The Dulwich Society Journal for Summer 2014.
As members will know, last year, to mark its fiftieth year, the Society placed twelve plaques around Dulwich to commemorate civilians killed in World War 2. Southwark Community Council has now awarded the Society a grant though the CGS programme to fund the production and printing of a small map showing a numbered trail marking the sites of the plaques. Photographs of some of the scenes of the incidents and an explanatory text are also included. It is proposed to circulate the maps, free of charge, to all Dulwich schools so that they might be used by children studying WW2 as part of their curriculum. The plaques have created considerable interest from those who were unaware of the scope of the air-raids Dulwich suffered and who are curious to discover some of its history. Each member of the Dulwich Society will also receive a copy included in the Journal later this year.
Some years ago, Southwark Council placed a small number of explanatory plaques on historic buildings in the borough. Most were, understandably, placed on key sites like Bankside but Dulwich received a couple. One can still be seen on the wall of the Dulwich Estate’s office (The Old College).
In view of the success of the WW2 plaques, the Society’s local history group suggests that there now seems to be a case for considering putting explanatory texts on Dulwich’s historic points of interest. It would also possible to provide a code on the texts which can be accessed by a mobile phone app to provide an even more detailed account of the historic significance of the site.
So where springs to mind to put up such texts? The stocks site in the Village, the Old Burial Ground containing thirty-five of Dulwich’s plague victims, the Millpond and Pond Cottages, North Dulwich Station and its connection with the flying bomb campaign of WW2 would all be good contenders. Then there is the 400 year old Christ’s Chapel, the Picture Gallery and houses like Kingswood and Belair which are publically owned and which have interesting stories to tell. There are also historic private houses if the owners are willing. Members who were at the AGM and heard the fascinating story of the early Gaumont film studios on Champion Hill would undoubtedly support one placed on that site.
The London Wildlife Wildlife Trust is to be congratulated on the success of its three-year plan to restore the Dewy Pond in Dulwich Wood and the small stream, the Ambrook, which feeds it. As you will see on page 26, the result has been spectacular. There is now a pond dipping platform to enable school groups to carry out experiments.
The Woods are formed of two sections, notionally separated by a line of posts to the west of the former high level railway trackbed. The eastern section is called Sydenham Hill Wood and is administered by The London Wildlife Trust and the western section called Dulwich Wood is administered by the Dulwich Estate. Both organisations work well together, indeed, the Dewy Pond is in Dulwich Wood and the Estate contributed to the cost of the pond dipping platform, but as we have seen the enterprise was orchestrated by the Trust.
The management of both woods, and a visitor would be hard put to see where one starts and the other ends, is in good hands and its condition and appearance a credit to all involved.
The recent Dulwich Community Council heard an urgent request to provide additional traffic control measures outside Dulwich Hamlet and Dulwich Village Infants in Turney Road. There had apparently been cases of parents dropping children off on the zig zag lines and, even more dangerous, incidents where drivers had driven on the wrong side of the road around the pedestrian islands. Unfortunately the scheme proposed had been put together in a hurry without any thought of the implications on local residents’ parking and is having to be re-thought.
While it is clear that something needs to be done here, it is also illustrative of a piecemeal approach to traffic improvements in the area where an attempt to solve one problem, eg cycling safety, impacts adversely on pedestrians or car drivers - the Burbage Road traffic island is a case in point where the Society has secured CGS funds for the pedestrian island to be put back. Something similar has nearly happened further down in Turney Road where the London Cycling Campaign, without consultation, is proposing new cycling lanes which will seriously impact on residents' parking.
In order to try and look at all aspects of traffic movement in Dulwich more holistically, the Society, together with campaigning group 'Safer Routes to Schools', is sponsoring a public meeting where Sustrans (the charity that campaigns for sustainable transport) will put forward a range of options for improvements which will. it is hoped, benefit everyone, pedestrians, cyclists and public transport and car users alike.
There are already some good ideas on the table including the proposed off-road cycle and pedestrian route through the Herne Hill Velodrome and Griffin Sports Ground to link Burbage Road to Dulwich Village, and the new junction improvements at Townley Road and Calton Avenue. Other possibilities include converting Gilkes Place into a pedestrian priority road as part of the S G Smith redevelopment or putting a cycling route along one side of College Road south of Dulwich Common.
Even very minor tweaks can have beneficial outcomes eg the instruction to coach drivers using Calton Avenue in the morning not to block the junction at Court Lane has improved safety for children crossing into the village schools.
What other innovative solutions are there? Come and find out on 11th June.
The Dulwich Society and the Dulwich Safe Routes to School Group of parents and schools invite you to a public meeting to discuss these issues. It will be in the upstairs meeting room at the Crown and Greyhound, Dulwich Village, at 8 p.m. on Wednesday June 11.
The Society held a public meeting at the Crown and Greyhound on the 18 March to discuss the future of Dulwich’s green spaces.
“The thin end of the wedge?”
Residents in Dulwich have been very concerned over recent planning decisions where even Metropolitan Open Land status has not been enough to protect our green open spaces. But what is the real threat to our green spaces? Will recent planning decisions lead to new developments overrunning our green space?
The Society looked at 25 open spaces and sports fields managed by the schools, charities, trusts and Southwark/Lambeth in the immediate Dulwich area + 15 other spaces, pocket parks and wooded areas. Our research revealed that for the most part the sports fields are very well maintained and heavily utilised with hundreds of user groups from across Dulwich and from other parts of the borough. Several clubs are fund raising to enhance their clubhouses and improve their sporting facilities. The research has not revealed major concerns about the viability of most local sports grounds which is gratifying nor does there appear to be widespread concern over the likelihood of future developments on these spaces, which will be a relief to many, although it does not undo the precedent set by a recent planning decision.
The Dulwich Society held a public meeting in March to present these findings and discuss the future of Dulwich’s sports ground and open spaces.
There is clearly a need to continue to monitor this issue and it was suggested that the Society consider setting up a ‘green spaces’ group to bring the various clubs and charities who run them together - to share knowledge and work to maximise the use of the grounds. Already several chairs of local sports clubs have expressed an interest in getting involved in the group to share knowledge and expertise. Reducing the impact of poor weather conditions and flooding to extend the usage of the facilities is one such issue. Other points at the meeting for the group to consider:
- How can we as a community help the handful of clubs/grounds that are struggling? Should we get more actively involved and do more to promote usage, identify potential grants and raise funds? The Velodrome provides a good community model.
- State schools are receiving additional funding for sports - but are they making use of our facilities, and can the group help match up supply and demand?
- What barriers are there to full usage - restrictive lease conditions, high rents?
- Should we look at registering spaces as Community Assets under a Neighbourhood Plan?
- Campaign for planning powers to be returned to the local community council to enable our own councillors to make the decisions.
If you are concerned about this issue and might wish to join a Green Spaces Group please contact the chairman at:
Burbage Road Nature Garden
The Dulwich Society Wildlife Group planted some 100 native hedgerow species ‘whips’ on the Burbage Road plot belonging to Alleyn’s Sports Club on 29th March with the help from London Wildlife Trust volunteers. We were able to complete the first stage of this project by planting a hedge around the perimeter fences of the garden. It is the intention to complete the planting in the Autumn. We have in mind planting honeysuckle against the brick wall and creating more interesting ground cover by introducing wildflowers. The Dulwich Society has funded the first stage of this project - £220 - and we shall apply for further funding from the Dulwich Community Council later in the year.
Dulwich and Herne Hill Flood Alleviation Scheme
Under the scheme it is proposed to lower the water level of the lake in Dulwich Park to accommodate flood water. The Wildlife Group raised concern that this could adversely affect wildlife, as the lake is not very deep and it is not known what the minimum water level should be. They have therefore, together with Dulwich Park Friends, urged Southwark Council to commission an Ecology Report from the Wildlife and Wetland Trust. The survey has since been carried out, and we have been assured that any recommendations will be carried out.
Herne Hill Velodrome
The Velodrome Trust and its architects for the replacement of the 1890s Pavilion are examining the results of the current pre-application local consultation. They expect to apply for Planning Consent in time to begin work on site by the end of 2014 and to complete the work by the summer of 2015. The current scheme will not require a second entrance. Local residents are being kept informed on progress.
(1) The Community Council has agreed to fund out of CGS funds a raised pedestrian crossing near the western end of Lovers’ Walk.
(2) Again using CGS funds, the pedestrian refuge island at the eastern end of Burbage Road is to be replaced during this summer.
The Traffic and Transport committee is also pursuing the possibility of a walking and cycling path from Burbage Road to Dulwich Village through the Velodrome and Griffin sites. The first stage of a study of the practical feasibility of this was a topographical survey. Local residents are being kept informed about this proposal
Dates for your Diary
Bats, Buildings and Bubbly!
On Tuesday 9th September The Dulwich Society’s Wildlife and Local History Groups are holding a joint evening at the Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Club. Drinks will be served at 6pm and the opportunity will be taken to view the valley of Dulwich from the Club’s balcony which enjoys a superb aspect towards London. Brian Green will talk about the history of view points which can be seen. Following this talk, there will be a guided walk conducted in several groups into the woods by wildlife experts to identify birds, wildlife and plants and to view the restored Dewy Pond. Good footwear is recommended.
In the event of bad weather both talks will be held inside the Clubhouse, with illustrations. The event is free but numbers will be limited. Tickets will be issue on a first come first served basis. Please send a s.a.e to Patrick Spencer, 7 Pond Cottages, SE21 7LE stating if one or two tickets are required.
Trees Group Visit
The Trees Group hopes to visit Kew Gardens on Wednesday 24th September, arriving by Public Transport. We will then use their 'Train' for the 35 minute journey. We will have as Guide an arborealist, particularly to see their Zelkovas and indicate other trees of particular interest, eg their Wollumi Pine (new discovery).
We may possibly also see KEW PALACE, (which shuts end of September). At our leisure we can then use the 'Train' Hop on - Hop off service. The event and cost is yet to be confirmed. Please ring JiIl Manuel with any queries tel: 8693 0256
Dulwich Community Hospital
Dulwich residents who attended the Dulwich Community Council meeting in March were very unhappy to hear about the slow progress on the redevelopment of the Dulwich Community Hospital site. The Regional Disposal lead for the NHS Property Company who are the current owners of the site, told the meeting that his organisation had now gone out to consultation to a GLA panel of developers for advice on the best location on the site for the proposed health facility - with regard to maximising the development potential for the remainder of the site. The meeting was extremely unhappy and reminded him, and officers from the Southwark CCG who were also there, that the site was seen as an asset to the community, and should be used to provide local facilities such as a new school, and not just as a cash cow for housing developers. Both councillors and members of the audience repeatedly asked to see a copy of the brief given to the developers' panel - the response was less than helpful.
Further discussion confirmed that the time scale had still not been determined and that wide public consultation on the future of the site did not appear to feature in the NHS Property Company’s programme.
There is clearly a potential danger that there will be no new community facilities on the site other than the health facility - is this acceptable to residents? Surely not.
Farewell to PELO
After ten successful years of football coaching in the field next to The Old Grammar School in Gallery Road, PELO has had to close. Its closure is a combination of an inability to obtain funding assistance and the decision to retire by its founder, Mauritius born Mario Fauvrelle. Mario has dedicated the last fifteen years to providing football training with a difference to a largely Afro-Caribbean young membership. The name PELO is an acronym for Positive - Education - Learning - Organisation. The Club has provided more than intensive football coaching, in a room in the pavilion are two banks of computers for the youngsters to work on and next door is a clubroom with table tennis.
Mario who is approaching 60 years of age is a little sad but philosophical about the closure. He speaks with pride about the success in life that many of the boys have gone on to have. He can be assured that he has given huge support and encouragement to the young players all of whom were a credit to PELO.
Flood alleviation works for Dulwich and Herne Hill
On 25th March 2014, Southwark Council granted planning permission for a £3.745m scheme to tackle the risk of surface water and sewer flooding in Dulwich and Herne Hill.
The project sees Southwark Council, Thames Water and the Environment Agency working together to deploy a number of innovative techniques across the area to create a Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS).
Work will be focused in Dulwich and Belair Parks, as well as in the Dulwich Community Sports Ground in Turney Road. This follows many months consulting with residents and local community groups. The scheme of works includes the construction of grass covered banks (bunds) to channel rain water towards drainage points, a new wetland area in Belair Park and underground tanks providing storage for rainwater which will be gradually released into the sewer system over time.
In Dulwich Park, a works compound with portacabins and equipment has been established along the spur road leading to Queen Mary Gate. The construction phase is expected to last approximately six months. Works vehicles will exit under supervision via the Court Lane Gate. The works necessitate the closure of the children’s playground for around three months. The main carriageway will be raised by up to a metre in two places, as well as the pathway between the café and the playground, with dedicated footpaths to be installed on a temporary basis to circumvent the closed sections.
Thames Water has set up a website giving details of the works, together with an indicative timeline. They will update this regularly. The link is :
There will be noticeboards in the Park highlighting the affected areas.
If you would like to receive updates on progress of the project from the managers, please email
Unfortunately, the flood alleviation works are likely to impact on the installation of the new sculpture to replace the stolen Barbara Hepworth statue. A planning application has been made and the work was expected to be installed by the autumn. But this might be delayed.
Send for The Pied Piper!
The services of Hamelin District Council might have to be sought soon as the problem of rat infestation around the lake in Dulwich Park grows. As many as twenty rats at one time have now been seen around the reed beds and along the boardwalk. If not dealt with soon this will bring into question the safety of boating on the lake where the threat of Weil’s disease might be present.
Garden Safari: Sunday 15 June 2014 2pm-6pm
2014 marks the seventh year of the annual Garden Safari - launched by Dulwich Helpline (now Dulwich Helpline & Southwark Churches Care) as a way of raising money within the community to support its work offering friendly, volunteer support to isolated, older people living locally. The Safari comprises four or five gardens open on the same Sunday afternoon, all within walking distance of each other. Safari-goers buy a ticket that has a map printed on it showing where the gardens are and, most importantly, which garden is serving the tea and home-made cakes! There is always a great atmosphere at the Safaris with families embarking together for a lovely afternoon out (even in those years when the weather has been challenging ...). The plant stall is placed at the opening garden so that people can easily carry their purchases back to their cars.
We have always taken care to locate the Safari in a different part of Dulwich each year. We have been in the Village, up Court Lane; down Burbage/Stradella Road and over the South Circular to Alleyn Road. Last year we held the Safari in Grove Park, Camberwell to underline the fact that Dulwich Helpline had merged with Southwark Churches Care and now helps isolated, older people over a broader swathe of Southwark. We also look to provide variety in the kinds of gardens we include. This year we are focusing on the southern part of our catchment area and highlighting some beautiful woodland gardens in Sydenham Hill. The Safari will start at Fountain House , 17 Sydenham Hill SE26 6SH and two of the gardens featured also open for the NGS so the Safari will be offering amazing value for money at £5 to see all the gardens! I hope we shall have a great turn-out this year to help our work with older people.
Katharine St John-Brooks
Chairman, Dulwich Helpline & Southwark Churches Care
While Southwark’s schools have leapt up the national Ofsted tables in 2013 with 87 per cent of primary and secondary schools getting a good or outstanding rating is excellent news, there is an acute shortages of state school places in Dulwich, Peckham and South Southwark ,especially at the primary stage. Ultimately these shortages will filter through to the secondary school system.
The Society started reporting on this in 2012 when forecasts suggested that there would be a continuing shortage of primary school places in our area rising to up to 90 primary places (equivalent of 3 forms) in Dulwich by September 2016. Now we learn that despite warnings and efforts to create new schools and “bulge classes” the proportion of Southwark children being offered a place in one of their chosen primary schools is at a five-year low, according to new figures so there is an urgent need to expand places.
Official admissions figures for the borough show that 5.8% (197) of four and five-year olds were not offered a place at any of their six preferred schools for September’s reception year intake - up from 4% last year. So there is still much work to do.
The Society is very supportive of the opening of new schools, and has helped in a number of ways relating to buildings & land for schools, and advising on traffic & transport issues.
A number of projects are in progress to address the school place shortage.
- The Society was very pleased to see the opening of the bilingual Judith Kerr Free Primary School in Herne Hill last September with 90+ pupils which will go on to offer up to 350 primary places. The school is currently consulting on a new development within the existing building and outdoor space.
- Plans are afoot for a new free school in Crystal Palace - “The Crystal Palace Primary School”. Over 250 local parents are supporting the proposal which has now been submitted to the Department of Education for approval.
- A popular Dulwich primary school and nursery have announced they will be joining forces from 2014 to provide the best start in education for local children. Langbourne Primary School and Dulwich Wood Nursery has become the Dulwich Wood Federation. Colin Lavelle, who became headteacher at Langbourne in April 2013, is now the executive head at both schools. The council has set aside around £2.5m for a refurbishment project that will permanently expand the school to two forms of entry. It is anticipated that this work will begin in summer 2014.
- Dulwich Hamlet Educational Trust and the local Peckham community are working with Southwark Council on a proposal to create a new primary school in the Old Bellenden School building, Bellenden Road, Peckham - The Belham Community Free School. If approved, the new school would be open for Reception and Year 1 pupils in September 2015. The aim would be to create a primary school with two classes per year and when full, a capacity of 420 pupils, which would help address the growing demand for primary places in the local area. The Dulwich Hamlet Educational Trust is working with members of the local community on the proposal and submitted a Free School application to the Department for Education in January 2014 to establish the new school on the site.
- There are plans for two Harris Primary Free Schools in the East Dulwich area with one school opening Sept'14 and a second Sept'15. One of the schools will eventually be located in the former East Dulwich police station. The Society requested that the Police station be listed as a Community asset under the Localism Act.
- A new co-ed non-faith secondary free school - a new Haberdashers’ Aske’s East Dulwich College (secondary school) modelled on the successful Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College is being planned. The school would be for around 180 pupils per year group including a sixth form and open in September 2016. A “Right to Contest” application has been submitted by local councillors to free up two-thirds of the Dulwich Hospital site for this school. Over 450 families are supporting the opening of this school.
I could hardly have asked Alpha Hopkins for an interview at a more difficult time; the 21st Dulwich Festival, of which she has been its Director since 2005 was a week away, she needed to get home from her job in Alleyn’s music department to get the children’s tea and her mother had broken her wrist and had come to stay.
But her dual role as a working mother and director of what must be South London’s largest, most successful and most intensive week of events has never been easy.
When the two remaining organisers of the original Dulwich Festival, Alison Loyd and Marguerite Weedy (they had started the Festival with Valerie Thorncroft in 1993) decided to pass on the reins, Alpha and her friend Nina Jex were among those who expressed interest. Alpha was supremely qualified for the role, having run dance companies, theatre companies and been the organiser of the London International Festival of Theatre’s tours. Like her predecessors, Alpha was also a working mum, with two children under the age of 5 when she took over the Festival with Nina. Nina would later move away but Alpha is delighted that she is likely to be returning to Dulwich.
Alpha explained that she did not expect the Festival to grow so much and says that part of the reason for this is that it has always been a team effort, and the team is constantly renewed. “People’s lives change, and what they can do changes.” Like the Marguerite and Alison, many others still continue to be involved with the Festival, perhaps in changed roles.
Have you received sponsorship during the recession?
“We print 40,000 programmes and 20,000 Artists’ Open House guides which are all distributed free of charge and we get amazing sponsorship from local businesses. It was difficult during the recession but I feel that things are getting a little easier now and businesses are actually coming forward and asking what they can do to help”
How much of a concern is finance?
“Finance is always a concern, a little less of a concern now as we have built up a reserve and have a team of four trustees whose role it is to oversee me and the management of the Festival. We have no public funding. The downside of this means that we cannot plan ahead so much. The upside is that the Festival can be moulded to the skills of people. The financial safety net we now have does mean that some events can be planned well in advance and I am hoping that many of next year’s can be put in place by June of this year as venues have to booked further and further ahead.”
What do you look for when considering what to include?
“I am constantly looking out for items to include in the Festival. I prefer a healthy mix rather than entirely local ones. I would like to think that we include elements that would not be out of place at festivals around the country, in places such as Hay on Wye. By securing high profile inclusions in the programme it ensures that local participants can attract the same level of attention.”
Tell me about Artists’ Open House
“The Artists’ Open House” was begun by Judith Whittaker in 2005 and she expanded it in 2006. It has been a huge success and has grown enormously under the direction of Rachel Gulyas and Liz Boyd, and now 200 artists participate. “
Some people describe the Dulwich Park Fair as a great success, others as an environmental disaster- “It was a great shame that the Dulwich Park Fair could not be held this year. We heard in January that Thames Water were to carry out major works in the Flood Alleviation scheme and we had to cancel it. The Fair used be called ‘Party in the Park’ and was run largely by Southwark Council. In recent years it has been handled much more sensitively by a small team of volunteers and has involved the Dulwich Park Friends. It is a huge amount of work for them, but is a very popular event attracting very big crowds. We are holding our breath to see if it can be staged next year.”
What would you like to see in the Festival?
“I really would like to see all the choirs in Dulwich come together to celebrate music with one great concert. It would be inspiring and inter-generational. I would also like to see the art panels at North Dulwich Station, sponsored by the Dulwich Festival and made by the former Wlliam Penn Academy, restored. They are in a parlous state. And I can’t see why we might not have similar panels put up at other local stations like East and West Dulwich.”
Tell me about the Street Art initiative
“Dulwich’s Outdoor Gallery of Street Art attracted the participation of 19 of the world’s leading street artists to reinterpret pictures in Dulwich Picture Gallery and has been an outstanding success and is a tribute to the vision and enthusiasm of Ingrid Beazley. It is now recognised all over the world as a brilliant example of street art.”
And with that, I left Alpha to rush home to get tea ready for her children and her injured mother. And the Festival was only a week away!
What follows is an account of life in Dulwich, then forming about a third of the Borough of Camberwell, during what was once called The Great War; it has been culled from accounts in local newspapers, from the reports in the monthly issued St Barnabas Church Magazine and from oral history transcripts. It might be seen as typical of the experience of that war in many parts of Britain.
At St Barnabas Church, Dulwich, the Vicar, the Revd. Howard Nixon wrote in the August 1914 parish magazine:
“Up to the last I thought and I expect most of us thought that war was impossible, the next day war had been declared and we came to see that war was inevitable.
With the declaration of war on August 4th 1914, there was an immediate increase in the prices of groceries and building materials because of shortages caused by widespread hoarding. Prices would subside later. At Herne Hill, Williamson’s Grocers, announced that it would close until further notice.
There was a sudden widespread antipathy towards Germans living here. Non- naturalised Germans were required to register as aliens at police stations and every householder was instructed to notify the nearest police station of any Germans in the household. A goodly number of London’s 50,000 German population actually lived in Dulwich, some in the Champion Hill area (where there had been a German church in nearby Windsor Walk) and some in the area surrounding the Crystal Palace where the weekly German music concerts conducted over a period of forty years by the German born Sir August Friedrich Manns had been hugely popular. Naturalised Germans anglicised their names, even British born Gustav Von Holst, the composer who taught music part-time at James Allen’s Girls’ School who dropped the ‘von’ to his name. Elsewhere, signwriters were busy painting out the names of German owners above their shops.
Suspicion that Germans might be spies was prevalent - Adolph Schneider (25) was arrested as an alleged spy in Thurlow Park Road, “Has there been a mistake?” - he asked, thinking that it was a practical joke. His employer later vouched for him. A 32 year old German artist found wandering in the garden of the Woodlawn Hotel, Dulwich Common with £43 on him was remanded in custody and a German butcher in Peckham was arrested as an alien enemy for owning 20 ‘carrier pigeons’. He protested that they belonged to his son. At St Barnabas Church, one of the assistant curates, the Revd O R Eurich, was German by birth and somehow managed to upset the congregation with a sermon delivered just after war was declared. He felt obliged to write an apology in the next edition of the church’s magazine-
“In my sermon it was far from my thoughts to say anything to offend the patriotic feelings of members of the congregation….I sincerely regret that my remarks may have hurt the feelings of members of the congregation…I have been a naturalised citizen for 34 years. His German background also led to him being removed from the St Saviour’s Infirmary chaplaincy team.
Your Country Needs You!
When war was declared the Territorials and the National Reserve, of which many local men were volunteer members, were mobilised. The local regiment, 1st Surrey Rifles, National Reservists, was already at nearly full strength with 1806 men and 25 officers. On Thursday 6th August, the first day of recruiting at Camberwell Town Hall, 44 men enlisted, the next day there were 77, by the Saturday 104. By the middle of the August, the number of men enlisting had risen to 260 a day, and by the end of the month the number had reached 1000 a day in Camberwell alone.
So what is the explanation for enthusiasm of the men of Dulwich, Peckham and Camberwell (and of course all over the Nation) to rush to enlist? There had been a history of rivalry between the two very different empires and in Britain there had been a decade or more of rampant jingoism, before and after the Boer War. It was stimulated, in part, by the naval arms race with Germany, to build more and bigger battleships. One consequence of this was that the idea of volunteering for the Reserves or enlistment in the regular army became very popular. Some joined perhaps, because they were incensed at the occupation by Germany of neutral Belgium. Recruits were also attracted by the presence of military bands, the appeal of military uniforms and encouragement to fulfil the ideals of duty and service to the Empire. Young men were also physically fitter than they had been; sports and gymnasiums were offered by schools, employers and churches alike. It was all such fun and good comradeship. It might explain the compulsion which made young men enlist in droves. This enthusiasm to enlist is borne out locally by the extraordinary recruiting success of the Camberwell Gun Brigade.
Nor was the role of women overlooked. Even before war was declared, training was being organised for volunteer nurses at Dulwich Baths. At the same venue other volunteers were recruited to make garments for hospital use and sewing machines were being provided. Later, Dulwich Baths (2nd Class) would be briefly designated as a Base Hospital. The Crystal Palace was also offered as a hospital (it had recently been purchased by the Nation for £230,000). Locally, 350 ladies were enrolled by the Red Cross and first aid and home nursing instruction was offered at Dulwich Hamlet Institute at a fee of 1/- for the course.
The occupation by Germany of a neutral Belgium aroused great sympathy. This sympathy increased when attacks and atrocities against Belgian civilians were reported. One effect locally of the news that Germany was demanding that all aliens and mixed nationality families should leave Belgium, was that the role of Dulwich Baths was changed, from that of a military hospital to a reception centre for these Belgian refugees. By the second week of September 1914, 100 Belgian refugees had arrived at Dulwich Baths. The refugees had only 12 hours notice to quit their homes and were permitted only one suitcase of possessions. They were taken to Holland where they stayed a week or so before being transported to Ostend and ferried to Folkestone. One of the refugees was 13 year old Alice Brand who had a Belgian mother and a Yorkshire father and lived near Brussels. She was unwell for much of this time. After arrival in Folkestone they were moved to Dulwich Baths where they remained for about a week before being accommodated by a local voluntary aid committee.
Great efforts were being made in Dulwich to assist the refugees, for example, in December 1914, a Concert was held at St Barnabas Parish Hall to provide aid. The Brand family were directed to a house owned by a Mr and Mrs Richardson in Westwood Park, Forest Hill. It was there that Alice’s father became a munitions worker, her elder sister became a cleaner and Alice herself went to a grammar school in Forest Hill (Queenwood Rd School near Dartmouth Rd). Many years later she recalled that she found much kindness at the reception centre and with Mr and Mrs Richardson.
Not all the refugees could be found accommodation and the Baths continued to be used as a hostel for them. Two years later, a press report in the South London Observer noted complaints that the baths were still out of use because of the occupation by Belgian refugees.
Dulwich’s Military Hospitals
By mid-August 1914 the British Expeditionary Force had landed in France to support the left of the French line. Following the retreat from Mons and the battle of the Marne, casualties soon arrived in England and in September wounded soldiers were admitted to King’s College Hospital which was renamed No. 4 General Military Hospital and administered by the Royal Army Medical Corps. Dulwich’s first fatality was Lieutenant Rudolph Wissman, an officer in the Royal Field Artillery, who was killed on 1st September 1914. Ironically, his father (who lived at Bell House in College Road) was a naturalised German married to an English wife.
Southwark Infirmary (now Dulwich Hospital), then a Poor Law infirmary, was also taken over as a Military Hospital and opened on November 15th with the arrival of 50 convalescent invalids. St Barnabas Church promptly sent a ½ sized billiard table and a piano for use by the patients and began the first of a long succession of social events for them. The Revd Howard Nixon was appointed as the hospital’s chaplain. Elsewhere in Dulwich, large houses like Bessemer House were converted into convalescent homes for wounded officers and Kingswood House turned into a convalescent home for wounded Canadian troops courtesy of the Canadian tractor manufacturer Massey Harris.
Dulwich Defence League
The formation of the Dulwich Defence League was announced soon after war was declared. It was a kind of First World War Home Guard although many of its members would later transfer into the regular army. Among its tasks it set itself, was to guard strategic local facilities such as fire stations, against attacks by saboteurs. Its HQ was at the hall at 485 Lordship Lane near the junction with Woodvale (It would be destroyed by a V1 flying bomb in 1944). Rifle practice was carried out on the Dulwich & Sydenham golf course with butts at 25, 50 and 100 yards. The Dulwich Defence League was later renamed 1st Bn Dulwich Volunteers (South London Regt) and has its memorial in the grounds of St Peter’s Church, Dulwich Common. By 1916 the roll of regiment, which recruited from Dulwich, Camberwell and Norwood numbered 2000. A full account of its history was published in this Journal in Autumn 2008 and may be read online. A Volunteer training corps of old boys and masters of Alleyn’s School was also formed a month after war was declared and 150 members enrolled.
A Time for Heroes
The opening weeks of the war were an opportune time to have heroes who might be examples to others. Both the local and the national press carried graphic reports of the extraordinary exploits of Dulwich College-educated Sidney Vincent Sippe who was a member of the fledgling Royal Navy Air Service. Sippe was already a pilot when war broke out and took part in the very first bombing raids of World War 1 with Düsseldorf and Cologne as targets. However, it was the celebrated attack on the Zeppelin sheds and factories at Friedrichshafen, Germany on 21 November 1914 which captured the headlines. It was one of history’s first long-distance bombing missions. Sippe and two other pilots flew 125 miles (201 km) from Belfort, France, over mountainous terrain and in difficult weather - a risky flight near the limit of the aircraft's range. The distance was increased by the need to avoid flying over neutral Switzerland. Reaching the target area, Sippe crossed Lake Constance in mist while under heavy fire, descending to just ten feet above the water so as to use the mist as cover. Despite their aircraft being hit, the three pilots succeeded in bombing their targets. Two planes returned safely, one crashed and the pilot taken prisoner.
The raid was announced by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, who called it "a fine feat of arms". One historian concluded: "The pilots deserve all praise for their admirable navigation... this flight of 250 miles, into gunfire, across enemy country, in the frail little Avro with its humble horse-power, can compare as an achievement with the best of them".
Sippe and the other returning pilot received the French Legion of Honour immediately after the Friedrichshafen raid, at the request of General Joffre himself. Sippe was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the 1915 New Year Honours, and the OBE in the 1919 New Year's Honours. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and made a Chevalier of the Belgian Order of Leopold.
Dulwich also had other heroes, one admittedly an unsung one. The Rev Sydney Bicheno Smith, the second assistant curate at St Barnabas was one of that breed of priests who were prepared to dedicate their life for their belief. He was a charismatic figure and was the warden of the St Barnabas Institute which had been founded in 1899 and had raised money to build a hall and rooms in Townley Road. It had a membership of some 270 members. In the summer of 1914 Smith had just received news of his gaining a First in Theology at the University of London and was anticipating going to work in India or China, when war broke out. Instead, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a private soldier. A year later, at the instigation of his commanding officer, he transferred to become an army chaplain, serving the men of the 13th &14th Yorks and Lancasters, The Barnsley Pals battalion. In 1916 he resigned from this and was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery, and sent with the ‘heavies’ to France. According to the vicar of St Barnabas, the Revd. Howard Nixon, Smith wanted to be side by side with the men and face the same danger and death with them. He was seriously wounded near Cambrai in the last month of the war in1918. He was returned to King’s College Hospital where his leg was amputated. He caught pneumonia and died in December 1918 leaving widow and daughter.
The Roll of Honour
In Dulwich, from early 1915, it became usual to publish in the monthly St Barnabas Church magazine, the names and regiments of local men who had volunteered for active service, as well as another column recording those who had been killed. This added pressure on young men to volunteer and the initial list totalled 320 names including those of 38 members of the St Barnabas Institute. By 1917 with numbers of the Roll of Honour numbering 400-500 with a further 42 killed it was deemed that the Roll was then too large to publish monthly and instead a list would be posted up in St Barnabas Church. Three supplementary lists of those who volunteered or who were called up later were printed in the magazine subsequently. The local newspapers, the South London Observer and the South London Press carried a weekly list of the names of the dead, missing and wounded. They also highlighted the volunteering for active service of well known local figures such as borough councillors, to serve as examples to others. Also featuring prominently in the newspapers were reports of those men who had had appeals against conscription rejected when it became compulsory in 1916, firstly for single men aged 18-41 years and later that year for married men.
Were there any conscientious objectors in Dulwich? In an article about the artist Percy Horton who would later live at Pond Cottages, in the Artists in Residence series in this Journal, Judy Fitton says that Horton had just left art school when conscription was introduced. He was an absolutist objector - refusing to perform any kind of service to assist the war effort. For his refusal to report for duty, Horton was sentenced to two years hard labour in prison, not being released until after the war. Horton and his fellow CO’s were subjected to a much harsher confinement than other prisoners. John Taylor is researching conscientious objectors in South London and has identified an active branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship based in East Dulwich with its headquarters in Hansler Road. Its members appear to be connected either because they were Quakers or were dedicated trades unionists who refused to fight fellow workers in Germany.
Camberwell Gun Brigade
The Revd Howard Nixon appears to have been one of those priests termed ‘ Church Militarists’. He brought to the attention of Dulwich an appeal launched for young men to volunteer for a new battalion of the Civil Service Rifles to replace the 1st Bn which had been ordered to the Front. - Nixon said that he would be glad to give men information that he had been sent. He also called attention to the parade through the Village of the Camberwell Gun and Howitzer Brigade in May 1915. The Brigade had been formed at the invitation of the Army Council to the Mayor for the Borough of Camberwell to form an artillery brigade from volunteers. The mayor wisely asked the charismatic Dulwich MP, Colonel Frederick Hall to be its commanding officer and take on the task of recruiting the men. So great was the enthusiasm to join up that Hall, who had been asked to recruit an artillery brigade of 800-900 men, actually formed an entire artillery Division made up of 4300 men. The Camberwell Gun Brigade and Howitzer Brigade’s divisional insignia was a ‘double three domino’. Exercises were carried out on Goose Green, Dulwich Park and Dulwich Hamlet FC ground.
After the march through Dulwich and Camberwell, the Brigade was sent to Bulford Barracks, Hampshire in August 1915 and embarked for France on 12-13 December 1915. as 162 Brigade Royal Field Artillery 33rd Division. They saw service in the Somme campaign 1916, Arras, Ypres, Lys, and Passchendaele. It was on Easter Monday, 1916, following a fortnight with very little sleep, that the Brigade was the first across No Man’s Land. In recognition of this feat it was awarded one of the captured 5.9 howitzers which would later be presented to the Borough of Camberwell. The Brigade was disbanded on 30th June 1919.
News from the Front
In November 1915, the first consignment of ‘comforts’ was sent to soldiers who were formerly members of the St Barnabas Institute - 47 parcels containing… “khaki handkerchiefs, cigarettes, tobacco, chocolates, a writing pad, boot laces, bachelor buttons, needle and thread, sardines, café au lait, a copy of The South London Press, the Institute annual report and a list of members”. Whether the inclusion of the last two items was an attempt to accompany the ‘comforts’ with reminders of ‘normal times’ is uncertain. For the soldiers at the Front their ‘normal times’ were somewhat different.
Harry Wall, who some readers may recall, lived for many years at Ash Cottage at the bottom of Court Lane, enlisted in April 1916 into the 1st Surrey Rifles in order to join his brother. He recalled that after three weeks of training he was sent to France, When his battalion marched to the Front, each man carried a pack weighing 110 lb (50kg) and wore two belts of ammunition to stop him from overbalancing. On reaching the Line they relieved a Highland regiment and were horrified to see the soldiers were covered in lice. Within 24 hours Wall and his comrades were similarly covered and no amount of brushing, washing or laundry would appear to shift them. The trenches were deep in mud and water which the duckboards failed to cope with. Discarded rifles and unburied bodies lined the sides of the trenches. Bloated rats abounded. In his first day in the line a bullet grazed his helmet.
Another Institute member wrote back to Dulwich
I managed to come through the Big Push safely and only suffered shell shock for a few days although the sights one has to witness at times are nearly sufficient to turn the strongest mind and I think it is only a man’s prayers and his letters from home which saves him from utter collapse.
L/Cpl Angus McFadyean who was a prisoner of war and was awaiting trial for trying to escape, wrote back to his fellows at the Institute: “I know you pray for me. I should like that prayers of thankfulness be offered that I have survived this supreme ordeal.”
In January 1918 Nixon wrote in the parish magazine:
“Sydney Proctor of Hillsborough Road was wounded early in December 1917 and died the same day. He loved his brother William and begged him to go out and serve with him, though he would have been exempted had he wished. William helped his brother all the way to the Field Dressing Station and a week later, William himself was posted missing - We hope he is a prisoner, great is the anxiety of his father. The two brothers belong to a little group of friends who came together to be confirmed.”
William was later reported as a POW
It must have been very hard for the vicar, to receive so much bad news and then console the wives, sweethearts and parents of those killed. Nevertheless, it did not dent his resolve to encourage men of the parish to enlist and he reminded everyone of their duty to join up, citing the example of the Bartlett family whose father was the Village bookseller and Registrar of births and deaths, saying that six of his sons were in uniform and a seventh was coming from Canada to join them. (In all, 8 Bartlett brothers out of 9 joined up, one was killed.) Nixon also reminded parishioners of the Russell boys -
“Mr Russell of Pond Cottages has 5 sons serving and it is probable the eldest will also join up.” (It is believed that as many as four were killed).
In 1915, Sir Evan Spicer who lived at Belair, Gallery Road sent a letter to The South London Observer as follows:
"On Aug. 10 I caused an intimation to be made in the obituary column of your paper of the death of my son, Second Lieutenant Frank Evan Spicer, having received an official notice from the War Office that he had died of wounds some days previously. On Saturday evening last I received at Tunbridge Wells a letter from my son, written after his supposed death, and consequently on Sunday morning I visited officials at the War Office, who were exceedingly kind and sympathetic and who immediately telephoned to France, and in the afternoon I had the unspeakable joy of hearing officially that my son was alive, though seriously wounded, also that he had left for England. Later in the day I had a telegram from my son saying that he had arrived in England. As I have already received a very large number of letters and telegrams of sympathy, which I and my family have greatly appreciated, I shall be much obliged if you would kindly insert this letter in your paper, as I should like my friends, in all parts to know as quickly as possible the joyful news I have received."
Sadly, his son was killed in action on 28th March 1918 aged 24 years and his name inscribed on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.
The photograph below was taken in the garden of 'Court Mount', 57 Dulwich Village adjacent to the Burial Ground in Dulwich Village. The corner of Dekker Road is visible in the photograph. It shows the two sons of the local builder and amateur artist C. B.Core. It was taken a few months before they were both killed. On the left is Private Cecil John Core (Jackie) Royal Warwickshire Regt. Born 1897 died 8 October 1917. Buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery, Passchendaele. On the right is 2nd Lieutenant Charles Gooch Core (Dickie) Royal Fusiliers. Born 1885 died 10 August 1917. Memorial; Menin Gate, Ypres.
Life in Dulwich
For civilians in Dulwich, the grief felt by the losses of their young men was coupled with a worsening home situation. While every attempt was made to allow life to continue as normal, the effects of air raids and food shortages made themselves felt. In February 1916, following on from the success of the previous month when a cake stall had been organised to raise funds for British POWs in Dolmen, Germany, a Zeppelin raid curtailed the Band of Hope annual tea and entertainment at the Parish Hall in Dulwich Village. Later a gun emplacement was built in the of JAGS for anti-Zeppelin defence. Fears that the gunfire would shatter the school windows were misplaced.
The food shortages got significantly worse in 1917 and rationing and the half day closure of shops was enforced. Taxes were raised to pay the cost of the war which was running at over £6million per day. People were encouraged to grow their own food and vacant land was turned into allotments. Fields in Burbage Road and Green Dale were converted into allotments and demonstrations of vegetable gardening held in local parks.
Commander Campbell VC
The food shortages were exacerbated by the German UBoat campaign which was causing havoc among British shipping. A Dulwich man, Commander Gordon Campbell RN, the son of Colonel Fred Campbell, commanding officer of the Dulwich Volunteer Battalion, played a major part in combating the Uboat campaign. He commanded a ‘Q’ ship, a heavily armed but disguised merchantman which acted as a decoy for a U boat attack. Campbell, who already held the DSO and bar, was awarded the VC for an action in which the Q ship he commanded, the HMS Farnborough was torpedoed . Campbell had seen the wake of the torpedo and altered course. However the torpedo struck his ship which settled in the water. The Uboat then surfaced, possibly to deal it the coup de grace. Campbell then ordered his armament to open fire and 45 shells were aimed at the submarine which was destroyed. The Farnborough survived and later continued in its under-cover role. News of the award of Campbell’s Victoria Cross award was published in the press but unusually not the circumstances, so secret was his work. It was not until the war ended that the full story of the Q ships was revealed.
Major S W Loudoun Shand VC
Like Campbell, Loudoun Shand , who grew up in Alleyn Park also attended Dulwich College, and was also awarded the Victoria Cross, in his case posthumously. The citation ran: For most conspicuous bravery. When his company attempted to climb over the parapet to attack the enemy’s trenches they were met by very fierce machine-gun fire which temporarily stopped their progress. Major Loudoun Shand immediately leapt on the parapet, helped the men over it and encouraged them in every way until he fell mortally wounded. Even then he insisted on being propped up in the trench and went on encouraging the non-commissioned officers and men until he died.
The fierce battles of 1918 caused more casualties among Dulwich’s servicemen. In May 1918, 456 Dulwich men were serving, including 76 Institute members, and 55 had been killed, a number which rose to 75 dead by the end of the war. Later however, when Nixon opened a list of names, age, rank, regiment of those killed from parish he found there were actually about 85 fatalities. The fatality rate for Dulwich’s servicemen was therefore considerably greater than the national average of 10%, probably reaching 17%. An explanation for this is possibly in the large numbers who had enlisted before conscription was introduced.
On 28th July 1919 the parish’s War Memorial Committee held its first meeting in response to a request made at the Parish Conference held a week earlier. It was decided that the War Memorial for the Parish of St Barnabas would consist of:
- The placing of 2 carved wooden tablets on the north wall of the church with names of the fallen. (about 85 names)
- The replacing of the clouded glass East Window with a memorial window in suitable glass to show the consolation of our Saviour
- Further assistance beyond government pension and allowances to widows and orphans of the fallen towards better education of the children.
It was later found that a third memorial panel would be required.
The Memorial Tablets were unveiled on 10th June (nearest day to St Barnabas Day) 1922 by Capt. Pellett (sidesman) and the East Window, made by the Whitefriars Glass Company, was dedicated by the Bishop of Woolwich on 6th July 1922.
The memorial and the East Window were destroyed in the fire of 1992. There is now no longer a complete record of those killed.
One Dulwich widow’s daughter’s education was supported by the memorial assistance fund. The widow of the Revd Smith was also offered the memorial assistance but it was declined. The Revd Smith’s daughter, Mary Vida Smith continued to live locally with her mother and went on to embroider the altar frontals of St Barnabas which were also destroyed in the fire.
A Memorial tablet to those Institute members killed was also unveiled in 1922, this has also apparently disappeared. In 1916 it had been proposed that an extension be built onto the St Barnabas Institute in Townley Road as a memorial to those members who fell. Ironically, the memorial hall was not completed until 1938, twelve months before the outbreak of the Second World War. It is now rented by the Area Health Authority and the Church benefits from this income.
A member of the St Barnabas Institute - Ferdi - Pte. A V Ferdinando sent this poem, to the St Barnabas Magazine in 1917
UP THE LINE
They’re a fresh draft out from Blighty: they haven’t seen the line.
But they’re looking forward to it - think’s it’s fun.
Well us “Old ‘uns” leave ‘em to it- let them think as ‘ow it’s fine;
But we know they’ll change their minds afore there’re done.
It ain’t for us to make ‘em “windy” - good luck to every one -
They’ve got to carry on while we’re P.B,
And we tell ‘em how it’s OK being up against the Hun -
“Wish we were going too,” to watch the spree.
They’ll soon know the truth , “God help ‘em”, but their British good
They’ll hold the line and stick it with the best.
They’ll miss the tent and blanket, and find the “doings” rough,
And thank God when they come out for a rest.
The shells ‘ll make ‘em nervy when they’re whistling overhead,
And it’s “Heads down boys”, and close up to the bay;
When it’s pitched and busted up, they’ll get to see who’s dead,
And laugh to find it’s shifted bags and clay.
There’s some little wooden crosses all scattered here and there,
It’s the boys that’s been and done their little all -
Just two sticks and “R.I.P” marks a spot that tells us where
Some mother’s son “went West” at duty’s call.
“Fall in”, the call’s a-sounding; “ ‘Shun, the Chaplain’s here”;
“Stand easy” while he speaks of God and King -
Just a little prayer, and then we give a roaring cheer
As they march out for the line and real thing.
Ah! There’s many gone up yonder who’ll not come back again,
While those at home are left to fret and pine;
But it comforts their sad hearts, and it kind of eases pain,
To know they’ll meet again “across the line”.
Sydney Mansell, a member of the St Barnabas Institute and serving with the 23rd County of London Regt sent this poem back to Dulwich.
PLAYING THE GAME
Think this of me, what e’re my plight
That, though of courage not too great
Great courage had I found from the Might
Of Him, Who guideth every fate.
Who blazed this creed before mine eyes:
“Play, Play the Game, naught matters otherwise.
Nor pain, nor peril, Death, and Death’s unknown,
Hath power to kill this simple creed.
That disregarded nothing can condemn
While nothing else can serve our country’s need.
This clarion call through ebb and tide,
“Play, Play the Game”, rings echoing wide.
Yes, many a time when treading long
Through valleys black with shadows grim,
This radiant thought dispels the gloom;
And lifts the heart and drooping limb,
And all is well through this one thing
“Play, Play the Game”, and playing, sing.
Sing of the joy that no one knows
Save he, who, braving death from hour to hour,
That right may triumph over wrong,
Feels conscious of an inner power
To rob from Death its transient power
“Play, Play the Game,” and endless life attain.
Sydney Mansell L. Williams June 15th 1917 23rd County of London Regt
“ Dulce et decorum est - ”
At the martial trumpet they joined the fray
In the F.S.R. * and the R.F.A.*
For the cry was Freedom, the price was war.
The call was “Honour,” the true man’s law.
And the word rang forth like a victor’s bell:
“There are no slackers in Camberwell.”
Let the “round -ups” their scanty harvest glean
‘Twixt Ealing, Poplar and Golder’s Green.
But we need no cordon; no force or might
Shall out arms restrain when the cause is Right,
For we’re all true men in the South that dwell,
And there are no slackers in Camberwell!
When “The Day” is done and the night is past,
And we’ve broken the Hun Iconoclast;
When we’ve made a piece that is firm and strong
And out heroes deeds live in fame and song
Let the glorious page of history tell
That there were no slackers in Camberwell!
F.H.W. (published in South London Observer 1917)
* First Surrey Rifles, * Royal Field Artillery (Camberwell Gun Brigade)
Annual lecture: “What’s different about organic gardening?” - and slugs in Dulwich!
Valerie Muir, an organic market gardener, gave an interesting talk in April.
On the perennial topic of slugs and snails, Valerie suggested pellets containing ferric phosphate as relatively non-toxic to vertebrate animals, rather than those with metaldehyde. She also uses beer traps (with added sugar), transplants of sturdy plantlets rather than growing in situ from seed, and using slug-resistant varieties of plants. The RHS website has comprehensive advice on other methods.
Annual visit - Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden at Wisley
Tuesday, June 24th 2014
Coach from Dulwich Picture Gallery, College Road, 8.45 for 9.00am sharp departure. Return c.5.30 pm. All welcome.
The Piet Oudolf borders - RHS/Jerry Harpur
Wisley is a stunning destination. One of the finest gardens in the world, its extraordinary diversity captures the imagination with richly planted borders, luscious rose gardens, a magnificent rockery, an alpine area, an arboretum, a large area for fruit and vegetables and much more. There are specimen small garden layouts, trial areas for new plants and a state-of-the-art glasshouse which houses a world-class plant collection in three climate zones.
We plan to arrive at about 10.30 am. There will be time to get a coffee in the Conservatory Café and then we will have a guided tour of Wisley’s highlights. After the tour you can get lunch in the Café, the new Food Hall or the up-market Restaurant (you need to book this in advance - Tel. 01483 225 329). After lunch you will be free to explore on your own. Wisley has an excellent plant sales area, a large well-stocked shop and a new fruit and vegetable sales area.
Cabbage Palm (Cordyline australis)
This is also known as the Torbay Palm, which is the official symbol of the English Riviera. It is a popular ornamental tree, more a woody stemmed evergreen shrub, with corky fissured bark, and stiff swordlike leaves which take about five years before they die and hang down, below the actively growing top, and can be tidied up. They can grow very tall, but usually between 20’ to 40’.
The plant is a native uniquely of New Zealand, (australis means ‘southern’), and is one of the two or three palm like trees that will grow in Northern Europe. When a good size, often after growing a side branch, it produces a strong framework of a large sweet smelling florescence, each head can contain 6,000 to 10,000 small scented flowers, bearing up to 40,000 seeds. The flowers last for up to six weeks, often in alternate years, with a bumper crop (as last summer) every three to five years. They do not easily have the berry fruit here, but the seed-laden trusses are strong enough to bear even the weight of heavy pigeons. In winter in New Zealand, these large white berries are a great attraction for birds
This species is native to New Zealand. It was cultivated freely as it produces good fruits and is easy to grow in well drained soil. When put out in neat rows, the young plants some say, were thought by sailors and visitors to look from a distance like so many rows of cabbages, or also because the edible rhizomes at the base of the tree, when cooked, tasted of almonds with a cabbagey flavour..The plants need to be spaced out, not shaded, and in well drained soil. In fact the numbers growing near homesteads and gardens could very well indicate the fertility of the local soil when seeking areas for further development.
The indigenous people found that the leaves have a fibrous nature which is durable and can be used for textiles, anchor ropes, fishing lines and the leaves can be woven into baskets. Later visitors found the plant could be used to make alcohol.
While the trees can be planted in tubs or containers when not too large, they should not be planted near buildings because of their suckering habit. There are now many coloured forms and hybrids , but the bronze leaf varieties are susceptible to frost.
There are specimens near Dulwich Library, in the Park and in Kingswood Drive. The other palm like tree seen locally is the Chusan palm (from China) which is easily distinguished by its bark which has a soft fibrous woolly look.