous collections of poetry, who will introduce his 'The Marlowe Papers',
a thrilling novel in verse that brawls and loves its way through Christopher Marlowe's alternative life. The Gipsy Tavern, Gipsy Hill SE 19 at 8pm.
As always a wildlife report is dictated more than anything else by the weather and its vagaries. At one point in my garden there was a Chiffchaff that had migrated in braving the icy blast, and a flock of wintering Redwing that had not yet decided to return to Scandinavia, and it was impossible to tell whether the Blackcap on our feeder was a wintering bird from Germany or one of the summer migrants that couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to sing.
However there were highlights. A Firecrest which is a slightly larger relative of the more usually seen Goldcrest spent much of the winter in the woods. Firecrests have been seen in winters sporadically over the years in the woods and are probably our most uncommon visitor, but being a more striking bird a bonus for those that spot them. Also recorded by several people both in the parks and coming to garden feeders were Redpolls and Siskins, small Finches that come to us in the winter often joining Goldfinches, but more usually seen on the Alders in Belair Park or the Birches in the American Garden in Dulwich Park.
With each new blast of cold air there were influxes of Fieldfares and Redwings that typically would come to sports playing fields where the ground had been disturbed. It was a “Waxwing year” again but this time the nearest Waxwings were in Nunhead and Herne Hill.
At the time of writing Spring has suddenly arrived with the bitter snow bearing north easterly changing to a southerly wind and with it a rush of summer migrants. On Monday 15th April there was a total of around sixty Willow Warblers all feeding on the trees and bushes of the Dulwich Park lake and a steady stream of Swallows all flying north. But the star bird was a male Pied Flycatcher feeding from perches in the American Garden. These are birds that feature on the BBC Springwatch programmes at their nest sites in Wales or the north west, so to see one here is a bonus even though only en route for elsewhere. The Willow Warblers of course did not stay either as their breeding range is apparently shifting to the north.
However there are two pairs of Little Grebes displaying on the lake, a Little Owl can be heard calling in Belair and a Tawny Owl in Dulwich Woods. A pair of gaudy Mandarin Ducks appear from time to time in Belair perhaps one day to breed. There are Peacock Butterflies on the wing so there was clearly survival from last year’s disastrous summer. Paul Bond reports that his five colonies of bees survived the terribly long winter in his hives in College Road. So there may be plenty for the wildlife enthusiast to enjoy. We are hoping that those with suitable two or three storey houses may be able to put up Swift nesting boxes to attract these diminishing birds to breed and a few free nest boxes are available via the Dulwich Society. In Burbage Road there were probably no more than two breeding pairs of Swifts last year less than half of those in years gone by.
Of more general interest the wardens of the Sydenham Hill woods have been enquiring about the history of Badgers in the woods. Fortunately Mr. Richard Robinson of Great Brownings has been able to furnish us with information and has supplied the accompanying picture of the last Badger which died in 1994. Apparently there were numbers of badgers which were centred in a still existent sett in the neighbourhood of the Crescent Wood end of the woods, maintained of course by foxes. This last Badger would regularly visit him for an evening meal enabling a series of photographs. It was found having died, presumably of old age and buried with due decorum in the grounds adjoining Great Brownings. There was an attempt to introduce three badgers after this but they strayed away and were alas found run over, one as far away as the Old Kent Road. I am not sure that the Golf Club would welcome return of Badgers as they can be partial to the digging up of greens. However if readers have more information of the Badger history we would be delighted to hear.
Peter Roseveare Wildlife Recorder (tel: 020 7274 4567 )
Sunday 23rd June from 6-8pm The Dulwich Society Wildlife Group invites members to a SWIFT WALK led by Steven Robinson and Dave Clark. Meet at 5.45pm at Dulwich Park, College Road entrance. Bring binoculars
Metasequoia glyptostroboides - the ‘Dawn Redwood’
A Chinese forester working in Sichuan Province in 1943 came across a large deciduous coniferous tree which he thought was a ‘Water Pine’, Glyptostrobus Pensilis. However, he passed on a specimen and cones from the tree to a dendrology professor who immediately realised they represented something new. Further collected material confirmed that a new living genus had been discovered. It was then matched to the fossilised remains of Metasequoia, the name given to it: Meta meaning “akin to” Sequoia - the ‘Redwoods’ - and Glyptostroboides after the tree it was originally confused with, the ‘Chinese Water Pine’. It was in effect the discovery of what had been believed to be an extinct tree, and it was immediately dubbed, “The Living Fossil”. Special seed collecting expeditions followed, and seed was duly sent to botanical institutions around the world, including Britain, and by 1949 seedlings were offered for sale in Hillier’s catalogue at 1 guinea each. Some 60 years on, this tree is now a firm favourite and a common sight in parks and arboretums throughout the UK, proving it to be hardy, fast-growing and tolerant of most soils. It is often confused with the Taxodium distichum, another deciduous conifer, but easily distinguished by its ‘buttress’ or flared trunk base and its oppositely arranged leaves; the ‘Swamp Cypress’ displays an alternate arrangement. The bark of the Metasequoia is reddish brown, becoming darker as the tree matures when it is prone to shed long fibrous strips, giving it a shaggy appearance. The foliage is delightfully soft and feathery, having needles of a bright green colour which become golden bronze before falling in autumn. Insignificant male and female flowers are borne on the same tree, and small cones develop to be held throughout winter. The ‘Dawn Redwood’, as it is also known - a reference to fossil remains from the “dawn of time” in the Mesozoic era - forms a spectacular spire and will reach a height of 21-30 metres. Good examples may be seen in Dulwich Park on the lawn beyond the Lodge from the Old College Gate entrance, and a fine specimen in the Dulwich Picture Gallery garden.
Valerie Hill-Archer (Trees Committee)
Dulwich Artist in Residence
Samuel Prout, 1783-1852
by Jan Piggott
One of the pleasures of living in and around Dulwich is to summon up in the imagination the historical and literary figures who frequented our streets and green spaces; truant, for a moment, from the way the world looks now. Edward Alleyn, thoughtful among his fruit trees just to the south of the Picture Gallery, long before a clutch of wholesome Wates maisonettes was put down there. At the commuter roundabout on the top of Sydenham Hill, at midnight, Lord Byron on his horse in high spirits, hat thrown up in farewell to the poet Thomas Campbell, his host, who had walked up with him from Sydenham Common. Regency swells at illicit duels in Dulwich fields, behind the stiles and hedges. At a window of the Greyhound, Leigh Hunt observing haymakers in white shirts. Samuel Palmer sketching in his ‘sweet’ meadows, noting the ’mystic glimmer’ behind the bosky hills, ‘the gate into the world of vision’. Mr Pickwick puffed up in his large garden or ‘miniature conservatory’, walking in the Village on a fine day, the poor taking their hats off to him, or ‘contemplating the pictures in the Dulwich Gallery’ - all as Dickens describes. The College’s annual garden parties at the Picture Gallery, four-in-hand carriages lined up outside, distinguished guests and the tables of tea, ices and heaped strawberries - ‘nowhere else so big’, as Henry James noted. John Ruskin, in childhood solitude, dawdling along the lane that is now the Number-Three-charged Croxted Road - with a ‘slender rivulet’ in the long grass, primroses and hawthorn buds, all recalled in his brilliant manic tirade of 1880 against the ‘ruin’ and ‘filth’ caused by the College Estate building villas there. Arthur Herman Gilkes on his stately bicycle, pedalling with extraordinary slow motion to the College Mission in Camberwell. The schoolboy Wodehouse skating on Belair pond.
In the early nineteenth century on the site of the Grove Tavern (now the stricken ‘Harvester’), at the edge of the Estate, stood a large hostelry which the celebrated and bookish Dr. Alexander Glennie from Aberdeen had leased for his small and select boys’ school. Here from 1809 to 1821 the Drawing Master was Samuel Prout (fig. 1); the artist’s account books show his salary rising from £59 in 1809 to £150 in 1815. At the recent fabulous Cotman in Normandy exhibition at the Picture Gallery there were two water-colours by Prout that were much admired: Rue Gros Horloge, Rouen and Market place in Lisieux; these were to contrast with Cotman’s designs for his Architectural Antiquities of Normandy. Yet it was Prout who established a highly successful formula for images of picturesque historic buildings in the cramped streets of continental towns, like very superior post-cards highlighted with sparkling colour, affectionately depicting intricate masonry, unrestored and often pleasantly decayed by time and weather; his reputation eclipsed Cotman’s for such views. Although Cotman was the first of the two artists to visit Normandy, Prout stole a march on him by exhibiting Normandy views at the Society of Painters in Water-Colours in Bond Street in 1820, and again in 1821 and 1822, and by publishing Picturesque Buildings of Normandy (fig. 2) with 8 lithographic plates in 1821, the year before Cotman’s monumental volume of etchings. Cotman owned works by Prout, and exhibited some of his Normandy water-colours in Norwich in 1821; they exchanged copies of their publications. Prout played a significant part in the development of lithography, drawing his pictures on the stones himself. He also had a great influence on tourism, partly through reproductive prints of his views (fig. 3), the very numerous steel-engravings such as the illustrations to his enchanting Landscape Annuals of 1830 and 1831, and from which most of his income derived. Inspired by his work John Ruskin (senior; 1785-1864), the immensely wealthy sherry merchant, took his wife and his artistic son to the continent in 1833 from the large house on Herne Hill.
At Dulwich in 1808 the water-colour painter David Cox had moved into a small cottage on the edge of the Common; born the same year as Prout, he is said to have been his friend. Dulwich with its tree clad hills above the meadows, ponds and streams was a rustic resort of artists, thanks to the slow development of the College Estate and in spite of the large villas with private grounds and the Village itself. (Even now in the purlieus of the South Circular Road a creamy harvest moon above the Dulwich woods can transport one into Palmer’s sublime world). Prout made a magnificent careful study of Edward Alleyn’s wooden windmill for a soft-ground etching of 1815 (fig. 4); the mill stood where the front lawns of the College now face Pond Cottages. It is likely that David Cox had introduced Prout to his neighbour, the good Dr. Glennie. At Glennie’s Academy the most famous pupil was Lord Byron; in 1799 at the age of eleven, and when he had only just inherited his title, he joined the school for almost three years before going on to Harrow. Perhaps Prout heard about the boy’s pranks, such as mock footpad attacks on passing strangers; perhaps he could have told us into which of the many Dulwich ponds Byron threw the brace he had been told to wear for his deformed leg. Prout lived in Stockwell at 4 Brixton Place with his wife and four young children until 1835, when he moved to Clapham Rise. He worked most steadily at his drawings and water-colours, but was often confined to his bed with a severe headache for a day or two each week - said to be the result of serious sunstroke at the age of five. ¬For his health he next spent a few intervening years in Plymouth and Hastings, but returned to South London, living at 5 De Crespigny Terrace at Denmark Hill, in 1844 during his last twelve years.
Prout came from Devon; from the West Country came metropolitan artists such as Reynolds, Lawrence and Charles Eastlake (who was taught to draw by Prout). His father kept a Plymouth mercer’s shop, and was a naval outfitter. At the Grammar School it was the headmaster, an amateur artist, who encouraged Prout and his contemporary Benjamin Robert Haydon to sketch and to paint. Mild-mannered, devout, assiduous, Prout was quite unlike the theatrical and ultimately suicidal egomaniac Haydon. Apart from a few private lessons, he had no proper education in art; initially he had great difficulty with perspective. In youth he painted a dramatic shipwreck that he witnessed with Haydon, but, born into the great era of the Romantic picturesque with its love of old abbeys and ruined castles, he was to specialise for his entire career in architecture and antiquarian subjects. The druidical monuments, stone crosses and ancient buildings of Devon and Cornwall were the subjects of his early drawing excursions; he was clearly fascinated by subjects that landscape artists might think banal without a surrounding context, such as the shapes and textures of cottages, bridges, mills, and boats.
At the age of seventeen in Plymouth he was taken on a sketching tour and given commissions for antiquarian and romantic views by John Britton (1771-1857), the prolific writer who played such a significant part in the antiquarian and architectural publications of the first half of the nineteenth century; Prout’s drawings were engraved for Britton’s series Architectural Antiquities and The Beauties of England and Wales (to which Cotman contributed two plates). Pleasing decay - so seldom tolerated today by the National Trust - he rendered with a kind of passion: time-worn stone, crumbling brick, timber frames, tiles, rotting thatch, doors, windows and shutters. He sketched standing up, with pencil and ‘stump’ (a leather or India-rubber head on a shaft, resembling a brush, for rubbing down hard lines and blending shading); his drawings he made with a reed pen in bistre or ‘Prout’s Brown’ ink, outlined and then given texture by curls, dots and dashes. Prout lodged with Britton in London for two years, and was set to make copies of water-colours by Turner, Thomas Hearne and Cotman. By 1805 he was exhibiting at the Academy.
(To be concluded in the Autumn edition)
William Nesfield’s plan for the Dulwich Estate, 1858
By Bernard Nurse
In the nineteenth century, the Dulwich College Estate was one of the largest leasehold estates in London concentrated within one area. It included about 1500 acres of land from Denmark Hill in the north to Sydenham in the south and Herne Hill in the west to Lordship Lane in the east. In the 1850s, most land was farmland and housing was largely confined to the village and Dulwich Common. One of the first acts of the new College Governors appointed after the charity had been reformed in 1857 was to ask for a report on the development potential. They were particularly concerned to increase the income in order to pay for new school premises. The task was given to the artist and landscape gardener, William Andrews Nesfield and the recent discovery of his report in Dulwich College Archives throws more light on their policies. The principles which he set out had a marked influence on the way the estate was to be developed in the Victorian period, even if the details turned out to be very different.
Nesfield was probably given the job because he had worked with Sir Charles Barry, Dulwich College’s Architect and Surveyor, on garden layouts for several of his country house projects. He was an interesting choice as a former artist who had turned to landscape gardening and best known for introducing flower beds into public parks and re-introducing formal design into gardening. He regarded landscape gardening as ‘The Art of painting with Nature’s materials’ and was the first person to describe himself as a ‘landscape architect’.
Sir Charles Barry’s son, Charles Barry junior was chosen to succeed his father in April 1858 and he drew up a brief for Nesfield which the governors approved the following month. The two key objectives were to increase the income while keeping the rural character of the estate. Nesfield was therefore asked where building should be allowed and what sort of size and value, how much land should be attached to the houses for gardens or meadow. In addition, he should advise on: which existing roads should be improved and what new roads were desirable; how to treat existing woodland and to recommend any further planting; the site for a new College and in what order his suggestions should be carried out.
Nesfield coloured in his proposals on a printed copy of the very detailed 1852 survey of the estate now in the Dulwich College Archives; and the report explains the thinking behind his ideas. To improve communications, he suggested several new roads including roads approximately on the line of the later Burbage, Townley and South Croxted Roads and Calton Avenue. In laying them out, he said it would be desirable to plant trees along the footpaths like those already in the village. The large area of woodland to the south was ‘the grand feature of the entire scenery… which cannot be excelled’ and was important to be preserved. However, he thought many of the beautiful trees in private grounds would be improved by judicious thinning. He recommended that the new college be erected on a site near that now occupied by Alleyn’s School, because of its ‘healthy’ position on ‘elevated and open ground’, and convenient for resident parents.
It is clear that he saw his brief as to suggest ways of creating an exclusive suburb for the wealthy middle classes who would send their children to the new College. He distinguished three classes of detached villas with between one and twenty acres of land, a fourth class of detached and semi-detached houses with ½ to ¾ acre of land and a fifth class of a few terraces of shops and cottages. He thought it was premature to propose exact sites for individual properties but selected areas with good drainage and placed the largest villas in the best positions. The Governors had already agreed to let plots for detached villas on that part of Sydenham Hill owned by the College. There was a high level of demand for large houses here because of the fine views and proximity to the recently opened Crystal Palace. Nesfield agreed with this policy and also recommended that the College should purchase land on Knight’s Hill to prevent ‘obnoxious’ houses been built on a site which commanded nearly the whole of the estate.
His general conclusion was that it was impossible ‘to deteriorate the rural character’ by his scheme, provided the existing effect of the valley of the estate and the disposition of trees was maintained. He addressed the difficult question of whether this objective was compatible with increasing the income by commenting that his report was made ‘bearing in mind the laudable desire of the Governors to preserve the remarkable beauty of the estate as much as possible, and to consider that even an increase of income must be subservient to this object’ He could have suggested many more building sites if it was just a question ‘of obtaining as much rent as possible’. However, it would be unfair to those who spent money on ‘houses of pretension’ if ‘buildings of an inferior description, more closely packed’ were introduced as depreciation would inevitably follow.
Fifty years earlier, Dulwich College had commissioned a report on the estate from the land agent, William James (1771-1837), best known as a pioneer of railways and in south London for his proposals to drain Lambeth Marsh. James also proposed several new roads and letting the land off them, including the whole of Dulwich Woods, in large plots, just reserving Dulwich Common as open space. It was decided that new roads would be too expensive, but leases for new building were extended to 84 years to encourage development. However, only a limited amount took place, mainly opposite Dulwich Common; and by the 1850s Dulwich was still largely undeveloped.
In contrast, Nesfield’s ideas were accepted by the Governors, at least in principle. The woodland would be preserved and new roads laid out following some of his suggestions. New large houses would be permitted in most areas, but smaller ones only in the village where there were several cottages already or on the outskirts of the estate. As managers of a charity, the College Governors could not raise money to build houses themselves. They needed the co-operation of developers or prospective leaseholders for their plans to take effect, and adverts were placed in newspapers announcing that building plots were available. They did not agree with Nesfield’s suggestion for the location of the new College, because this was too near the edge of the estate. Instead they chose the present site on Dulwich Common where the surrounding land could be kept free from development. At this time they were not aware of the huge windfall that would reach the College as a result of railway companies buying up so much land on the estate in the 1860s.
For a period of about twenty years after this report, the College was able to put it into effect and approved a steady number of new large houses on the south of the estate where demand was greatest. However, by the end of the century houses on this scale were no longer wanted in Dulwich as the wealthy moved further out of London or into the West End, and most were demolished after World War II. Nesfield’s plan remains a remarkable example of a Victorian estate development plan and no other reports by him of this nature have been found. Afterwards he received major commissions designing parks and gardens, but his patrons were wealthy private individuals wanting to keep their space private rather than charities looking to development to increase income.
Dulwich Artist in Residence
Leslie Gilbert Illingworth, 1902-79
By Mark Bryant
Having recently moved to the area I joined the Dulwich Society and was delighted to discover in the welcoming issue of the Journal (No.175, Winter 2012) an article by Judy Fitton, whom I had met some years ago while researching an entry on her father, the artist James Fitton, for a biographical dictionary I was writing.
Judy's article, about the local painter Percy Frederick Horton, mentioned that he had studied at the Royal College of Art in the 1920s with fellow students Henry Moore, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious. This caught my attention as another Dulwich resident who had studied at the RCA at that time was the political cartoonist and illustrator Leslie Illingworth. I later attended the opening of the Society's 50th anniversary exhibition in the Wodehouse Library, Dulwich College, and was pleased to see on display an article in the Tatler from 1963 which mentioned that Illingworth lived in the area and published a photograph of him beneath one of James Fitton.
Born in Barry, Wales on 2 September 1902, Leslie Gilbert Illingworth was the second son of a clerk (later Chief Clerk) in the engineers' department of the Barry Railway & Docks Company and one of his uncles was Frank William Illingworth, who had studied by correspondence course at the Press Art School in London, and had drawn a famous First World War Punch cartoon. Though he had won a scholarship to study at the RCA in 1921, Illingworth left before graduating to become daily political cartoonist on the Western Mail at the age of 19. He resigned from the paper in 1927 to concentrate on illustration work and within ten years The Artist would describe him as ‘among the half-dozen most eminent magazine artists of our day'.
With the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Daily Mail as political cartoonist, and during the conflict produced more than 1000 cartoons for this paper alone. Amongst these was the wonderfully apocalyptic VE-Day drawing 'Night Passes...and the Evil Things Depart' (8 May 1945) which includes a donkey-headed former Dulwich resident, Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce), amongst the Nazi hordes fleeing from the rising sun of Allied victory (Joyce's family home in Allison Grove was ironically the first Dulwich building to be destroyed by German bombs). Not surprisingly, Illingworth's wartime cartoons upset the Nazis and cuttings of some were even found in Hitler's bunker at the end of the war, carefully filed and classified by Goebbels' propaganda ministry.
After the war, Illingworth continued to work for the Daily Mail and Punch (later becoming the magazine's main political cartoonist). Between 1960 and 1968 he also drew (for the Daily Mail) more than 120 political cartoons featuring another Dulwich resident (Court Lane) - George Brown, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 1960 and Foreign Secretary in Harold's Wilson's government (1966-8).
From 1940 onwards Illingworth had lived in a flat in Knightsbridge but on 14 July 1959 he took out a lease on 67 Dulwich Village, the end of a terrace of four postwar neo-Georgian terraced houses next door to the Crown and Greyhound. A neighbour, living at No.61 was another Punch cartoonist, Antonia Yeoman (who drew as ‘Anton’).The four-house terrace was built on the site of Camden House, family home of the celebrated architect, Charles Voysey (1857-1941). Camden House, together with the adjoining ‘Plas Gwyn’, was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War.
While he was living in Dulwich Illingworth was at the height of his fame. In 1962 (aged 60) he was voted Political and Social Cartoonist of the Year by the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain, featured in Queen magazine and appeared on BBC radio and ITV. The following year he was commissioned by Time magazine to produce a colour cover, he was a castaway on BBC Radio's Desert Island Discs and a bronze sculpture of his head by Karin Jonzen was displayed at the Royal Academy.
On 15 June 1964 he drew a prophetic cartoon on the sentencing of Nelson Mandela. It showed the Lilliputian figure of South Africa's Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd (later assassinated) watching as the smallest finger on the left hand of a huge Mandela is restrained and saying, 'There, I think that'll hold him!'
In 1965, while still in Dulwich, Illingworth was given a Special Award for Distinguished Services to Cartooning. The following year he became a founder member and first President of the British Cartoonists' Association and in this role was introduced to US President Lyndon B. Johnson at a reception at the White House in June 1968.
In 1966 Illingworth left the house in Dulwich and moved into a flat in the Barbican while spending an increasing amount of time in his smallholding in Robertsbridge, Sussex (which he and his long-term companion, Enid Ratcliff, had bought in 1946). He would drive up to London on Sundays and return to Robertsbridge on Fridays. Having retired from Punch in 1968, Illingworth finally retired from the Daily Mail in 1969 (his last cartoon for the paper appeared on 22 December that year). Though he returned briefly to draw for the News of the World (1974-6), this marked the end of his professional cartooning career and his life in London. However, ironically, one of his last cartoons featured another celebrated future Dulwich resident, Margaret Thatcher. It was published on 25 January 1976; the day after the Soviet media branded her the 'Iron Lady' for her 'Britain Awake' speech attacking the USSR's involvement in Angola.
Towards the end of his life Illingworth received many accolades, including being made an Hon.D.Litt by the University of Kent (home of the British Cartoon Archive) in 1975. His work was also much praised. James Gillray's biographer, the American political cartoonist Draper Hill, described him as 'simply the finest draughtsman of our time to have devoted himself to editorial caricature'. Malcolm Muggeridge, editor of Punch magazine called him 'an incomparable black-and-white artist' and believed that his cartoons were even better than those of David Low. Sir Alfred Munnings (Past President of the Royal Academy) admired his drawings and Nicholas Garland OBE, former political cartoonist of the Daily Telegraph, described him as 'the last of a great line of black and white draughtsmen...There is no mystery about his work. It is just superb.'
Since Illingworth's death on 20 December 1979 his reputation has continued to grow. He now features in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Who Was Who and other major reference works and was included in 'The 100 British Cartoonists of the Century' exhibition in London in 2000. I also curated a major exhibition of his wartime cartoons at the National Library of Wales, in Aberyswyth, in 2005. However, although there is a 'Pride of Barry’ plaque to him at his birthplace in Wales, there is no such memorial in London, his home and workplace for most of his life. Having successfully campaigned for the erection of official Blue Plaques to three other cartoonists of his generation (none of whom, ironically, was born in the UK), I was disappointed when my suggestion of Illingworth was turned down by English Heritage some years ago, and my more recent campaign for a Southwark Council plaque also failed.
A large number of people at the Society’s AGM were entertained by the showing of the restored 30 minute colour film with commentary of the 1967 Dulwich celebrations to mark the 967AD-1967 Millennium procession and pageant. Together with a number of scenes shot around Dulwich, this movie made by an amateur film group, presents a fascinating souvenir of Dulwich of yesteryear. The Society has made copies of the film on a DVD and these are available at £10 including postage. To order please send a cheque for £10 payable to The Dulwich Society to Brian Green, 133 Burbage Road SE21 7AF.